Aesthetically Speaking: This Week on Hulu

When I look back on my favorite films, it’s not only the narrative, acting, cinematography, and direction that comprise of what makes it both astonishing to watch and powerfully memorable—it’s the look of the work as well. It’s the way the story is told through the established world provided by brilliant set design, the construction of a cinematic universe that we’re able to become immersed in and live in for the alloted time. It adds to the director’s complete vision and the mis-en-scene of the film as a whole.  And this week, the Criterion Collection is highlighting some of their favorite examples of brilliant art direction and set design on film. From Paul Schrader’s visually arresting Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters to Takeo Kimura’s Tokyo Drifter, check out the aesthetically remarkable and expertly-crafted films free for the week on Hulu.


Tokyo Drifter (1966)

In this jazzy gangster film, reformed killer Tetsu’s attempt to go straight is thwarted when his former cohorts call him back to Tokyo to help battle a rival gang. Director Seijun Suzuki’s onslaught of stylized violence and trippy colors is equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima—an anything-goes, in-your-face rampage. Tokyo Drifter is a delirious highlight of the brilliantly excessive Japanese cinema of the sixties.

Things to Come (1936)

A landmark collaboration between writer H. G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda, and designer and director William Cameron Menzies, Things to Come is a science fiction film like no other, a prescient political work that predicts a century of turmoil and progress. Skipping through time, Things to Come bears witness to world war, disease, dictatorship, and, finally, utopia. Conceived, written, and overseen by Wells himself as an adaptation of his own work, this megabudget production, the most ambitious ever from Korda’s London Films, is a triumph of imagination and technical audacity.

Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Legendary producer Alexander Korda’s marvel The Thief of Bagdad, inspired by The Arabian Nights, is one of the most spectacular fantasy films ever made, an eye-popping effects pioneer brimming with imagination and technical wizardry. When Prince Ahmad (John Justin) is blinded and cast out of Bagdad by the nefarious Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), he joins forces with the scrappy thief Abu (the incomparable Sabu, in his definitive role) to win back his royal place, as well as the heart of a beautiful princess (June Duprez). With its luscious Technicolor, vivid sets, and unprecedented visual wonders, The Thief of Bagdad has charmed viewers of all ages for decades.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Paul Schrader’s visually stunning, collagelike portrait of acclaimed Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima (played by Ken Ogata) investigates the inner turmoil and contradictions of a man who attempted an impossible harmony between self, art, and society. Taking place on Mishima’s last day, when he famously committed public seppuku, the film is punctuated by extended flashbacks to the writer’s life as well as by gloriously stylized evocations of his fictional works. With its rich cinematography by John Bailey, exquisite sets and costumes by Eiko Ishioka, and unforgettable, highly influential score by Philip Glass, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a tribute to its subject and a bold, investigative work of art in its own right.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four nightmarish tales in which terror thrives and demons lurk. Adapted from traditional Japanese ghost stories, this lavish, widescreen production drew extensively on Kobayashi’s own training as a student of painting and fine arts.

The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

This haunting, kabuki-inflected version of a Japanese folk legend is set in a remote mountain village where food is scarce and tradition dictates that citizens who have reached their seventieth year must be carried to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die. The sacrificial elder at the center of the tale is Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka), a dignified and dutiful woman who spends her dwindling days securing the happiness of her loyal widowed son with a respectable new wife. Filmed almost entirely on cunningly designed studio sets, in brilliant color and widescreen, The Ballad of Narayama is a stylish and vividly formal work from Japan’s cinematic golden age, directed by the dynamic Keisuke Kinoshita.

A Place Both Wonderful & Strange: The Short Films of David Lynch Now on Hulu

Absurd and brilliant auteur David Lynch has always been a man of ideas. In the past, he’s said that, "ideas dictate everything. You have to be true to that or you’re dead." And throughout his career, he has been completely unwavering to his own conception and theories of what a work of art should be. Whether it’s his paintings, music, wood-workings, etc. Lynch has stayed true to his precise aesthetic obsessions and artistic desires that have grown into a genre entirely his own.

You hear the term Lynchian and you know what you’re in for—a "deconstruction of this weird irony of the banal" filled with "expressions of certain anxious, obsessive, fetishistic, oedipally arrested, borderlinish parts of the director’s psyche." But even in his earliest films, most created while he was a student at AFI, Lynch’s films felt a part of the world we associate with him now. Heavily influenced by the work of Francis Bacon, he focused on paintings and art forms outside of film until realizing that if he could put these ideas and creations in motion, just how much more powerful they could be.

