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 Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Walter Matthau, Orson Welles, Dustin Hoffman, a Gus Van Sant classic, a serious turn by Will Ferrell, documentaries on sheepherding and gay politicians, and some much-needed levity from the MST3K crew. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Will Ferrell fronts this seriocomic drama (new on Netflix) from writer/director Dan Rush (based on the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance”), playing an alcoholic executive fired from his job and left by his wife on the same day. She tosses all of his stuff out on their lawn and disappears; he decides he’s not going anywhere, choosing instead to just hang out on his lawn and pretend he’s having a garage sale. Those of us in the audience who have seen an independent film or two are immediately on high alert for excessive whimsy, but Everything Must Go doesn’t fall into that trap; Rush insists on looking this fundamentally silly situation dead in the eye, and playing it without the cloying preciousness that we might expect. Its aims are modest — it’s a small film, in scope and ambition, but unexpectedly rich, and Ferrell’s unassuming work is delicate, graceful, and terrific.
Documentarian Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated, Sick, The Invisible War) is a rabble-rouser, and an unapologetic one; this muckracking 2010 picture (also new on Netflix) investigates hypocrisy in Washington and across America by freely and openly discussing the rumors of homosexuality that have long swirled around several prominent lawmakers. But it’s not just a gossipy whisper-fest; Dick deftly examines the themes of sexual identity and the importance of coming to terms with one’s own self — particularly when denying that can hurt so many others. It’s an important, funny, angry film, with a story that only gets timelier as election year anti-gay rhetoric grows more vehement.
Trailer provided by Video Detective
Another new one on Netflix: Gus Van Sant’s 1989 breakthrough film, which revitalized Matt Dillon’s career, introduced (to non-Corey movie audiences, anyway) an unreasonably attractive young actress named Heather Graham, and established Van Sant as a stylish cinematic gutter poet. Working from James Fogle’s autobiographical novel, Van Sant inengiously combines indie-movie grittiness, crime movie thrills, and gallows humor — a mixture that would prove popular among fellow indie filmmakers in the decade that followed (it’s hard to imagine the cinema of Quentin Tarantino without Drugstore Cowboy).
I’d imagine that if you took a poll of, say, ten friends, and asked each of them to describe their level of interest in watching a documentary about sheep herders, you’d end up seeing that movie alone. In its conception, Sweetgrass — recently added to Netflix Instant — sounds almost comically esoteric (Alright hippies, you think you like documentaries? Try this“). But it has a deliberate, elegiac style, and in many ways it proves the old maxim that the way to get people to listen closely is to speak quietly. With its lengthy, unbroken shots and eschewing of traditional documentary devices, some viewers will no doubt find it off-putting, if not achingly dull. But this viewer was fascinated by it. I would be lying if I said that my mind did not occasionally wander while watching it, but I’m not entirely sure that’s not supposed to happen (Zen and the Art of Sheep Herding?); it’s the kind of film that engages you with its images, and lets you linger on them and contemplate them for a while.
As Mike Nichols’ new Philip Seymour Hoffman/Andrew Garfield-fronted Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s classic is receiving raves, those outside of New York (or those of us who can’t quite pony up that ticket price) may find this an opportune time to check out the definitive film version of the play, a recent addition to Hulu. Shot for CBS back in 1984, this excellent adaptation by director Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) features Dustin Hoffman — in arguably the finest work of his career — as Willy Loman, and a young John Malkovich as tortured Biff. Neither actor is the first that leaps to mind for those roles, but after watching this moving and powerful version, you’ll have a hard time imagining anyone else.
We all have our weaknesses, and one of mine is this 1998 critical and box office disappointment, featuring Brad Pitt as Death and Anthony Hopkins as the billionaire he befriends on the way to the great Nothing. In the years since its release, Meet Joe Black has acquired a reputation as dull, overlong, and tedious, and y’know what, I can totally see where those snipes are coming from. But they don’t matter to this fan a whit. The movie is heartfelt, sweet, frequently funny (it’s got Jeffrey Tambor in a major role, for God’s sake), and its ending gets me every single time. Joe Black was the beginning of the end for director Martin Brest; it was his six-years-coming follow-up to the successful Scent of a Woman (also new to Netflix Instant this month), and it was followed, five years later, by his last film to date, Gigli. But you know how I feel about that one.
According to the reliable folks at Instant Watcher, several episodes of our beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 will be disappearing from Netflix Instant on May 15, including Red Zone Cuba, The Atomic Brain, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, The Touch of Satan, Hamlet, Gunslinger, and our favorite of the bunch, the hysterically funny season five episode I Accuse My Parents. If you’ve never seen the show (and our condolences, if that’s the case), this is as good a place to start as any: as per usual, your human and robot hosts watch a terrible movie in its entirety, riffing and wisecracking along with the action — or lack thereof, as in this laughably stiff 1944 juvenile delinquency picture.
No, we’re not talking about the inferior 2009 remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta; when it comes to Pelham, accept the original and no substitutes. This gritty 1974 action caper concerns a group of armed men (led by a pre-Jaws Robert Shaw) who take a New York subway car hostage, with transit cop Walter Matthau negotiating their million-dollar ransom. There’s so much to love here: David Shire’s brassy score (the sound of the city, for my money), Walter Matthau’s impeccable leading turn (this was one of a series of mid-70s crime movies that credibly cast the basset hound of an actor as an action hero — for another example, check out Charley Varrick, also streaming on Netflix), and one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Pelham didn’t just inspire a remake; its central premise pre-dates Die Hard and its countless imitators, while the color-coded nicknames of the criminal gang inspired Tarantino to do the same in Reservoir Dogs. Move fast — this one disappears from Netflix Instant on May 7th.
Also gone soon from Netflix Instant — but always easy to find on YouTube — is director Gregory La Cava’s quintessential screwball comedy, in which the lovable rich girl socialite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard, never better) hires the vagabond Godfrey (William Powell) as the family butler. Godfrey is fast-paced, funny, and once again timely: though originally a Depression-era mash-up of the haves and have-nots, it works these days as a hilarious melding of the 1% and the 99%.
Vanishing (like Godfrey) from Netflix Instant on May 12th is this 1949 film noir classic from director Carol Reed, recently selected by Martin Scorsese as one of the 85 films “you need to see to know anything about film” (see a clip from it, and the rest of his list items, in our related video essay). Reed’s film is a moody, witty treat, filled with gorgeous photography, an immortal zither score, quotable dialogue (the script was written by Graham Greene), and one of the most memorable and beautifully prepared entrances in all of moviedom for Orson Welles’ Harry Lime. (And if you’re in the mood for more Welles, his film version of Kafka’s The Trial disappears from Instant on the same day.)