The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
OJ: THE MUSICAL
Making a musical about the O.J. Simpson trial would be a very bad idea, which is why a mockumentary about making a musical about the O.J. Simpson trial has a lot of comedic potential. Writer-director Jeff Rosenberg is on to something with his offbeat comedy “OJ: The Musical,” even if the finished product doesn’t always live up to its promise.
Unkempt, paunchy and with the awkward social skills of a Zach Galifianakis character, Jordan Kenneth Kamp plays Eugene Olivier, the musical’s mastermind. Declaring himself a “fairly successful theater artist” in New York with many awards and accolades, Eugene sets his sights on Los Angeles. In reality, Eugene has ulterior motives. His best friends from high school live there, and he feels nostalgic for simpler times. He moves west, pays 20 bucks a month to live in some guy’s garage and persuades his friends Regina (Larisa Oleynik) and Lawrence (Malcolm Barrett) to participate in a musical “Othello,” much to the chagrin of Lawrence’s put-upon wife.
It isn’t until Eugene almost gets hit by a white Ford Bronco that he sees the stunning parallels between Othello and O.J. and decides to change course. The premise is amusing, and some jokes work. After Juilliard graduate Orlando (Owiso Odera) auditions for the lead role, he looks at the camera and lists his impressive credentials, before adding that he’s now vying to work for free playing Simpson in a shabby theater. “Strange world sometimes,” he deadpans with perfect timing.
But as the movie wears on, Eugene shifts from being pleasantly eccentric to downright creepy. When he tells Regina (who’s interested in someone else) that he has decided she’s his girlfriend, you might start to wonder whether Eugene, with his crazy-eyed stares, might be dangerous. In a world where peculiar individuals fly off the handle for less, it’s hard to find the will to laugh.
But “OJ: The Musical” hits its stride again in the final scenes when the show goes onstage, and Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” speech translates perfectly into a James Brown-style number. Maybe an O.J. musical isn’t such a bad idea after all. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains language and brief nudity. 90 minutes. Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Movies On Demand, Google Play and Vudu.
AS I LAY DYING
With a constantly shifting point of view embodied by 15 rambling, sometimes unreliable narrators — one of whom is dead — William Faulkner’s novel “As I Lay Dying” would seem an unlikely choice for a film adaptation. But that didn’t stop James Franco, who has directed and written (with his Yale classmate Matt Rager) a surprisingly respectable version of Faulkner’s 1930 tale. The screenplay and direction are faithful to Faulkner’s themes of duty, decay and dignity, directly lifting — yet enlivening — much of the book’s poetic language without slavishly following its sometimes surreal, stream-of-consciousness style.
The narrative follows a poor farming family as they travel with the rapidly putrefying corpse of matriarch Addie Bundren (Beth Grant) from their rural home in northern Mississippi to her ancestral burial ground, some 40 miles away. Along the way, Addie’s widower (Tim Blake Nelson) and the couple’s five children (played by Franco, Jim Parrack, Logan Marshall-Green, Ahna O’Reilly and Brady Permenter) must not only ford a flooded river, but also deal with other near-disasters, including a broken leg, a fire, and the surfacing of interpersonal tensions both major and minor.
One character is unmarried, pregnant and seeking an abortion. Another is the illegitimate child of Addie and the local minister. This is Southern Gothic literature at its finest and most florid.
Using a directorial approach that combines the judicious use of split screens, actors directly addressing the camera and well-choreographed — if chaotic — action, Franco balances the characters’ psychological torment with the tale’s inherent tragicomedy. (Yes, it is, at times, funny, if also very dark.) The results are remarkably cinematic, especially for a book that relies so heavily on interior monologues.
Nelson is especially good as the Bundren patriarch, Anse, a selfish, near-cretinous mouth-breather whose drawl is made nearly unintelligible by the mouthful of rotten teeth that he hopes to replace when he gets to town. Parrack is also quite fine as his stoic eldest son, Cash, who quietly endures an untreated — and eventually gangrenous — broken leg with the mantra “It don’t bother none.” Danny McBride also appears in a small, poker-faced role.
Of the cast, it’s really only Franco who disappoints, albeit slightly. The actor manifests a Southern accent that sounds more like Northern California than northern Mississippi. And even allowing for the fact that his character, Darl, is the most articulate of the book’s several narrators, Franco comes across as something of an outsider play-acting as a rube. But his direction is stylish without upstaging the story.
“As I Lay Dying” will probably appeal more to fans of Faulkner than to fans of Franco. That’s okay. Franco and Rager are already collaborating on a second one of the great Southern novelist’s books: “The Sound and the Fury.” It’s said to feature performances by Franco, McBride and Jon Hamm. -- M.O.
R. Contains disturbing images, sex and brief nudity. 109 minutes. Available through Amazon Instant, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Playstation, Vudu and Xbox.
In the early days of 1969 in Prague, a college student named Jan Palach set himself on fire in order to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.
The cascading aftermath of that event forms the spine of “Burning Bush,” Agnieszka Holland’s absorbing Cold War thriller that dramatizes, with observant detail and often devastating emotion, the personal and political costs of a society’s descent into crushing totalitarianism.
Tatiana Pauhofova plays Dagmar Buresova, a young attorney who is drawn into Palach’s story when she’s hired by the martyr’s family to represent them in a defamation suit against a Communist functionary. Holland structures “Burning Bush,” which clocks in at a challenging four hours, as a legal procedural, domestic portrait and political statement, delving into how Palach’s actions reverberated across Czech society, not just as an ideological statement but also as the deeply personal loss of a bright, idealistic young man. Filmed in and around Prague, “Burning Bush” doesn’t get hung up on fussy period signifiers; rather, it brings viewers into offices, homes and hospitals to provide intimate glimpses of how state power insinuates itself so subtly that its victims barely feel the squeeze.
The Poland-born Holland is best known in film circles for similarly ambitious historical dramas such as “Europa Europa,” but lately she’s been working in television, most recently on “Treme” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Holland has brought the best of both sensibilities to bear on “Burning Bush,” which has the urgent watchability of the most addictive TV serial and the production value and depth of the finest feature film. Just when you think Palach’s family can’t endure one more indignity, the filmmaker brings the story full circle, to 1989, when his legacy was invoked to spark the end of communism in what is now the Czech Republic.
If you want to see “Burning Bush” — and you should — you need to subscribe to Fandor, a Web site for streaming cinema that stands as Netflix’s more sophisticated, carefully curated cousin. Check it out, then sign up. Untold riches lie in wait. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains disturbing images, brief profanity, historical smoking and brief, mild sexuality. 231 minutes. In Czech with subtitles. Available via Fandor (www.fandor.com).
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