Another holiday weekend is upon us, with the Fourth of July luckily placed on a Friday for your three-day convenience. So you know what that means: lots of time on the couch, doing fuck all. But you know if you flip around on your overpriced cable box, you’re just gonna wind up on some Law & Order or Real Housewives marathon, and who’s got that many brain cells to kill? Instead, we point you in the direction of the best recent additions to Netflix’s streaming library — about 20 hours of great filmmaking to consume, which means you’re on your own for the other two days. (Click on the title link to watch them right now.)
Directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund peek into the crime-ridden slums of Rio de Janeiro, tracing several young men from childhood to young adulthood. But mere description — which makes the film sound like a solemn drama (or, even worse, “poverty porn”) — doesn’t do justice to the film’s rollicking energy and visceral power, which transform the tale into a kind of Brazillian Goodfellas (with all the structural inventiveness, jaw-dropping plot turns, and dark humor such a description entails).
Another story of young men scorched by the temptations and glamor of a life of crime, and searching for a way out of a dead-end neighborhood — this time, South Central Los Angeles. One of the most influential films of the ‘90s, with early and impressive appearances by Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Angela Bassett, Regina King, Nia Long, and Ice Cube (in his film debut, and what remains his best performance), it was a height that first-time writer/director John Singleton would never again approach. Much of its style and story became cliché in the following decade of “hood” movies, and some of the misogyny that would hamper Singleton’s later works is already on display. But it remains a powerful and important film, and Laurence (still going by “Larry”) Fishburne’s Furious Styles remains one of the all-time great movie dads.
Though they’re his primary preoccupation these days, Denzel Washington hadn’t done much in the way of action movies before super-producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson cast him in Tony Scott’s 1995 submarine flick. Though naysayers initially assumed it was just a half-baked Hunt for Red October rip-off, Tide is a smart, tightly wound picture much more reminiscent of The Caine Mutiny, and it wisely gives Washington and co-star Gene Hackman just as many serious dramatic beats as action ones; in fact, their big face-off scene halfway through is a pulse-raising duet scorcher in the “You can’t handle the truth!” mold. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Towne, and Steven Zaillian did uncredited rewrites; Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, Steve Zahn, and Ryan Phillipe all turn up in pre-fame roles.
The Proposition director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave re-team for this underrated bootlegging drama, marshaling an impressive cast: Shia LaBeouf, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, and Dane DeHaan all show up, though the standouts are the chameleonic Tom Hardy and the great Guy Pearce (in an archetypal fancy-pants villain turn). A tough, stark, and entertaining Depression-era drama.
Nothing like a movie that opens with a giant, screen-filling shot of an American flag to kick off your Fourth of July weekend, but don’t be fooled — Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1970 biopic of general George S. Patton is far more nuanced than your typical flag-waving melodrama. As played by George C. Scott (in a performance he won, but did not accept, the Oscar for), Patton is brave and brilliant, and also brutal and unsympathetic. (The script was by Edmund H. North and Francis Ford Coppola, whose work on it helped land the Godfather gig.) And it’s not just spewing empty idolatry at its subject; it’s the story of a major American military figure made at a time when the Vietnam conflict had created a pop-cultural attitude towards the armed forces that was, to say the least, complicated. Their solution was to make a film that viewed its subject through that lens of complication, seeing Patton as a complex and difficult man, both a warrior and a scoundrel, an inspiration and a bully. As a result, the picture understands and conveys the duality of American militarism, and allows the viewer to see both positions with equal eloquence.
Lest you wonder if Ryan Gosling ever really wanted to be a conventional leading man, consider this: his first major movie role was in this film, playing a neo-Nazi skinhead who also happens to be Jewish. As you might imagine, the film is difficult to take; writer/director Henry Bean (who penned Internal Affairs and Deep Cover) tells the story with a harrowing intensity. But Gosling’s performance is truly revelatory, imbuing this walking contradiction with both genuine humanity and honest-to-God horror.
With the most recent Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic selling out on Broadway (thanks to the presence of star Denzel Washington, and in spite of the fact that he’s a good 30 years too old for the role), it’s a fine time to check out this TV movie adaptation of Raisin’s previous revival, with the entire Broadway cast intact. The focus of that production was Sean Combs, who is actually quite good in the tricky leading role (no big surprise — he’s been doing solid acting work since 2001’s Made). But the showcase performance is Phylicia Rashad’s heartbreaking turn as the family matriarch; it’s a breathtakingly good piece of work, and a must-see for anyone who only knows her as Mrs. Huxtable.
Louis C.K. made movie history in January of 2010, when this performance film of his 2009 tour became the first stand-up concert movie to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. Later that year, Louie would debut on FX, so Hilarious captures him in the moment where he’s transitioning from comic’s-comic to comedy superstar; appropriately enough, it also includes the stand-up version of his viral sensation, “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” (above). But that’s not all that’s worth remembering here; as usual, it’s insightful, smart, and (obviously) hilarious.
“It’s wonderful to be almost 87,” confesses Elaine Stritch. “I’m tellin’ you, you can get away with murder.” A true living legend, the grand dame of stage, television, and film is here seen in rehearsal, at work, and holding court, all the while battling her progressively declining health. She’s famously grouchy and sharp-edged, but filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa also captures her rawness and vulnerability. She tells some great stories (her brief almost-fling with JFK is a howler), visits her hometown, and mounts her cabaret show while Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, and executive producer Alec Baldwin all turn up to sing her praises. They love her, and after the film is over, you can see why.
The term “pro-choice” has been bandied about for so long that it’s more of a placeholder than anything, but this extraordinarily compassionate, thoroughly thought-provoking, and incredibly timely documentary by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson gives the second half of the term its full due. The ostensible subjects are the four remaining doctors who perform third-trimester abortions after the murder of Dr. George Tiller, but it’s really about what goes on in those clinics — the difficult and often gut-wrenching choices made by not only the patients, but also the doctors. The deck occasionally feels stacked, but no matter; this is an important film that looks unblinkingly at an important subject.