For the love of streaming, maggot!
Though the great Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar, two of his 13 films are available for streaming this week. One of them expires at the end of the month, though, so don’t delay.
Not a director, but definitely brilliant, one-time nominee Kristen Wiig is featured in three movies. She proves she’s one of the best talents of our time with a comic supporting role, a dramatic supporting role, and a smattering of both in a lead role.
A couple of Oscar nominees are represented. One of director Adam McKay’s earlier films is available, as is a current nominee for Best Documentary. The debut of current nominees the Coen Brothers is here, as is a breakout effort by Michael Keaton (who stars in a Best Picture nominee).
Finally, Mel Gibson’s well-loved Oscar-winning epic is available, as well as a pair of smaller movies that received no Oscar love at all. Now they can all get some streaming love.
Full Metal Jacket (Netflix)
Though Stanley Kubrick is considered a genius, and one of the great filmmakers of all time, his works (especially the later ones) were generally unappreciated when first released. Full Metal Jacket (1987) is perhaps his most mismatched film, and it inspired one of the biggest fights that Siskel & Ebert ever had on their TV show. It certainly didn’t help that there was a glut of Vietnam-related movies at the time; even I didn’t know what to make of it when I first saw it.
Nowadays, it’s generally agreed that the first 45-minute section, the boot camp sequence with private “Gomer Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio) and gunny sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), is one of the finest things he ever did. The second part—wherein the main character, private “Joker” (Matthew Modine) is shipped off to Vietnam—was criticized for overt artificiality and is considered weaker than the first part, but it still has many moments of great power and cinematic poetry. Kubrick’s films generally do better upon subsequent viewings, so this is your chance.
Dr. Strangelove (Crackle)
If you’re seeing Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, you can make it a double bill with his comic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (1964), which will be expiring from Crackle at the end of February. Written by Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George, based on George’s book, the movie is strangely similar to Sidney Lumet’s straightforward drama Fail-Safe, made the same year, but it’s more satisfying to laugh at these incidents than to worry about them.
The story, of course, is about a crazy general (Sterling Hayden) who orders a nuclear attack, and it follows all the other players as they try to figure out what to do and how to make it stop. Peter Sellers plays three roles, Captain Mandrake of the Royal Air Force, the President of the United States, and the zany title character; at some point, he was set to play a fourth, the pilot ordered to drop the bomb, but, happily, Slim Pickens took over.
George C. Scott rounds out the cast as a Pentagon general, and everyone is brilliantly funny. Gilbert Taylor’s cavernous black-and-white cinematography de-emphasizes the absurdity, making it even funnier. The movie received four Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Actor (Sellers), Director, and Screenplay, but lost all four. Amazingly, the movie’s political shenanigans do not seem at all dated.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Netflix)
Now that director Adam McKay has a Best Director Oscar nomination (for The Big Short), it could be informative—and fun—to look back at his previous works, such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006). McKay and Will Ferrell wrote the screenplay together, about a cocky, thick-headed star NASCAR driver (Ferrell) whose entire world falls apart when a Frenchman (Sacha Baron Cohen) steals his thunder. McKay and Ferrell specialize in bizarre, frequently hilarious one-liners that seem to come from nowhere, and Ferrell gets plenty of humor by playing infantile characters in a 6-foot 3-inch man’s body. Even the racing scenes are efficiently directed.
John C. Reilly plays Bobby’s pal, and Leslie Bibb is his “smokin’ hot” trophy wife. Lots of interesting people showed up to be in this: Oscar nominees Amy Adams and Michael Clarke Duncan, comedians Molly Shannon, Andy Richter, Bill Hader, David Koechner, and Jack McBrayer, and cameos from real-life NASCAR celebrities (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.). It was the final film of character actor Pat Hingle. Why couldn’t McKay have been nominated for this one?
Blood Simple (Hulu)
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, currently holders of more than a dozen Oscar nominations for writing, directing, producing, and editing, started their remarkable career all the way back in 1984 with this debut feature. Blood Simple (1984) is a nasty little slice of Texas film noir lit by the headlights of a car on a dark, rural road, scored with the sound of a shovel scraping on concrete, and enhanced with the scent of dead fish.
