Welcome to the first installment of Flavorpill’s streaming movie guide, a new feature in which we’ll help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. This week, we’ve got new documentaries, a pair of spy spoofs from the star and director of The Artist, and a couple of titles we told (or showed) you about over the past couple of weeks. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Much bandwidth was spent over the past week fretting the expiration of Netflix’s contract with Starz, which led to over 800 movies disappearing from Netflix Instant. Some of those disappearances sting (it was comforting to know that those Party Down episodes were always there for us), but not everyone is upset; the “Starz Play” titles were notorious among those who care about such things for their poor image quality and, more importantly, their improper aspect ratios (widescreen images were usually chopped into a 4×3 pan-and-scanned frame). Those titles disappeared yesterday, but there is a handful of non-Starz titles with one more day on them — including this underrated action/comedy from director Doug Liman (which he turned out between Swingers and The Bourne Identity). Its intertwining three-story structure caused most critics at the time to write Go off as a weak Pulp Fiction rip-off, but it holds up surprisingly well — it’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s got a crackerjack car chase, and the performers are first-rate (including a pre-Justified Timothy Olyphant, a pre-30 Rock Jane Krakowski, Flavorwire favorite Sarah Polley, and a young Melissa McCarthy).
If you checked out our awesome heist movie supercut last week (which we’re assuming you did), you saw quite a few clips from the original Italian Job — which is also disappearing from Netflix Instant after today. It’s got Michael Caine at his Michael Caine-ist (“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”), a tightly-executed heist, a supporting cast that ranges from the very definition of highbrow (Noel Coward) to the very definition of lowbrow (Benny Hill), and the immortal mini-Cooper chase scene, one of the few elements that the 2003 remake dared not tinker with.
When we saw that famous line from the Italian Job again, we couldn’t help but think of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s warring Michael Caine impressions in this giggly, entertaining treat from director Michael Winterbottom. The trio collaborated previously on Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; in this improvised mockumentary/travelogue (edited down from a BBC mini-series) the two actors again play those (hopefully) slightly exaggerated versions of themselves, eating and chatting their way across Northern England. The result is a fast, witty movie, a kind of My Dinner with Andre with a bit more mobility; Coogan and Brydon’s patter is snappy — it’s the best kind of improvised dialogue — and their relationship, which seems composed of equal parts respect, exasperation, and jealousy, has enough complexity to sustain the rather thin narrative.
In last week’s rundown of biographical movies that worked, we told you about Che, Steven Soderbergh’s unconventional (and somewhat controversial) examination of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara. If its four-plus hour running time is a little daunting, the first of its two parts (also known as The Argentine) stands quite well as its own entity; it’s difficult film, no doubt, and an easy one to get lost in, but absolutely compelling all the same. Soderbergh intercuts Guevara’s trip to the New York (shot in high-contrast black-and-white) with the beginning of his life as a revolutionary, through the extended, bloody fight of the Cuban Revolution. Soderbergh is clearly fascinated by the intricacies of guerilla warfare as well as in turning the expected “war movie” clichés on their head; the battles here are sudden, brutal, and immediate, but also not immune from the director’s experimentation (in one memorable, early firefight, he removes all of the sound effects and has the battle play out under an interview from the New York trip). The film culminates with the taking of Santa Clara, an extended, remarkable sequence that is thrilling and somewhat moving as well. And Benicio del Toro’s work in the title role is just astonishing.
Jean Dujardin, the suave star of The Artist, and his director Michel Hazanavicius first collaborated on these goofy spy spoofs, best described as James Bond by way of Inspector Clouseau, released in 2006 and 2009. The OSS 117 films were originally created in the 1950s and 1960s as serious spy tales, but Hazanavicius resumed the franchise as a satire of Bond and his ilk; he sets this films in their original eras, and takes the same pains to replicate the look, style, and techniques of the early Bond pictures as he did more recently to recreate the silent era. The results aren’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but they’re an awful lot of fun.
It started in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Two guys from Wisconsin named Eddie and Mitch moved in to an apartment building that was, they say now, “made out of snot and cardboard,” and the paper-thin walls meant that the new residents were privy to every angry, profane, drunken argument between neighbors Peter and Raymond. Out of a mixture of frustration and fascination, they started taping those fights and altercations. They started sharing them with friends. Those friends started sharing them with their friends, and a pre-digital, pre-Internet viral phenomenon was born. Matthew Bate tells the fascinating story of that phenomenon — where it came from, how it permuted, and what it means—in this entertaining and fascinating documentary.
This powerful documentary from filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) followed its acclaimed theatrical run last summer with a television premiere on PBS’s Frontline a couple of weeks back; it’s now streaming on their website, and should no be missed. The film profiles CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organization that attempts to diffuse the city’s epidemic of street violence via one-on-one interventions. James focuses primarily on three of these “interrupters,” following them into some hairy situations and getting at the day-to-day realities of these lives. It’s a scary business, but the desperation and sadness of the situation compels them, and becomes real to the viewer over the course of the remarkable picture.
You might have caught this moving documentary when it premiered on MSNBC last Friday night; if not, Netflix has got you covered. Directors Tony Hardmon and Rachel Libert tell the story of Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, a 25-year veteran of United States Marine Corps whose daughter Janey died of leukemia after they were stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina; years later, a report surfaced, indicating that toxic cleaning solvents had been improperly disposed of at Lejune, contaminating the camp’s drinking water supply. Sgt. Ensminger’s daughter was one of hundreds who were born or spent time there and had succumbed to leukemia, cancer, and other ailments. The Marine bureaucracy refused to take responsibility — so Ensminger made it his mission to see to it that they did. Semper Fi tells the riveting story of that mission.
The label “No Wave” (riffing on the French New Wave) was the one most commonly affixed to the movement of directors, artists, musicians, and actors who created distinctive and groundbreaking cinema on New York’s Lower East side in the late 1970s, and Celine Danhier’s fascinating documentary vividly recaptures that very specific moment in underground cinema; she utilizes period footage and eloquent, often witty recollections of just about anybody who was anybody in that scene to help explain where America, New York, and Cinema were when these various misfits started picking up Super-8 cameras and making movies their own way, following their own rules.
Your author has an understandable weakness for documentaries about movies themselves; if Blank City whets your appetite, than I’d suggest turning to either (or both, what the hell) of these wickedly entertaining examinations of the peripheries of exploitation cinema from director Mark Hartley. The former is a raucous, joyous history and celebration of so-called “Ozploitation” cinema, low-budget genre pictures made in the 1970s and early 80s by the then-thriving Australian film industry. Some never made it off the continent, while others were repackaged for US exploitation markets, unspooling in the same grindhouses and drive-in theaters as their American counterparts — where their infectious energy and low-budget charm inspired would-be filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino (who appears in this documentary, of course). The latter focuses on the Philippines, where American exploitation filmmakers like Roger Corman found a haven of exotic locations and willing labor for next to nothing, and proceeded to make some of the most far-out and bizarre movies of the era. Both films move beyond the realm of clip compilation to penetratingly examine a time or movement in popular culture, and function as compelling documentaries in their own right; they’re smart, well-made, and funny as hell. (They’re also, if you couldn’t tell from the trailer above, very NSFW.)