Phil’s Big Streaming Pile: February Edition

Charles Bronson! Adolf Hitler! Burt Reynolds! This month's instant selections cover a wide spectrum, from amazing cinema to to indefensible garbage.

Welcome to February, and another month of movies you probably haven't gotten around to watching, a problem rectified at the click of a button! Before we dive in, an apology: last time I recommended Full Moon High, based on pleasant memories I had of watching it on cable as a 12 year-old. I recalled it fondly here, and then I watched it. That was irresponsible; the movie is terrible. I'm sorry. It was an important lesson, though: I'm now only going to recommend films I've watched in the last year or so, or watch them again before listing them here. I can live with this.

Hard Times: This weekend sees the release of what, from the sounds of it, could be Walter Hill's last film. Prepare yourself by watching his first, a no-frills period piece from 1975 about a bare-knuckle street fighter (Charles Bronson) and smooth-talking manager (James Coburn) working the illegal fight circuit in 1930s New Orleans. Coburn and Bronson are in their prime, supported ably by Strother Martin and the lovely, late Jill Ireland, and the movie's fight scenes are a nice respite from contemporary action where everyone is a martial arts wizard. This is available in HD on Amazon Instant, but can also be watched for free (albeit with clumsy commercial breaks) on your Roku box via Crackle.

Downfall: I'll bet you've all seen at least one scene from this movie, thanks to the horrible, bottomless "Hitler reacts to..." meme; it's time to take the film back. I know we like our Nazi movies steeped in irony these days, but this utterly captivating film from 2004 is mandatory viewing, and contains, I believe, a cinematic first: the first time a German actor has played Adolf Hitler. Bruno Ganz's portrayal is brilliant and startling, and ultimately the most terrifying thing about it is how completely human it is.

The End: Burt Reynolds directs his favorite actor in this 1978 absurdist black comedy about a very Burt Reynolds-like fellow who decides to off himself upon learning he has a terminal illness. He enlists the help of a psychopath (Dom DeLuise) to finish the job when his botched suicide attempt lands him in a mental hospital. The movie was critically panned, perhaps rightly so: It's an uneven ride that sort of rolls to a stop. But it's also a singular oddity, the timing and circumstances of its creation resulting in a film that doesn't seem to have a lot of peers. There are moments of genuine hilarity: Reynolds' reaction to his terminal diagnosis is great, as is his interaction with what looks like a 15 year-old priest (Robby Benson) who nervously giggles and fidgets through Reynolds' confession. As a first-time comedy director, Reynolds is sometimes wobbly but more often assured; lots of scenes play out in long master takes, relying solely on the actors' timing. The deal is sweetened by a surprisingly sexy Sally Field and the mellow songs of then-ubiquitous 70s songsmith Paul Williams.

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK: For the past 35 years, the New York Times has run in its fashion pages the photographs of Bill Cunningham, a gentle, beautiful old man who rides around Manhattan on a bicycle and captures the couture of folks on the street. His photographs bring him into contact with a wide spectrum of folks, who turn up to weigh in on the folksy Cunningham and his art. I have no interest in, or working knowledge of, the world of fashion, but I found this 2010 film to be nothing less than compelling from beginning to end, and way more emotionally engaging than I'd expected.

HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH: When billionaire CEO Merio Winch is found dead, his successors' and rivals' attempts to swallow up his company are thwarted by the appearance of a son (Tomer Sisley) no one knew he had. This well-executed adaptation of a Belgian comic book grafts a bunch of James Bond tropes onto a corporate espionage plot, and the result is a lot of fun, delivering sexy action that's a sizeable cut above your average DTV thrills. This very orange-and-teal adventure spawned a 2011 sequel co-starring Sharon Stone which is as yet unavailable in the States.

Reader Submission - DR HECKYL AND MR. HYPE: 80s B-movie machine Cannon is remembered today for its sheer volume of B-movie action programmers and various ninja kickboxer vehicles. But they dabbled in a bunch of genres, including oddities like this clumsy comedy from 1980. Oliver Reed, is Dr. Heckyl, a horribly ugly and benevolent podiatrist whose attempt to poison himself unleashes his inner handsome misogynist sex murderer. Written and directed by Roger Corman workhorse Charles B. Griffith, the jokes are terrible, the plot is flimsy, and the makeup stops at Reed's jawline, but you do need to see the ridiculous central performance. Reed is a great actor well and truly slumming here, and doing a weird Bogart-as-Jewish stereotype thing with his voice, to boot. Watch at your peril.