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 Ryan Gosling, Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Mel Brooks, Bill Murray, Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Robin Williams, plus new documentaries and an ‘80s classic. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Last summer’s critical sensation was perceived as a box-office disappointment, but we weren’t much surprised — in spite of the movie star at its center, Nicolas Winding Refn didn’t exactly make a crowd-pleaser here. What he did make is a dark, brutal, wildly unpredictable slab of nihilistic cinema that is filled with homages and echoes yet is its own fierce, savage beast. With its wild tonal shifts and blood-spattered back half, Drive dances right up to the edge of parody, but miraculously doesn’t cross it. It’s a weird, twisted, memorable bit of B-movie decadence, and its addition today to Netflix Instant means we might not get quite as much work done as we should.
William Monahan’s British gangster yarn kicks off with the most tough, joyful, strap-yourself-in-cuz-we’re-watchin-a-picture-show opening credits sequence in many a moon: big bold lettering, sliced-up images, and the pounding sound of the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul.” (Your editor was so inspired by the sequence, I wrote a post around it.) There’s such fierce energy and raw power bursting from the screen that it seems like a promise the picture can hardly keep, and who knows, maybe it doesn’t. In terms of plot, tone, and structure, London Boulevard is something of a mess, full of pieces at odds with each other that Monahan is constantly struggling to snap together. He ultimately just slams them all into each other and barrels on through — and he does it with such sheer bravado and confidence that we end up going along with him. It doesn’t really hang together, not really. But when a picture is this sleek and pleasurable, why complain?
New on Netflix Instant, director Kristian Fraga’s 2010 documentary assembles hours of tapes shot by Marine Lt. Mike Scotti in 2003, as his company traveled the Persia Gulf to Kuwait and through Iraq as part of the first push to Baghdad. In its specific focus on that moment in the “War on Terror,” it’s something like a non-fiction version of Generation Kill, and as with that show, it offers an honest and gloss-free look at the men on the ground — presumably thanks to Scotti’s status as a member of the company, his fellow troops feel free to be themselves, so it often feels like we’re eavesdropping, catching these guys with their guards down. There has certainly been no shortage of documentary examinations of the Iraq conflict, but this one offers some keen insights and valuable footage, and it conveys a palpable sense (the fires, the bodies, the smells) of its subjects’ day-to-day lives.
In putting together last week’s video essay on the “Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interlude,” we had to resist the temptation to simply include the entirety of Ralph Macchio and Elisabeth Shue’s first date in Karate Kid and call it a day. (Can you feel the night?) Lucky us, that very film — the original, 1984 version, accept no substitutes — just returned to Netflix Instant, so you can wax on, wax off and paint the fence and sweep the leg and get him a body bag and FINISH HIM to your heart’s desire.
Like anyone else with a childhood or a soul, we were immensely saddened by the death last week of the great children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Assembled from years of interviews that co-directors Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs shot with Sendak during the long process of bringing Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are adaptation to the screen, this up-close documentary catches the curmudgeonly author in his element, holding forth on his life and art in his inimitably grouchy yet warm style.
Oh, Kevin Smith. Love him or hate him (and we’ve done both), you’ve got to admire his chutzpah and his entrepreneurship; the guy has made himself into a one-man cottage industry, between his films, social media, podcasting network, and live shows. The performance videos of those live shows, which are a kind of hybrid between fanboy Q&A and stand-up, are more entertaining than some of his films, so we’re looking forward to checking out this new one, which just debuted on Netflix Instant after premiering last spring on EPIX.
The early-May drop of new Netflix Instant titles was so good that we had to hold over a few from our last edition of the Streaming Movie Guide for this one. Take, for example, Mel Brooks’ riotously funny 1977 Hitchcock parody, in which Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks) finds his life and sanity in danger when he is appointed to take over the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Brooks sends up Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest, Spellbound, The Birds, and several other Hitchcock classics, while tossing in some terrific bits of his own making (let’s face it, any movie that has Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman in a torrid S&M affair is worth at least the courtesy of a glance). Rumor has it that Hitch was so pleased with the parody that he sent Brooks six magnums of 1961 Château Haut-Brion wine to show his pleasure.
Harold Ramis and Bill Murray’s comedy classic also returned to Netflix Instant this month, but let’s be honest: it’s not like you ever need a new excuse to watch Groundhog Day again.
Last week, in profiling writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait upon the release of his new film God Bless America, we made casual mention of his previous picture World’s Greatest Dad. But that one hasn’t made its way into your Netflix queue yet, allow us to give it another push — particularly since most of us are no longer at a point where we’re actively seeking out Robin Williams comedies. (Your film editor’s father, for example, was shocked that it was on my shelf — because he was confusing it with Old Dogs.) But this is a deeply disturbed, off-kilter dark comedy, bold and strange and frequently uncomfortable, yet strangely exhilarating in its take-no-prisoners approach. And it’s Williams’ best work in years.
Earlier this week, we picked out ten memorable summer movie vacations, and several of them can be found on Netflix or Hulu, but we’d like to take particular pains to point out that this brilliant seriocomic drama from director Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) is among the instantly watchable, and is well worth 105 minutes of your time. Moody, evocative, funny, and sexy as hell (seriously, this is one NSFW movie).