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[Now Streaming] Your ‘Water for Elephants,’ ‘Madea’s Big Happy Family,’ ‘Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ and ‘Incendies’ Alternatives

Written by , on April 21, 2011 at 10:36 am 

Each week within this column we strive to pair the latest in theatrical releases to the worthwhile titles currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

This Friday theaters will see a romantic tale based on a best-seller, an Oscar-nominated foreign-language drama, and a pair of films from two of cinema’s most successful self-aggrandizers. Whether or not you choose to test the hype of these much discussed features, we’ve compiled a collection of films sure to pique your interest, including some sweeping romances, some daffy comedies, a few self-centered documentaries, and some highly acclaimed foreign features.

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Water for Elephants

Based on the New York Times bestseller by Sara Gruen, this drama centers on a young veterinarian (Robert Pattinson) who finds an unlikely home and unexpected love within a traveling circus. Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz co-star.

If you like your bodice-rippin’ romances to leap from the page to screen, check out these tales of love:

Vanity Fair (2004) Based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, this Mira Nair-directed drama stars Reese Witherspoon as an unrepentant social climber in the class-conscious world of 1820s London. Pattinson also appears in a small role in this lushly realized romp.

Gone with the Wind (1939) In the ultimate epic romance Vivien Leigh stars as the incorrigible Scarlett O’Hara. A Southern Belle whose more brash than bashful, she meets her match in the iconic cursing gentleman Rhett Butler, memorably portrayed by 1930s leading man Clark Gable. Inspired by Margaret Mitchell’s wildly popular novel, it’s one of the most acclaimed adaptations of all-time. If you haven’t yet taken in Victor Fleming’s Civil War-set drama, let me assure you it is as captivating now as it was in simpler times.

Emma (1996) If you like your heroines blond and bubbly, pair Vanity Fair with this Jane Austen adaptation that stars Gwneth Paltrow as a mischievous matchmaker who discovers a love of her own while pairing off her acquaintances. Ewan McGregor and Toni Collette co-star.

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Madea’s Big Happy Family

Tyler Perry’s back in drag in this adaptation of his popular play. Madea rounds up her far-flung family members to reveal some life-changing news in this rowdy comedy.

Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail (2009) Madea’s big mouth gets her thrown behind bars in this ensemble comedy that features: Keshia Knight Pullam, Viola Davis, Derek Luke, and Benjamin Benitez.

Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself (2009) Madea does drama: Taraji P. Henson stars as a booze-swillin’ night club singer whose life demands change when Madea introduces her to her long-lost niece and nephews, who are in desperate need of a positive influence.

Death at a Funeral (2010) If you’re a fan of Perry’s comedic stylings, it’s a safe bet you’ll appreciate this American remake of the British farce originally directed by Frank Oz. Chris Rock stars as a flustered family man at the center of a madcap funeral where a number of family secrets are unearthed. Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Zoe Saldana and Danny Glover co-star.

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The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock, the documentarian who made himself the subject of the McDonald’s scorching doc Super Size Me, is out to expose movie marketing – by soliciting sponsors to fund his big screen investigation.

Roger & Me (1989) Documentarians today are oft turning their lens on themselves, but one of the first such docs to draw notice was provocateur Michael Moore’s blistering look at GM’s business practices. Moore’s satirical take on the documentary form sparked controversy for its manipulated editing and unapologetically biased point of view. It also won worldwide notice, and cemented Moore’s place in film history.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008) In this touching humor-tinged sports doc, filmmaker Chris Bell turns the camera on himself and his muscle-bound brothers to reveal the allure and drawbacks of steroid use. An entertaining and well-crafted argument about steroids use in American sports, and how our “win at any cost” culture encourages such endeavors.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) This Oscar-nominated feature may be the most popular of recent meta-docs, as the elusive street artist Banksy speaks out on his process and art form by directing this tale of a hack turned art star: one Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash.

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Incendies

This Oscar-nominated drama out of France centers on a pair of twins’ quest to fulfill their mother’s last wish to uncover their family roots deep in the Middle East. Lubna Azabal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin co-star.

Netflix Instant offers a number of Oscar-nominated foreign films, here’s some of our faves:

Dogtooth (a.k.a. Kynodontas) (2009) Also nominated for the Oscar this year, this Greek drama centers on an isolated family whose idyllic life is steadily destroyed when their father conspires to inject sex and outsiders into their carefully constructed world.

The Secret in Their Eyes (a.k.a. El Secreto de Sus Ojos) (2010) This taut crime thriller won the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2010 for its entrancing tale of a retired detective who is haunted by a cold case from his past. Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil star as the hardened cop-turned-novelist, and his former boss and constant love.

A Prophet (a.k.a. Un Prophète) (2009) An also-ran in the Oscar race of 2010, this French thriller stars Tahar Rahim as a young hood who rises through the treacherous ranks of the Corsican mafia while serving his time behind bars. Jacques Audiard (The Beat My Heart Skipped) directs.

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Wild Card Pick

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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) Today’s totally unrelated recommendation from the libraries of Instant Watch is the source material for of Tony Scott’s faced-paced but forgettable thriller. While the remake suffered from Scott’s hyper-solemn tone and ever-shifting cinematography, Joseph Sargent’s tale of terrorism-for-profit manages to be both gritty and madcap, set as it is in the gruff (but loveable?) NYC of the 1970s. Walter Matthau stars as a grizzled MTA employee whose forced to negotiate with the delightfully devilish British baddie played by Robert Shaw, when a motley criminal crew hijack a subway train deep in the bowels of Manhattan. The quirky chemistry between Matthau and Shaw is electric, and the Sargent manages to balance the film’s action sequences with a daringly irreverent sense of humor. It’s a fun and snarky thriller that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Can you think of a connection/suggestion we missed? Share them in comments.


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