(I'm gonna turn back the clock a little for tonight's picks. Depending on which streaming services you use, some movies may require a rental or others may air commercials. I'm still team physical media because one day, Skynet will go down.)
GRASS (1999). This Woody Harrelson-narrated doc is a fantastic history lesson about the U.S. government's century-long bullshit propaganda campaign against the planet's best free medicine and how it has managed to continue to somehow dupe rubes even today. And the history is at times mind-blowing.
Shockingly, the "weed is evil" schtick is rooted in racism down South. And there was plenty of culpability from local newspapers more than willing to print that post-work joints would cause Mexicans to attack women. From there the bullshit and 'blame weed' takes just gets worse until that asshole Harry Anslinger comes along and really fucks everything up. He not only sullies the good name of cannabis, he criminalizes and weaponizes it, clearing the lane for the 50-year horseshit clusterfuck known as "The War On Drugs".
The movie is definitely not your standard "talking head with name shown" doc. It's heavy on graphics and trippier than your typical doc. The style might not be for all but at least you still have Woody narrating. The information comes often and gets you genuinely pissed off at times, the stupidity of it all. It succeeds in showing the utter fallacies that the government has been perpetuating forever. Fortunately, the attitudes and laws have changed immensely regarding bud in the 21 years since the doc came out. But it's worth a look to see why things got so stupid in the first place (tldr: perceived moral superiority and money).
THE LIMEY (1999). Perhaps Steven Soderbergh's most underrated flick, this gem stars Terence Stamp as English ex-con Wilson who flies to Los Angeles to find out how and why his daughter Jenny really died. Told in a non-linear style, THE LIMEY is a sort of a mystery/revenge story that takes Stamp from infinity pools in the Hills to L.A.'s seedy underworld in his search for answers. The late Peter Fonda plays shady record producer Terry Valentine who moonlights as a drug peddler. He was also Jenny's boyfriend at the time of her death and Wilson suspects he knows much more about her death than he's letting on.
Soderbergh's typically stylish direction and Sarah Flack's expert editing elevate the film from yet another beautifully shot L.A. crime story to one of the best films of the decade. (The movie was actually re-cut into the excellence we end up with after the director wasn't satisfied with the initial, linear version; here's a great read from last year about the movie's 20th anniversary). The director also brilliantly uses footage from the 1967 Stamp flick POOR COW as home movies in THE LIMEY.
When we talk about modern-day masters, I don't think we hear Steven Soderbergh enough. His epic run of OUT OF SIGHT, THE LIMEY, ERIN BROCKOVICH, TRAFFIC, then OCEAN'S ELEVEN is among the best five movie streaks any director has ever produced. Then you add in the industry-changing SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, his terrific HBO movie BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (getting some of the best work of his career from Michael Douglas), LOGAN LUCKY, the weird experimental shit that didn't appeal to me but the critics stroked off, MAGIC MIKE, plus any number of other films of his that appealed to you, and this guy should be mentioned when discussing the best directors of the last 30+ years.
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). Just writing about the movie above made me horny for this one. If you've never seen it, you need to watch Curtis Hanson's labyrinthine, star-laden masterpiece over the weekend. The Best Picture nominee's sprawling story about corrupt L.A. cops doesn't let up until the final scene (save for a fuck scene or two). That's my way of saying put the fucking phone away if you want to enjoy this movie. If you get up to piss, pause it. Because everybody is seemingly up to something here.
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL also put two relatively new faces on the path to stardom. Russell Crowe was tremendous as bruising cop Bud White and Guy Pearce as the studious, by-the-book Ed Exley also made execs sit up and take notice. Kim Basinger won one of the two Oscars the film copped (out of nine nominations) for her excellent performance as high-end working girl Lynn Bracken, who also has a loose connection to the C-O-N-spiracy at play. Danny DeVito, Jamie Cromwell, and David Strathairn are each stellar in roles of different levels of scumbaggery (the Space Monster also shows up [grimace emoji] and does what he did in the '90s---great acting work). You can rent this for like $4 but if you still like Blu-rays for collection-worthy films, you can find this for less than a sawbuck at a big box store instead of almost $30 from that online bookstore.
RA's 1970s Gambling Movie For The Weekend
CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974). The 1970s had a very freewheeling style of filmmaking as the inmates were running the asylum. And I mean that as a compliment. Big name directors were making the movies they wanted and studio meddling was treated more as an annoyance than an order. Robert Altman personified this as much as anyone and his '70s output still influences filmmakers today.
His CALIFORNIA SPLIT is often and rightfully recognized as one of the best gambling movies ever made. Elliott Gould and George Segal play a pair of gamblers who meet and bond after being wrongly accused of conspiring to cheat at a poker table. The two, one a degenerate and the other not quite yet, then embark on a series of gambling adventures that don't play by anybody's conventions other than Altman's. I know that '70s flicks aren't always translated well by modern audiences for any number of reasons. But I think the universal chase of the gambler doesn't care what decade it is so anybody who takes part in a game of chance can appreciate this flick.