A bar owner (Dan Hedaya) hires a private eye (M. Emmet Walsh) to confirm that his wife (Frances McDormand) is cheating with one of his bartenders (John Getz). What follows is several double-crosses, murders, cover-ups, and a lot of criminal deliciousness. The striking cinematography is by Barry Sonnenfeld, who became a director not long after this. McDormand and Joel Coen were married that same year, and remain so today. Hulu presents the 96-minute director’s cut.
Mel Gibson’s three-hour Scottish battle epic is a perfectly enjoyable popcorn flick. It’s big and features a great deal of running around and fighting, as well as some rousing speeches and a trumpeting musical score by James Horner. Braveheart (1995) was released in the summer and fell right in with that season’s lightweight entertainments. But 1995 was also a year a little like this one, in which there was little or no critical consensus on the year’s best films. Critics debated the merits of Babe, Crumb, Exotica, Leaving Las Vegas, Persuasion, Safe, and Toy Story, but none of those seemed like Oscar winners for Best Picture; they were all too odd or too small.
Hence, someone at Paramount had the idea to re-release Braveheart in the fall and give it an Oscar push, and despite the fact that no major critics chose it as one of the year’s best films, it went on to earn ten Oscar nominations and win five Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Editing, and Makeup). In hindsight, I think Apollo 13 ought to have been the award-winner, leaving Braveheart in its rightful place as a pure entertainment, rather than a prestige project.
Amy (Amazon Prime)
A current nominee for Best Documentary, Asif Kapadia’s Amy (2015) has the benefit of being about a subject who was born in the 1980s, during the age of video cameras. Thus, more footage of Amy Winehouse probably exists than of other singers who died at the age of 27. The documentary takes full advantage of this, running 128 minutes and showing more of Winehouse than anyone ever thought possible. But while the movie makes a strong argument for her greatness, it rarely becomes anything more than a typical “Behind the Music” episode.
It hits all the usual highlights: Amy’s first indications of extraordinary talent, the recording of her masterpiece Back to Black, her father’s bad parenting decisions, her bad choice of boyfriends, her struggle with bulimia, her experimentation with drugs, and so on. Interviews with Winehouse were quickies done for MTV that reveal very little, but footage of Amy goofing around tell more of the story. An indelible moment comes in her duet with Tony Bennett; it was a dream come true for her, and impressed Bennett enough to compare her to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. The world truly lost something when it lost Amy.
Mississippi Grind (Amazon Prime)
Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) are among the few filmmakers out there that focus on characters and atmosphere first and story second. As such, their films are hard to market and excellent movies like Mississippi Grind (2015) disappear without ever having a chance. In this one, the great Australian character actor Ben Mendelsohn gets a rare chance at a leading role; he’s Gerry, a down-on-his-luck gambler in Iowa who meets the cocky, carefree Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) during a card game. Realizing that Curtis has brought him luck, Gerry proposes a road trip to Mississippi to win enough money to pay his debts. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye, and each man has his own ulterior motives for the trip.
Again, Boden and Fleck mainly concentrate on moments and places, and the characters come vividly alive. Alfre Woodard has a powerful scene; Gerry owes her money and she is not someone to be trifled with. Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton are also memorable as St. Louis prostitutes. This is a movie to get lost in.
Batman (Amazon Prime)
Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) may seem quaint in the current wake of half-dozen new superhero movies each year, but at the time it was startlingly modern, forgoing the silly Batman television series and drawing inspiration from Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns. Burton’s Gotham cityscapes were the stuff of nightmares, having more in common with silent cinema and German Expressionism than anything else that had been done in Hollywood in the 1980s. Not to mention that its casting went against the usual preference for chiseled pretty boys without personalities.
In the role of Batman and Bruce Wayne, Michael Keaton—currently in the Oscar-nominated Spotlight—might not have looked the part, but he sold it. He brought more than looks; he brought crazy menace, nuance, pain, and emotional armor, making it one of the most memorable performances in any superhero movie to date. Of course, Jack Nicholson as the Joker is no slouch either. Kim Basinger co-stars as love interest Vicki Vale, with Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (imagine if he could have gone on to play Two-Face!), plus Robert Wuhl, Jack Palance, and Tracey Walter. The movie won an Oscar for Art Direction.
