As a cultural force, long-form, or limited series, movies on the major streaming services have become a juggernaut that is leaving traditional fare in the dust. These extra-long features differ from conventional TV series by having a complete story, rather than spinning out episodes in “seasons” with the same set of characters.
In this definition, the source for an extended movie is likely to be an historical event or a major novel that can be sustained over several hours of viewing rather than compacted into a couple for cinemas.
The genre reached maturity during the Covid-19 pandemic as theatres were closed and the “tentpole” blockbusters on which they commercially depended became scarce.
Though recovery is under way, cinemas are still struggling with a lack of big-screen attractions. Studios such as Disney, Warner Bros and Paramount are gearing their output to home viewing to match the streaming pioneers, Netflix and Amazon, who have successfully disrupted the old business model.
Last year, few movies attracted as much attention as The White Lotus, a six-part satire set in a Hawaiian resort, or Nine Perfect Strangers, based on a novel by Liane Moriarty.
This year, the undoubted standout is Inventing Anna, a nine-hour Netflix series based on the case of Anna Delvey, a fictitious multi-million-dollar heiress, who was born Anna Sorokin and whose humble family emigrated to Germany from Russia.
Apart from its production merits, which are excellent, Inventing Anna has sparked heated debate on psychological, legal and financial issues among experts and those depicted on the screen.
This is because Sorokin created a persona in Delvey that has defied explanation. Few foreigners in their 20s arrive in New York posing as a rich philanthropist wanting to establish a foundation to run a private club dedicated to the arts. To do this, Delvey had to persuade others to pay for her luxurious lifestyle of flash hotels, trendy clothes and expensive dinners.
She had already penetrated Manhattan society when her exploits were first revealed in a Vanity Fair article by a close friend, who had to cough up a $US65,000 bill for their holiday in Morocco.
I recall being astounded when I read of the scandal at the time (2018). But there was much more to the Delvey story, thanks to a journalist who provides the basis for Inventing Anna. She is tireless in her task, eventually exposing the extent of Delvey’s confidence trickery.
Sorokin was arrested in 2017 and put on trial, but by then the journalist’s sympathy had switched as she tried to understand the “real” Anna after tracking down her background. Some have explained the extent of Delvey’s fraud, and the way she played on weaknesses in her victims, as akin to the “fake it until you make it” school of entrepreneurs in business.
In this context, her crimes are financially insignificant when compared with the millions involved in other much larger frauds that have been presented as legitimate business practice.
Credits: Created by Shonda Rhimes (Bridgerton), with Anna Chlumsky as the journalist and Julia Garner (Ozark) as Anna.
Netflix rating: R16. Nine episodes.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
A 2000 documentary that sympathetically traced the life of the flamboyant gospel singer, who was married to disgraced televangelist Jimmy Bakker, has been given the Hollywood star treatment with Jessica Chastain in the title role. Young Tammy first attracted attention when she spoke in tongues at a church service, later turning this into a career when she met Bakker (Andrew Garfield), an even bigger, self-promoting charmer, and a leading figure in American religious broadcasting of the 1970s and 1980s. The mix of music and money purported to do works of charity, while giving its promoters lavish lifestyles. The Bakkers’ 30-year marriage crumbled due to infidelity and Jimmy being convicted of fraud. Tammy, meanwhile, battled addiction and cancer, finding redemption in her work with marginalised groups. This set the tone for both the documentary and the feature, which is directed by Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) and adapted by Abe Sylvia.
Rating: Mature audiences. 126 minutes.
The King’s Man
(Disney/20th Century Studios)
Intended as a sendup of the James Bond franchise, but without its namby-pamby action scenes, Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series is neither completely escapist nor devoid of serious content. The first two, The Secret Service (2014) and The Golden Circle (2017), provided relief for jaded Bond fans, as well as those tired of mindless knockoffs. This prequel goes back to World War I, providing a mashup of real events and characters – the second Boer War, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Lord Kitchener, Rasputin, Lenin, Mata Hari, US President Wilson, the Zimmerman Telegraph and, of course, the three monarchs (and cousins) of the UK, Russia and Germany, all played by Tom Hollander. Even Hitler gets a look in. But it’s the fictitious Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), his spy partner (Gemma Arterton) and son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) who take centre-stage in their efforts to undo the conspiracy of a Scottish schemer and kashmir goat breeder (Matthew Goode).
Rating: R16. 131 minutes.
(Disney/20th Century Studios)
Passed over for a cinema release, this taut, old-school thriller used to be a Hollywood staple in the 1940s and again in the 1990s, usually starring Ashley Judd or Angelina Jolie. The claustrophobic action is typically set in a single location, in this case a visitor’s centre during a blizzard in a remote mountain park. Recent examples include Red Dot (Sweden), The Trip (Norway) and The Decline (Canada). The entrapped heroine is a student in drug rehab (Havana Rose Liu) on her way to visit her sick mother. While sheltering with four others stranded until the snowstorm stops, she discovers a kidnapped child. The plot, based on a book by Taylor Adams, reveals the guilty party early on, but contains enough twists to keep the story rattling until the end. Director Damien Power has form with low-budget mayhem Killing Ground (2016) and in Liu has found a face equal to those who have gone before.
Rating: R15. 96 minutes.