Welcome to Flavorwire’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. This week, there’s good stuff from James Gandolfini, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans, Catherine Keener, Channing Tatum, Chris Hemsworth, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Ellen Page, Rainn Wilson, Anna Chlumsky, John Hawkes, Joss Whedon, Steven Soderbergh, Pedro Almodovar, and more. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Say what you will about the five-film build-up, the assault of advertising, the power of the Marvel brand, the all-star cast, and all the other elements that made Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up tale (new this week on Netflix) one of the highest-grossing films of all time. But those elements were merely what delivered its bang-up opening weekend; the film’s staying power and repeat visits (where the real money is made) were because the folks at Marvel were smart enough to bring in a smart filmmaker with a distinctive voice, and let him make both a tentpole summer blockbuster and a witty ensemble comedy.
The untimely death of James Gandolfini earlier this week has sent viewers scurrying to revisit not only The Sopranos but his often undervalued film work. This whip-smart 2009 political satire is a great place to start: Gandolfini is in superb comic form as quietly stymied Lt. Gen. George Miller, executing elaborate power plays and working out a troop invasion on a child’s giant pink calculator. And the film itself is a magnificently funny bridge between director Armondo Iannucci’s brilliant British series The Thick of It (which shares several characters) and its current HBO counterpart Veep (which features In the Loop cast members Anna Chlumsky, David Rasche, and Mimi Kennedy).
Amazon Instant Video has slapped a very reasonable .99 rental price on one of Gandolfini’s last movies, a film performance that deserves comparison to his TV work. His Mickey is a busted-out hitman brought in to pull an easy job, a hard luck case who spends most of his time hitting the sauce and telling his sad story. “What’re you gonna do? You do the best you can,” he shrugs, and then goes off to bang a bunch of hookers. On reflection, his character doesn’t really move the plot forward much. Or maybe he’s what the whole capitalism-and-criminality movie is actually about.
Aside from offering some interesting peeks into the group dynamic of a string quartet, this music-based drama (new to Netflix) is walking some awfully well-trod soil—the conflicts and confrontations are plenty predictable, and unfold about as expected. But that’s where the subject matter becomes analogous to the film: no one would complain about attending the titular ensemble’s concerts and hearing a bunch of songs they already knew. They’d go to appreciate the performances, and that’s what A Late Quartet provides. Along with the (to these uncultured eyes, anyway) totally convincing music scenes, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener’s portrayal of a troubled marriage is achingly true, Mark Ivanir’s frosty soloist is spot-on, Imogen Poots continues to carve out a niche as one of our most intriguing ingénues, and Christopher Walken turns in a performance that navigates gingerly between heartbreaking emotion and poker-faced restraint.
Julia Dyer’s melancholy period family dysfunction drama will remind many of The Ice Storm, but for all the right reasons: it’s emotionally wrecking, keenly felt, and beautifully detailed. Molly Parker is fierce and nasty as the alcoholic matriarch, and the great John Hawkes finds exactly the right sad, resigned note for the poor schmuck of a father. But the find here is a young actress named Olivia Harris (in her film debut), who inhabits the picture’s most complex character with grace and nuance.
Heads up, horror fans: this anthology flick is V/H/S x 4, with an international crew of 26 directors each taking a letter of the alphabet and constructing a scary and/or funny short around it (i.e., N is for Nuptials, I is for Ingrown, E is for Exterminate, and, of course, F is for Fart). The quality varies wildly—as these thing so often do—but several of the shorts pack a grisly, inventive punch.
James Gunn’s story of a loser superhero (Rainn Wilson) and his sidekick (Ellen Page) is a singularly unique movie-going experience—wildly uneven, skidding and crashing all over the goddamn place. It’s such a weird hybrid, this movie, an equal but odd mix of parody, gore, and honest-to-God pathos, yet it somehow works, landing jolts and laughs in equal measure and keeping the viewer’s attention (if for no other reason than to see what nutty thing they’re gonna do next).
Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited (out this Friday) is, as he’s said, a deliberate throwback to the spirit of the ‘80s—and the style of his films from that era. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Came at the end of that decade, and found the filmmaker starting to combine the fizziness of his early efforts with a darker psychological undercurrent. The latter made this one of the first films branded with the ill-fated NC-17 rating; that controversy helped make it an art house hit, and to mark its star Antonio Banderas as an actor to watch.
Channing Tatum has a new movie out this weekend, and that’s about all it takes to prompt another recommendation of Haywire, in which Steven Soderbergh gathers a high-profile cast of handsome dudes (not only Tatum, but Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas) and lets MMA fighter-turned-actor Gina Carano beat the holy hell out of them in a mesmerizing series of long takes and music-free action sequences. Sleek, pleasurable, thrilling entertainment.
That’s what we’re watching online this week—what about you? Let us know in the comments!