Welcome to Flavorpill’s streaming movie guide, a new feature in which we 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 a new mash-up music documentary, films from Darren Aronofsky, Jim Jarmusch, and Werner Herzog, 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.
Gifted documentarian Amir Bar-Lve (My Kid Could Paint That) directs this fascinating musical mosaic, which made a quick transition from SXSW screenings last week to streaming on Hulu Plus. The idea is to team five DJ/producers (DJ Premier, Mark Ronson, Skrillex, Pretty Lights, and The Crystal Method) with big names in five totally divergent genres, and see what they come up with.
New this month on Netflix: Before the terror of Requiem for a Dream, the warmth of The Wrestler, or the WTF-was-that of The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky was just a struggling would-be filmmaker trying to make the best of his (very) limited resources. With a $60,000 budget and a few boxes of high-contrast 16mm black-and-white film, Aronofsky created the nightmarish tone poem Pi, a moody, paranoid thriller about a young mathematician slowly going insane.
Also new to Netflix streaming is Jim Jarmusch’s offbeat hybrid of Western, gangster flick, and Eastern mysticism, featuring a terse but gutsy lead performance by Forest Whitaker and a hypnotic score by the RZA. It’s a movie that sneaks up on you — the exposition is elliptical, the pacing almost maddeningly deliberate — yet it grows more intriguing with each subsequent viewing.
The brilliant (and entertainingly weird) German filmmaker Werner Herzog had always juggled narrative and documentary filmmaking, but this 2005 effort marked a turning point, where the filmgoing community began to see him as a documentarian first — and a remarkable one. Grizzly Man details Herzog’s investigation of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who lived among the grizzly bears of Alaska until they were killed by one in 2003. Herzog not only contemplates their acts (and his own as a filmmaker, when given access to a recording of their final moments), but giant, eternal questions of man and nature, and their interactions with each other. Also new on Netflix is the subsequent eight-episode Animal Planet series Grizzly Man Diaries , drawn from Treadwell’s videos, photos, and journals.
Netflix Instant also recently added Bill Maher’s 2008 anti-religion polemic; it’s classified as a documentary, but it’s not one, not really. The Real Time host is not all that interested in having a discussion or, as he states, asking some questions; he spends most of the running time finding closed-minded conservative religious types, and in his questions and (particularly) in his editing, making them look incredibly stupid. So it’s not what we might call a fair movie. But it is a very funny one, with some interesting points to make, and Maher’s “closing argument” is compelling, powerful stuff.
And if you’re in the mood for more fun with the insanely devout, we might point you towards Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s riveting documentary, now streaming on Hulu Plus (but expiring in just a couple of weeks). Ewing and Grady embedded themselves at Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where evangelical kids are taught to be good little soldiers in God’s army. It’s absorbing and a little frightening — but even if it weren’t, even if the rest of the movie were a waste, it’d still be worth seeing for the clip above, in which Pastor Becky prays for their Powerpoint presentation.
In the process of putting together yesterday’s post on the best American gangster films of all time, your author was delighted to discover that Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s original, 1932 version of Scarface is streaming, in its entirety, on YouTube (embedded above). It’s a tough, masterful little gangster movie, but don’t take our word for it — take Pauline Kael’s. “It’s a terrific movie… the film’s violence has the crazy, helter-skelter feeling of actual gun battles, and Paul Muni, with a machine gun in his arms, is brutal and grotesque, in a primal, childlike, fixating way.” Or take Francois Truffaut’s: “This isn’t literature. It may be dance or poetry. It is certainly cinema.” (If you’re in the mood for more classic gangster cinema, you can also find Little Caesar on YouTube in its entirety.)
Many of the films on Martin Scorsese’s 85-film long list of movies you must see (which we sliced and diced into this video essay) are available via the Criterion Collection, and much of the Criterion Collection is streaming on Hulu Plus. There, you’ll find Faces , The Flowers of St. Francis, Mishima, Peeping Tom , Rome Open City , and many more. But if you’ve never seen it, we must direct you to John Ford’s wildly influential 1939 film Stagecoach. It was the filmmaker’s first sound Western, his first film shot in Monument Valley, and his first of many pictures with John Wayne; it’s appropriate that the film inaugurated so many noteworthy elements of Ford’s filmography, as Stagecoach is, for all intents and purposes, the archetypal western. Everything that we think of when we think of the western came from Stagecoach, which distilled the genre conventions and made the damned thing respectable, and when Wayne comes onscreen with that great introductory tracking shot, it’s like he’s becoming a movie star before your very eyes.
Today is the last day Netflix is streaming the 2003 film Whale Rider, writer/director Niki Caro’s unexpectedly powerful story of a twelve-year old girl’s quest to become the chief of her people. Yes, it sounds like a chore to sit through, or at the very least a dull kid’s movie, but it’s neither; Keisha Castle-Hughes is astonishingly assured in the leading role, and Caro’s style sneaks up on you. The picture seems to meander, never boring but deceptively episodic, until it arrives at an ending that is genuinely moving and indescribably evocative.
Hear me out on this one. Yes, Michael Schultz’s legendarily terrible 1978 Bee-Gees-and-Peter-Frampton-as-the-Beatles musical is new on Netflix, and yes, it’s as epic bad as you’ve heard it is. And this, friends, is all the more reason to see it. You have to watch something truly, bafflingly awful every once in a while — if for no other reason than to clear the decks, and to better appreciate the good (or, perhaps, interesting but flawed) films that come before or after. And Sgt. Pepper is ill-conceived from top to bottom: the knuckledheaded screenplay, the lackluster musical numbers, the barely-present performances (suffice it to say that Frampton and the Brothers Gibb are as poor a fit for the Fab Four in screen charisma as they are in musical skill). “Watched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” bad movie authority Michael J. Nelson (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax) tweeted shortly after its Netflix arrival. “Can only assume cocaine was circulated throughout the studio at all times with industrial fans.”