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 three great documentaries, plus good stuff from Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Angela Bassett, Ralph Finnes, Laura Linney, Emily Watson, Albert Brooks, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, Nick Nolte, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, Roger Corman, and more. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
New on Netflix and one of last year’s very best documentaries, this essay film from director Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) seems, for much of its running time, to take a Bowling for Columbine approach to the war on drugs — compelling but scattershot, following personal interests, footnotes, and sidebars without much discipline. Joke’s on us; in the film’s astonishing third act, Jarecki pulls together every strand into a piercing, biting, and highly persuasive thesis that causes the viewer to rethink their entire approach to this contentious issue. This is thought-provoking, bracing viewing.
Since 1964, every seven years, director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter) has made a documentary film revisiting a group of 14 participants, selected as children from varying social classes, to see where their lives had led them. 2012’s entry, 56 Up (new on Netflix) is the eighth film in this unique series, in which the inherent time capsule quality of documentary film is explicitly and powerfully harnessed to witness the passage of these specific lives.
Last year’s wonderful American Masters profile of the late, great Tonight Show host has just landed on Netflix, and it’s a real treat: a personal look at a very private man, filled with testimonials and a treasure trope of wonderful archival footage. Plus, what with the upcoming, sure to be silky-smooth transition of the program to Jimmy Fallon, it’s a nice reminder of how much The Tonight Show used to mean before it became the House of Leno.
Cinema in the mid-‘90s was fascinated — obsessed, even — with what virtual reality and gonzo science were going to mean to the human experience, and that rough theme binds these two box office flops from a-plus directors; both are new on Netflix, and they make an interesting double feature. Kathryn Bigelow directed (from a script by ex-husband James Cameron) the former, a combustible brew of post-Rodney King LA paranoia and pre-Y2K fear, featuring a wonderfully sweaty turn by Ralph Fiennes and some genuinely impressive (and scary) first-person camerawork. In the latter, John Dahl (Red Rock West) re-teams with Last Seduction leading lady Linda Fiorentino for the story of a doctor (Ray Liotta) investigating the murder of his wife via chemically reliving her final moments. It’s utterly preposterous, but moody, fast, and fun.
Another newly streaming catalog title, this 1983 thriller from director Roger Spottiswoode (Air America) and writer Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) recalls a time when Nick Nolte wasn’t a punchline, and there were few professions as cinematic and dramatic as the objectivity-challenged war correspondent. Gene Hackman is terrific in a key supporting turn; Ed Harris is slyly effective in an early role.
The current love-fest for Albert Brooks (via his supporting work in Drive and This Is 40, his excellent book 2030, and his reliably funny Twitter feed) means it’s about time to re-evaluate this well-reviewed but quickly forgotten Brooks vehicle from 1996, the last truly great movie he wrote and directed. He’s at his neurotic, impatient best as an unlucky-in-love novelist who moves in with his mother to figure out why he’s so bad with women; Debbie Reynolds is wickedly funny in the title role.
Peter Weir’s comedy/drama disappears and returns to Netflix fairly frequently, but it’s back on, and worth another look if you’ve not seen it lately. Appearing in 1998, on the eve of the reality television explosion, this story of a man who discovers his entire life has been fodder for a 24-hour television show was a remarkably prescient warning of our incoming obsession with watching mundane bullshit on television — right down to its perfect, remarkable closing beat.
Much was made of Hollywood legend Roger Corman’s recent launch of a paid YouTube channel, Corman’s Drive-In, but here’s an under-reported fact: several of the films in that initial launch (including Eat My Dust, Big Doll House, and Not of This Earth ) quietly returned to Netflix this month as well. They’re Corman movies, so you know what you’re gonna get — quickie production values, uneven performances, and so on. But you’ll also get the jolt of energy and enthusiasm unique to that studio, where up-and-comers were getting their first taste of moviemaking, and few films capture that spirit as well as Hollywood Boulevard. Corman let his ace trailer editors Joe Dante (who would go on to helm Gremlins and Small Soldiers) and Allan Arkush (Rock n Roll High School) direct this satirical portrait of a cheapo off-Hollywood exploitation movie studio not unlike their own.
It’s awfully easy to look at the trailers (or, better yet, the K-Mart ads) for Grown-Ups 2 and wonder if Adam Sandler ever did anything worth a damn. And that’s when it’s time for a fresh viewing of Punch Drunk Love, his peculiar and exhilarating 2003 collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson (it’s the bridge from his Altman homage period to his later, weirder stuff). In teaming with Sandler, whose early comedies he admired, Anderson pulled a neat trick: he placed Sandler front and center in what is not (technically, at least) a “comedy,” but neither he nor his star reinvented the Sandler screen persona. Instead, they turned it on its head, utilizing Sandler’s basic image in his better films (nice guy, agreeable, prone to fits of rage) and taking him seriously. You can see the actor taking a calculated and brave risk in every frame: faced with continuing to slum it in lazy garbage like Little Nicky or Mr. Deeds so as not to let down his talentless buddies who rely on him for a check, Adam Sandler here goes toe to toe with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and when Hoffman blinks, we believe it. But moviegoers stayed away — sophisticated audiences were scared off by Sandler’s presence, while his fans had no patience for his experimentation — and Sandler kept trotting down the road to Jack & Jill. Still, it’s nice to have Punch Drunk Love around, to remind us what he’s capable of when he bothers to show up.