And this week, Hulu is giving us a look at the mind of young Lynch with a collection of his rare early short films, available to watch for free. From the animated nightmare The Alphabet to the terrifying and haunting The Grandmother, you can see just how the man who gave us the world of Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, etc. came to be. And for those Hulu Plus users, Eraserhead is featured in their Criterion section as well. 

So if you’re looking for some grotesque delight this weekend, head over to Hulu and fall in love with David Lynch all over again. I’d suggest blacking the windows and having your strobe light ready for this one.

Checking Into the Heartbreak Hotel: What’s Happening This Week on Hulu

Speaking to his work as a filmmaker and his own emotional sensibility, John Cassavetes once said, "That’s all I’m interested in—love. And the lack of it. When it stops. And the pain that’s caused by loss of things that are taken away from us that we really need." His films exposed the painful struggles of love and turmoil loving another causes on the human heart. And in its most overwhelming and passionate form, love is rarely healthy, perhaps no more than an illness from which you’ll never fully recover. And according to the Criterion Collection’s Amour Fou section of films, love is apparently all I am interested in as well. Featuring some of my favorite features from Terrence Malick’s dangerous love story Badlands to Nicolas Roeg’s obsessive psychodrama Bad Timing, to Cassavetes’ soul-crushing A Woman Under the Influence and Liliana Cavani’s darkly erotic The Night Porter, these are films best enjoyed with a glass of whiskey on standby. 

But this week, Criterion and Hulu are showcasing rare films of bad romance that delve into the misguided, corrosive, and often violent nature of love. Ranging from Gus van Sant’s first feature Mala Noche to Keisuke Kinoshita’s rarely seen Snow Flurry, these intense dramas penetrate the soul and illuminate the hardships of love. Get acquianted with these rare and stunning films and decide whom you’d like to break your heart tonight. Enjoy.

Miss Julie

"Swedish filmmaker Alf Sjöberg’s visually innovative, Cannes Grand Prix-winning adaptation of August Strindberg’s renowned 1888 play brings to scalding life the excoriating words of the stage’s preeminent surveyor of all things rotten in the state of male-female relations. Miss Julie vividly depicts the battle of the sexes and classes that ensues when a wealthy businessman’s daughter (Anita Björk, in a fiercely emotional performance) falls for her father’s bitter servant. Celebrated for its unique cinematic style (and censored upon its first release in the United States for its adult content), Sjöberg’s film was an important turning point in Scandinavian cinema."

Mala Noche

"With its low budget and lush black-and-white imagery, Gus Van Sant’s debut feature Mala Noche heralded an idiosyncratic, provocative new voice in American independent film. Set in Van Sant’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, the film evokes a world of transient workers, dead-end day-shifters, and bars and seedy apartments bathed in a profound nighttime, as it follows a romantic deadbeat with a wayward crush on a handsome Mexican immigrant. Mala Noche was an important prelude to the New Queer Cinema of the nineties and is a fascinating capsule from a time and place that continues to haunt its director’s work."

Snow Flurry

"A generation-spanning drama from 1959 that partly concerns the fallout from a couple’s failed suicide pact, shot in wonderfully expressive widescreen and color."

Double Suicide

"Many films have drawn from classic Japanese theatrical forms, but none with such shocking cinematic effect as director Masahiro Shinoda’s Double Suicide. In this striking adaptation of a Bunraku puppet play (featuring the music of famed composer Toru Takemitsu), a paper merchant sacrifices family, fortune, and ultimately life for his erotic obsession with a prostitute. Criterion is proud to present Double Suicide in a stunning digital transfer, with a new and improved English subtitle translation."

Pale Flower

"In this cool, seductive jewel of the Japanese New Wave, a yakuza, fresh out of prison, becomes entangled with a beautiful and enigmatic gambling addict; what at first seems a redemptive relationship ends up leading him further down the criminal path. Bewitchingly shot and edited, and laced with a fever-dream-like score by Toru Takemitsu, this gangster romance was a breakthrough for the idiosyncratic Masahiro Shinoda. The pitch-black Pale Flower (Kawaita hana) is an unforgettable excursion into the underworld."


