Welcome to Flavorwire’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 documentaries, indies, classics, and titles from Louis CK, Steven Soderbergh, Eddie Murphy, Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Parker Posey, Jane Fonda, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Alicia Silverstone, and Chris Farley; check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
One of this year’s best documentaries profiles Jiro Ono, the 85-year-old Tokyo chef whose 10-seat restaurant (that serves one dish, a $300-a-plate “chef’s recommended special course” of sushi) books months in advance and has become a world-renowned foodie destination. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn’t just about mouth-watering close-ups and Food Channel-style logistics (though there’s plenty of both); it’s about the discipline of a man who has dedicated himself to achieving perfection, and continues to strive for that unattainable goal.
Newcomer Evan Glodell writes, directs, and stars in this peculiar but undeniably effective hybrid of mumblecore romance and Mad Max movie. It’s occasionally overblown, but this is a raw, pulsing, uniquely alive motion picture, filled with keenly observed performances and shot in a distinctive and memorable style. And you have absolutely no frigging clue where it’s going from one scene to the next, which is reason enough to recommend it.
Close-watchers of Steven Soderbergh’s career (including us) found it mighty peculiar that he would choose to spend his time and talents on an action/revenge movie centered on an MMA superstar who’d never carried a film before. We should have known better; as he had with the whistle-blower drama, the disaster picture, the anti-drug movie, and the heist caper, Soderbergh took an established genre with its own rules and bent them to fit his specific, hyper-intelligent style. Haywire (new on Netflix Instant) is almost as interesting for what it doesn’t do than what it does: no dizzying handheld camerawork, no hyperactive overcooked editing, not even music pounding through star Gina Carano’s many fight scenes. He shoots them continuously, from a slight distance, in an almost reverential hushed silence; he’s watching an athlete at work, an artisan of ass-kicking. Sleek, pleasurable, thrilling entertainment.
John Huston’s 1951 classic features adventure, romance, and Bogie and Hepburn at their best (Bogart won his only Oscar for the role). But the film was, for a good long while, weirdly MIA on DVD — in fact, it was the last of the original AFI 100 unavailable in that format. The problem was with rights and elements; though distributed by United Artists, it was financed by British independents Horizon Pictures and Romulus Films, and though Paramount inherited home video rights to the film clear back in ’97, Romulus had the original Technicolor negatives that Paramount would need for a digital restoration. After years of effort, The African Queen finally hit DVD and Blu-ray back in 2010, and now it’s up on Instant. Ain’t technology grand?
We all love Louie, but it’s easy to forget that the show is not Louis CK’s debut effort as a writer/director; he was also the auteur behind the 2001 comedy Pootie Tang, based on a series of sketches on Chris Rock’s HBO show (on which CK was a writer). Reviews at the time were, well, not kind (“This movie is not in a releasable condition,” wrote Roger Ebert) and audiences didn’t know what the hell to make of it. Seen today, through the prism of Louie’s eventual success and crystallization of his style, it’s still not a great movie — but it is an interesting one, with some genuinely funny sequences and a winning performance by Wanda Sykes.
A couple of weeks back, we had a discussion (and took some heat) for a post in which we gently suggested that a few film stars were clearly not going to contribute much more to the general good and might consider a quiet retirement. A couple of titles just added to Netflix Instant confirm how far the mighty have fallen. Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America is formulaic and overlong, but boy does it deliver the goods laugh-wise — particularly in those uproarious barber shop scenes (“His mama named him Clay, I’m gonna call him Clay!”). Face/Off, meanwhile, serves as a reminder that Nicolas-Cage-as-action-star wasn’t always a terrible idea; under the stylish direction of John Woo, Cage and Travolta insert jolts and laughs into an utterly preposterous but undeniably entertaining shoot-’em-up.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when we explained why we can never get tired of watching Amy Heckerling’s unexpectedly wise and witty 1995 teen comedy? Well, now it’s on Netflix Instant, so we’re not sure how exactly we’re supposed to get any work at all done around here.
We usually don’t quote from Netflix plot summaries at length, but indulge us, because we’re driving at something here. Ahem: “A shapely 41st-century space traveler must apprehend scientist Durand Durand, whose creation threatens to bring evil back to the galaxy. En route, Barbarella discovers the joys of celestial sex and has kinky misadventures with bizarre characters.” It’s worth taking in that entire description in order to more forcefully make the point that, in 1968, there were so many drugs floating around Hollywood that a major motion picture studio financed and distributed a movie with that plot. And director Roger Vadim managed to talk his wife Jane Fonda into starring in it. And, even if the film weren’t entertainingly silly and jaw-droppingly out-there, she would still make it worth sitting through, if you catch my drift.
Another new to Netflix title (Paramount, as you may have noticed, dropped a metric ton of catalogue titles a couple days back), and we know, we know, we spend a lot of time on these pages railing against rampant stupidity onscreen, dumb-guy comedies and nut-punch payoffs, but look: we’re not made of wood. When Spade picks up the loudspeaker and does the airplane safety announcement? Uncle. They win. We can’t resist. (And if you don’t like it, well, your brain’s got the shell on it.)
We never stopped liking Parker Posey, but her recent, marvelous appearance on Louie does make it appear that Hollywood still hasn’t figured out exactly what to do with her. It’s not like they haven’t had time to work it through — Party Girl, her big breakthrough film, came out 17 years ago, for God’s sake. It expires from Netflix on Sunday, and now’s as good a time as any to check out our first good look at her unique onscreen persona (as well as to figure out how the hell somebody thought it would make for a good sitcom).
That’s what we’re watching this week — what about you? Let us know in the comments!