If you have a library card, you can probably stream up to ten movies for free monthly from Kanopy. Here are eleven dramas and comedies that are “New on Kanopy,” although I don’t know how new they actually are to the streaming service:
A The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
At his height, John Sayles’ films studied how places form the people who inhabit them. Celtic fables, Irish music, and beautiful, rugged scenery saturate Sayles’ only family movie, The Secret of Roan Inish. Young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) comes to live with her grandparents. From them and others, she learns about her mysterious family history. Along with Fiona, we learn why her grandparents no longer live on the nearby island of Roan Inish, how her baby brother was lost to the sea, and why one local seal takes such an interest in Fiona.
A Days of Heaven (1978)
The story seems a better fit for a 74-minute, 1940s B noir, but Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven isn’t about story, and only moderately about character. It’s about time, place, atmosphere, and arguably the Bible. The time is around 1916, and for most of the film, the place is a large, uniquely beautiful wheat farm on the Texas panhandle. Through the yellow of the wheat fields, the haze of the sun, and the smoke of early 20th-century technology, Days of Heaven creates a sense of something that is not quite nostalgia, and not quite a dream, but a reality seen through the haze of distant memory. See my longer commentary.
A Babel (2006)
A stupid act committed by a boy too young to understand the consequences sends shockwaves around the world, affecting the lives of an American tourist couple in Morocco, an immigrant nanny in the United States, her family in Mexico, an alienated deaf-mute teenager in Japan, and the boy’s own family. Writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu weave a complex, four-strand tale of love, tragedy, parental responsibility, and the borders–political, economic, linguistic, and emotional–that separate us all.
A- Skin (2008)
Sandra Laing (a real person, played by Sophie Okonedo) was born to white parents in South Africa in 1955, but by all appearances was what the apartheid system called colored (mixed-race). Needless to say, she had difficulty finding a place to fit in. Screenwriter Helen Crawley and director Anthony Fabian do an admirable job compressing a story that spans nearly four decades into a running time of less than two hours, without making it feel rushed or episodic. But the real credit for Skin goes to Okonedo, who carries the film as if she was born for the part.
A- Seven Chances (1925)
This hysterical comic gem deserves classic status, simply because it’s one of the most efficient feature-length laugh machines ever made. Watch it with an audience, and you seldom get a chance not to laugh. The weak plot does nothing but start off the funny business: if Buster marries within hours, he’ll be rich; if not, he’ll go to jail. But be warned: Seven Chances contains racist jokes that are no longer acceptable. Read my Blu -ray review.
A- Bernie (2011)
Jack Black stars as the still living Bernie Tiede, a popular assistant funeral director in a small Texas town. As Black plays him, he’s sweet, likeable, and a murderer. He seems to genuinely care about the bereaved people he comforts as part of his job. His voice and mannerisms suggest that he’s gay, yet you suspect he’s never acted on those urges. He ardently loves Jesus, as well as the people living around him. And yet he shot an old woman four times in the back and hid her body in a trunk for nine months. Also starring Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater. Read my full article.
B+ Putney Swope (1969)
Before Robert Downey, Jr., there was just plain Robert Downey – maker of absurd, offensive, and very independent comedies. In this 1969 feature, the single, token black executive in a Madison Ave. ad agency accidentally becomes the top dog. Suddenly, this meek negro becomes a militant black, and things get very surreal. Even Mel Brooks gets into the cast.
B+ Yes, God, Yes (2019)
A Catholic teenager struggles with her sexual desires in this easily believable comedy. Judging from what we see, her school teaches only abstinence. Or maybe that’s how Alice (Natalia Dyer) sees it. Things get worse when she goes to a retreat with other students “on Jesus’ time.” She masturbates when she can, especially while thinking about the local hunk. She’s clearly a virgin, but everyone thinks she’s a slut, and she soon realizes that staff members are far from celibate. The movie makes you laugh while you shiver at the prudish lectures and massive hypocrisy. But I have no idea why it’s set some twenty years ago.
B+ Mr. Holmes (2015)
Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes as an old man and as a very old man—mostly the latter—in this entertaining but not too deep drama. Retired from solving crimes, Holmes is now a 90ish beekeeper (the film is set in 1947–about 20 years after Doyle wrote his last Holmes story), living with a widowed housekeeper and her young son. Holmes is in a race against time, trying to write down the true story of his last case—to correct Watson’s exaggerations—before senility sinks too deep. For Holmes fans, and I’m one of them, this is a wonderful gift. For everyone else, it’s still an enjoyable day at the movies. Read my full review.
B Godard Mon Amour (2017)
Michel Hazanavicius (the director of The Artist) works mostly for laughs as he covers the ups and downs of Jean-Luc Godard’s second marriage, seen largely through the eyes of his much younger wife (Stacy Martin). Most of the film is set in 1968, when riots rocked France. Louis Garrel plays Godard as an over-intellectualized Maoist jerk – which matches my long-time opinion of him. Hazanavicius satirizes Godard’s style by aping it with overdone narration, lateral camera movements, and breaking the fourth wall. In one scene, Garrel admits that he’s not Godard but an actor playing him. There’s also a running gag about him breaking his glasses.
B The Silent Enemy (1930)
The ethnographic film is a lost art form. Filmmakers have long stopped making fiction films that recreate the earlier lives of aboriginal people – with a cast of these people’s descendants. (Ten Canoes is a rare, recent example.) The Silent Enemy, a late silent, looks at pre-Columbian Ojibway Indians as they desperately search for food and the right leader. It works better as anthropology than melodrama, even if I suspect some historical liberties were taken. Beautifully photographed. The recorded music score is the same one used for the 1930 premiere.