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 the likes of Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Alec Baldwin, Mila Kunis, Jason Bateman, Edward Norton, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Jane Lynch, Paul Rudd, Kristen Stewart, Jessica Alba, and Jesse Eisenberg; check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Last week, the AV Club did a pair of excellent entries in their regular “Inventory” feature, one of them listing films improved by the release of their “director’s cuts,” another of movies weakened by said cuts. It says something about the split opinions (often among the same viewers) of Francis Ford Coppola’s vastly expanded 2001 recut of Apocalypse Now, dubbed Apocalypse Now Redux, that it took the top slot on both lists. The 49 minutes of additional footage give the film a greater weight and more epic scope, and include some powerful moments; it also includes several meandering sequences that nearly undercut the entire enterprise. Thankfully, both versions of the film have just been added to Netflix streaming, so you can watch both (if you’ve got seven or so hours to kill) and judge for yourself.
This 1998 poker drama (new on Netflix this month) is a classic example of a cinematic slow starter; it did little business on its initial release, but within a couple of years, the explosion of recreational Texas Hold-‘Em play (the picture’s primary card game) made the film a belated hit on home video. This tale of a reformed card player (Matt Damon) and his eternal screw-up of a buddy and partner (Edward Norton) feels written from the inside — there’s lingo, and lots of it, convincingly mouthed by the strong ensemble cast, and the picture have a good ear for the kind of street poetry rhythms found in David Mamet’s best work (“But about the money, I gotta say this: I gotta say no”). The direction, by the great and underrated John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), is moody and atmospheric, the lighting and music drenched in noir¬, the smoke in the poker rooms thick enough to smell. Some of the supporting characters are thin (and yes, Malkovich’s accent is ridiculous), but this brisk melodrama is fast-paced fun, and prime for repeat viewing.
Also new this month is the second semi-improvised comedy from director Christopher Guest and his rep company, which may very well be their best; the laughs are huge, the group’s rhythms are even tighter than in its predecessor Waiting for Guffman, and the additions to the crew (including Jennifer “Stifler’s Mom” Coolidge, Guest’s Spinal Tap castmate Michael McKeon and, in her breakthrough role, Jane Lynch) are ingenious. And if there’s a funnier third-act supporting role than Fred Willard’s, we can’t think of it.
Our video essay on the “semi-obligatory lyrical interlude” (or SOLI for short) included several clips from Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut (newly streaming on Netflix), though Eastwood stood out from the crowd for his choice to use the already-clichéd device to also build in a bit of dread and creepiness. The reason for that dread? Lucille Bluth. Yes, the great Jessica Walter plays Evelyn, who embarks on a romance with Eastwood’s California disc jockey that takes a turn for the worse. The stalker storyline has been done to death in the years since, but seldom this directly and effectively. Much of its success is due to Walters, who is just plain superb, effortlessly toeing the line between sexy and crazy. Eastwood’s acting is grounded and believable, and his direction is assured, particularly for a first-time filmmaker. Play Misty came out in 1971, and Eastwood is still cranking out new movies, forty-plus years later; this remains one of his best.
Leon Gast (who directed one of the all-time great documentaries, When We Were Kings) helms this documentary profile of Ron Galella, the self-proclaimed “paparazzo superstar,” and regards the pioneer celebrity photographer with a mix of admiration, disbelief, and mild censure. Gast crafts the film as both a biography that looks at Galella’s past, and as a snapshot of who he is today. The photog wanders through his massive, overflowing archives, pulling out stacks and telling tales — most memorably of when he was punched by Marlon Brando, and of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whom he pursued with a relentlessness that bordered on obsession for something like the last twenty-five years of her life. She called the police on him in 1969; her directive to them provides the title for this fascinating documentary.
Alec Baldwin has managed to successfully make the transition from spotty leading man to beloved character actor, but this 1999 comedy/drama came at the beginning of that changeover. It was greeted with mixed reviews and indifferent box office at the time of its release, but it’s worth a look for Baldwin’s terrific supporting role as the tough dad of protagonist Tim Dunphy (Shawn Hatosy) — and for the rare opportunity to see the Farrelly brothers (who co-wrote with director Michael Corrente) coloring outside their usual broad-comedy lines.
Another period coming-of-age comedy/drama new to Netflix this month: this wonderful 2009 picture from Greg Mottola, who was unable to recapture either the box office heat of his Superbad or co-star Kristen Stewart’s Twilight. That’s a shame, because it’s a warm, winning, and very funny little movie, and not only are stars Jesse Eisenberg and Stewart outstanding (a fact worth remembering when watching her lifeless turns in the Twilight pictures and the recent Snow White), but the supporting cast is full of people we love: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Reynolds, Wendie Malick, and Freaks & Geeks/Party Down MVP Martin Starr.
Mike Judge’s 2009 comedy is neither as relatable as Office Space nor as slyly subversive as Idiocracy, and it propels itself from scene to scene more out of good-natured curiosity than genuine comic momentum. It doesn’t have the kind of motor that a great comedy requires, but no matter; it’s got enough funny bits and inspired concepts to more than sustain viewer interest. If it clatters around and feels a bit rudderless, it’s hard to get too picky about a movie with as much clever observational humor and as many engaging and funny performances — Jason Bateman is at his wry best, Ben Affleck is hilarious as his dopey stoner buddy, J.K. Simmons is as charmingly unflappable as ever, and Mila Kunis is, well, Mila Kunis.
This 2007 comedy reunited Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain with several members of that film’s cast, and while its hit-and-miss, episodic structure keeps it from hanging together as well as the earlier film, there are still plenty of very funny bits here. Wain and co-writer Ken Marino (both vets, along with much of the ensemble, of The State) take on the Ten Commandments, with each of “the ten” the subject of a comic vignette. Some are forgettable; some (like Winona Ryder’s romance with a ventriloquist’s dummy) are laugh-out-loud funny. And Paul Rudd, who serves as both the film’s host and a participant, is very, very Paul Rudd (and that’s meant as a compliment).
Earlier this week, we pleaded for ten of our favorite movie stars to come out of retirement, and no less than three of them appear in Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking 1967 crime drama: Gene Hackman (in his film debut) plays hostage Eugene Grizzard, Gene Hackman plays Buck Barrow, and Warren Beatty stars as Clyde Barrow, whose crime spree with Bonnie Parker became a Depression-era media sensation. Too much has been written about the greatness of Bonnie and Clyde for us to add much to the conversation: if you need to be talked into watching it, we’d suggest giving a read to Pauline Kael’s (deservedly) famous New Yorker rave.