That’s right. Hulu.
I’m here to tell you that there’s a cinematic streaming goldmine available on Hulu that includes recent hits, older classics, domestic releases, and foreign imports. It’s even home to hundreds of Criterion titles. Sure there’s plenty of filler and seemingly thousands of titles that can’t possibly be real, but I’m here to recommend some good movies to watch this month on Hulu.
Pick of the Month – Hwayi: A Monster Boy (2013)
South Korean cinema features no shortage of brilliant and brutal action thrillers, but while everyone knows about the likes of I Saw the Devil and Memories of Murder there are more than a few gems that have slipped through the cracks. Jang Joon-hwan’s long overdue follow-up to Save the Green Planet is a fast-moving, creatively violent mix of dark deeds and beautifully choreographed fights and stunts. There’s a wicked sense of humor running through it as well that should appeal to fans of Korea’s peculiar fondness for wild tone changes.
They really don’t make animated films like this anymore. Richard Adams’ beautiful, world-building novel comes to life with all of the wonder, vitality, and carnage intact. It creates a living, breathing mythology of its own that leaves you fully invested in the life and death struggle of a warren of rabbits. I first saw this as a kid – thanks mom and dad! – and have watched it a few times since, and its raw power and beauty remain intact even as an adult. Its dark tone isn’t for everyone, understandably, but if you’re a fan I recommend the adaptation of Adams’ The Plague Dogs too.
The trio of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker had a good run as masters of the cinematic spoof film, and while I’ll still argue that Top Secret! is their crowning achievement there’s no denying the comedic brilliance and enduring popularity of Airplane! It’s an effortless barrage of eminently quotable lines and gags guaranteed to bring multiple smiles to your face as it pokes fun at disaster films with both wit and buffoonery. Every performance here is comedic perfection too from Julie Hagerty to the guy playing the pilot pictured above.
Seafaring adventure, mutiny, and topless women have rarely come together as well as they do in director Roger Donaldson’s (No Way Out) take on the popular tale. Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins make for fiery and fierce adversaries before parting ways to lead followers towards the promised possibility of life or death. It’s a beautifully-shot film too with glorious open ocean scenery that today would most likely be accomplished mostly via CG. (I’m shaking my finger at you, In the Heart of the Sea.)
Sure James Woods is a douche now, but his current personal ravings have no effect on his past performances and films. Case in point? This solid little late ’80s thriller from a time when actors like Woods and Brian Dennehy could be cast as leads. (We need a return to this kind of character casting.) Woods’ performance is dialed down just a little bit, but he still manages more than a few Woods-ian outbursts for our viewing pleasure. Dennehy meanwhile is a terrific straight man, a job he fulfilled equally well in both F/X films against Bryan Brown.
I can only hope that when I’m old and English I’ll be even half as pervy and wise as Jeremy Irons. Granted, I’m speaking mostly of the roles he frequently aligns himself with (Lolita, Damage, The Lion King) and not of the man himself, but still. This drama finds him (understandably) desiring a relationship with Gong Li, but the focus of the film exists well outside of the bedroom. Set in the months leading up to Great Britain’s handover of Hong Kong back to the Chinese, the story parallels the territory’s path through the lives of a handful of its citizens, both British and Chinese.
Alexander Payne’s first feature remains his funniest, smartest, and most entertaining. Matthew Broderick and a young Reese Witherspoon make for unexpected but perfectly matched combatants as the teacher and student facing off in a tale of ambition, karma, and the costs of getting ahead. It’s a wonderfully dark comedy about middle-aged men who’ve given up versus a younger generation who expect everything is theirs for the taking, and no matter who loses the audience wins.
Michael Winterbottom’s bleak but cool near-future sci-fi film is part drama, part thriller, and part cautionary tale, and it all works together to create something of a minor genre gem. The future elements – sci-fi tech, restrictive laws, reduced freedoms – are woven into the film and story meaning it never needs to highlight them with a “look at this sci-fi!” and instead simply feels integral to the world of the movie. Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton are both terrific, and while the film is bleak at times it’s never less than compelling in the story it’s telling.
The second Korean film on this month’s list may lack the dramatic edge and bloody violence of Hwayi but makes up for it with plenty of Ocean’s 11-style action, hijinks, and banter. It’s a big, sprawling adventure combining onscreen talents from South Korea and China, and while it does run a bit too long for the weight it’s rarely less than a fun, twisty tale of heists and double crosses. Jun Ji-hyun (above) broke out with My Sassy Girl, but between this and Assassination she’s quickly making a name for herself as an action star with acting chops. The rest of the cast of pretty solid too.
David Wain’s finest gift to humanity remains Wet Hot American Summer (the movie, not the series), but his most recent feature is still a ridiculous comic gem worth watching at least two and a half times. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are a delightful pairing, and they bring the absurd dialogue to life by fully committing to the playful inanity. Keep the remote control handy as you’re almost guaranteed to miss some jokes while you continue laughing at the ones that came before.
It’s all about John Ashton. Known best for his straight-man turns in Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run, Ashton delivers one hell of a compelling performance here as a man who commits an act of violence – an arguably justifiable one – and is then forced to deal with the consequences as the noose of small-town life draws tighter. It’s a good story with well-drawn characters and lived-in interactions, but it’s Ashton who mesmerizes.
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