Wondering what to watch? While there’s little in the way of notable original releases coming out this month, there are plenty of overlooked cinematic gems available to stream this week.
For starters, Netflix is home to Vesper, the indie sci-fi movie that impresses with some creative (and economically deployed) effects work and visuals that hint at a much greater scope beyond the acute focus of its narrative.
Also recently released, Michael Mann’s stunning Muhammad Ali biography Ali is one of the finest examples of the form, directed by Will Smith’s excellent performance. NOW as we add the new blade of 2021 to an adaptation of the brutal fighting game series Mortal Kombat.
Read more: What’s new in Prime Video in January 2023
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Ali (2001) | Netflix (selection of the week)
The first name to tell Michael Mann’s biography of Muhammad Ali is Sam Cooke, not the man himself. The ‘King of Soul’ is the first to appear on stage as the boxer trains diligently outside of the spotlight.
So the movie immediately points to Ali’s relevance and cunning for the history he was a part of, how he became ‘The Greatest’ in the surrounding civil rights struggle; Athletics is a given, its cultural context is essential.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in January
Mann focuses on how the man’s defiance of any ownership initiative over himself, whether through a name or enlistment, affects their public, personal and professional lives. The film is not a hagiography either.
To date, one of Will Smith’s best performances ever, his own brilliant glamor and bravado, taken a little more violently with Ali’s infamous rhyming bullshit. More than just impersonation, Smith also plays her with a steely look, but also with a hidden ambiguity.
While Ali has some rough spots in tracing Muhammad Ali’s personal life and cultural legacy, he has an undeniable charm. Take the opening episode: This is an exciting collage of social change and black self-determination that contextualizes who Ali is, what he stands for, and what he means to people at this point – all before he takes on Sonny Liston. An infamous match that coincided with Ali changing his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X, and then changing to Muhammad Ali on his conversion to Islam.
The fight itself was filmed with a sense of visceral impact, with Mann assembling his digital handheld camera and with a grace that felt as volatile as Ali’s footwork. At the same time, it heightens the significance of his relationship with Malcolm X (who had a large share of the conspiracy for demonstrating the divisions and oversight of the Nation of Islam) and fruitfully lays the groundwork for how that will happen. When he begins to display political conviction and conviction (with some exceptions – the film tracing his unlikely friendship with Howard Cosell) it will affect his reputation and how quickly the public will return to him.
While the rest of the movie – following his exile and then his comeback with Fight of the Century and Rumble in the Jungle – doesn’t quite move with the same clip as it spreads outward, it’s a fascinating representation of both human and Black history. the same.
Vesper (2021) | Netflix
A relatively low-budget sci-fi movie starring Eddie Marsan, Vesper’s scope is surprisingly large, even as it focuses on a humble microcosm of the world he imagines.
It depicts a future devastated by the climate catastrophe dubbed the “New Dark Ages.” As always, humanity played too much with fire and set the house on fire, and now Earth is a toxic wasteland destroyed by man-made viruses as well as synthetic organisms originally created to protect the survivors from the aftermath of the apocalypse.
Watch a trailer for Vesper
Of course, the best survivors, the wealthiest people living in walled forts invisible to the viewer – we can only imagine their glory. Instead, directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s dystopia focuses on the 99 percent who live in completely devastated old machinery and burned villages, dark swamps and woodlands.
Read more: What’s New on Disney+ in January 2023
Alongside the disturbing hybrids of plant and creature, the visual effects work stands out most, with its stunning realization of fascinating art direction, where humanity’s dedication to nature is reflected in the shape of its buildings and vehicles, albeit spoiled. The story itself finds some solid emotional hooks, but what’s most interesting is the imagery and imagination of this small-scale feature.
Also on Netflix: Jung_E (2022), JFK, 13 Hours
Mortal Kombat (2021) | NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
This isn’t Mortal Kombat, actually, the source of that infamous theme tune. There’s no DJ shouting the title before the ’90s dance beat, as this is a slightly more selfish Mortal Kombat, aiming for the blue-gray tones of contemporary MCU movies instead.
Read more: What’s New at Sky/NOW in January 2023
Despite the confusing decision not to make a movie about the actual fighting tournament the story revolves around, there are some good vigils and maybe it’s a little exciting to see Scorpion knocked down. There’s no theme song, which is a shame.
Also NOW: Hanging Sun (2023)
Watch a trailer for Mortal Kombat