Now Streaming: Independent, documentary, and foreign
[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.]
Glengarry Glen Ross
Based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, James Foley’s great office drama, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), was among a new breed of American films, made for an independent budget, and with a stellar, A-list cast taking on smaller character roles for significant pay cuts. Jack Lemmon is arguably the main character, a hapless real estate salesman, whose future depends on his ability to move chunks of worthless, unwanted property. Al Pacino is dazzling as the slick Ricky Roma, and Alec Baldwin steals his one scene as the man sent to motivate the lagging sales team. Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce round out the cast. Foley’s widescreen frame and use of bold colors and offscreen sounds complete the picture, making it an underrated American classic.
Another offbeat, independent office drama, Bartleby (2001) is an unsung oddball of a movie. It’s based on Herman Melville’s great short story about a worker who, one day, simply responds to a request with “I would prefer not to.” Crispin Glover stars in the title role, and David Paymer is his frustrated boss (who narrates). Director Jonathan Parker shot the movie in the Bay Area, making a surreal office environment filled with air conditioning ducts, and a creepy, inaccessible building surrounded by freeways.
Shirin (expiring 8/24)
In the past two decades, Iran has produced some of the most beautiful, personal films anywhere in the world, and director Abbas Kiarostami is at the top of the heap. The peculiar, experimental Shirin (2008) is set in a movie theater, where more than 100 women watch a film about star-crossed lovers. We never see the film, but we can hear the soundtrack and we watch the women’s faces as the light plays over their features. The result is an incredible array of thoughts and emotions. Juliette Binoche appears as one of the women.
Ms. Binoche reunites with Kiarostami with this more narrative-based feature, a true puzzler, shot in Italy. A woman shows up at a lecture by an English author (William Shimell), who has published a book about how copies of artworks are as good as the real thing. They go for a drive, and then at some point, the narrative suddenly shifts, and the two characters seem to have become other people. Kiarostami matches the film’s amazing visuals to his theme, but allows the viewer to make the connections. Certified Copy (2010) won the San Francisco Film Critics’ Circle award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (expiring 8/18)
Not all documentaries are dry reports on war or troubling social issues. Sometimes they can be greatly entertaining, like Aviva Kempner’s The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998), which happens to be one of the great baseball movies. A home run king, Greenberg was the first openly Jewish ballplayer whose personal dramas included the painful decision of whether to play on Yom Kippur, and whether to leave baseball to fight in WWII. To many, he was—and still is—a hero.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (coming 8/23)
Baseball is a great subject for movies, but so is food: the colors, textures, and the process of preparing it can be intoxicating. (The only thing missing is smell and taste.) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) tells the story of the world’s greatest sushi chef, who operates a Michelin Guide 3-star restaurant in Tokyo. But Jiro is already in his mid-eighties, and the movie asks the question: what happens to the restaurant, and the sushi, when Jiro’s sons take over? Director David Gelb’s loving images of Jiro’s food will make you hungry.
Election (expiring 8/18)
In the past few decades, Asian cinema—specifically Hong Kong—has been the source of some of the finest action around. Director Johnny To is one of the top practitioners, and Election (2005) is one of his best. It tells the story of the battle for the chairman position of the Wo Shing Society. The two top contenders are the volatile Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and the more traditional, rational Lok (Simon Yam). More than just mud-slinging, this election includes being nailed into a crate and kicked down a hillside.
Lady Vengeance (expiring 8/25)
Director Park Chan-wook has established himself as an imaginative director of action, crime and violence in South Korea, especially with his “Vengeance” trilogy, of which Lady Vengeance (2005) is the superb third chapter. Beautiful Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) gets out of prison after 13 years and begins executing a complicated and long-simmering plan for revenge. Fortunately, her plan involves blood red eye shadow.
Piranha (coming 8/19)
Alexandre Aja’s Piranha—released in theaters as Piranha 3D (2010)—is a remake of Joe Dante’s tongue-in-cheek spoof from 1978, but no longer spoofs anything. Instead it plies on extreme gore, extreme sex, and extreme fun. It’s the kind of movie that shocks you and then makes you laugh about it. Whereas the first movie deliberately played with the Jaws phenomenon, Piranha goes one further by casting none other than Richard Dreyfuss for the film’s opening teaser. Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and porn star Riley Steele co-star.
A good streaming double-feature with Piranha, George McCowan’s Frogs (1972) is another “killer creature” movie (and a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s). It was intended to convey an eco-friendly message, but it still has a good dose of camp for lovers of good-bad movies. Oscar-winner Ray Milland stars as a narrow-minded patriarch who tries to have all the nearby frogs killed—and pays the price. The leaping amphibians get their slimy revenge. Young Sam Elliott appears as a photographer.
- Drugstore Cowboy
- Haywire (8/29)
- The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
- The Motorcycle Diaries
- Super 8 (8/18)
- Traffic (8/27)
- Death of a Salesman (8/18)
- Dreamscape (8/18)
- My Brilliant Career (8/18)
- Red Road (8/18)
- Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (8/25)
- To Die Like a Man (8/23)
- Two in the Wave (8/22)