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, there’s good stuff from Jake Gyllenhaal, Nicolas Cage, Anna Kendrick, Michael Peña, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Anna Feris, Michael C. Hall, and Elisabeth Shue, plus three brilliant documentaries. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
The fine folks at American Masters are streaming their just-aired documentary on the iconic comedian and filmmaker, which is one of their most delightful documentaries to date. Though getting up there in years, Brooks is a thrilling, energetic storyteller, and his interviews provide wonderful commentary — not only in the forms of biography and jokes, but in his remarkable candor regarding his sadness and occasional darkness. This is the story of a true comic genius, a man who helped change both television and film comedy. But it is also a love story; his late wife Anne Bancroft’s recollection of their meeting is winningly warm and funny, and when he recalls her death, you’re sad for him — that’s how thoroughly viewers are made to feel that they know this brilliant man, and how well they’ve grasped what makes him tick.
Director Alex Gibney is generating some controversy with his new film on Wikileaks — but his last one is getting some fresh attention as well, via a fascinating (and infuriating) article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. When it aired last fall, Gibney’s look at income inequality generated some trouble for New York’s PBS affiliate, WNET, which has one of Gibney’s chief targets, David Koch, on its board. Well, make that had David Kock on its board; he’s since resigned. The Mayer piece raises some important questions about the role of donors within an increasingly privately funded public television apparatus; the film is a compact summary of the inequality issue (with some rather juicy gossip thrown in), brought to life with Gibney’s customary force and intelligence. It’s not a terribly subtle movie, but boy is it an effective one.
David Ayer has made a specialty of rough-and-tumble LA cop flicks — he wrote Training Day and S.W.A.T., and directed Street Kings and Harsh Times. This time, he adopts something akin to a “found footage” format for the story of two beat cops in South Central, and while the device doesn’t make much narrative sense, it’s undeniably effective stylistically; he’s adopting the visual vernacular so common to modern horror films, and thus rendering this already gripping procedural even more tense.
The latest comedy from co-writer/star Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t generate as many laughs as Borat or Bruno — nor did it receive as much attention or box office success. But it has its share of genuinely funny (and provocative) moments, and if nothing else, it achieves the rare feat of coming up with something for Anna Faris to do.
Ben Shapiro’s fascinating documentary profiles Crewdson, a big-city artist drawn to small-town settings. His photographs, elaborately staged and deeply cinematic narrative works, are productions that cost nearly as much as indie film, and Beneath the Roses, the multi-year, multi-photo work that Brief Encounters focuses on, was originally envisioned as a film, its images telling rich, full stories. Shapiro’s film takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, observing the artist at work, on set, “directing” the compositions (“Position… and hold…”). In hanging back and looking, not just at the production but at the end result, Shapiro crafts an intimate and absorbing account of the creative process.
It seems appropriate that Peep World has arrived on Netflix around the same time as Arrested Development’s new season, since it owes such a clear debt to the show, from the wry narrator to the character types of the family members (the solid and dependable anchor, his unreliable loser brother, the spoiled brat sister, etc.) to the presence of Judy Greer in a major role. Unlike AD, Peep World is not a great comedy — but it does have its moments, mostly thanks to the stellar ensemble cast (particularly Sarah Silverman, who puts her role across mostly via her sheer force of personality).
Director Mike Figgis and stars Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue haven’t done much of note since they collaborated in 1995 for this melancholy romance, but something about their alchemy at that moment made for one of the most desperate yet powerful pictures of the decade. Cage’s tics and peccadilloes have never been better deployed, while Figgis’s off-the-cuff photography and naturalistic direction veers the melodrama-courting narrative into the realm of pure tragedy. It’s newly streaming on Netflix, and a nice reminder of what Cage can do when hungry for something more than an easy paycheck.