Hello stream-fans! Another week, another round of suggestions on how to spend that well-earned leisure time in front of your computer. This weekend sees two blockbuster releases in “Red 2” and “R.I.P.D.,” both of which you might want to skip, and another collaboration from the “Drive” team of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling, which we’d warrant you go see. Yet, in honor of it all—good, bad, and ugly—we’ve got our correlated streaming suggestions. Between a sports-noir mix featuring a young Jeff Bridges, comedic horror with John Malkovich, a simultaneous theatrical/VOD release, and (sort of) baby Gosling, you should have plenty to watch. There’s also an oldie musical from Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Astaire and an early look at a classical Hollywood comedy from the Criterion Collection before its release on DVD. So let’s get right down to it.
“Fat City” (1972)
What It’s About: Lapsed boxer Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) finds his interest in the sport rekindled after an encounter with up-and-comer Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges). However, lingering anger over a failed career, difficult relationships with women, and mild alcoholism threaten to impede Tully’s comeback. Munger faces roadblocks of his own, but the two aspiring athletes continue to strive for “Fat City,” or the good life. Susan Tyrrell costars as Tully’s mercurial girlfriend.
Why You Should Stream It: Following a series of poorly received films including “Sinful Davey” (1969) and “Myra Breckinridge” (1970), “Fat City” marked a comeback for director John Huston. His follow-ups, such as 1975’s “The Man Who Would be King” and “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” the year after, would generate similar praise and commercial success. Stark yet stunning lensing from acclaimed cinematographer Conrad Hall (“In Cold Blood“) and a script from Leonard Gardner, adapting his 1969 novel of the same name, draws (or redraws) a series of grim, desperate characters that are entirely realized and incredibly sympathetic. Furthermore, the film was shot on location in Stockton, California, in a series of Skid Row settings that augment this understated and unsentimental realism. Both the picture and lead actor Keach received awards from various critics’ circles, while Tyrrell was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Finally, “Fat City” enjoys the distinction of maintaining a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which, however you regard the aggregator website, is no small feat.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, VUDU, YouTube
What It’s About: When alien squids attack an isolated island off the coast of Ireland, and an impending storm quashes any chance of rescue or evacuation, two local police officers (Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley) must find a way to save the local inhabitants. Luckily for these citizens under siege, the little beasties quickly display a lethal reaction to alcohol. So what does everyone do? Why, they get piss drunk! And then fight off the monsters!
Why You Should Stream It: First off, there is nothing bad or boring about watching
people get hammered onscreen, especially if said drunkards are forced
to engage in something complicated. Secondly, the unlikely combination
of romance, comedy, and horror conjured by director Jon Wright and
writer Kevin Lehane is tremendous, and reinforced by spectacular effects
and some exceptional performances. Our review from the 2012 Karlovy
Vary Film Festival calls the film “perfect fodder for a late-night
audience,” citing the premise as being “so ripe with potential that we
just can’t believe no one’s done it before.” “Grabbers” is out in select
theaters this weekend, but if it’s not playing near you, or if you’d
rather sit back (with a pint) in the comfort of your own home, you can
watch it on VOD as well. We also imagine there’s an excellent drinking
game to be found here.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand
“Finian’s Rainbow” (1968)
What It’s About: Scoundrel Finian McLonergan (Fred Astaire) steals a pot of gold from a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) and flees Ireland for the U.S. with his daughter, Sharon (Petula Clark), and hopes to multiply the small fortune in tow. But upon arriving in a small southern town, Finian finds his plans sidelined by an altercation between the open-minded Sharon and an intolerant politician (Keenan Wynn). And once the slighted leprechaun arrives in search of his treasure, things really begin to go downhill for the rascally Irishman.
Why You Should Stream It: Despite his later ventures into depicting the fantastic and the
dreamscape, at this early stage in his career, director Francis Ford
Coppola was still prone to addressing the troubling ruthlessness of
reality, a fact which makes his involvement in this fairy tale somewhat
curious. Yet, his collaboration with playwrights E. Y. Harburg and Fred
Saidy, adapting their own 1947 stage musical, as well as the dance-happy
(if aging) Astaire and songbird Clark proved quite successful:
critics ultimately lauded the straightforward narrative and pared down
look of the film, giving the two leads (and Clark in particular) their
due in elevating the production above its Broadway counterpart. Although
presented in anamorphic format when in theaters, “Finian’s Rainbow” was
cropped and resized for its home video release. But now in a digitally
remastered format, you’ll get the full view, complete with Astaire’s dancing
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, Warner Bros. Archive Instant
“The United States of Leland” (2003)
What It’s About: Aspiring writer Pearl Madison (Don Cheadle) is making ends meet by tutoring juvenile delinquent Leland Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling), imprisoned for killing a neighbor boy named Ryan (Michael Welch). As the two grow closer, the teacher becomes enmeshed in the case, beginning to unearth his student’s complex and troubled past, and forced to confront his own countless failings as he does so. In time, Pearl discovers in Leland a series of complicated motivations and, ultimately, a boy that is so much more than just a murderer.