It’s a shame that this incredible biopic never received more attention. It tells the story of African-American filmmaking pioneer Melvin Van Peebles (a man who inspired Spike Lee) as he struggled to raise money and make his groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). In a stroke of genius, Melvin is played by his own son Mario Van Peebles, who also directed and co-wrote this film, based on his father’s published journal. The story of making the film is fascinating enough, with a fearless, cigar-chomping Melvin borrowing money from everyone he knew, including Bill Cosby (T.K. Carter), and nearly going blind, but the most profound scenes are those featuring Melvin with his young son (Khleo Thomas).
It goes without saying that Melvin probably wasn’t the world’s greatest father, and it must have been hugely therapeutic, or at least extremely difficult, for Mario to embody his father and re-enact some of the abuse he might have received as a child. Talk about suffering for your art. Joy Bryant, Terry Crews, Ossie Davis, and David Alan Grier co-star.
If you’ve ever had a crappy summer job, especially a crappy summer job in the 1980s, few movies capture that time and place and feeling as well as Greg Mottola’s Adventureland (2009) does. When James (Jesse Eisenberg) crashes his family’s car, he loses his college money and is forced to stay home and work for the summer. What follows is a haze of crushes, betrayals, flirtations, pot smoking, drinking, listening to music both cool (The Replacements) and uncool (Falco), and hoping for sex.
Didn’t everyone have a friend like “Frigo” (Matt Bush), whose entire purpose is to irritate and humiliate you? Kristen Stewart co-stars in one of her best roles as the object of James’ affection, and Ryan Reynolds is terrific as the smooth park maintenance guy (who claims to have jammed with Lou Reed). Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig likewise earn some big laughs as the husband-and-wife team that run the park. Rather than pandering to teens, the characters’ behavior here comes from a genuine place, each longing for something or trying to protect something (Mottola had previously made the equally good Superbad). MUBU posted Adventureland on January 30, and subscribers have 30 days from that date to enjoy it.
Welcome to Me (We Are Colony)
Kristen Wiig takes the starring role in the dark comedy Welcome to Me (2015), about a woman with borderline personality disorder, Alice Klieg. She’s obsessed with Oprah’s TV show, re-watching episodes and memorizing them. So when she wins an $86 million lottery, she of course launches her own TV show. It’s a losing prospect, with each episode running two hours, deeply narcissistic, with Alice having no idea how to fill air time; in one episode, she makes a “meat cake” with sweet potato frosting, and silently eats a slice for several minutes while the cameras roll.
Directed by Shira Piven (brother of Jeremy and daughter of acting teachers), this movie could have either been a dreary disease-of-the-week weepie or something like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch stretched too thin, but instead Wiig gives a real performance, rooted in pain and need, and still makes it funny, while Piven conjures up many memorably contemplative images for her. The excellent cast, including James Marsden, Linda Cardellini, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Tudyk, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, and Thomas Mann, helps a great deal. Welcome to Me is available at We Are Colony as a rental or a purchase, with bonus features included.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Vudu)
Kristen Wiig is on top right now, with Zoolander 2 and Ghostbusters coming up, a role in the Oscar-nominated The Martian, and outstanding performances in both Welcome to Me and this disturbing, but amazingly honest comedy-drama. Based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) tells the story of Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), a 15 year-old living in San Francisco in the 1970s. Her mother (Wiig) is a self-absorbed free spirit, more interested in her current boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), than in her daughter. Minnie begins to experience her sexual awakening when Monroe accidentally touches her chest while watching TV. They begin a strange affair, pure bliss for Minnie, who thinks she’s in love.
This could have come across like sexual abuse, but director Marielle Heller, making her debut, handles it just right. Monroe is more like a man who has made a mistake and can’t help himself than an evil predator, and the movie belongs to Minnie, who never becomes a victim. She owns this experience and learns from it her own way. The movie has a great, shabby 1970s feel and utilizes the underground comics of the era as Minnie sometimes imagines conversations with an animated Aline Kominsky.
In case you missed it, here’s a link to last week’s streaming recommendations.