Now Streaming: Musical accompaniment
[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.]
Following up his hit Superbad, director Greg Mottola conjured up Adventureland an even more soulful, nuanced look at a wasted summer. In Pittsburgh, circa 1987, James (Jesse Eisenberg) finds that he can’t afford to go to college and ends up working at the local theme park, Adventureland, for the summer. He encounters romantic rivals, childhood demons, drugs, and the stirrings of love with co-worker Kirsten Stewart (her best role, by far). Best of all, the movie manages to capture a specific mood between the plot points, and anyone that has ever whiled away a summer in a meaningless job will recognize that familiar feel. (You’ll be glad, however, that your job did not include frequent spins of “Rock Me Amadeus.”)
Capturing a similar mood, cult director Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume, Weirdsville) casts his misfit clerks in a record store, circa 1995, well before downloads threatened the business. The Empire Records plot concentrates a little too predictably on finding quick cash to keep the store from falling into the clutches of a corporate chain, but the interactions between crushing co-workers and the general tuneful atmosphere have made this one a beloved cult classic.
Filled with colorful character parts like notes on a scale, Rounders takes place in a crummy world of back rooms and side streets, where a shave in a barbershop offers a luxurious break. Matt Damon plays Mike, the poker expert who is trying to go straight by attending law school. His girlfriend (Gretchen Mol, in a thankless role) tries to keep him there. But when Mike’s old pal Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of jail, Worm has no trouble luring Mike back into a life of high-stakes poker dens. Ultimately, Mike must face off with a dangerous Russian gangster (John Malkovich, who chews his dialogue deliciously). Martin Landau and John Turturro also appear. Director John Dahl, who was noted for reviving the film noir in the 1990s, directs.
David Fincher’s creepy little crime movie, The Game features Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a slick businessman who gets a most unusual birthday present from his brother (Sean Penn): a “game” that will provide some real-life thrills for the man who has everything. Van Orton tries to return the present, but strange things begin happening to him. Is it the game, or is it something more sinister? Like many filmmakers before him, Fincher saw something dark, twisted, and almost schizophrenic among San Francisco’s city streets, using them to suggest both the familiar and the dangerous.
Now that most people on the planet have seen The Avengers, they may want to take another look at Thor, which—thanks to classy direction by Kenneth Branagh—has some fine layers and emotional moments. This is especially thanks to the awesome performance by Tom Hiddleston as Loki, with his tormented, soulful eyes.
Iron Man 2
Likewise, Iron Man 2 is worthy of a second look; it disappointed many fans upon its release, but its unique use of a distinct personality—Robert Downey Jr.—in the title role, rather than an actor who simply looks good in a uniform, makes it something special. His explosive line readings are almost like jazz. Jon Favreu’s direction is crisp and clear, and the movie has a supporting cast to die for, including Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke.
His Girl Friday
Directed by Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday is one of the fastest screwball comedies ever made, not to mention one of the great newspaper movies. It’s so fast and funny and bright, with such beautifully rhythmic dialogue, that it hardly matters when things slow down a bit for a little message about capital punishment. Cary Grant stars as a newspaper editor who tries every sneaky trick he can to get his ace reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) back before she marries milquetoast Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and settles down.
Charade is perhaps Cary Grant’s last great role, paired with Audrey Hepburn; she was 25 years younger, but they still made a good match. Directed by Stanley Donen—best known for his superb musicals—this is a Hitchcockian comedy, but all the disparate touches fall together quite nicely. In 1963, it was merely a popular, mainstream film, but the subsequent years have proven it to be one those rare works of craftsmanship that borders on genius.
Scott Walker: 30th Century Man (expiring 6/16)
Great music documentaries should make you want to run out and buy records, which is exactly what Stephen Kijak’s Scott Walker: 30th Century Man does. Today Walker is a fairly obscure figure, but, like Brian Wilson and several other geniuses, his career started with light pop hits like “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” and veered to more ambitiously artistic records like the aptly named Scott 4 (his fourth album). Kijak interviews the reclusive Walker, as well as David Bowie, Brian Eno, and the members of Radiohead.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil
This music documentary seems like it should be fake, a la Spinal Tap, but it’s all too real. The Canadian heavy metal band Anvil has been around for decades, has influenced many more successful bands, but has remained obscure. Director Sacha Gervasi’s moving and funny movie Anvil! The Story of Anvil charts the recording of their thirteenth album. Can it finally put them on the map? Probably not, but it’s still a great story.
- Shakespeare in Love
- The Iron Mask
- Rocky III-V
- Tunnel Rats
- Hellboy (6/24)
- I Spit on Your Grave (6/24)
- Poison (6/21)
- Brothers (6/23)
- The Square (6/24)
- Shutter Island (6/26)
- A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (6/26)
- Convoy (6/27)