(Welcome to Now Stream This, a column dedicated to the best movies streaming on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and every other streaming service out there.)
In the Line of Fire
Now Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 1993
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Cast: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo, Dylan McDermott, Gary Cole, Fred Dalton Thompson, John Mahoney
In the Line of Fire is the type of taught, nifty thriller that Hollywood wouldn’t even dream of making these days. No big special effects, no superheroes, no franchise potential. Just a well-told, R-rated story. Clint Eastwood is an aging Secret Service Agent who was actually in Dallas on the day that Kennedy was assassinated. He still carries the guilt around that he was unable to save JFK, and that guilt colors his actions when a would-be assassin targets the current president. That assassin is a major creep played to perfection by John Malkovich, who elevates the film to another level with his slimy, scary performance. Eastwood’s Secret Service man is gung-ho at stopping Malkovich before he can get close to POTUS, but everyone else thinks the old man is overreacting. Everyone, that is, except fellow Secret Service Agent Rene Russo, who just happens to be – gasp! – a lady! Eastwood and Russo fall into a fun, flirty relationship, but there’s no time for romance when there’s a madman building himself a fancy plastic gun to avoid metal detectors. Wolfgang Petersen brings a workman-like precision to all of this, and Eastwood isn’t afraid to lean into his age (although he’s technically playing a character who was younger than he was at the time the film was shot).
For fans of: The Firm, Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood playing piano.
Now Streaming on Netflix
Release Date: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow
If you enjoyed the line “What is grief, if not love persevering?” from WandaVision, can I interest you in #1 Marvel fan Martin Scorsese‘s Shutter Island? I’m not going to call Scorsese’s mystery-thriller “underrated,” because it received positive reviews and was a big hit. But the film is often toted as “lesser Scorsese,” with many folks unhappy about the twists the story throws out. I say nuts to that! Shutter Island is actually top-tier Scorsese – a film about murder, madness, and yes – grief. U.S. Marshal Leonardo DiCaprio gets called out to an insane asylum on a secluded New England island to find a missing patient. But nothing on the island is as it seems, and DiCaprio’s past – particularly the death of his wife, played by Michelle Williams – haunts him at every turn. Gothic, creepy, and remarkably sad, Shutter Island is worth revisiting.
For fans of: Laura, Isle of the Dead, lots of rain and lots of overblown Boston accents.
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 1982
Director: Walter Hill
Cast: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, Sonny Landham, Annette O’Toole
The film that turned Eddie Murphy into a full-blown movie star, 48 Hrs. hasn’t exactly aged well (the racial politics were already suspect at the time of the release and are even worse now). But Walter Hill‘s ultra-violent anti-buddy film is still worth watching, primarily to see Murphy turn into a major player right before our eyes. This was his film debut, and behind-the-scenes there was some concern that casting him was a mistake. Murphy plays a convict who gets sprung from jail by miserable, grumbly, unapologetically racist cop Nick Nolte to track down a pair of cop killers that Murphy tangled with in the past. Nolte and Murphy loathe each other through this whole thing, and even have a lengthy scene where they kick the shit out of each other in the street. In the end, though, they find a grudging respect for one another, but not before a major body count piles up.
For fans of: Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, the relaxing sound of Nick Nolte’s glass-gargling voice.
Now Streaming on HBO Max
Release Date: 2001
Genre: Heist Comedy
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Bernie Mac, Julia Roberts, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Don Cheadle, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner
You know that feeling when a cool spring breeze comes blowing in on a sunny day and you let it all wash over you? That’s Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh‘s ultra-hip, ultra-enjoyable riff on the original Rat Pack movie. As low-stakes as humanly possible, Ocean’s Eleven is a hang-out movie, where all the people hanging out are also plotting a massive heist. Fresh out of prison, lifetime thief George Clooney reunites with his BFF Brad Pitt and they go about assembling a team to rip-off casino mogul Andy García. And oh yeah, the casino mogul just happens to be dating Clooney’s ex-wife, played by Julia Roberts. Soderbergh would successfully use this formula for two more movies, and in truth, the entire trilogy as a whole is just a delight. But the first film has just the right amount of magic to get things going.
For fans of: Out of Sight, Logan Lucky, Brad Pitt eating lots of snacks.
The Dark and the Wicked
Now Streaming on Shudder
Release Date: 2020
Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley
I think all horror fans have their own particular type (or brand, if you will/must) of horror. For me, the best of the best horror is the type that sllllllowwwwly builds, and builds, and builds. I realize that isn’t for everyone – lots of folks seem to prefer the instant gratification of a good jump scare, and that’s fine. But to me, there’s something powerful about a horror movie that takes its time to build up a thick, almost impenetrable sense of dread. The Dark and the Wicked, the latest from Bryan Bertino, director of The Strangers, understands exactly how to do that. It’s a movie full of long, uncomfortable, dread-inducing moments that will have you uneasily darting your eyes back and forth, waiting for something terrible to happen. The pic follows a pair of siblings (Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr.) who return to the family farm when their father ends up in a kind of coma. The brother and sister think it’s their duty to come home and help their mom (Julie Oliver-Touchstone), but mom makes it pretty damn clear she doesn’t want them there, which in turn leads to all kinds of unsettling scenarios, most of which involve darkly lit rooms where anyone – or anything – could be lurking.