"This lush, Technicolor tragic romance from Luchino Visconti stars Alida Valli as a nineteenth-century Italian countess who, during the Austrian occupation of her country, puts her marriage and political principles on the line by engaging in a torrid affair with a dashing Austrian lieutenant, played by Farley Granger. Gilded with ornate costumes and sets and a rich classical soundtrack, and featuring fearless performances, this operatic melodrama is an extraordinary evocation of reckless emotions and deranged lust, from one of the cinema’s great sensualists."


"Julien Duvivier’s film, starring Merle Oberon as a woman looking back on a life of doomed affairs."

Snowed In? All the ‘Star Trek’ Series Are There For You

So, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be spring now or whatever, a good portion of the country got a lot of snow dumped on it over the weekend. For those who may be snowed in or just don’t feel like leaving where they already are today, or if you missed the good news over the weekend, Hulu has made every episode of every Star Trek series everDeep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, the whole shebang—available for free streaming until the end of March in honor of William Shatner’s birthday. The announcement comes complete, as most announcements in this day and age often do, with an animated GIF of the young Captain Kirk being overwhelmed by fuzzy little Tribbles. Ah, nostalgia. 

If March Madness isn’t your thing, you have about a week to rewatch all the series and reignite those old Kirk vs. Jean-Luc Picard debates, and really, aren’t all these sorts of debates ultimately the same anyway? Check out all the Trektacular goodness over at Hulu, or watch the classic Harlan Ellison-penned episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," from the original show’s first season, below. 

Classic Thrills and Hauntings Chills: This Week on Hulu

Roman Polanski once said, "Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater." And as one of the great filmmakers of suspense, his work always manages to transport you into a psychologically haunting place. And this week, the Criterion Collection is highlighting a handful of their favorite nail-biters for free on Hulu. From Polanski’s classic black and white thriller Knife in the Water, to the Götz Spielmann’s emotionally-gutting Oscar-nominated Revanche, here’s what you should be watching this weekend from the psychologically terrifying to the charmingly haunting and all the goodies in between.



Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski (1962)



Revanche, Götz Spielmann (2008)



A Man Escaped, Robert Bresson (1956)



Purple Noon,  René Clément (1960)



The Vanishing, George Sluizer (1988)



The Shadow Within,  Silvana Zancolo (2007)



The Wages of Fear, Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953)

Criterion Films Streaming Free On Hulu Through Monday

It’s President’s Day weekend, February is freezing cold, and there’s takeout sushi with your name on it. What to watch? The Criterion Film collection is screening for free on Hulu now through Monday evening. Yes, even if you don’t have a Hulu subscription!

The "Valentine’s Treat" from Hulu and Criterion means 800 films are available for screening right now for those who haven’t ponied up the cash for a Hulu Plus subscription.

Breathless by Jean Luc Godard might be a good post-Valentine’s Day suggestion, or Brigitte Bardot in … And God Created Woman.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour?

Or maybe you’re into sadomasochistic Nazi sex in The Night Porter?

The possibilities are endless. Watch any Criterion flick you want right here

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The Best Films to See This Weekend Around New York or From Your Couch

With this "historic" blizzard looming over us, there’s quite a good chance that you will not be leaving your house this weekend. But that’s such a shame, considering throughout New York there’s a plethora of incredible films screening and come on, you don’t want to miss out on the chance to see some of these on the big screen. There’s Abbas Kiarostami’s fanscinating Close-Up tonight, David Fincher’s cult-favorite Fight Club at midnight today and tomorrow, Bertolluci’s Before the Revolution—and plenty more. But whatever your preference, there’s still a decent chance that you’ll have to find cinematic solace in the comfort of your own home this weekend. So, in lieu of getting too thrilled about leaving the house, I’ve cooked up a list of not only the best films showing around the city, but the best of what’s streaming on Netflix and Hulu, along with clips from what critics had to say about each picture to give you a taste of what you’re in for. Enjoy.


