Another week, another crop of movies now on your favorite streaming services. Whether you’re partial to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, one of the others, or all of the above, new and old movies are yours for the watching.
Catch the Coen brothers’ classic No Country for Old Men. Witness Christian Bale’s turn as a serial killer in the sardonic American Psycho. Or get your horror on with Final Destination 3.
Too dark? Partake of some lighter fare with the delightful stop-animation Shaun of the Sheep; a movie adaptation of The Little Prince; or the hilarious-if-juvenile antics of Police Academy.
That’s just a sampling of the goods. Read on to learn about all 12 movies now available online.
The Little Prince (Netflix)
Given that it’s based on one of the most popular books of all time (Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 novella), fans may rule that Mark Osborne’s movie version of The Little Prince (2016) is somewhere between an insult and a disaster. But taken on its own, it’s a wonderfully creative, soul-soothing work. After screening at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, it was successfully released overseas, but a U.S. release somehow never happened. Now Netflix has picked up the ball, and it can be seen at last (at least in its English-dubbed version).
In this movie, we meet “the aviator” as an old man (voiced by Jeff Bridges). He once encountered the Little Prince and now tries to tell his story to a modern-day little girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy). The girl’s mother (voiced by Rachel McAdams) only wishes for her to get into a good school; things like friends, stories, and imagination are unworthy of her time. Eventually she goes on her own journey. This storyline is computer-animated, while the classic “Little Prince” material is stop-motion animated. The focus is more on storytelling and joyous images than it is on noise and flash, and it’s a standout for families as well as movie buffs. The voice cast also features Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, and Albert Brooks.
Final Destination 3 (Netflix)
In retrospect, this horror series has become something rather unique, especially after the unexpectedly clever fifth and final entry in 2011. Unlike many horror films, it has no serial killers or ghosts or vampires or zombies or monsters. The villain is simply the force known as death. Though the characters may try, there’s no puzzle to figure out, no way to fight. The suspense comes from hoping against hope as death mounts complex, spectacular, and gruesome Rube Goldberg-style accidents to kill those that have previously escaped its grasp.
Final Destination 3 (2006) begins, like the others, with a major disaster, this time a rollercoaster crash that kills many riders. Teen Wendy (the talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a vision of the crash beforehand and manages to get several of her fellow passengers off the ride. Death is not pleased, and begins hunting them down, one by one. Aside from the unusual, monster-less plot, the loss of life actually means something here; the departed are missed and mourned by the living. It’s a scary movie stripped down to its most existential and primal state. James Wong, a veteran of The X-Files on TV, directed and co-wrote, just as he did on the first Final Destination. (As of now, Netflix only offers this single film in the series, but perhaps next month....)
The documentary Young@Heart (2007) sounds awfully cutesy, but it’s very easy to get caught up in its music and emotions. It tells the story of troupe director Bob Cilman, a brutal drill sergeant who puts together a singing musical show. The twist is that these singers are all senior citizens in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. They don’t sing show tunes; they sing soul, alternative, and punk music from the likes of Sonic Youth, Coldplay, James Brown, the Clash, David Bowie, and the Ramones. Cilman chooses the songs carefully, finding lyrics that will connect with folks that have put in some time on this earth, including Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and Coldplay’s “Fix You.”
The focus is not on polished professionalism, but rather on emotional truth. While he’s hard on his artists, he’s also capable of moments of tenderness, required as sometimes the members of his troupe simply pass away. Director Stephen Walker narrates and occasionally enters into the film, which makes it seem less like a documentary and more like something personal. But the highlight has to be a powerful, soul-shattering concert given for a prison full of inmates. The group continues today, and has its own YouTube channel: youngatheartchorus.
No Country for Old Men (Netflix/Amazon Prime)
The Oscars, for once, got it right when they gave No Country for Old Men (2007) four Academy Awards, including Best Picture; some will contend that There Will Be Blood deserved to win, but I maintain that this adaptation of a complex Cormac McCarthy novel is a masterpiece in every respect. Joel and Ethan Coen adapted the screenplay and directed this story. (They won Oscars for both jobs.) Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a grisly crime scene and decides to steal a case of drug money. Meanwhile, killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, who also won an Oscar)—with his weird curtain of hair—is also after the money.
The two men use all their skills, one to chase, and the other to evade, while the old man, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), uses phone calls and detective work to solve the case. The dialogue in this film is sharp and poetic, a perfect melding of McCarthy and Coens, while their visual sense (and Roger Deakins’ cinematography) beautifully represents McCarthy’s story. Using a wide canvas of empty spaces and harsh close-ups, their depiction of violence is quieter than usual, sometimes grisly, but other times careful. (It’s probably the quietest movie about violence ever made.) Woody Harrelson co-stars as a bounty hunter, and Kelly Macdonald plays Moss’s wife.
St. Vincent (Netflix/Hoopla)
Two stars from this summer’s Ghostbusters—Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy—first worked together in St. Vincent (2014), which wasn’t nearly as controversial. Except, possibly, for the fact that Murray portrays perhaps the world’s worst role model (the titular Vincent) being paid to watch a child after school while his mother works. Vincent is an unemployed Vietnam War veteran living off of a reverse mortgage that has just run out. To cover his various expenses, which include the regular company of a pregnant Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) as well as copious amounts of booze, he reluctantly agrees to watch the nerdy, bullied Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).
