When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
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.)
Zach Galifianakis: Live
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?”)