Now Streaming: The heart wants what it wants
[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.]
Now that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is here, fans may want to go back and take a look at his slightly less expensive productions, like the ingenious Memento (2000). It’s based on a brilliant idea: the hero has short-term memory loss, and to illustrate this, the movie plays backward, beginning at the end, and with each previous scene unfolding after that. This way, as each scene begins, like the hero Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), we have no idea what’s going on. Ostensibly, Leonard’s ongoing goal is to find his wife’s killer, but are the mysterious Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) helping or hindering him?
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Sidney Lumet didn’t use any memory gimmicks in his final film, the superb, complex crime drama Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), but he did use flashbacks and time displacement to create more mystery and suspense. Plus, even in his 80s, he brought a young indie director’s sensibility to the tale. Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as brothers, both with money problems, who agree to rob their parents’ jewelry store. Of course, nothing quite goes as planned. Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney are fine in memorable supporting roles.
Two Lovers (expiring 7/30)
Sometimes there’s the one you’re supposed to be with, and the one you actually want. That’s the problem depressed Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) faces in James Gray’s intelligent, subtle Two Lovers (2008). Everyone wants him to hook up with nice Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), but he just can’t stop thinking about unpredictable, troubled blonde Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow). Shot in grim, undecorated Brooklyn, the movie underscores how reality continually picks away at Leonard’s much-needed fantasy.
Far from Heaven
Speaking of “supposed to,” Todd Haynes′ great Far from Heaven (2002) is set in a heartbreaking world in which strict suburban guidelines govern everything anyone does, and heaven help anyone who steps outside. In 1957 Hartford, housewife Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) becomes a little too friendly with her African-American gardener, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), while her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) can’t suppress the urge to visit a gay bar after work. Haynes cleverly contrasts the drama with a bold color scheme, at once glowingly beautiful, and rigidly museum-like.
Life During Wartime
Indie directors are often described as “quirky,” but if I had to reserve that word for only one man, it would have to be Todd Solondz, whose movies usually focus on disturbed, darkly funny souls who can’t seem to find their way. Life During Wartime (2009) is an ensemble piece that revisits the characters from his unforgettable Happiness (1998), though each is now played by a different actor. Perhaps most gripping is the child molester, Bill—formerly played by Dylan Baker and now played by Ciarán Hinds—being released from prison and trying to connect with his son.
The Rules of Attraction
Healthier sexual urges drive the underrated, dark college comedy The Rules of Attraction (2002), based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, and adapted and directed by Oscar-winner Roger Avary (the co-writer of Pulp Fiction). Using freeze-frames and flashbacks to skew the timeline, Avary tells the story of a handful of students (James Van Der Beek, Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kip Pardue, Kate Bosworth) trying to find love, or at least a little physical contact, beginning and culminating at the “end of the world” party.
Broadway Danny Rose
Sometimes all we want is a little respect. Woody Allen’s Danny Rose character in Broadway Danny Rose (1984) is a hilarious creation: a second-rate talent agent whose roster of “acts” could barely turn heads, much less sell tickets. But he genuinely cares. Most of the action centers on a washed-up, troublesome singer, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) and his mistress Tina (Mia Farrow, arguably her best performance in an Allen film). The movie is told in flashback as a group of colleagues trade Danny’s outrageous stories over lunch. Gordon Willis’ black-and-white cinematography—nostalgic and sad—is also a plus.
Fishing with John
Just as Danny Rose collected absurd characters, so does John Lurie in Fishing with John, a 1991 TV series that lasted six episodes and runs about two and a half hours in total. (The entire series was collected on a single Criterion Collection DVD.) Lurie—a musician best known for his performances in Jim Jarmusch’s films—gathers up guest stars Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, and Dennis Hopper for fishing “adventures.” A narrator chimes in as nothing much happens, and the deadpan, zen-like results earned a small cult following.
- Bad Lieutenant
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Future
- Nostalgia for the Light
- Poltergeist II
- Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip
- Rob Roy
- Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
- A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
- White Christmas
- The Endless Summer (7/20)
- The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (7/20)
- The Others (7/25)
- Two Lovers (7/30)