Welcome to Flavorpill’s streaming movie guide, 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 films from Lars von Trier, Terrence Malick, and Werner Herzog; detective movies from our most recent video essays; a Warhol rarity; the first feature from Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird; and more. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Newly available via Netflix streaming, Lars von Trier’s latest netted a well-deserved Best Actress prize for Kirsten Dunst (and more than its fair share of controversy) at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film deals with nothing less than the end of the world, but in an astonishingly personal way, resulting in anxious, convincing, unnerving cinema — made all the more potent by von Trier’s efficient direction. It is a surprisingly modest picture from the Danish filmmaker, who is not exactly known for his subtlety; he doesn’t push for effect, and the end product is powerful, unforgettable cinema.
It seems like every time we do this feature, we end up recommending another Werner Herzog documentary, but hey, what can you do; the man is prolific, and good, and his stuff keeps popping up. Last week, Netflix added his latest doc, Into the Abyss, (simultaneous to its DVD and Blu-ray release), a gripping, thoughtful, and brilliant look at the death penalty in America. Herzog’s contribution to the discussion — aside from his usual fascination with peculiar details, and his distinctive narration — lies primarily in his choice of subjects. Instead of mounting the easy anti-capital punishment argument by focusing on an innocent man wrongfully accused (a la The Thin Blue Line or Paradise Lost), Herzog finds a young man on Death Row who probably is guilty — and then makes his convincing case against the death penalty.
When we last did this feature, commenter “Gerry” was kind enough to point out that Terrence Malick’s lyrical 1978 feature (his second feature, and his last for a full 20 years) is also streaming on Netflix. And, to be honest, we were aware of that fact when putting it together, but weren’t quite sure if we could get behind the idea of viewing Malick’s painterly compositions on a computer or (gasp) a phone. But hey, if that’s how you watch movies, have at it, and if you view your Netflix via a Blu-ray player or Roku box or whatever, then enjoy.
Our latest video essay, “Watching the Detectives,” ran down over two dozen of our favorite movie private eyes — in celebration of the 40th anniversary (and recent Blu-ray release) of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. And wouldn’t ya know it, Chinatown is available for streaming on Netflix, and if you’ve somehow made it this far in your life without seeing Chinatown, wow, tend to that. Polanski’s 1972 homage to film noir beautifully recreates the look and style of the 1930s cinema, while taking leaps into adult subject matter that those filmmakers could only dream of — all wrapped up in a distinctively modern plot of corrupt politicians and labyrinth conspiracies. All that, plus Faye Dunaway as a femme fatale with a secret, a chillingly villainous turn by John Huston (director of the 1941 Maltese Falcon! Symmetry!), and one of Nicholson’s career-best performances.
Also included in our tribute to movie dicks: Robert Altman’s pitch-perfect 1973 adaptation of the Chandler novel The Long Goodbye, which cleverly casts Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe (!) and sets him adrift in 1970s Hollywood. One of Altman’s best films, it manages to simultaneously josh, critique, and pay tribute to the detective movie; it also features one of Gould’s most indelible performances, and a neat little trick with the music that we’ll resist the urge to spoil here. Plus, keep an eye out for a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger, in one of his first films (and in his underwear).
We might file this one under “expiring soon,” since we’re amazed it has managed to stay on Netflix as long as it has (just shy of a month) without getting pulled. This 1966 experimental film, co-directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey, has never seen an official US home video release, on either VHS or DVD; Warhol fans have had to catch it at its rare museum screenings (as I did), or via bootlegs and torrents. Warhol created the film as an experiment in juxtaposition; he and Morrissey filmed several vignettes (all set at the Chelsea Hotel, most of them filmed there), which were then projected side by side, with two projectors, over the film’s three-plus hour running time. As with most of Warhol’s filmed work, it’s not “entertaining” in any conventional sense, and we’re not sure you’re going to find yourself riveted to the monitor or anything. But it is a fascinating film and a snapshot of an era, and not one you’ll have many chances to see.
The excellent indie streaming site Snagfilms recently added this gripping, queasy Academy Award nominee from director Andrew Jarecki, which tells the story of a seemingly model family from Great Neck, New York, unraveled by accusations of child pornography and molestation. What’s more, the entire ordeal was documented by the Friedmans themselves, who were audiophiles and shutterbugs, creating a fascinating and harrowing document of a family coming apart and a truth that seems forever out of reach.
The Nine Lives of Marion Barry
We usually do our best to wrap these streaming recommendations around a recent feature, or a current release, or an arrival or removal from a streaming service. And we could probably work up some sort of specific reason for recommending this one — something lame like it being an election year, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is, your film editor just got around to watching this absorbing HBO documentary last night (it’s been on my queue forever), and it’s terrific. Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer craft a nuanced portrait of a complicated figure, using his 2004 campaign for D.C. City Council as the framerwork for a compelling look at his many notable achievements and spectacular failures. His notorious fall is there, in full (and riveting) detail, but so is his rise — as a civil rights leader, as a notorious rabble rouser, and as (initially) a public servant of astonishing success. This is excellent, engrossing documentary filmmaking.
The Iron Giant
As we mentioned a couple of days back, this week marks the DVD release of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, the best of the series, and the first live-action effort of director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles). Coincidentally enough, his first animated feature is disappearing from Netflix tomorrow — so you’d better move fast on The Iron Giant, a critically acclaimed, deeply heartfelt story of a boy and his robot, featuring the voices of Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, and Harry Connick, Jr. (not exactly a confidence-inspiring cast, we know, but still…) Bonus: Netflix also streams the mid-80s, Spielberg produced Amazing Stories — including the season two, Bird-directed episode “The Family Dog,” which is just funny as hell.
Okay, two things: first, it’s kind of a light week, from a must-see streaming movies perspective. And second, if you share the thirtysomething age range of your film editor, there’s a reasonably good chance that you too have an altogether inexplicable affection for Disorderlies, the unremittingly stupid Fat-Boys-become-Ralph-Bellamy’s-caretakers movie from 1987. Let’s make this very clear: it is not a good movie. But it does capture a brief and odd moment where a fusing of rap and PG comedy seemed like a good idea, and if you saw it (as I did) at an age before you knew enough to know it was terrible, well, it may still hold some appeal. (It’s almost worth adding to your queue just to see the horrifying films that Netflix will then recommend. Mine included Going Ape, Ski Patrol, and He’s My Girl.) Warning: According to FeedFlicks, you’ve only got until May 1 to watch this gem.