The summer movie season continues with its usual gusto, providing us ample opportunity to make related streaming recommendations. Pedro Almodovar's "I'm So Excited!" hits theaters, so we're offering one of his older films as a complement. And coupled with the release of "The Heat" is another female buddy comedy -- a smash hit from the late '80s. However, despite another big slate at the cinemas, this week has been monumental in its political developments as much as anything else. Indeed, the overturning of DOMA and California's Proposition 8 by the United States Supreme Court and Wendy Davis' near single-handed take down of SB#5 in the Texas state senate all harken significant changes for this country in the weeks, months, and years to come. In honor of these historic events and people everywhere leading the charge for equal rights, we would like to highlight several films with concurring themes. And now, here are our streaming selections for the week.
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988)
What It's About: When Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) is accused of murdering a studio maven, the case falls to toon-hating detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who is quickly swept up in a complex web of intrigue, deception, and bureaucracy as he attempts to prove the zany rabbit's innocence. Along the way, the private eye and his helpful girlfriend (Joanna Cassidy) also encounter the malicious cartoon-murdering Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd); Roger's sultry wife, Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner); and a surfeit of other lively, mirthful characters.
Why You Should Stream It: Directing team Robert Zemeckis (for the live action sequences) and Richard Williams (who supervised the animation) created a multi-genre picture whose craftsmanship and story alike continue to hold their ground. Featuring famous faces (both Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny incongruously appear here) and a bevy of new cartoons (Benny the Cab and the Weasel Gang are this writer's particular favorites), and channeling enough classical Hollywood homage to rouse David O. Selznick himself, this film is delightfully witty and thoroughly engaging, while its 1940s Los Angeles setting ups the nostalgia factor considerably. A screwball comedy, a hardboiled detective story, and a traditional cartoon all rolled into one, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" inspired a renaissance in American animation and remains a masterful combination of live action and animated elements today.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix
"Supporting Characters" (2012)
What It's About: In many ways the male-populated compliment to Lena Dunham's "Tiny Furniture," "Supporting Characters" follows movie editors and friends Darryl (Tarik Lowe, also the film’s co-writer) and Nick (Alex Karpovsky) as they wend their way through the professional and personal trials of being a twenty-something dude living in New York. Problems arise in the editing room with an irrational director (Kevin Corrigan), detachment and disinterest seeps into relationships with their significant others (Sophia Takal and Melonie Diaz), and uneven career advancement opportunities threaten to undermine the long-term friendship. And yet, both Darryl and Nick depend wholeheartedly on their connection -- the loyalty and honesty they share -- to keep themselves going.
Why You Should Stream It: In the vein of Woody Allen, director and co-writer Daniel Schechter made a solidly New York film, one that uses the well-known landscape and helter-skelter culture of the city to great effect as another, ahem, supporting character. Our review admitted the film registered more as a TV pilot than a feature, but added, "Lowe is a relatable comic presence who can play a double take as humor without mugging for the camera, a skill much more difficult than you'd think. Karpovsky, meanwhile, has already mastered this particular brand of fast-talking, self-loathing asshole." Structural issues aside, good performances are good performances: the honest, smart relationship between the two leads working as a powerful core. Plus, for all you "Girls" fans hoping for a solid dose of Ray, you're in luck. Double luck if you count the cameo from Dunham.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix, VUDU
What It's About: A modern reimagining of "Little Red Riding Hood," complete with naif, grandmother, and a villain named Bob Wolverton. Departing East LA for a brighter future in northern California, the impoverished Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) is kidnapped by the aforementioned rogue (Kiefer Sutherland) on the I-5 freeway. The two play a prolonged game of cat and mouse that extends across the state and involves several shootouts, some jail time, and a case of mistaken identity. Brooke Shields, Brittany Murphy, and Amanda Plummer co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: On the week that Texas Senator Wendy Davis stages a marathon filibuster in order to halt a bill that severely restricts or bans certain abortion-related procedures, medications, and facilities -- an act of great empowerment, for women and by a woman -- we relish the occasion to champion other notable heroines. Vanessa emerges as an emboldened, confident figure, a model of self-reliance. And Witherspoon is a powerhouse here as well, her wit and empathy a winning combination that compliments the wicked satire of the Matthew Bright-written and -directed faux fairy tale.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, Hulu, iTunes, VUDU
"Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (1990)
What It's About: Upon his release from a psychiatric hospital, Ricky (Antonio Banderas) decides to pursue his dream of marrying porn star turned actress Marina (Victoria Abril). In order to make the unwitting object of his affection fall in love with him, Ricky kidnaps her, beating her, tying her up, and holding her hostage in her own apartment. As friends and family begin to suspect foul play, the neophyte abductor goes to greater lengths to keep Marina to himself; as he does so, she begins to see past his troubled exterior.
