Armchair Vacation: Five Films To Watch This Weekend (July 19-21)

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Every day, more and more films are added to the various streaming services out there, ranging from Netflix to YouTube, and are hitting the airwaves via movie-centric networks like TCM. Therefore, sifting through all of these pictures can be a tedious and often times confounding or difficult ordeal. But, that’s why we’re here. Every week, Joshua brings you five films to put at the top of your queue, add to your playlist, or grab off of VOD to make your weekend a little more eventful. Here is this week’s top five, in this week’s Armchair Vacation.

5. Keynote (Fandor  / Netflix)

Take all the directors that are currently working, throw them in a pile, and pick out directors who have very few, if any, peers either thematically or aesthetically. One of the most singular directors, one of the few that would literally have no companion filmmaker is Guy Maddin. Unlike any director working today, the surrealist auteur dropped his newest film, Keyhole, to positive, but too few reviews, making it yet another underrated feather in the filmmaker’s indie-darling cap. Overlooked last year, as most of Maddin’s work sadly is, the film is a bizarre nightmare of a film that features breathtaking photography and an oddly enthralling performance from none other than the seemingly forgotten Jason Patric. One of Maddin’s more experimental efforts, the film is far from universally approachable, as he is influenced here by everything ranging from Lynchian black and white horror pictures to German Expressionism. A meditation on a changing world, the film feels like a long lost Jean Cocteau film, or at least a Cocteau film made by a sleepwalker. Possibly self indulgent and admittedly “pretentious,” the film is not for everyone, but with it available to stream via Fandor and Netflix, it’s something that people should give a chance.

For more thoughts, read my review from SXSW 2012.

4. Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Netflix)

While director Alex Gibney has become best known for his more scathing documentaries like Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room and Mea Maxima Culpa, Gibney has been on a role over the past handful of years (really since the aforementioned masterwork, Enron) but has also been behind a collection of documentaries that have seemingly gone without a chirp of respect. Things like the wonderful Client 9 and the ever vibrant 30 For 30 documentary Catching Hell (one of the best baseball documentaries you’ll ever see, and a major reason why ESPN’s series is possibly the best running TV series around) all prove that he’s truly one of today’s great non-fiction filmmakers. And one of my own favorites is available to stream on Netflix right now. Gonzo is a top notch look at the life and work of the incomparable late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and is as percussive and raucous a documentary as the legend deserved. Featuring archival footage, talking head interviews and even Thompson’s friend, Johnny Depp, in what is probably the last interesting thing he’s done narrating pieces of writing from Thompson himself, Gonzo is a thrilling look at a legend, and a voice, gone off this troublesome planet far too soon.

3. Major Dundee (TCM; Saturday, 5:30pm EST)

One of director Sam Peckinpah’s most underrated works, it may stand to be one of the auteur’s great pictures. The film is set to air as yet another top notch Western recently hitting the TCM airwaves, and thankfully, it’s in the original form. Originally cut to 136 minutes for its initial bowing, the film was then trimmed even more, by about 13 minutes to be exact, and with a new Blu-ray making sure to also bring this longer cut to light, this is definitely a must-watch bit of event viewing for Western fans. Now, while rumor has it that the original cut Peckinpah had intended to release was just shy of four hours and 45 minutes in length (4:38 to be certain), this is an interesting motion picture that is now in the fullest form that we currently know to have. It has received a relatively mixed reaction from critics young and old, but with Peckinpah becoming something of an icon for this generation of action aficionados, this film has seemingly seen a bit of a resurgence in the critical eye. Impeccably crafted and shockingly gritty for a Western, the film features a killer cast, giving ace performances, all under the grimy direction of Peckinpah, a director right near the height of his powers with this darkly beautiful motion picture.

2. Sidewalks Of New York (Warner Archive Instant)

Obviously best known for his legendary silent work, one Buster Keaton had a career that far exceeded the days of silent cinema. The old stone face silent star made a relatively solid transfer to the world of sound film, with various gems of sound comedy that have only been overshadowed by the masterpieces he crafted during the silent era. One of the star’s best, Sidewalks Of New York, is currently available on The Warner Archive Instant service (as the company also offers a DVD of the film for purchase), this is something of a sound comedy gem. Shot very much like a silent film, the picture (directed by Zion Myers and Jules White) came right at the brink of sound film (it was released in 1931), and proves that Keaton’s ability to transcend cinema with his timeless style of physical-based laughs. There is, particularly, a “storming of the castle” sequence in the film’s conclusion that is just as cinematically thrilling as anything Keaton produced during his silent work. It’s a top tier comedy that has yet to really get the respect that it so rightly deserves, if only because it’s become a forgotten gem following a series of masterpieces from a silent legend making the leap to sound pictures.

1. Dr. Jack (Hulu)

From one comedy legend to another, Criterion, through their 101 Days Of Summer series has, in their greatest bit of wisdom yet, added a third Harold Lloyd film to their Hulu Plus page (coming opposite Safety Last and Speedy) the absolutely bizarre Dr. Jack. One of Lloyd’s most off-kilter pictures, the film clocks in at just shy of an hour, and is not quite like anything Lloyd ever did. Far more kinetic than much of Lloyd’s work, particularly the final act, the film is probably best known for being the lead in picture, shot directly before, to his best film, Safety Last. Night to that film’s day, this is not much more than a curio for Lloyd fans, except that it holds within its final act as hilarious a conclusion as Lloyd ever shot. Culminating in something truly special, this bizarre and hilarious picture is elevated in to something just in the middle of that second tier of Lloyd pictures. A perfect entry into the ranks of Criterion’s Hulu page, this is something that will leave your sides split all weekend. Just give it the chance that it so very much deserves. You won’t be sorry.

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