The Labor Day weekend doesn’t begin until end of day tomorrow, but c’mon, who’re we kidding — you’ve already checked out for the week, and it’s time to start making plans. And while we know some of you (shudder) sociable types will be heading out to lakes and barbeques and such destinations to enjoy the end of another summer, we’re catering (as usual) to the shut-ins, who’re taking the three day holiday weekend to catch up on some long-delayed nothing-doing. So here are a few of the recent(ish) additions to Netflix and Amazon Prime to add to your holiday weekend viewing lists; just click the title link to watch them right now.
It is, without question, Shailene Woodley’s year: The Fault in Our Stars was the sleeper hit of the summer, Divergent was, well, Divergent, and she’s fronting a new Gregg Araki movie this fall. But for my money, she hasn’t—and may never—top her breakthrough turn in last year’s achingly good coming-of-age romantic drama, which is a performance so natural and true that it seems less like acting than existing. It matches the film’s unvarnished honesty, which, yes, did remind me of Say Anything; judge for yourself, oh Amazon Prime members.
Jeremy Saulnier’s dramatic thriller is sharp, riveting, visceral filmmaking, with a steady stream of haunting, arresting images (and surprisingly little dialogue, particularly early on) telling the story of a drifter who goes after the newly-released man who killed his parents. But this isn’t merely an art-house Death Wish, and Saulnier has more on his plate than a mindless revenge tale; it’s a gripping, tightly-wound picture, inviting the viewer to watch with helplessness and dread as a bad situation spins further and further out of control.
When co-writer/director Scott Cooper’s follow-up to Crazy Heart was released last winter, reviews were savage, and it sunk without a trace. Maybe it’s a matter of adjusted expectations, but your film editor found this backwoods drama to be atmospheric and frequently gripping—and filled with terrific performances, including an all-too-rare, all-out villainous turn by Woody Harrelson in prime skin-crawling mode.
I’ll confess, I’m endlessly amused by the idea of the casual Netflix skin-seeker stumbling upon Lars Von Trier’s two-part all-you-can-eat buffet of sexual dysfunction, and getting their minds blown. Not all of the tangent-prone filmmaker’s detours and experiments work, but there’s scores of material to unpack and consider here — on sexual double-standards, gender roles, infidelity, and intellectualism — and if the Nymphomaniac films are messy and unruly, they also showcase what a provocative director can do with this kind of free rein. (Full review here.)
Oscar-winner Errol Morris crafts the closest thing he’s ever made to a sequel, following up the spirit and style of The Fog of War, his 2003 documentary profile of Robert McNamara. Here, he turns his first-person camera to another controversial and much-reviled Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld — and again, he resists the urge to frame him as some sort of Bond villain and leave it at that. Instead, via pointed interview segments, sly juxtapositions, and ingenious visual devices, he asks what makes this man tick: why he made the decisions he made, and how he lives with them. Penetrating, insightful, and brilliant. (Full review here.)
An inventive archival montage with some decidedly modern techniques thrown in, this documentary from director Matt Wolf blends aged newsreels, educational films, diary entries, and dramatizations to create a portrait of the teenager — the origin of the term, and the concerns of the age that transcend borders and calendars. Wolf sprints through history and casts a worldwide net, bouncing back and forth across the Atlantic and peeking in on preoccupations of adolescents ranging from the jitterbug to Hitler Youth. Wolf’s style is a touch peculiar (he’s aping a form that we haven’t seen much of since Atomic Café all those years ago), but it works; this is an ambitious, informative, and often slyly funny time capsule.
Nine years ago this weekend, Hurricane Katrina was ripping through Louisiana and Mississippi, creating a humanitarian crisis that stunned a nation (and put a final nail into the coffin of the Bush administration). Spike Lee’s stunning four-hour, two-part documentary aired that weekend the following year, and it still vibrates with the rage, pain, and intensity of the time; angry, moving, and powerful, it remains his crowning achievement as a nonfiction filmmaker. And it was included in the package of HBO programming recently added to Amazon Prime, so it’s a fine time to revisit this harrowing chronicle of an American outrage.
This one rotates and off Netflix fairly frequently, but several factors make it worthy of a revisit this weekend. First, this year marks the 100th anniversary of its subject, the great Charles Chaplin, making his film debut. Second, it’s a nice reminder that those who were paying attention always knew that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be a real force. But most importantly, it was one of the last major directorial efforts of Sir Richard Attenborough, who died last week. And I’ve always felt this to be his most underrated work; it paints a compelling picture of historic Tinseltown (thanks, in no small part, to memorable supporting turns like Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks and Marisa Tomei as Mabel Normand), and at least hints at the enormous complexities and contradictions of one of cinema’s most fascinating figures.
Another perpetual on-again, off-again Netflix fave, and this time, I don’t have a timeliness peg to hang this one on: I’ll just always watch Rounders, whether on one of its many cable-TV airings or online, drawn in once again by its intoxicating jargon, Mean Streets-esque central relationship, evocative mood (courtesy of perpetually underrated director John Dahl), and, of course, John Malkovich’s terrible Russian accent. PEE THYAT MIN HES MYUNEY! (Full review here.)
Between the rapidly decreasing returns of the Hangover series and the $533-per-screen opening of Are You Here (yikes), it might be safe to worry about the falling star of Zach Galifianakis. And that’s all the more reason to queue up the man in his prime, with this stand-up special, taped at the Purple Onion in San Francisco in 2005. Not only does it offer our longest look at his absurdist, Kaufman-esque act, but that performance is complimented by very funny interview clips with his soft-spoken, conservative brother “Seth” (played by Zach, doing a character he would later adapt for The Campaign ). It’s full of bizarre bits, uproarious non-sequiturs, and quotable lines; my favorite remains his characterization of a frustrated wine drinker trying to place an order (“What did they drink in Sideways?”), which turns into a meta moment (worried about dating the DVD with an old reference, he rephrases, “What did they drink in Sideways 2?”)