For fans of: Hereditary, The Strangers, fear.
The 13th Warrior
Now Streaming on Hulu
Release Date: 1999
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Omar Sharif
The 13th Warrior is one of the biggest box office flops in history, and there was a ton of behind-the-scenes drama involving reshoots and all sorts of other murky details. But here’s the thing: this is a fun adventure film. Based on the book Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (who actually did some of the reshoots here himself, even though the final film is credited solely to John McTiernan), this is essentially a re-telling of Beowulf. Antonio Banderas is a poet in 922 A.D. who gets roped into accompanying a band of Norsemen on a quest. That quest involves doing battle with an army of “monsters” who turn out to be humans wearing animal skins – not that that human distinction makes them any less deadly. None of what’s going on here holds up to historical scrutiny, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just want to watch a bunch of dudes swinging around big swords.
For fans of: Valhalla Rising, Gladiator, recognizing Beowulf references.
Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 1993
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Dana Delany
Myths become reality in Tombstone, a stylish, violent Western directed by George P. Cosmatos. Sort of. Tombstone had a notoriously rough production: screenwriter Kevin Jarre was initially supposed to direct the film, but realized pretty quickly that he was out of his league (it was his debut). Officially, Jarre was replaced by George P. Cosmatos, who was reportedly very difficult to work with. But unofficially, star Kurt Russell actually directed most of the movie – or so the story goes. If any of this is true, it’s kind of a miracle that Tombstone works as well as it does. Russell is legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, who moves to the cow town of Tombstone with the hopes of starting a new, gun-free life with his brothers, played by Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out, because the town is overrun by the Cowboys, who are treated here like the Western’s answer to the mafia. Soon, Wyatt, his family, and his best pal Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) are drawn into violence. The gunfights here are loud and in-your-face, but it’s the performances that anchor everything. Russell and his mustache are great, Elliott and Paxton both bring a realism to their respective roles, and Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn both make for great slimeball villains. But everyone knows that this movie really belongs to Kilmer, whose take on Doc Holliday is already the stuff of legend. Smooth, funny, stoic, and sickly, Kilmer’s Holliday is iconic (and I don’t use that word lightly) from the second he shows up on screen. Even if Tombstone weren’t a good movie to begin with (which it is), it would be worth watching for Kilmer’s work alone.
For fans of: Wyatt Earp, Silverado, Val Kilmer saying stuff like, “I’m your huckleberry,” and “You’re a daisy if you do!”
The River Wild
Now Streaming on HBO Max
Release Date: 1994
Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Mazzello
Did you know that Meryl Streep once made an action-adventure about whitewater rafting? You do now! It’s called The River Wild, and it’s the type of fun, disposable stuff that Hollywood used to be happy to pump out back in the day. Streep plays an expert whitewater rafter who is in the midst of marital trouble with her husband, David Strathairn. Still, the husband and wife end up going on a rafting trip together with their young son (Joseph Mazzello). Soon, marital striffe is the least of their worries as the family gets taken hostage by two thieves on the run, played by Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly, and orders Streep to take them down the river. Will Streep’s expertise in whitewater rafting lead to thrilling action sequences on the rapids? Will Kevin Bacon ham it up as the villain? Will David Strathairn’s weak-willed character learn to be brave, thus winning back his wife’s heart? You know it! And it’s pretty damn entertaining to watch.
For fans of: Breakdown, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Meryl Streep having fun and not worrying about getting nominated for an Oscar.
Attack the Block
Now Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video
Release Date: 2011
Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Comedy
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
John Boyega burst onto the scene with his fantastic, commanding presence in Joe Cornish‘s Attack the Block. Boyega is Moses, a teenage gang leader living on a council estate in South London. One night (Guy Fawkes Night, to be exact), furry aliens with glowing fangs invade, and Moses and several other residents are going to have to deal with it. This all makes for a crackling sci-fi-horror-comedy – it’s the type of film that understands all of those genres inside and out and knows exactly how to blend them all together to create something special. It’s genuinely puzzling that Joe Cornish hasn’t had a bigger movie-directing career following this killer debut.
For fans of: Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End, big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
Now Streaming on The Criterion Channel
Release Date: 2002
Genre: Silent Horror Ballet
Director: Guy Maddin
Cast: Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny Wright, Brent Neale
Guy Maddin gives you a Dracula unlike the others with his haunting, playful Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. It’s pretty much the story you know – a vampire comes to England and starts sucking neck. But this is also a ballet. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet had adapted Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Maddin got them together for this film version. But this is not a filmed stage play; it’s instead akin to a silent movie, complete with title cards and old-school camera tricks. There’s no audible dialogue because we don’t need it. Instead, the story is interrupted through the dancer’s movements. Maddin adds an extra layer to the film by playing up the buried xenophobia in Stoker’s book. After all, the famous novel is essentially a story of a foreigner invading England and corrupting traditional English life. Here, Maddin has the xenophobia directed against “the East,” as a title card says, since Dracula is played by Chinese performer Zhang Wei-Qiang.
For fans of: Dracula movies that try new things.
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