(With Netflix Instant, Hulu and other on-demand video services becoming our go-to sources for movies and television, Funkhouser is happy to present the best choices on these services each week.)
Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Directed & Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton, Geoffrey Rush
Look at this movie poster. I mean just look at it. It’s just awful.
It must be noted, however: this movie is nothing like that poster looks. That poster, I can 100% guarantee, was devised to generate ticket revenue. Intolerable Cruelty is a dark, screwball Coen Bros. movie with a fantastic cast and a purely Coen-style parade of characters. Clooney is in full-on wacky O Brother mode as Miles Massey, a star divorce lawyer who ill-advisedly falls in love with Catherine Zeta-Jones’ serial marrier. What follows is a labyrinthine comedy of love and revenge, with the leads being bolstered by very funny turns by Cedric the Entertainer as a private eye, Billy Bob Thornton as a ridiculous oil tycoon and Geoffrey Rush as a defrocked television producer. While, tragically, the Coen Bros. popped onto many radars only after No Country for Old Men, longtime Coen fans love to discuss the duo’s oeuvre. Personally, I love this movie — and I’ve recommended it to a billion people who I know have never watched it because it looks exactly like the kind of movie it isn’t. A diamond in the rough, I tell you.
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians (2011)
Directed by: Bryan Storkel
Starring: Ben Crawford, Colin Jones, Brad Currah
One great thing about Netflix is that if you’re not or have never been a “documentary person” (and really, you should look into the genre), an online service like Netflix makes it very easy to explore the documentary world with a host of great, acclaimed docs — and if you don’t care for one, simply turn it off and find another. Holy Rollers is one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen in recent months, focusing on a nationwide team of blackjack card counters known as “The Church Team” because of their devotion to religion and Christianity. While Holy Rollers will more than satisfy those who find the notion of bilking the casino system out of millions, a la writer Ben Schwartz’s excellent MIT-students-turned-hustlers book Bringing Down the House, it may also interest parochials who wonder just how Christians in the veritable lions’ den of Las Vegas can rationalize their shady dealings with their respective faiths.
As the churchgoing gamblers get muscled off of Vegas tables and pool their winnings to help seed churches and pay off private investors, it’s interesting to watch the sometimes surprisingly callous demeanor team leader Ben Crawford uses to dismiss players and keep everything strictly business. At the end of the day, the Church Team may be a Christian blackjack-counting crew, but they’re still a blackjack-counting crew where money is the goal, and Holy Rollers — which notably features a few members from Cincinnati as well — remains a fascinating look into how such teams grow and focuses on the interpersonal aspects from within a team’s inner sanctum.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Directed by: David Wain
Starring: Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, A.D. Miles, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler
For years I hailed Wet Hot American Summer as one of, if not the, most criminally underseen and undervalued comedies of the last fifty years. I think that’s probably changed a little since Wet Hot supporting actors like Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper have become massive stars. Fans of MTV’s largely forgotten early nineties sketch show The State will recognize the sense of humor off the bat — it’s parodic to an almost surrealistically absurd degree — and the film has become a bit of a cult favorite, still playing to midnight audiences everywhere.
A spit-take on the “summer camp” comedies of the late seventies and early eighties, Wet Hot American Summer focuses on the final week at Camp Firewood and includes — but is not limited to — a daring river rescue, a shellshocked mess hall chef (Meloni) with a penchant for dance, a Trainspotting-esque counselor trip into a nearby town, the granola lakeside marriage between Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black and the imminent threat of the camp’s destruction by the NASA space station Skylab as it plummets toward the earth. If it all sounds ridiculous, it is. But it’s also a great, surprisingly solid comedy. If you were to watch Wet Hot on DVD, you’d have the option to watch the movie with “extra farts” — something I highly recommend — but you may just have to do with the regular version on Netflix.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman
Look, I get that you can’t watch everything someone tells you is good, or that you know you should watch. I’m with you. It’s why I stopped watching Mad Men, am late to the party on Breaking Bad and woefully missed the boat on Boardwalk Empire altogether. There’s just not enough time. But I’m sure at some point someone’s told you how good the BBC’s modern-day adaptation of Sherlock is. They’re right, and I’ll help defend that by saying that jumping on-board Sherlock is much easier than you might think. So far, it’s only six hour-and-a-half episodes. You can handle that. That’s easy. It’s not like having to watch three 16-episode seasons to get caught up with something else.
Plus, it’s a lot of fun — but I’m admittedly partial, because the character of Sherlock Holmes has long been my favorite in literary history. The BBC, in its current incarnation of Sherlock, has updated Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes stories into a new-millenium setting. Cumberbatch’s prickly Holmes is still cantankerous and brilliant; Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson is now a war veteran with PTSD. The writing’s crisp, funny and sharp and the ingenuity which has gone into modernizing these classic Holmesian tales — Moriarty is now a tech-savvy evil genius, the Hound of the Baskervilles may or may not be a nuclear experiment gone awry — is impressive and endearing. If you haven’t already, you’ll hear people recommend this; take those recommendations to heart because getting on the Sherlock train is more painless than realize.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
Directed by: Eli Craig
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden
A darling of the film festival circuit in 2010 but never finding a major distributor for a wide release, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is one of those interesting, clever little films that no one you know ever saw but is better than it has a right to be. A send-up of the “teens go into the woods for skinny dipping and end up murdered by backwood rednecks” genre, Tucker & Dale stars Alan Tudyk (Dodgeball, 42) as Tucker and Tyler Labine (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as Dale, a simple, innocent pair who have headed up to their mountain cabin for a relaxing weekend only to find a bunch of easily-freaked camping teenagers who assume the duo wants to kill them — because that’s naturally what crazy rednecks do to camping teenagers, right?
The comic beauty of Tucker & Dale is how the story unfolds; and do yourself a favor by staying away from the trailer before watching it if you want things spoiler-free. A healthy amount of over-the-top gore and a very funny, twisty script make the film a clever retelling of the genre from the point-of-view of the mistaken mountain murderers and it’s kind of surprising it never hit theaters, even if only for a Halloween weekend. Well worth the watch, if only for something a little different.