Now Streaming: Seriously funny

[Streaming movies—on services such as Netflix—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series—written by film critic Jeffrey M. Anderson—is to alert you to what movies are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other cinema treasures that are worth checking out.]

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation (coming 5/31)

★★★★

Bill Murray’s Oscar-nominated performance in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) established him as a comic actor worthy of Charles Chaplin. Coppola sets the story in a beautiful, blinking Tokyo as seen through a haze of jet lag, and in this framework, Murray is allowed to joke and quip to his heart’s content. But occasionally the thoughtful mood slows him down and coaxes him to open his heart. Co-star Scarlett Johansson is enchanting and comfortable enough to relax on screen with Murray, sharing their common lostness. The ending ranks with the final moment of Chaplin’s City Lights; it’s as touching and as honest as any American movie in the past 10 or 15 years.

Broken Flowers

★★★★

Two years later, Murray turned in another hilarious, soulful performance in a movie that was largely ignored. In Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005), he plays Don Johnston, a retired computer millionaire who discovers that he may have a grown son by some former, anonymous girlfriend. Thanks to help from his neighbor, an amateur detective (Jeffrey Wright), he narrows down the list to five candidates. So Don hits the road to re-connect with all five of them. If Murray evoked Charlie Chaplin in Lost in Translation, he channels Buster Keaton here, using deadpan weirdness to set the mood.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

★★★½

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Around this same time, something must have been in the water. Comic actor Jim Carrey also starred in one of his very best roles, in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). The ordinarily manic, plastic Carrey gives a brilliantly understated, underappreciated performance, exploring and suffering the rigors of a broken heart. Trying to get over his lost love (Kate Winslet), he agrees to a procedure that will erase all memories of her from his brain. But during the procedure, he begins to fight for her, causing all kinds of dreamtime weirdness.

The Cable Guy (coming 6/1)

★★★½

In Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy (1996) the actor goes all the way to the other extreme, taking his persona to uncomfortable new territories. His title character is insanely funny, but also decidedly needy and creepy as he latches on to a customer (Matthew Broderick) and tries to form a friendship. The film cooks up many logical but uncomfortable moments that are impossible to squirm away from. For Carrey, it’s a rather daring turn that was, at the time, overshadowed by his record-setting $20 million paycheck.

Joe Kidd (coming 6/1)

★★★½

Joe Kidd

On the surface, no one is more serious than Clint Eastwood. But, as an actor who never cracks a smile, he is sometimes known to crack jokes. In the Western Joe Kidd (1972), he plays the title character, a scowling badass with a dry sense of humor who gets involved in a complicated conflict over land ownership. Though it came slightly after the genre’s heyday, Joe Kidd is still a crackerjack Western, written by Elmore Leonard and directed by John Sturges of The Magnificent Seven.

Play Misty for Me (coming 6/1)

★★★★

Eastwood is a good deal more serious in his remarkable directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971), a dark thriller that might have made Hitchcock proud. In it, he plays a jazz radio DJ in Carmel; he’s smooth on the air, but resists any humor. He picks up an obsessive female fan (Jessica Walter) who begins to make his life a living hell. Of course, Eastwood took the opportunity to film some scenes at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Eastwood’s pal, director Don Siegel, appears as a bartender; they made The Beguiled and Dirty Harry together the same year. Walter was so good in her role that her career never really took off; she probably scared all her potential (male) employers off!

He Was a Quiet Man

★★★½

Christian Slater is both funny and sad in He Was a Quiet Man (2007), a bizarre black comedy that deserves a wider audience. He plays Bob Maconel, an office drone who talks to his pet fish (they talk back) and fantasizes about shooting his co-workers. Unfortunately, the fellow in the next cubicle beats him to the punch. Bob shoots him down and becomes a hero rather than a martyr. Slater gives his all to this performance—which should have been a career re-starter—and writer/director Frank A. Cappello likewise throws everything into the movie, including horror, surrealism, and romance.

Drive

★★★½

Drive

Finally, Albert Brooks—normally a very funny guy—appears in an astoundingly sinister role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), as a vicious gangster. It tells the story of another quiet fellow (Ryan Gosling), a stunt driver by day, and a getaway driver for criminals by night. His perfectly controlled world is undone when he becomes too involved with his pretty neighbor (Carey Mulligan). Refn borrows tones and textures from 1980s crime movies and comes up with something that feels startlingly fresh. Brooks was honored with several Best Supporting Actor awards, but an Oscar nomination never came.

What’s new

  • Land of the Dead
  • The Karate Kid Part II
  • Looking for Eric
  • Stone (5/19)
  • The Killer Inside Me (5/31)
  • Apocalypse Now (and Redux) (6/1)
  • Friday the 13th Part 3 (6/1)
  • Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (6/1)
  • Friday the 13th Part 6 (6/1)
  • Friday the 13th Part 8 (6/1)
  • One from the Heart (6/1)
  • The Golden Child (6/1)
  • Hammett (6/1)
  • Superfly (6/1)
  • The Pianist (6/1)
  • Best in Show (6/1)

Expiring soon

  • Wendy and Lucy (5/19)
  • Water Drops on Burning Rocks (5/24)
  • In the City of Sylvia (5/24)
  • Hideous Kinky (5/26)
  • I Capture the Castle (5/26)
  • Lila Says (5/26)
  • Pretty Persuasion (5/26)
  • School of Flesh (5/26)
  • Walk on Water (5/26)
  • The Fury (5/30)
  • Heaven Can Wait (5/30)
  • Iron Monkey (5/30)
  • Panic in Needle Park (5/30)

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