Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch At Home This Weekend (February 8-10)

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Here we are again. As we near the end of the week, we also near the first box office weekend here in February, as well as some brand new additions to various streaming outlets like Hulu, Netflix and Fandor. Also, with TCM in the middle of their 31 Days Of Oscar series, it’s a good time to be a cinephile with a television. Joking aside, there have been a cavalcade of really exciting additions to these outlets, and some films that should be dug through that one may not know exist on these websites. Here are five films that you should check out that you can see on various small screens today.

5. Gangster No. 1 (Hulu)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhDydoYkLEo

Here’s an interesting little picture. From Lucky Number Slevin director Paul McGuigan, Gangster No. 1 is a rarely talked about gem of a thriller from 2002 that stars Malcolm McDowell and Paul Bettany as a man known as Gangster 55, but at two different points in time. When we see 55’s old friend, played by David Thewlis, released from prison, we flash back to see the two as young men in the crime field. It’s a really great little drama from a rather interesting filmmaker, with a great sense of style and two performances from Bettany and McDowell, culminating for a gangster picture that is as underrated as they come. It’s currently streaming on Netflix, and if you like the cast, or the tidal wave of style (that 77% RT score is unjustly low for such a stylized and thrilling crime drama) this is as entertaining a film as you’ll find streaming today.

4. The Mark Of Zorro (TCM)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMcTKNDB2TM

From director Rouben Mamoulian, this tale from one of the most beloved and storied franchises in film history is inarguably the greatest entrant in that said franchise. Mamoulian, best known for his early musicals like Applause, is on top of his game here as is the cast which stars Tyrone Power as the legendary swashbuckling character. A beautifully made adventure film, Basil Rathbone plays as the hero’s foil, and their final battle is really awe-inspiring. This type of swashbuckler isn’t made anymore, and you can feel it’s singularity in every frame of this picture. It’s one of Mamoulian’s more interesting pieces of work, and the Alfred Newman-composed score is absolutely fantastic. The film airs on Friday, at 11:30 am EST on TCM.

3. Death Of A Salesman (Netflix)

With Volker Schlondorff back in the news with a new project as well as the continuing rolling out of his latest work, Calm At Sea, it’s about time that more people dig through his filmography, as there are a handful of real gems available online. With his Criterion pictures available on the company’s Hulu page, Netflix has a few as well, primarily the brilliant and completely unsung gem that is Death of A Salesman. Featuring a cast including Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich and Stephen Lang (who has never looked younger), all three of whom absolutely knock this piece out of the park and Schlondorff sets the film as if it were shot on a rehearsal stage for one of the story’s various stage performances. It’s a startling experiment in filmmaking, often times not trying to hide its aesthetic choices one bit. Malkovich is the star here, but even Lang, an underrated thespian, proves his massive chops here going toe to toe with two of the best actors around. Also, it’s just a brilliant bit of pure drama.

2. A Brief History Of Time (Youtube)

With a Criterion release allegedly on the way, it’s about time people re-visit this documentary. A look into the life and work of Stephen Hawking, the Errol Morris-directed documentary features the aesthetic thumb print that’s become synonymous with Morris’ work, but attempts to tell a far more personal story. Featuring interviews with family and friends, the roughly 80-minute-long documentary is engaging and blends Hawking’s life and work into one hell of a single document. With yet another stunning score from Philip Glass, this documentary will fit right at home alongside others like the Qatsi trilogy or For All Mankind. Not as groundbreaking as those two titles, the film is however a fantastic look into one of the most influential names in science.

1. House Of Cards (Netflix)

And now onto the elephant in the streaming room. With the entire 13 episodes now available to stream online, David Fincher is once again on the tips of everyone’s tongues, as his new series, House Of Cards, which is available on Netflix in its entirety. Say what you will about the show, and Netflix’s, business model (I for one think that it is an absolute game changer that is no different conceptually to non-HBO subscribers having to wait until DVD and Blu-ray to watch a show), but this is an absolutely stunning piece of serialized fiction. Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara, the show follows a politician as he wheels and deals his way into power. As cinematic as any film Fincher has made recently, the show simply looks different than anything on television, and also has far better performances, mainly Wright, an actress who just doesn’t get enough love today. With other directors like Joel Schumacher pumping out some of their best work (and in his case, the best work of his career) thanks to this show, it’s a real treat to see everything clicking with this production. Reviews have been mixed, but I firmly believe it’s a really special character study looking at a man drunk on power and blinded by the ease with which he seems to hold it, and with all of it currently available on Netflix for your binge watching pleasure it’s easily the most interesting thing to watch at home right now.