Why You Should Stream It: The debut from writer-director Matthew Ryan Hoge, this largely unnoticed
film is subtle in almost every aspect, from its subtext-heavy narrative
and downplayed cinematography to a rhythmic editing pace that melds
past with present and draws the viewer in completely. Although quiet, “The United States of Leland” still manages a provocative, powerful
tone; the modest acting is particularly significant here, with Gosling
evidencing—even in this relatively early role—his penchant for
quiet realism and moving sensitivity. An Official Selection at Sundance
in 2003, the film features a superb soundtrack from Sunny Day Real Estate frontman Jeremy Enigk and an all-star
supporting cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams, Lena
Olin, Jena Malone, Michael Pena, Kerry Washington, Martin Donovan, and
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, VUDU
“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
What It’s About: A fictionalized account of the making of 1922’s “Nosferatu,” with John
Malkovich as F.W. Murnau, the director of that film, and Willem Dafoe as
its star, Max Schreck. Running a production as steeped in mystery and
tension as its source material (Bram Stoker‘s “Dracula“), Murnau brings in
the unknown Schreck to lead his cast. At first, the actor appears to be
a devoted artist completely immersed in his role, never out of makeup
or character. However, as the set becomes rife with fatal accidents, accidents which somehow always involve Schreck, the cast and crew begin to suspect
that he might be more vampire than human. Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack,
Carey Elwes, and Eddie Izzard co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: A
critical and commercial success from E. Elias Merhige that is equal
parts homage and innovation. Borrowing its look from silent era
pictures, “Shadow of the Vampire” uses intertitles and receding iris
shot transitions to recreate the impression of early 20th century
filmmaking while also interjecting the modern footage with scenes from
Murnau’s original film. Conversely, the development of Schreck as a
vampire all his own renovates the biopic format and generates a monster
movie in its own right. A monster movie peppered with several awesomely
campy performances and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, that is. And as
if all this weren’t reason enough to watch, the chillingly creepy combo
of Malkovich and Dafoe (nominated for an Academy Award for Best
Supporting Actor), spinning this horror-thriller-comedy tale of power
struggles and uncertain identity, makes for delightful, spine-tingling
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant
Criterion Hulu Plus Pick
We like Criterion a lot, but what we love is finding hard to find, not-readily-available-on-DVD movies. And so the Criterion hub on Hulu Plus is pretty awesome. Their archive has approximately 225 movies that will eventually come out on the Criterion Collection on DVD, but currently, it’s just a rather incredible, early sneak peek treasure trove of what’s to come. Each week we single out a film that we think you should see.
“I Married a Witch” (1942)
What It’s About: After burning at the Salem stake and having her spirit imprisoned in a tree, the witch Jennifer (Veronica Lake) takes revenge on her Puritan accuser, Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March), by casting a spell that will make him and all his male descendants unlucky in love. The curse proves effective, but when her spirit escapes many years later, Jennifer vows to further torment the current generation of Wooley (March, again). Retribution becomes complicated, however, when she finds herself falling in love with him. Cecil Kellaway, Susan Hayward, and Robert Warwick co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: This week saw Criterion announce their DVD release slate for October,
and as it includes “I Married A Witch,” perhaps you’d like to get a head
start. French director Rene Clair, known for blending the imaginary and
the comic in his early silent films, brings much of this talent to the
screen here as well. The picture makes the most of its eccentric story,
with two charming leads that, despite their contrasting looks and
personalities, display an enjoyable chemistry. Moreover, the bevy of
whimsical (if dated) special effects and excellent comedic timing make
viewing this whimsical fantasy romance a total delight.
Where It’s Available: Hulu Plus
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top five picks, the following films are certainly still worthy of your movie-loving attention, and are newly available via various streaming services. Links to our reviews are provided where available.
“El Bulli: Cooking in Progress“
“Can’t Hardly Wait“
“The Ice Harvest“
“Little White Lies“
“Run Lola Run“
“The We and the I“