Welcome to Flavorpill’s streaming movie guide, in which we help you sift through the scores of movies streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and other services to find the best of the recently available, freshly relevant, or soon to expire. This week, we’ve got great titles from the likes of Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Buster Keaton, J.J. Abrams, Oliver Stone, Max Ophuls, Gaspar Noé, and the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000; check them all out after the jump, and follow the title links to watch them right now.
J.J. Abrams’ homage to the suburban cinema of Spielberg (who also is credited as executive producer) gets a little draggy in its second hour, but the first act is just plain terrific: a warmhearted valentine to the joy of making movies, the bonds of adolescent friendship, and the pangs of first love. It’s new on Netflix this week, and is well worth your time.
Also new to Netflix this week is, literally, one of your film editor’s favorite movies ever: James Foley’s electrifying 1992 film adaptation of David Mamet’s blistering Pulitzer Prize winner. Mamet’s poetically brutal dialogue has never been better captured on film, Foley’s direction is stylish but unobtrusive, and he’s blessed with one of the best ensemble casts in cinema history: Jack Lemmon, playing for sympathy, then taking advantage of that sympathy; Al Pacino at his razzle-dazzle hot-shotiest; busted-out Ed Harris and Alan Arkin, in an extended and breathtaking duet, lobbing Mamet’s dialogue at each other like Wimbledon finalists; a then-unknown Kevin Spacey at his absolute wormiest; and the single best five minutes of Alec Baldwin’s career. Now will you go to lunch?
We missed this announcement a little over a month ago, and shame on us. Cinematic Titanic, if you’re unaware, is the uproariously funny group comprised of five cast members of the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000 (including series creator Joel Hodgson). They tour the country, doing pretty much what they did on MST3K: watching terrible movies and commenting on them, this time in front of live audiences. They’ve done a dozen DIY DVD releases so far (the first batch done in studio, like the original show, the more current ones taped at those live performances), and at the end of June, the VOD provider Film Chest nabbed streaming rights to the show, putting ten of their titles up on Hulu. They’re all insanely funny, but for our money, the best of the bunch is their destruction of East Meets Watts (aka Dynamite Brothers), an utterly atrocious 1974 blaxpoitation/kung fu mash-up.
When we posted our video essay of “The Trippiest Movies Ever Made” last week, a few commenters were, as usual, kind enough to point out a few exclusions. One title that kept coming up was Gasper Noé’s Enter the Void; in fact, one commenter dubbed its absence “a grievous oversight.” It’s very easy to get defensive about this kind of thing, but your film editor is here to beg forgiveness: I have no idea how I didn’t think to include that one. Narratively uncompromising and visually stunning, Noé’s 2010 mediation on drugs and death is a lengthy, contemplative, and demanding picture — most audiences will find it too long, too repetitive, and too indulgent. But those who like this kind of thing will really like it here, if you catch my drift.
Another shameful omission: as commenter “Michael” pointed out, our list yesterday of great comedies based on true stories was conspicuously missing Buster Keaton’s masterful 1926 comedy The General, inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase (also dubbed Andrews’ Raid) of 1862. Keaton co-wrote, co-directed and starred as Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who gives chase when his locomotive and his girl are swiped by Union spies. As usual for Keaton, the story is mostly a clothesline on which to hang his intricate, ingenious gags, but this narrative has an inherent momentum that gives the picture a go-go-go quality — and that quality makes it particularly attractive to today’s audiences, who don’t have to squint too hard to see the origins of modern action/comedy here.
Few pieces of film news have left us as utterly befuddled as this week’s news that John Travolta is attached to star in a PG-13 reboot of The Toxic Avenger, the notoriously goofy 1984 flick that put Troma on the map. The actor’s not exactly known for his stellar decision-making, on or off screen, but we’re still not sure a) why you’d want to do a PG-13 reboot of Toxie, or b) where Travolta would fit into it. Ah well; the original is streaming on Netflix, so you might as well take another look and see if you can make heads or tails of this announcement.
Last week, we discussed Wes Anderson’s list of his favorite films for Criterion, and if his comments got you curious, don’t forget: most of the Criterion Collection (including titles they’ve not released on disc) is streaming on Hulu Plus. And that streaming version of the collection luckily includes Max Ophuls’ 1953 masterpiece, which Anderson dubs “a perfect film.”
Our last three titles all drop off of Netflix streaming at the end of the month, to make room for a promising slate of September titles. So now’s the time to revisit Oliver Stone’s 1994 cause célèbre, which popped up more than once in our montage of “The Trippiest Movies Ever Made” — and Mr. Stone, lest we forget, was one of the directors whose recent dip in quality we lamented last month. But he was firing on all cylinders when he made Natural Born Killers, adapting Quentin Tarantino’s lovers-on-the-run screenplay into a scathing, brutal, and frequently funny indictment of tabloid culture and romanticizing of criminals (while engaging in a bit of the latter himself). Its hyperkinetic style, a mixed-media mélange of varying film and video stocks, cut together less by film editors than itchy DJs, was imitated for years to follow.
The prolific and versatile Michael Winterbottom, whose filmography ranges from the comedy The Trip to the meta-musical 24 Hour Party People to the neo-noir The Killer Inside Me to last spring’s vibrant literary adaptation Trishna, helms this steamy hybrid of concert movie and sex flick. It’s got great music by such acts as the Von Bondies, the Dandy Warhols, Black Rebel Motorycle Club, and Franz Ferdinand; it’s also got the very attractive Margo Stilley and Kieran O’Brien doing all sorts of naughty things for most of its running time. It’s off Netflix on Saturday, but wait to watch it until you get home — this one is decidedly NSFW.
Also expiring Saturday: Fred Schepisi’s warm and winning romantic comedy, in which writer/star Steve Martin adapts Cyrano de Bergerac to late-eighties Colorado. Filled with set pieces both funny (twenty “something betters”) and heartbreaking (C.D. letting it all out at Roxanne’s balcony), and rounded out by a terrific supporting cast (including Fred Willard, Shelley Duvall, Damon Wayans, Kevin Nealon, and the inimitable Michael J. Pollard), this may well be the best movie Martin’s ever made.
That’s what we’re watching this week — what about you? Add your own must-see streamers in the comments.