Now Streaming: Off the beaten path

[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.]

The Rum Diary (Source: Peter Mountain)

The Rum Diary (coming 6/6)

★★★

The return of Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson and the return of writer/director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) looked like a cult classic in the making. But The Rum Dairy (2011) was largely ignored, perhaps because it ran a little bit too long and the laughs are stacked more heavily in the first half, or perhaps because the buildup to a triumphant ending fails to pay off. But either way, it’s a hilarious slice of off-kilter weirdness and bad behavior that celebrates the gonzo spirit.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

★★★★

If you’re looking to know more about Hunter S. Thompson, or if you’re already a die-hard fan, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2007), a documentary by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) digs deep into the infamous journalist’s life and legacy. Gibney interviews everyone from Thompson’s long-suffering ex-wives and ex-editors, to former presidents and presidential hopefuls. Johnny Depp narrates and reads a selection of Thompson’s glorious prose.

Full Contact

★★★★

Lately director Ringo Lam’s career has sputtered. Perhaps he made one too many Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. But at one point, he was one of the top action directors in Hong Kong, perhaps best known as the maker of City on Fire, starring Chow Yun-fat, which was one of the prime influences on Reservoir Dogs. His later film, Full Contact (1992), was an even larger-scale movie, another Chow Yun-fat crime story with more gratuitous and much darker violence than in any John Woo movie.

The Heroic Trio

The Heroic Trio

★★★★

And if you’re a fan of Hong Kong action, it rarely gets better than The Heroic Trio (1993), a strange and thrilling Johnnie To movie. Three gorgeous and talented women—Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, and Anita Mui—star as the title trio, quasi-superheroes working to solve a baby-kidnapping ring that brings them to a vicious and evil underground force.

Morvern Callar (coming 6/15)

★★★★

Scottish director Lynne Ramsay both impressed and irritated viewers last year with We Need to Talk About Kevin, but her second feature, Morvern Callar (2002), has much less button-pushing and more powerful character development. Samantha Morton gives an extraordinary performance as the title character, a sad girl whose boyfriend commits suicide. She signs her name to his unpublished novel, takes his money and travels to Spain with her girlfriend Lanna. The film is steeped in death, but Morvern is forever hopeful, and always on the lookout for beauty.

Red Road

Red Road

★★★★

If you like Movern Callar, you may also like this similarly dreary, also excellent film from another female director, Andrea Arnold. (It’s also set in Ramsay’s hometown of Glasgow.) Arnold had won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short (for Wasp) before embarking upon Red Road (2006), an intriguing tale of a CCTV operator, Jackie (Kate Dickie), whose job is to watch over a bank of security monitors. One day she seems something in one of them that disturbs her, and changes her life.

Pi (coming 6/9)

★★★★

Like many of today’s best directors, Darren Aronofsky made his debut with an ultra-cheap, ultra-clever independent movie. Pi (1998) is an enormously tricky blending of sci-fi and thriller. The hero is a mathematician who is obsessed with pi (3.14 and on and on) and with spirals, and who is searching for patterns in the stock market. Another scholar approaches him with his concept about similar patterns in the Torah. It’s enough to make the head spin, but this is a special movie, brimming with ideas, rather than special effects or chase scenes.

Following

★★★★

Christopher Nolan is now making multi-million dollar summer blockbusters, but once upon a time he began with another clever thriller, shot in black-and-white for mere thousands. Following (1998) is a story of what happens when a man decides to follow other people just to see what happens. What happens is quite unexpected, and multiply that when you consider that Nolan tells the story by criss-crossing three different time periods, visually distinguished by the main character wearing a beard and a greasy coat, then clean-shaven and fresh, and then bruised and beaten.

In the Electric Mist

In the Electric Mist (expiring 6/4)

★★★

The last time a James Lee Burke novel was made into a feature film, Heaven’s Prisoners, it featured a miscast Alec Baldwin and was largely despised. Happily, the acclaimed French director Bertrand Tavernier and a well-cast Tommy Lee Jones try again for a murder mystery set in New Orleans with In The Electric Mist (2008), but updated to include the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. Police detective Dave Robicheaux (Jones) not only has a murder to deal with, but also visions of ghosts, and a movie shoot in town, yet it’s the movie’s atmosphere the wins the day.

The Pledge

★★★★

Sean Penn directed a similarly downbeat, drifting, moody mystery that was likewise ignored, but The Pledge (2001) contains one of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. He plays Jerry Black, a nearly retired police chief who likes to fish better than anything, but finds that he can’t let go of a case involving the murder of a child. The movie also features an amazing supporting cast, including Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Helen Mirren, Harry Dean Stanton, and Benicio Del Toro.

What’s new

  • Metropolis
  • Thor (6/9)
  • Tunnel Rats (6/15)

Expiring soon

  • Rocky 1-5 (6/1)
  • They Live (6/1)
  • The Missouri Breaks (6/1)
  • Nine Lives (6/1)
  • The Fly (6/1)
  • The Messenger (6/3)
  • Precious (6/9)

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