Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch At Home This Weekend (May 10-12)


Summer is officially here, and it is going to be a doozy. Baz Luhrmann’s spectacle novel adaptation, The Great Gatsby, is locked, stocked and fully loaded for a release this weekend, and with Iron Man 3 eyeing its way to a billion dollar total gross when everything is said and done, 2013 is going to be a banner year for the bigger side of Hollywood releases. However, that doesn’t mean heading to your local, over-crowded, theater is a good idea. Hell, I’d posit that there are a handful of reasons to keep yourself planted this weekend, and if you find yourself inside one evening, here are five ways to spend a night by yourself, or with someone you love.


5. Fresh (Youtube/Netflix)


Reminded recently by a podcast I was listening to (not sure what show off the top of my head), the list this week starts with one of the more interesting films from the first half of the 1990s, Fresh. From Safe director Boaz Yakin, the film is a coming of age tale about a 12-year old caught in a world where the streets are as magnetic as anything in this world. While Yakin has since gone on to helm films ranging from Safe to Remember The Titans, this may be his best film (I know, Uptown Girls fans may have something to say about that). All joking aside, this is a really solid debut feature from a journeyman filmmaker who has since not been able to hit as close to the heart as his first attempt. Maybe it’s because he also wrote the screenplay, but this is something Yakin hasn’t duplicated since. It’s quite superb.


4. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (TCM; Saturday, 10:15pm EST)


Possibly Elia Kazan’s masterpiece. Or at least one of them. Starring the likes of Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell and James Dunn, the film follows the story of a young woman who tries to make something of herself despite a troublesome home life. A breathtakingly assured and emotionally resonate debut for Kazan that garnered Dunn an Oscar for his turn as the lead’s alcoholic father, this is just one film in the long line of pictures that makes up Kazan’s brilliant canon. One of the really great debut features of this era, the film is deeply inspired by Kazan’s stage work, where he became one of the most important names of his time, bringing to stage productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, among many others.


3. Euphonia (Vimeo)


Unable to make it to SXSW this year? Bummed about missing out on various independent pictures that may or may not be on their way to a theater near you? Well, you should be. Joking aside, Vimeo is hoping to change that a little bit, and thankfully, distributors appear to be taking the bait. Director Danny Madden has dropped his debut feature film onto the streaming outlet, and it is without a doubt the best thing you can see this weekend, that you likely hadn’t heard of a few minutes ago. Clocking in at just under an hour, the film is a stunning experiment in sound editing and sound design, and is intimate, real and full of vitality and tactile truth. Free to stream on Vimeo for anyone and everyone, the film should be listened to with the best possible headphones or speakers, as this truly sounds unlike anything you’ve seen this year. It’s a rather great debut from a director to keep tabs on.


2. Pretty Maids All In A Row (Warner Archive Instant)


With Star Trek Into Darkness bowing in a week’s time, what a better tribute than the streaming debut of a film penned and backed by one Gene Roddenberry. From director Roger Vadim comes this film, now available via The Warner Archive’s recently launched instant streaming service. Not a “great” film by any meaning of that word, what makes this film so interesting is not only the team behind it, and it’s great cast, but the blend of all of these names, which include the likes of Rock Hudson and Telly Savalas. Arguably one of the more talked about curios released from The Warner Archive, this is truly something that should be seen by anyone and everyone. It’s unlike anything you’ll see otherwise.


1. Strictly Ballroom (Netflix)


All roads lead to this filmmaker, at least this weekend. Baz Luhrmann has become one of today’s most polarizing filmmakers, with fans calling his work brazenly engaging and detractors proclaiming his work lifeless and hollow. Personally, I couldn’t be a bigger supporter of the filmmaker, and it’s partially due to his directorial debut, the great Strictly Ballroom. Currently available on Netflix, the film is often overshadowed by the even more bombastic and, yes, histrionic, Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, but is superb in its own right. A truly effective comedy, the film is a startling debut from a filmmaker all his own, and while it’s not at all truly reminiscent of his later work, it may be his most humanistic and intimate picture. The one film in his canon that seems to be routinely forgotten, it may lack the impressive experimentation that is his Shakespeare adaptation or the bombastic epic scale of his resoundingly underrated Australia, but it’s quite possibly his strongest work to date.


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