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, Netflix did a big drop of catalog titles, some of them (like the ever-fluctuating 007 movies) returning after the notorious “Streamageddon.” So we’ve got great stuff from Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Elizabeth Banks, Seth Rogen, Kevin Spacey, Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Harvey Kietel, David Fincher, John Hughes, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Kevin Smith, and more. Check them out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
Director Dan Mirvish adapts Joe Hortua’s play, in which a group of college friends, now a pair of very different couples, re-collide on two occasions. In one meeting, one couple (Taye Diggs and Julia Stiles) are newlyweds and the other (David Harbour and Melissa George) are on the verge of divorce; two years later, one marriage is saved but the other is on the brink of destruction. The dialogue is rife with little tensions and tiny jabs, rendering the group dynamics credible — you believe these people, and these relationships. But it’s not just Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Lite; there’s some heavy subject matter here, about coastal and Midwestern snobbery, the decaying and compromising of dreams, and the ease with which we can fall in and out of love. Tensely directed and admirably performed, and tight without seeming boxed-in — as so many theatrical adaptations do. (Available for rental and purchase on Amazon and iTunes)
Directors Josh Koury and Myles Kane document Eric Swain and Troy Bernier’s two-year production of a 30-minute homemade sci-fi movie that is, it must be said, not very good. But this is a cheerful and good-hearted documentary, walking a fine line between observation and ridicule, and ultimately resisting the latter impulse (no matter how tempting it may be). Like Ed Wood or Mark Borchardt, Swain and Bernier are clearly in love with the mere act of making a movie, and Journey to Planet X salutes their dedication and hard work, while acknowledging that, yes, maybe the final product leaves something to be desired, quality-wise. (Streaming on Netflix Instant)
The great Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) constructs this riveting look at the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Mormon missionary, and the ex-girlfriend responsible. He said it was rape; she said it was a romantic encounter that left him racked with guilt. These are, it seems, categorically opposite descriptions of the same event, told with equal vigor — a salacious, sensationalistic version, and a flowery, romantic one. Who the hell is our reliable source here? And with that question, we’re getting into Morris territory. As usual, this is not a standard, dull, talking-heads documentary; he uses not only the peculiar interviews of key players, but odd little detours, ingenious illustrations, and weird archival footage to tell one of the strangest stories he’s ever unraveled (and that’s saying something). (Streaming on Netflix Instant)
Talk about good timing: in the midst of his increasingly controversial Kickstarter campaign, Netflix has resumed streaming two of Spike Lee’s finest films. The acknowledged classic is this 1989 drama, set in Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year, in which race relations bubble, and bubble some more, and then come to a fierce, full boil. The result is nuanced, energetic, and entertaining, taking on giant issues on a miniature scale and with a sure hand. Episodic in nature, yet flowing smoothly and effortlessly from scene to scene, this remains Lee’s masterpiece. (Streaming on Netflix Instant; more on the film, and its reception and reputation, here.)
Lee’s 1995 adaptation of Richard Price’s novel was far less universally acclaimed or commercially successful — a shame, but probably the result of its arrival at the end of the “hood movies” cycle that it served, in many ways, as a rejoinder to. Originally pegged as a Scorsese-De Niro collaboration, Lee teams with Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, and the great Delroy Lindo (his finest film work to date) to tell the story of a pair of homicide cops investigating a drug murder, and the prime suspect (Isaiah Washington) whose story is more complex than it seems. One of Lee’s most vibrant films, and most overlooked. (Streaming on Netflix)
This bawdy comedy from writer/director Kevin Smith is spotty and uneven — as most of his work is — but it’s got a loose, freewheeling vibe (the result of the director merging his hyper-scripted style with that of improv-loving star Seth Rogen), some terrific performances (particularly by an especially game Elizabeth Banks), and a warm heart pumping under all that raunch. And Craig Robinson pretty much steals the show, as usual. (Streaming on Netflix)
You guys can have your Fight Clubs and Social Networks; this viewer’s favorite David Fincher film, hands down, is his 2007 dramatization (and speculative investigation) of San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer. Among its many virtues (the quiet, throwback style; the moody cinematography; the uniformly excellent performances), it is a perfect marriage of filmmaker and material, as the notoriously prickly (but unquestionably skilled) director peers deep into the most notorious of America’s unsolved killing sprees, embracing and examining the trivia and dead ends that lesser filmmakers would have shrugged off and streamlined. But not in Fincher’s film — for him, the devil (as they say) is in the details. (Streaming on Netflix)
Kevin Spacey was ramping up his remarkable mid-‘90s winning streak when he played one of cinema’s great bad bosses in this fiercely sticky showbiz satire. Writer/director George Huang based his film on his own experiences as a Hollywood assistant, casting Frank Whaley as a wide-eyed wannabe and Spacey as his vile, nasty, endlessly condescending employer. Forget Horrible Bosses; this was Spacey’s O.G. bad guy, and he plays it with acidic vigor. (Streaming on Netflix)
Director Peter Hyams (Outland) wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel with this 1986 buddy cop comedy. It’s got all the familiar ingredients: a black guy, a white guy, a dastardly villain, big action set pieces, a big-city setting, and lots of wisecracks. What made this one special was the casting. Affable stand-up Billy Crystal and renowned hoofer Gregory Hines are not the first people you’d think of for a shoot-‘em-up action/comedy, but their remarkable byplay is what lifts this one above the crowd; as Roger Ebert wrote, Crystal and Hines each play their roles “as if they were both successfully stealing the picture.”
Oh right, like you need reasons to watch The Breakfast Club.