Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekend Stream for 8/16/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature recommending content currently available on Netflix's Watch Instantly service in the US for you to watch this weekend. Since titles can disappear with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, bozo!

Weekend Stream for 08/16/13

For this week's picks, I've got a fascinating foreign time travel misadventure, a film featuring the next Doctor in his most famous role, and a British TV series you really ought to have watched by now.

First up, we have Timecrimes, a Spanish sci-fi film by director Nacho Vigalondo. Héctor (Karra Elejalde) is a normal guy who finds himself stabbed and pursued by a mysterious figure with pink bandages covering his face. After taking refuge in a mysterious institute near his home, he winds up traveling back in time. Unlike a lot of time travel films, this is no epic, years-spanning yarn; Héctor only goes back a few hours. Instead of the pleasure of imagining the distant past or future, Timecrimes involves us in a simple mystery whose complexity expands as the layers pile up. Vigalondo keeps us invested, balancing tension with just the right amount of wry self-awareness. Héctor is largely a comic figure, and Elejalde captures his buffoonery and thickheadedness well, displaying an aptitude for physical comedy. Understanding Timecrimes's plot probably won't require multiple viewings, and though there's more to appreciate on subsequent watches, I found it thoroughly satisfying even the first time through.

Next, there's In The Loop, the film adaptation of Armando Iannucci's British political satire The Thick Of It. Starring future 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi as poetically foul-mouthed Whitehall spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, In The Loop is about the inherent absurdity of the political process. An unimportant Cabinet Minister (Tom Hollander) makes a minor misstatement to the press, and winds up both the target of Tucker's ire and a pawn in an international warmongering agenda. Featuring strong supporting turns from James Gandolfini and My Girl's Anna Chlumsky (who would later return to Iannucci's stable for the similarly-themed HBO show Veep), In The Loop is the sort of biting satire that you hope is not as true-to-life as it probably is. Iannucci and his cowriters know their subject, and understand how to milk humor out of cringeworthy moments and out-and-out farce. The jokes come fast and furious, so this is definitely not the sort of movie to put on in the background.

Finally, we have Spaced, a now-classic British comedy series from writers Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg, and director Edgar Wright—all of whom (along with Nick Frost, who appears in a supporting role here) would later go on to be involved with breakout hit film Shaun of the Dead. Ostensibly the tale of near-strangers Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson) pretending to be a "professional couple" in order to qualify for a flat in Marsha's (Julia Deakin) house, Spaced is really a playground where the writers and director can stick all of their pop culture references on a roundabout and spin them until they fall off in interesting combinations. Wright's hyperactive directorial style is already in effect, as is his love of well-intentioned genre parody. But the most important thing about Spaced is that, even with its references and post-modern verve, it still has a huge, emotional, beating heart at its center. There are only fourteen episodes, but I don't recommend binge-watching. You're better off parceling them out like a sweet to be savored after supper.


So there you have it for another Weekend Stream. I realize this edition was weighted towards British "humour," so my apologies if you're not really into that—though I think both In the Loop and Spaced have strong enough comedy chops that they'll connect for you anyway. In any case, we'll see you next week!

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