Truth in fiction, humor in life movies
Bernie (new 11/5)
Richard Linklater’s latest movie, Bernie (2012), is one of his best, a complex comedy based on a true story and told through layers of gossip. Jack Black—returning to work with Linklater for the first time since School of Rock—stars as the title character, an odd duck who works as an assistant mortician in Carthage, Texas, and sings in the church choir on his days off. He also spends his spare time taking care of elderly widows; one such widow is the cranky old Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), who turns Bernie into her much-abused personal assistant. The real story is one of murder, however, and Linklater uses actual transcripts from interviews taken at the time to film “townspeople” commenting upon Bernie and his actions in-between scenes. To round things out, Matthew McConaughey gives a terrific performance as District Attorney Danny Buck, who is out to get Bernie.
It’s hard to find anything quite like Bernie, but the documentary Winnebago Man (2010) is equally funny and bizarre, and also tells a true story. In the 1980s, a man named Jack Rebney made an industrial film for the Winnebago company. A tape of outtakes, featuring amazing, amusing profanity-filled tirades, was assembled and began to circulate. Years later, it continued to be a viral phenomenon on YouTube. (You can see it here.) Now filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decides to find out what happened to the real Rebney, and the answer isn’t quite what anyone would have expected.
Crop Circles: The Quest for Truth (expiring 11/8)
Released on the heels of M. Night Shyamalan’s successful Signs, the documentary Crop Circles: The Quest for Truth (2002) could have been a cheap cash-in attempt. But in reality it comes from Oscar-nominated director William Gazecki (Waco: The Rules of Engagement), and thoroughly explores the mystifying world of crop circles: Where do these complex series of mathematically perfect designs come from? After two hours of examining and interviewing, this film can’t find a logical answer. Suddenly, life on earth becomes a little more interesting.
Religulous (expiring 11/16)
Comedian and TV host Bill Maher teams up with Borat director Larry Charles for the documentary Religulous (2008), which purports to dissect many of the world’s religions. Maher claims that too many people believe in their particular faith without question, but will resort to violence to defend their beliefs. He conducts some interesting interviews and discussions but also resorts to clever editing and cutaways to drive home a comic point or to ridicule some of his subjects. Regardless, he raises some interesting concepts, and like the other films here, it gets you thinking, and laughing.
Not Quite Hollywood (expiring 11/6)
In Australia during the 1970s and 1980s an exploitation film industry flourished. It created some works of art, some interesting entertainments, some head-scratching items, and some flat-out junk. Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) celebrates all of it. Quentin Tarantino is here with his unique viewpoint of many of the films, and actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper describe their experiences on films like Road Games (pictured) and Mad Dog Morgan. We’re not talking Oscar-caliber work, but the clips contained here are some of the most unforgettable stuff around.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Speaking of good and bad art, Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), with street artist Banksy credited as its director, was another of the most flat-out entertaining documentaries of its time. It tells the story of a Frenchman, Thierry Guetta, who begins obsessively documenting his life on video. Fortunately, through a connected cousin, he becomes interested in street art and begins making a video about that. His goal is to find the elusive and secretive Banksy, and then to become an artist himself. Some have suggested that the movie is a huge joke, which makes it even more entertaining.
Manhattan (new 11/1)
Woody Allen became one of the most successful of all comedy filmmakers by putting a little something real into his characters: Fears, doubts, and worries that just about anyone can tune into and identify with. Manhattan (1979) is one of his greatest films, and certainly his most beautiful. The black-and-white cinematography practically glows with adoration for New York City, and for its women (Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep). Thankfully, it’s still hilarious, too.
The Navigator (expiring 11/15)
Another of the all-time great comedy filmmakers, Buster Keaton likewise gave us a personal touch: A combination of ingenious invention as well as a little bit of heart. The Navigator (1924) was one of Keaton’s personal favorites, as well as one of his biggest hits. He stars as Rollo Treadway, the lazy, ineffectual son of a wealthy family. The plot eventually puts him alone on a huge ocean liner, with only the girl who just turned down his marriage proposal to keep him company. Keaton’s endlessly brilliant gags mainly have to do with the enormous size of the ship, and how two little people try to adapt to it, but don’t miss the astounding underwater sequence.
Throw Momma from the Train (new 11/1)
Some comedy filmmakers express their true personalities by simply being weird, or showing their dark side, as Danny DeVito did in his directorial debut Throw Momma from the Train (1987). A twisted version of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, this stars Billy Crystal as a blocked writer with a nasty ex-wife, and DeVito as a grown man with a domineering mother; the latter gets the idea to exchange murders. However, the amazing Anne Ramsey ends up stealing the film as the title momma; she even earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.
Casa de mi Padre (new 11/14)
Will Ferrell is a guy who seems able to plumb his childhood fears and desires for an endless amount of comedy material, and though the all-Spanish Casa de mi Padre (2012) is one of his stranger efforts—and one that only a select audience will get—it definitely contains some of his most personal touches. He stars as the simple son of a rancher whose life changes when he realizes that his flashier brother (Diego Luna) is involved with drug dealers—and also falls for his brother’s new fiancée, played by Genesis Rodriguez. (The movie is presented with English subtitles.)
- Addams Family Values (11/1)
- Airheads (11/1)
- An Officer and a Gentleman (11/1)
- Barton Fink (11/1)
- Bloody Sunday (11/1)
- Bottle Rocket (11/1)
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (11/1)
- Casino Royale  (11/1)
- A Cat in Paris (11/6)
- The Grapes of Wrath (11/1)
- Hombre (11/1)
- Khodorkovsky (11/5)
- Out of Sight (11/1)
- Trees Lounge (11/1)
- Assault on Precinct 13  (11/15)
- The Black Dahlia (11/16)
- The Blue Angel (11/15)
- Faust (11/15)
- The Girlfriend Experience (11/15)
- Go West (11/15)
- Our Hospitality (11/15)
- Sherlock Jr. (11/15)
- Swordsman 2 (11/15)
[Streaming movies and TV shows—on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Videos—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series is to alert you to what movies and shows are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other treasures that are worth checking out.]