Happy almost Memorial Day, everybody! Big plans? Hitting the road? Going to the lake? Spending time “outdoors”? Yeah, me neither. So, if I may be so bold, allow me to provide my fellow agoraphobes some weekend viewing suggestions – all titles new (or new-ish) to Netflix, Prime, and FilmStruck, to better while away the holiday weekend hours.
The vibrant, inviting eye of Bombay Beach director Alma Har’el captures three non-fiction stories of love (but not romance), and augments that keenly observed footage with stylized visions, dramatizations, memories, and fantasies. Her dreamlike photography couples with the emotional candor of her subjects to create a genuinely unique film that slams against the wall separating narrative and documentary, and pushes it over. These stories of true love aren’t all roses and happy endings, but placed in dialogue with each other, they form a sui generis work that is warm, and fluid, and open.
Enemy of the State (Netflix)
Everybody’s all in a tizzy over the long-delayed and frankly unwelcome sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 smash Top Gun, but I gotta tell you, if they were going to sequel-ize one of the late Mr. Scott’s movies, I’d frankly rather go back to this wildly undervalued 1998 conspiracy thriller, which (at risk of sounding too Stefon) has everything: Will Smith at Peak Charming, Jon Voight villaining, the lovely Lisa Bonet, and a “hang on, is that?” cast of coming-up supporting players that includes Jack Black, Anna Gunn, Jason Lee, Barry Pepper, and Scott Caan. Oh, and it’s also got Gene Hackman doing an unofficial sequel to The Conversation. So, yeah, if you somehow haven’t, get on that.
Blow Out (FilmStruck)
And if you’re in the conspiracy thriller mood, FilmStruck recently add this 1981 Brian De Palma masterpiece to its Criterion Channel, in which exploitation-movie sound man John Travolta accidentally records an auto accident that kills a presidential hopeful, but soon realizes he has evidence of a murder. De Palma’s brilliant script cheerfully references the Zapruder film, Chappaquiddick, Watergate, The Conversation, and especially Blow Up (though, if we’re being honest, it surpasses that inspiration). Blow Out sports stellar performances – Nancy Allen owns as usual, and John Travolta’s introspective work here was what made Tarantino fight so hard to get him for Pulp Fiction – and ending that remains, by any standard, a real motherfucker.
Dark Blue (Amazon Prime)
With all the recent documentaries and specials observing the 25th anniversary of the post-Rodney King L.A. riots, we forgot about the 2003 cop drama that first looked back at that event, albeit through a fictionalized lens. Director Ron Shelton was better known for his light sports comedies (his credits include Bull Durham, Tin Cup, and White Men Can’t Jump), but he crisply directs the script by David Ayer (adapting a story by James Ellroy, hard on the heels of his similarly styled Training Day) and gets a chillingly effective bad-guy turn out of Kurt Russell, a full four years before Death Proof .
Hello, My Name is Doris (Amazon Prime)
Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick is out in theaters next month, and good news: you can get worked up for that charming, character-driven comedy/drama by streaming this one. (It even features Sick co-star/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani in a supporting role.) Sally Field, in an all-too-rare feature film starring turn, plays an aging wallflower who finds herself suddenly, unexpectedly thunderstruck with an attraction to the much younger new guy (New Girl’s Max Greenfield) at her office. It’s a sweet and funny movie that’ll please not only viewers who’re Greenfield’s age, but the real target audience: those closer to Field’s.
Southside With You (Netflix)
Hey gang, have you been enjoying Pete Souza’s Trump-trolling, with the hand-holding and smiley-Pope pictures? Really making you miss the last guy, eh? Well, here’s a little something that’ll help: writer/director Richard Tanne’s Before Sunset-style dramatization of Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. What could’ve been absolutely insufferable, written or played as the worst kind of pop cultural fan fiction, is instead an affectionately low-key romantic drama and an insightful political origin story and snapshot biopic. It tells us much — in how these two people interacted with each other and saw the world around them — about the kind of couple, and the kind of Americans, they would become.
Inglourious Basterds (Netflix)
David Michôd’s War Machine hits Netflix today, and it is, um, not great. So if you’re really jonesing to see Brad Pitt as a military commander, growling his dialogue through a broad Southern dialect, you’ll just have to go back to the original, Quentin Tarantino’s 2008 what-if war flick about a band of WWII soldiers specializing in, as Pitt drawls, “Killin’ Nat-zis.” And c’mon, try and tell me you’re not in the mood to watch a bunch of Nazis get burnt to a crisp at this particular moment.
Jackie Brown (Amazon Prime)
And as long as we’re revisiting some Tarantino, Prime just added his Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown, a film received with a sort of muted admiration when it was released in 1997 – the first Tarantino-directed feature since the earthquake of Pulp Fiction. No follow-up could top that one, and to his credit, Tarantino didn’t even try; instead, he constructed a mellow love letter to the characters of Mr. Leonard, the chilling presence of Samuel L. Jackson, and most of all, the timeless badassery of Queen Pam Grier. As time has passed, and the Tarantino oeuvre has expanded, its reputation has grown, and while I can’t speak for anyone else, the older I get, the more Jackie Brown becomes my favorite QT movie of them all.
I Knew Her Well (FilmStruck)
Godard famously described the history of cinema as “boys photographing girls,” and Antonio Pietrangeli’s 1965 masterwork makes an awfully strong case for that notion. Told in a loose-limbed, vignette-heavy style, it’s a freewheeling character study, focused on Adriana (Stefania Sandrelli), a sexy, carefree hedonist from the sticks who tries to make her way in the city as a model/actress. Along the way, she accumulates men of all stripes: kind and nasty, sweet and exploitative, charming and sleazy. Criterion describes it as “an inversion of La Dolce Vita,” which sounds about right; it’s inventively photographed and snazzily sophisticated. But it also shares that film’s cynicism about celebrity and the ugly, transactional nature of that beast.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Netflix)
Director Stanley Nelson gathers scores of voices from the era and digs up remarkable tapes and footage to tell the story of the Panthers’ quick rise to prominence; more importantly, he offers detailed explanations of exactly how and why personality clashes and political schisms drove them apart. It’s the kind of documentary that’s easy to view as distant history, except that so many of the issues the Panthers took up (police brutality, systemic poverty, healthcare, feeding children) are, sadly, not history at all.