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 titles from Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Nicolas Cage, Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Jason Sudeikis, and Alec Baldwin, plus an excellent documentary and what we believe is the greatest of all the Great Bad Movies. Check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
This muscular Shakespeare adaptation from star and director (in a confident filmmaking debut) Ralph Fiennes takes one of the Bard’s less-performed works and ingeniously transposes it into the modern era, with surprisingly workable parallels to not only our recent Middle Eastern scuffles, but domestic politics and economic protest movements. But those are merely entry points — as usual, the meat and potatoes here are the actors, and Fiennes pulls memorable turns out of a distinguished cast (Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Gerard Butler, and a fabulously ice-blooded Vanessa Redgrave) while doing some of his finest work to date in the title role.
You don’t have to be a gamer to get sucked into this fascinating documentary peek at the world of independent video game development — this viewer certainly isn’t. It doesn’t really matter; Indie Game is less about pixels and controllers than it is about creativity and accomplishment. Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky tell the parallel stories of two potentially successful games, but they’re more interested in the people behind them, and they luck out with a trio of intriguing characters, all possessing questionable social skills but an undeniable passion for the form. Intelligent, witty, and a lot of fun.
This 1999 effort is usually either overlooked in the Scorsese canon or maligned — for reasons that continue to elude us, as it’s one of the more energetic and visceral efforts of his post-Goodfellas filmography. Reteaming with screenwriter Paul Schrader (who penned Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ), Scorsese descends into early-’90s Hell’s Kitchen for this tale of an ambulance driver on the edge. It’s got a whirligig aesthetic and punk sensibility, and the performances are aces: John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, and (especially) Ving Rhames impress in supporting roles, and Nicolas Cage — contrary to the norm — is just plain excellent in the lead.
The best Martin Scorsese movie that Scorsese didn’t direct, this 1993 hybrid of coming-of-age movie and gangster picture marked the directorial debut of Marty’s favorite actor, Robert De Niro. Chazz Palminteri adapted his autobiographical one-man show, and took on the showcase role of Sonny, the likable neighborhood gangster. Paliminteri’s writing is nuanced, his characters complicated and challenging, and De Niro’s direction is modest but effective — you get a real sense of this neighborhood and its inhabitants. And good luck ever hearing “Come Together” again without flashing back to the film’s memorable encounter between Sonny’s crew and a visiting motorcycle gang.
We’d imagine a good percentage of the late-night Netflixers who stumble upon this title are going to expect a bit more skin and sex than the film actually delivers. But it’s worth a look — a surprisingly sweet and charming piece of work, its bawdy premise allowing writer/directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck to smuggle in some rather poignant material about emotional maturity and adult relationships. (Don’t worry — there’s dirty jokes and sex too.) The supporting cast is robust — Martin Starr, Will Forte, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell, Leslie Bibb, and Nick Kroll are all solid — and Jason Sudeikis delivers in his leading man role. Fluffy as a passing cloud, but enjoyable.
WHERE’S BUCKY? AND WHAT HAS HE HAAAAD? Some may make the case for Troll 2, or Plan 9, or The Room, but for our money, there is no better bad movie than Disco Godfather, the jaw-dropping 1979 train wreck from director J. Robert Wagoner and star Rudy Ray “Dolemite” Moore. This story of a cop-turned-nightclub-owner (Moore) who goes back into action when his nephew Bucky ODs on angel dust (or, as Moore calls it, “aaaaangel dust”) is so poorly written, so clumsily staged, and so grotesquely performed, there’s a kind of poetry to its incompetence. It’s hard to pick a favorite scene, there are so many to choose from (the DG’s intro; the “Attack the Whack” rally that speakers keep calling the “Whack the Attack” rally; Moore’s visit to police headquarters, with its dramatic employment of an unused phone, etc.), but we’d probably pick the title character’s visit to a hospital psych ward, where the twitching junkies provide backdrop to a terrifying tale of the dangers of “aaaangel dust.” Put your weight on it!
This enchanting animated effort is a rarity into this Pixar-and-Dreamworks climate: a hand-drawn film with a look and style all its own. Nominated for Best Animated Feature back in 2010, this story of a magical unfinished book doesn’t quite have a narrative to match its dazzling technique. Little matter; the film is a pleasure just to look at, all sharp angles and striking compositions against the green backdrops of Ireland.
Director Joshua Marston, who directed the remarkable Maria Full of Grace and one of the best segments of New York, I Love You, helms this challenging tale of old vendettas and long-established customs in northern Albania. It is, to be clear, not exactly a peppy picture, but it’s a powerful one; Marston directs with an unromantic eye and an anthropological immersion, and his slightly aloof, judgment-free storytelling is reminiscent of A Separation, another foreign film from last year that met with a bit more fanfare than this one. The Forgiveness of Blood is out next week on DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, but it’s streaming now on Netflix.
Director Richard Linklater’s collaborations with Ethan Hawke on Before Sunset and Before Sunrise have been justifiably celebrated, but this equally intimate 2001 effort has been strangely forgotten — possibly due to its low-fi video look, which is dated but certainly appropriate for the subject matter. This micro-budgeted three-hander features Hawke, his then-wife Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard in a story of romantic and plutonic betrayal; it drops off of Netflix Instant on Saturday.
Also off of Netflix Instant soon: this little-known but thoroughly compelling tale of suburban ennui in the 1970s. We know, we know, it sounds like The Ice Storm Lite, but it has its own wit and style, thanks to its angular screenplay (by director Derek Martini and his brother Steven) and crackerjack ensemble. Alec Baldwin is the stand-out, doing his lovable rogue thing with precision, but everyone is good: Rory and Kieran Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Cynthia Nixon, Timothy Hutton, and Emma Roberts, whose spunky, good-humored performance should be shown to anyone who insists her success in film is solely the result of Hollywood nepotism. (Sure, it helps, but she’s just plain good here.) In spite of its impressive cast and the presence of Martin Scorsese as executive producer, Lymelife came and went from theaters with little notice; it’s exactly the kind of movie home video and Netflix Instant were built for, a film that the curious viewer will discover and wonder why it’s such a well-kept secret.
That’s what we’re watching online this week — what about you? Share your recommendations in the comments!