Why You Should Stream It: There is a successful (and unlikely) combination of romantic comedy and horror tropes here that evoke "Psycho" and "The King of Comedy" in equal measure, speaking to writer-director Pedro Almodovar's talents for genre bending and innovative filmmaking. "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" also marks the beginning of his fruitful collaboration with Abril and is the project that launched Banderas' American film career. Both actors are very strong here, creating sympathy out of repulsive behavior and conveying the complexity and depth of the human mind with pathos. And with a thriller-style score by acclaimed composer Ennio Morricone, known for his work on Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, the story's fine line between compassion and disgust is made even finer, much to the overall success of the piece. A ratings controversy with the MPAA marred the film's reception in the United States, but it was widely acclaimed in its native Spain, reaching huge audiences and becoming a box office hit. With all that said, and Almodovar's new film out this weekend, we think it's time for another look.
Where It's Available: Hulu, Netflix
"Outrageous Fortune" (1987)
What It's About: Opposites attract in this hilariously theatrical over-the-top buddy comedy cum whodunit cum road movie. Aspiring actresses Lauren (Shelley Long) and Sandy (Bette Midler) meet while studying under a famous theater professor and immediately dislike each other. This snap judgment aversion is compounded once they realize they're both dating the same man (Peter Coyote). But when said philanderer dies in a suspicious accident, the two women must team up to discover the truth about his disappearance.
Why You Should Stream It: Think "Midnight Run" meets "Zoolander" meets "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and you should have a pretty good idea of where "Outrageous Fortune" is going. Long and Midler, both playing to type, are naturally so divergent in appearance and demeanor that, although the initial loathing is plausible, the pair's eventual partnering is made all the more amusing. And despite varied critical responses, this film was an outright success with audiences, earning back nearly three times its budget and leveraging Midler's Golden Globe nomination that year. A light but delightful comedy with no dearth of screwball moments and sharp one-liners, this Arthur Hiller-directed comedy is perfect for a day when you just need to laugh out loud.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
Our Pick from the Criterion Collection On Hulu
"Mala Noche" (1985)
What It's About: Based on the autobiography of poet Walt Curtis and shot entirely on location, "Mala Noche" provides a capsule of the diversity of nighttime -- the seedy back alleys, late night bars, and graveyard shift workers -- in Portland, Oregon. A local store clerk, Walt (Tim Streeter), ready to explore and perhaps define his sexuality, decides to act on an undeniable attraction to young Mexican immigrant Johnny (Doug Cooeyate). He offers to pay the boy for his affections, but when the latter affects disinterest, Walt turns to Pepper (Ray Monge) for the night instead. Still, despite the setback, the clerk isn't ready to give up hope, and continues to pursue a relationship with Johnny that, with every interaction, becomes increasingly cloudy and unbalanced.
Why You Should Stream It: A herald of the New Queer Cinema movement that would emerge in the 1990s, "Mala Noche" captures a slice of American life previously not documented in film, and one that merits acknowledgment in light of this week's victory in the fight for marriage equality. Furthermore, writer-director Gus Van Sant, himself a Portland native, brings unique and powerful insight to the story and characters in this, his first feature. And despite its tiny budget and the grainy black and white cinematography reminiscent of a Roger Corman exploitation film, the influence of this picture can be seen on Van Sant's work to follow, his trademark style apparent even at this early stage.
Where It's Available: Hulu
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.
"Any Day Now"
"The Boys from Brazil"
"Hansel & Gretel Get Baked"
"Happy People: A Year in the Taiga"
"Pennies from Heaven"