(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.)
End of Watch (2012)
Directed by: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael PeÃ±a, Anna Kendrick
Here’s what you need to know: screenwriter David Ayer wrote Training Day, which you loved. He also wrote Fast & the Furious, U-571 and S.W.A.T., all three of which are movies I would never, ever advise you to admit in public to liking but which in all honesty aren’t completely terrible movies. End of Watch is most similar in nature to Training Day and features Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael PeÃ±a as partnered police officers in South Central L.A. who are so good at their jobs that a Mexican cartel orders their deaths. PeÃ±a is the married family man while Gyllenhaal woos Anna Kendrick (the film is shot reality-style through a variety of security cameras, dashboard cams and would-be documentarian Gyllenhaal’s hand-held video recorder) in a movie that ends up being more a violent, sobering portrayal of street crime than the buddy-cop action movie it probably looks like. Gyllenhaal and PeÃ±a are both solid and while End of Watch is no Training Day, its enough of the same species that Ayer ably delivers the goods.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Directed & Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
When Coen Brothers movies are available for a list of recommended movies, it’s very difficult not to put them on your list of recommended movies. That’s why Miller’s Crossing shows up this week. And here’s another reason why: if you’ve seen Miller’s Crossing you already know it’s legitimately one of the best gangster movies in the last thirty years. If you haven’t seen Miller’s Crossing, you really need to do that. I probably watch Miller’s Crossing once every year and a half or so, and every time I watch it I forget just how clever and great it is. Byrne plays Tom Reagan, an enforcer for mob boss Leo (Albert Finney) who finds himself a pawn between warring gangs after he fakes the murder of Leo’s girlfriend’s no-good bookie brother (Turturro). The performances in this movie are insane, really; it’s one of Turturro’s best films and aside from the headliners it also features great turns by Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Buscemi and Coen favorite Jon Polito. It’s one of those movies where you already know what happens, and you already know the ending, but it sucks you in again every single time you watch it. I’m not breaking any ground here for those of you who already love the Coens or have seen Miller’s Crossing; but if you’ve missed this over the years you need to get on that right this very minute, because it’s a seriously fantastic movie.
Eddie Izzard: Dress to Kill (1999)
Starring: Eddie Izzard
If you just looked at this cover and figured that, whatever it is, it’s “not your thing,” your preconceived notions are robbing you of one of the greatest standup concerts since Raw. The first time I saw this special, I couldn’t believe how insanely smart it was and though flamboyant British comic Eddie Izzard hasn’t enjoyed the massive successes in the U.S. that he’s enjoyed in the U.K. (his sold-out performances are considered West End London must-sees), this is worth seeking out. From the Protestant Reformation to the Heimlich maneuver and Stonehenge to Steve McQueen’s The Great Escape, Izzard’s dizzying routines are as smart as they are riotously funny. Plus, I’ll freely go on record right now as saying that Izzard’s insanely clever encore – in which he delivers the plot of the movie Speed entirely in rudimentary French – remains to this day one of the most deftly brilliant pieces of comedy I think I’ve ever seen. Izzard is a national treasure in Britain, and it’s easy to see why.
Battle Royale (2000)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Katano
If you want to see a Hunger Games fan’s head explode with blinding rage, bring up that you have a weird feeling that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins may have cribbed some of her premise from this Japanese action pic and enjoy as he or she furiously spends the next twenty minutes furiously telling you all the ways in which you’re wrong. But you may not be. Surely the plot of Battle Royale – a middle school class selected by a totalitarian government program to be shipped off to a deadly island and fight each other until only one’s left standing – seems more than similar to The Hunger Games, and if you enjoy the exploits of Katniss Everdeen you’ll just as well enjoy this. Don’t let the “foreign film syndrome” steer you away, as Battle Royale is a really solid action movie that is as thrilling as anything you saw in American theaters this past summer.
30 Days (2005-2008)
Directed by & Starring: Morgan Spurlock
I’m a big fan of Morgan Spurlock. I loved Supersize Me and I thought The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a crazy good take on the nature of product placement in pop culture. If you’re similarly a Spurlock fan, check out this series of mini-documentaries for FX in which Spurlock drops himself for thirty days each episode into someone else’s shoes, from living as a Muslim in Dearborn, Michigan to forcing himself to live on a minimum wage for a month in Columbus, Ohio. Spurlock is a pretty fearless and likeable documentarian, backing his works up with interesting research and maintaining a sense of humor through even the roughest of circumstances (check out his season three episode about working in a coal mine), and 30 Days exists as a great vehicle for viewing some of our culture’s most at-odds groups (atheists vs. christians, pro-choice vs. pro-life, homophobes vs. homosexuals) in a way that doesn’t alienate. It’s entertaining and intelligent, and watching it with a friend promotes some great discussion.