The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
Ever since writer Michael Pollan shed light on a dilemma omnivores didn’t even realize they had, a growing number of people have made efforts to eat seasonally and locally. Farmers markets have proliferated and community-supported agriculture programs have expanded, making it easier for people to access such food.
But how difficult would it be to eat exclusively seasonally and locally?
That’s the question posed by the somewhat unfocused but always intriguing and heartfelt documentary “Eating Alabama,” which follows a couple as they attempt to eat foods grown only in their home state for one year.
After affable husband and wife filmmakers Andrew and Rashmi Grace move to Alabama, they decide to embark on this yearlong adventure with a couple of friends. Andrew is from a long line of farmers, and during a near-constant voiceover narration, he discusses his deeply-ingrained nostalgia for a way of life he only knows because of stories his grandfather told.
Andrew and Rashmi quickly realize that finding food raised or grown in Alabama is going to be time-intensive. Their first grocery run takes them on a nearly 800-mile odyssey and they find that not even farmers markets carry hyper-local food. Eventually the pair finds a handful of farms they trust, begins growing their own herbs and vegetables, tries (and fails) to hunt and takes pride in making from scratch — as in picking the wheat — a loaf of bread.
But what’s most interesting about “Eating Alabama” isn’t how difficult it is for the protagonists to find local food or even how few farmers are left in the state since big agrobusinesses pushed out the little guys; it’s how in recent years we’ve romanticized living off the land as if it’s a simpler way of life. In fact, farming is painstaking work and it’s easy to see why some, like Andrew’s grandfather, abandoned the vocation.
“Eating Alabama” meanders at times, and Andrew relies heavily on narration when he could instead show what he’s describing (or let some of his interviewees do the talking). But the film raises some important points about what Andrew calls an unsustainable argument for sustainability. -- S.M.
If you’ve ever uttered the words, “Charlie don’t surf” or “Well, do ya, punk?” — sardonically or in a thinly veiled attempt to prove your cineaste bona fides — you have John Milius to thank. The 69-year-old contemporary of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas directed such 1980s classics as “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn,” but he will forever be known and loved for his writing, especially the screenplays for “Apocalypse Now” and “Dirty Harry.”
Milius’s career has been overshadowed by Lucas and Spielberg, his fellow film students at the University of Southern California and part of the generation that changed Hollywood forever at the end of the 1970s. But he finally gets his due in “Milius,” an admiring documentary by Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson that makes a convincing case for the subject’s lasting influence, while never buying entirely into his most grandiose self-mythologizing.
Given his resume, it’s no surprise that Milius developed a reputation over the years as the go-to guy for crime flicks, war pictures and violent shoot-em-ups — peppered with those compulsively quotable hard-boiled epigrams. The roots of Milius’s gifts, the film explains, are to be found in his upbringing in a prosperous family that moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles when he was young. Rebelling against the country-club niceties of Bel Air, Milius became a surfer, a shooter, a political iconoclast and, in his wildest dreams, a soldier in Vietnam.
That last aspiration wasn’t to be; asthma kept him out of the military. As the title character himself recalls regretfully in “Milius,” “I missed going to my war.” So he turned instead to becoming its epic poet, stunning the world with his adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” the dark, funny, wild-eyed fever dream of “Apocalypse Now” owing much of its psychedelic brilliance to Milius’s gonzo literary sensibility.
Milius never caught on as a director, and he maintains that his right-wing politics got him blacklisted in Hollywood, an instance of revisionism that the filmmakers push back on with polite but firm discretion. Most observers agree that it had more to do with such self-sabotaging stunts as Milius bringing a loaded gun to business meetings — apparently unaware of that fine line between stylish swagger and blustery, macho over-compensation.
Formally, “Milius” doesn’t share its subject’s fondness for coloring outside the lines: It hews mostly to a staid clips-archival footage-talking heads format, although the talking heads here are formidable: Lucas, Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Clint Eastwood are just a few of the film industry luminaries who pay tribute to Milius’s crucial role in the Seventies film revolution (and, occasionally, puncture his carefully cultivated bad-boy image).
But the film does manage to break new ground as, in hair-trigger time, it shifts from inside-Hollywood primer to inspirational personal journey. If Milius missed his war, he still managed to get the battle of his life — a challenge we see him address and overcome with admirable courage and determination.
“Milius” leaves viewers with the reassurance that its subject may have been down recently, but he’s anything but out. With luck, Milius — or at least his creations — will be back in theaters any day now. Bluster, swagger and all. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains profanity and brief images of violence and nudity. 103 minutes. Available on Epix.
THAT GUY... WHO WAS IN THAT THING
In a week bookended by the Golden Globe Awards and the Academy Award nominations, it’s worth pausing to remember some of Hollywood’s hardest-working foot soldiers — most of whom you won’t see on a red carpet soon. First aired on Showtime in 2012, and now available on demand, “That Guy . . . Who Was in That Thing” is a fun documentary profile of 16 relatively successful — if less than instantly recognizable — male character actors, ranging from frequent heavy Wade Williams, who played guard Brad Bellick on “Prison Break,” to the somewhat higher-profile Bruce Davison, who was nominated for a 1991 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the AIDS drama “Longtime Companion.”
Several of the film’s subjects, like Matt Malloy (co-starring in Amazon’s streaming series “Alpha House”), are enjoying a small moment in the sun. Others are perhaps best remembered for older work, like London-born Craig Fairbrass, who played the British bad guy in “Cliffhanger” (1993).
Jumping from interview to lively interview, the film is catnip for obsessive-compulsive movie nerds, exploring such insider themes as typecasting, low pay, professional jealousy and the eternal mysteries of auditioning. Although “That Guy” does include some helpful still photos of the actors in their more famous roles, I found myself wishing for more video clips. An early McDonald’s commercial with Rick Worthy — the film’s only African American face — is a rare exception.
For the most part, everyone profiled in the film seems to have a healthy, as well as pretty realistic, attitude about show business, untempered by cynicism. Their commentary is often quite funny, with the late Stanley Kamel (1943-2008) delivering some of the film’s best quips, in his refined and highly recognizable voice. Kamel, who played Adrian Monk’s long-suffering shrink for six seasons on “Monk,” helps set the stage for the documentary by defining “character actor” — in the context of a film or television show — as the guy no one wants to go to bed with.
Perhaps most amusingly, the film notes that nearly everyone profiled here has appeared on the original “Star Trek” or one of its many TV and movie spinoffs, a surprising but delicious bizarre fact.
Davison isn’t the only one with industry acclaim. Zach Grenier (a series regular on “The Good Wife”) earned a 2009 Tony Award nomination for “33 Variations,” and Zeljko Ivanek took home an Emmy in 2008 for “Damages.” Yet as nice as these prizes are, they’re beside the point, as the guys in “That Guy” make clear. It may take a movie star to get people into the theater, but it’s men like these that end up telling the story. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains a bit of crude language. 79 minutes. Available through iTunes and Netflix.
PREVIOUSLY: 'C.O.G.' and 'The Immortal Augustus Gladstone'