This week’s selection of movies available for streaming features violence of one kind or another, ranging from epic battles to the struggle of one man’s obsession. The movies run from fast-paced and light-hearted to brutal and realistic, slow-paced and thoughtful, to downright frightening. In one case, there is real-life violence as man ventures a little too far into the wild.
But to kick it all off, we have none other than Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, who believes that “this aggression will not stand.” Enjoy!
New on Netflix
The Big Lebowski
Joel and Ethan Coen offered The Big Lebowski (1998) as their follow-up to the highly-acclaimed and Oscar-winning Fargo. Perhaps not surprisingly, it could not compare and was not quite as well received. But over the years, it developed an increasingly passionate cult following—and has become the subject of much obsessive theorizing—and now critics cite it as their favorite of all the Coen brothers’ films.
Jeff Bridges stars, in one of his greatest and most iconic performances, as Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, who is the victim of a mistaken identity and winds up investigating a kidnapping case. It contains jaw-droppingly inventive twists as well as bizarre and unexpected imagery. The strange and highly quotable humor in this movie just never seems to get old (“that rug really tied the room together, man”), and it contains incredible parts for many great actors: John Goodman, Julianne Moore, John Turturro (as “Jesus”), Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Steve Buscemi in the sweet, low-key role of “Donny.” David Huddleston, David Thewlis, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, and Jon Polito are potent in small roles, and Tara Reid is just right as the sexy kidnap victim “Bunny.”
This Norwegian thriller comes from director Erik Skjoldbjaerg, whose film Insomnia (1997) was the basis for Christopher Nolan’s 2002 remake. Pioneer (2014) is an entertaining attempt to capture the spirit of paranoid political thrillers of the 1970s. It jumps off from a real event, when rich oil deposits were discovered off the coast of Norway in the early 1970s. Teams of American and Norwegian divers begin training to withstand the intense pressures of the 300-plus meter depths.
During a dive by brothers Petter (Aksel Hennie) and Knut (Andre Eriksen), something goes wrong with Petter’s oxygen; he blacks out and causes an accident that claims the life of Knut. Petter begins obsessively investigating, eventually uncovering a vast conspiracy. The movie takes a few shortcuts and jumps over a few gaps in plot, but the overall sultry, gritty atmosphere, and the tense diving footage, make up for it. Americans Stephen Lang and Wes Bentley co-star; the movie is in English as well as Norwegian with English subtitles.
Filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor unapologetically spun their movie Crank (2006) as a cross between D.O.A. and Speed, and though it’s clearly ridiculous, its sheer exuberant energy and carefree attitude carry it through. Jason Statham stars as Chev Chelios, a Los Angeles hitman who is betrayed and then injected with a terrible kind of poison; if his adrenaline stops flowing, he will die. So Chev must keep rushing around, doing exciting things, until he can solve his own murder and set things right. This includes fighting, stealing things, taking drugs, racing across town on cars and motorcycles, crashing into things, sticking his hand in a waffle iron, and having public sex with his girlfriend (Amy Smart).
Dwight Yoakam co-stars as the underground doctor who occasionally helps Chev. The filmmakers keep their camera swooshing and darting with as much vigor as the character and story, and the whole thing speeds across the finish line at a lean 88 minutes. It’s hard not to get swept up and laugh while you’re doing it.
Underworld (2003) is by no means a good movie, but by now it can be enjoyed for its silly pleasures. It takes place in an inky, anxious world where thundering, metallic music plays on the soundtrack and where vampires and lycans (werewolves) have been at war for centuries. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a tough, beautiful vampire, in a tight leather outfit, who hunts lycans. One day she spies a human, Michael (Scott Speedman), being pursued by lycans. She becomes curious as to why, and also finds herself becoming attracted to him.
The plot is basically about whether these species can intermingle, and about a bunch of bad guys sneering a lot. Michael Sheen, the future star of respectable movies like The Queen, and Bill Nighy co-star. Lucky Len Wiseman made his directorial debut on this, delivered a big hit that produced three sequels, and subsequently married his leading lady.