The movie effectively copies the structure of Bad Santa without missing a beat (perhaps ironic, given that Murray was once considered for that movie), but it has enough personality to succeed on its own. It helps that Murray, by now one of the undisputed comedy masters of all time, plays the jerky Vincent not as an angry man, but as a man without care, which is hugely appealing. The final shot of Vincent playing with a garden hose illustrates just how free he is. Terrence Howard co-stars in a subplot about a debt collector that is weirdly forgotten. For viewers not subscribed to Netflix, the movie is also available free on Hoopla; check your local library for details.
It may be hard to imagine what Robocop (1987) looked like before it came out; it could have been a wretched, laughable B-list item destined to go straight to video. But in actuality, it was an insane black comedy, an action movie obsessed with brutal, grueling violence, that, at the same time, satirized that very violence. The absurd, hilarious, fake TV ads that decorate this tense future world are just the frosting on all of it; we’re part of the joke, but in on it, too. Peter Weller—who had already played another cult superhero, Buckaroo Banzai—stars as Alex Murphy, a good cop who is fatally injured in a shootout.
Scientists turn him into the title cyborg (all from his, and our, point of view). His partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) figures out that it’s him, and together they discover a massive corporate conspiracy behind the robot armor. In the midst of all the shooting and bleeding are several unforgettably simple moments, including a robot navigating a staircase, and the famous “you’re fired” scene. Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Dan O’Herlihy, and Ray Wise co-star. Hulu has this, plus two sequels: the not-quite-as-good, but still-underrated Robocop 2 (1990), which was written by Frank Miller and directed by The Empire Strikes Back’s Irvin Kershner; and Fred Dekker’s PG-13 rated Robocop 3 (1993), which was made without Weller.
Marathon Man (Hulu/Amazon Prime)
This classic 1970s thriller hasn’t aged very well, but it still contains one of the indelible images of its time: Laurence Olivier as the sadistic, ex-Naxi dentist torturing Dustin Hoffman for information, asking the simple, sinister, “Is it safe?” Screenwriter extraordinaire William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) adapted his own novel and Oscar-winner John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) directed a tale of a secret government spy, Henry “Doc” Levy (Roy Scheider), and his brother, a scholar and a jogger (the marathon man of the title), Thomas “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman).
On his latest case, Henry inadvertently brings Thomas along, and the latter gets caught up in a deadly plot, dating back to the WWII days. Schlesinger takes 125 minutes to tell his story, and, oddly, it does best when it gets a chance to slow down, but its pacing is nevertheless uneven. Moreover, while Hoffman was, and still is, one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, his performance here is too much, too full of manners and ticks, whereas Scheider and Olivier’s cooler approaches seem more effective. Olivier received the movie’s only Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor.
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Hulu/Amazon Prime)
Shaun the sheep was originally introduced in Aardman Animations’ Oscar-winning short film A Close Shave (1995), and he eventually won his own animated TV series. The trick is that it contained no dialogue, only music and sounds, to convey its 7-minute stories. It’s even more impressive, then, to consider that Aardman filmmakers Mark Burton and Richard Starzak made the 85-minute Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) the same way; it’s practically a silent comedy, as funny and wonderful as anything since Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
After tiring of the crushing routine of the daily farm work, Shaun and his fellow sheep decide to trick the farmer into taking a nap so that they can escape and have a vacation. Unfortunately, the farmer goes to sleep in a trailer that gets loose and careens its way toward the big city. When he wakes, he’s lost his memory and gets a job as a hair stylist. It’s up to Shaun and Bitzer the dog to find and rescue him before a mean dog-catcher does his work. The stop-motion visuals are extraordinary, but it’s the character expressions and the film’s sound—including a few delightful songs—that make it work wonders. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.
Police Academy (Crackle)
It’s hard to know what a new viewer might think of this movie today; inspired by such films as National Lampoon’s Animal House, Airplane!; and Stripes, Police Academy (1984) is just about as lowbrow as it gets, but not without its moments of brilliant comic timing and crafty compositions and editing. The simple premise begins with the fact that the new mayor has loosened the requirements needed to qualify for the police academy, thereby winding up with an class full of outcasts and weirdos. Steve Guttenberg stars as the carefree Bill Murray type, a cool, unflappable troublemaker called Mahoney.
Michael Winslow makes an astounding array of sound effects with his mouth (including gunshots), Bubba Smith is the giant-sized Hightower, David Graf is the gun-nut Tackleberry, Donovan Scott is the overweight wimp named Leslie Barbara, Marion Ramsey is the soft-spoken Hooks, and so on. Kim Cattrall appears, pre-Sex and the City, as socialite Karen Thompson. Aside from its many guilty laughs, the movie is filled with stereotypes and thoughtless humor, and its huge success drove critics crazy at the time, but not as crazy as the six sequels did. (Four of them sport the infamous “0%” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) All seven movies are now on Crackle, free with ads.
Living in Oblivion (Fandor)
Legend has it that 1990s indie filmmaker Tom DiCillo made Living in Oblivion (1995) based on the horrible experience he had making his debut feature, Johnny Suede (1991), with a young Brad Pitt. I can’t confirm that the legend is true, but whatever it was that inspired DiCillo, it worked. Living in Oblivion is one of the darker, funnier, and more brutal cinematic looks at a movie set ever filmed. Steve Buscemi plays the hapless director Nick Reve, making a low-budget film in New York and struggling every step of the way.