Close-Up at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

"No doubt the film is disturbing: its portrait of Sabzian, described by one acquaintance as a “mythomaniac,” shows us an eloquent autodidact who is nonetheless deeply troubled, more a prisoner of cinema than an emblem of its salvific power. Yet it is the self-aware, suffering Sabzian of Close-up who touched the world’s imagination and survives as an icon of the Iranian cinema’s humanistic ideals, its faith in the dreams that offer avenues out of the world’s worst oppressions." —Godfrey Cheshire

Reprise Streaming on Netflix

"An exuberant, exhilaratingly playful testament to being young and hungry — for life and meaning and immortality, and for other young and restless bodies — “Reprise” is a blast of unadulterated movie pleasure. Made under the self-knowing influence of the early French New Wave, before Godard discovered Mao and Truffaut lost his groove, the film wears its influences without a trace of anxiety, in part, I imagine, because its precociously talented Norwegian director, Joachim Trier, doesn’t worry about old-fashioned conceits like creative patricide. You don’t have to kill your fathers, just learn from them."— Manohla Dargis 

Blow Out at Nitehawk Cinema

"No less a virtuoso than cinematographer Zsigmond told me this year that De Palma “is one of the greatest visual filmmakers around.” He still marvels at the work they did in Blow Out: “Think about the 360-degree circular dolly shot near the end of the movie: we had to light practically the whole seaport of Philadelphia with the July 4 fireworks behind Nancy Allen and John Travolta.” For Kael and for legions of true believers, De Palma has, to use a sixties phrase, “kept the faith.” This man of many parts—realist, fantasist, ironist, tragedian—has never fused them more dynamically or poignantly than in Blow Out." —Michael Sragow

Three Colors: Red Streaming on Hulu

"This feeling of mysterious presence reflects the way Kieślowski spoke of the narrative of Red. He described the story, and particularly the “missed” relationship between Valentine and the judge, in ways that suggest that the world has a hidden design, albeit one prone to flaws. For him, “the essential question the film asks is: Is it possible to repair a mistake that was committed somewhere high above?” The idea that there is an invisible but fallible authority presiding over the world within the film naturally invites us to consider the director himself in that role."—Georgina Evans

The Tenant at IFC Center

"There is then an ironic ending that will come as a complete surprise to anyone who has missed every episode of "Night Gallery" or the CBS Mystery Theater. It turns out that — but never mind, never mind. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an audience talk back to the ending of a horror film. "The Tenant" might have made a decent little 20-minute sketch for one of those British horror anthology films in which Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price pick up a little loose change. As a film by Polanski, it’s unspeakably disappointing." —Roger Ebert

Primer Streaming on Netflix and Hulu

"Whether these will add up to anything more than a cerebral diversion is hard to say. Mr. Carruth has invented something fascinating — a way of capturing, on film, some of the pleasure and peril of scientific inquiry — and you don’t need a time machine to predict that as he goes on, he will discover exciting new ways to put it to use."—A.O.

Fight Club at IFC Center

"Fincher is a visionary who keeps Fight Club firing on all cylinders, raising hallucinatory hell in ways too satisfying toi spoil here. As for the dissenters, "I Am Jack’s Complete Lack of Surprise". Fincher’s refusal to moralize and reassure has possed off the watchdogs of virtue. Let ’em bark. They think anything alive is dangerous. Fight Club pulld you in, challenges your prejudices, rocks your world and leaves you laughing in the face of an abyss. It’s alive, all right. It’s also an uncompromising American classic." —Peter Travers

Wings of Desire Streaming on Hulu

"Is the plot arc of Wings of Desire a cry against cinema, even as it equates watching with love? Or does it suggest, to the choir, only a more engaged participation for us, the give-and-take of art film as opposed to the utterly passive experience of Hollywood dross, the Godardian sense that cinema is not an escape from life but life itself? Once Damiel goes human, awakening in the no-man’s-land between the east and west sections of the wall, we as viewers may have an experience akin to Greta Garbo’s after she’d seen the Beast in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast transform into the clean-shaven Jean Marais: “Give me back my Beast.”—Michael Atkinson

Killer of Sheep at Museum of the Moving Image

"But there is more to neo-realism than formalist gestures; context counts too, and much like the characters in Rossellini’s “Open City,” Stan and his family are casualties of war. This may be Mr. Burnett’s most radical truth-telling. In “Killer of Sheep,” the characters’ identities as African-Americans are material and existential givens, while poverty is the equal-opportunity destroyer." —Manohla Dargis

The Night Porter Streaming on Hulu

"The Night Porter depicts not only the political continuity between wartime Nazism and 1957 Austria, but also the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past."