New to Amazon Prime
Son of a Gun
Australian filmmaker Julius Avery apparently based his feature debut, Son of a Gun (2015), on his own troubled past. It tells the story of a nineteen year-old, J.R. (Brenton Thwaites), who goes to prison for six months for a minor crime. When he tries to defend his meek cellmate from some prison tough guys, he attracts the attention of hardcore gangster Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor). Lynch protects J.R. in exchange for his services. On the outside, J.R. arranges Lynch’s escape and begins to enjoy the high life, and especially the dangerous attentions of a beautiful gangster’s moll, Tasha (Alicia Vikander).
Of course, the other shoe is just waiting to drop. Avery’s plot twists are straight out of the 1940s Hollywood gangster movies, but the movie has a vivid, very Australian grit and toughness, and McGregor dives appealingly into his role, offering an alluring combination of kindness and danger.
Escape from Alcatraz
The last of the five movies that director Don Siegel made with star Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz (1979) caps off a sterling track record. Strangely, rather than slam-bang action, the movie focuses on the slow, patient details of a prison break, not unlike its French arthouse predecessors by Robert Bresson and Jacques Becker.
Eastwood plays Frank Morris, who gets off on the wrong foot in prison by beating up a nasty con called “Wolf” (Bruce M. Fischer). He begins his escape plan, which involves three others (including a young Fred Ward), and which must be completed before “Wolf” gets out of solitary and before the warden moves Morris to a different cell. Siegel’s eye for clean, step-by-step activity is at its peak here, given emotional heft by the fascinating supporting characters and the gray, quietly oppressive atmosphere. Screenwriter Richard Tuggle later received credit for directing the Eastwood thriller Tightrope.
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Adapted from a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman (1992) was a rather high-class horror film that attempted to do a little something different, with a smarter-than-average main character. Chicago Grad student Helen Lyle (future Oscar-nominee Virginia Madsen) is researching urban myths and learns about the “candyman,” who appears and kills if you say his name five times in a mirror.
Of course, this is too much to resist. Before long, Helen is investigating Candyman-type murders in a graffiti-smeared housing project and facing off with the supernatural killer himself. Future director Kasi Lemmons plays Helen’s friend, and Tony Todd plays Candyman, whose past is linked to the slavery days. Englishman Bernard Rose, who would later go on to tackle Tolstoy, directed. Best of all is the outstanding, creepy score by Philip Glass.
Very good stuff on Vudu
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Many J.R.R. Tolkien fans were nonplussed by Peter Jackson’s three-part, eight-hour adaptation of the 320-page novel The Hobbit, seeing it as a callous bid for profits. Likewise, fans saw it as inferior to Jackson’s ground-breaking The Lord of the Rings, and were irritated at the little additions to the plot that were not in the novel.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies—the third and final part of the trio—shows Jackson as a more accomplished filmmaker, with a grander sense of movement and a clarity of action, as well as a lightness of spirit. Some of the moments between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his friends are funnier and more moving than much of the previous trilogy. This one picks up with the death of Smaug the dragon, and revolves around the war over Smaug’s treasure trove, while providing links for the next portion of the story. As ever, Ian McKellen makes a wonderful Gandalf. Evangeline Lilly plays the beautiful elf Tauriel, who falls in love with dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
Don't miss this one on Crackle
After a series of frenzied, fearless, half-mad feature films, the German director Werner Herzog turned to making documentaries in the second half of his career, and with Grizzly Man (2005), he had one of the biggest hits of his career.
Herzog did not actually direct the movie; rather, he inherited a wealth of footage from one Timothy Treadwell, who attempted to study and protect Alaskan grizzly bears, and was found mauled to death in 2003. Herzog edited the footage, added his own inimitable narration, as well as including some extra scenes. With the result he once again explored his favorite theme, the clash of man versus nature, and the battle between control and chaos. The movie’s main drawback is Treadwell himself; Herzog tries to show the good with the bad, but Treadwell can seem like an infuriating egomaniac and can test the viewer’s patience. Nonetheless, this is an incredible documentary.