Before the Revolution at Anthology Film Archives

"What makes the film worth reviving is its stylistic elan, some channeled through Godard, Fellini and Antonioni, but all fresh and vigorous: its jump cuts and dynamic editing; its expressive, freestyling take on neo-realism; its powerful lighting. The soundtrack, by a youngish Ennio Morricone, is limpid. And Aldo Scavardo’s photography, especially during a wonderful ode to the beauty of the River Po, is unforgettable." — Sukhdev Sandhu

Revanche Streaming on Hulu

"Spielmann is interested in aspects of life that exceed simple comprehension. Fathoming the interconnections between disparate people, he emphasizes realistic perception and spiritual discovery. He told an interviewer: “Loneliness is probably an inextricable part of our modern lives, and yet I consider it an illusion. We always think of ourselves as being separate from the world, and in this way we deceive ourselves. This separation is just an invention of our imagination; in many ways, we are constantly and directly interwoven in a larger whole. Loneliness is an attribute of our limited awareness, not of life itself.”—Armond White

The Godfather at Landmark Sunshine

"Although the movie is three hours long, it absorbs us so effectively it never has to hurry. There is something in the measured passage of time as Don Corleone hands over his reins of power that would have made a shorter, faster moving film unseemly. Even at this length, there are characters in relationships you can’t quite understand unless you’ve read the novel. Or perhaps you can, just by the way the characters look at each other."—Roger Ebert

My Night at Maud’s Streaming on Hulu

"Rohmer’s films offer us an exceptionally vivid picture of how we navigate the twists and turns that life throws our way on a daily basis. “All the pleasure of life is in general ideas,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes. “But all the use of life is in specific solutions.” No artist has expressed this dichotomy more eloquently, or lovingly, than Eric Rohmer."—Kent Jones

Timeless Originals: This Week on Hulu

Jonathon Demme has said, "I don’t think it’s sacrilegious to remake any movie, including a good or even great movie." And he’s right, some films only grow with adaptation and allow for a new perspective on a world we already love. However, some fall flat and prove entirely unnecessary—like last year’s remake of Straw Dogs, for example. What was point of that film? There’s no way it could have even compared to the cinemaitc audacity and penetrating violence of the Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 original in its cultural context and the repercussions it faced with censorship of the time. However, it’s always interesting when a director remakes is own work, as Michael Haneke did with Funny Games in 2007. But it’s the original film that one should always watch first. And this week, Hulu and the Criterion Collection will be highlighting their favorite originals, all later adapted into other works. From Wim Wenders’ philosophical meditation on love, longing, and the desire for existence in 1980s Berlin with Wings of Desire (later to become City of Angels) to Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal 1960 nouvelle vague classic Breathless (needlessly remade in 1983 with Richard Gere), these originals will remind you what’s it’s like to witness a truly incredible film for the first time. 

Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, 1987

Anthony Asquith’s Pygmalion, 1938

Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, 1958

Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies, 1963

Roger Vadim’s …And God Created Woman, 1956

Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless), 1960

George Sluizer’s The Vanishing, 1988

‘The Thick Of It’ Airs, Uncensored, On Hulu This Sunday

For the dozen of us in this blighted country who would rather comb crabs out of their pubic hair with a spork than watch any beloved sitcom currently running on NBC, September 9 will be a day to rejoice.

That’s when the fourth series of The Thick Of It, the funniest television program of the 21st century, premieres. And while I just called the U.S. a blighted land, man, you ain’t seen blight till you’ve glimpsed the bland gray corridors of political power in England.

Two Washington-based spinoffs—the movie In The Loop and HBO adaptation Veep, are hilarious in their own right—but they pale in comparison to the original show, which follows the travails of hopelessly incompetent bureaucrats as they struggle to keep pace with a vicious 24-hour spin cycle. The series has its star and profanity savant in communications director Malcolm Tucker, whose baroque dressing-downs are a perpetual highlight.

While previous seasons focused on the Labour government in decline, this batch of episodes promises to bring us the U.K.’s new Conservative-Liberal coalition in all its dysfunctional glory. The best news of all is that you won’t have to pirate them if you subscribe to Hulu, which is cleaning up on British comedy exports.

You can thank your lucky stars they won’t be bleeping anything for your sensitive American ears—otherwise there’d be no dialogue.