Streaming Surprises, Volume 25

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old that our board members are watching. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“The Central Park Five” (2012)

Submitted by Jefferson Beavers. Streaming on Amazon Prime and Kanopy.

With the summer buzz surrounding filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s latest project, “When They See Us,” a four-part Netflix miniseries, I decided that the time to watch “The Central Park Five” was well past due. This documentary, directed by Ken Burns, examines the 1989 case of five Black and Latino teens who were convicted of raping a White woman in New York’s Central Park. Despite a near total lack of evidence and a wild preponderance of circumstance, the boys are put away based solely on videotaped confessions they made under harsh police interrogation and coercion. After spending between 6 and 13 years each in prison — stealing their adolescence and irreversibly altering the trajectory of their lives — a serial rapist confessed to the crime and all five men were finally exonerated. As a former journalism instructor, I knew the basic facts of this case; it’s a textbook example of mass media reporters failing to question police authority, institutional racism, and their own racial bias. But I felt bowled over with the riveting pace with which Burns documents the condemnation of these men, quickly contrasted with the painfully slow development of some measure of justice. This documentary is as essential starting point for DuVernay’s difficult but necessary new work.

“Everybody Knows” (2018)

Submitted by Cindy Peters Duzi. Streaming on Netflix.

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has taken home two Oscars for best foreign-language film, for “A Separation” and “The Salesman.” His most recent family drama, the complex “Everybody Knows,” reminds us that appearances often belie the truth. The setting is a small town in Spain. Laura (Penelope Cruz) has been living for years in Buenos Aires. She returns with her husband (Ricardo Darín) and children to attend her sister’s wedding. Waiting to greet Laura is Paco (Javier Bardem), who we later learn once had a passionate romance with Laura. But this is no secret—Paco’s wife might not be overjoyed to see Laura, as the two ex-lovers seem happily married. Farhadi invites his audience to revel in the warmth and joyful chaos of this family wedding. The viewer can’t help but wish to be there with them, eating, drinking, dancing, and laughing. There is foreshadowing, however, that warns us that all is not well. In the midst of the celebration a tragedy occurs that will leave the family suspicious and paranoid. Laura’s teenage daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. The expectation is her wealthy father will easily come up with the money, but there are surprising complications. Family secrets are exposed and emotions are raw in the desperate search for answers. Cruz gives a performance that will shatter any mother, and watching her work alongside her real-life husband Bardem is always a pleasure.

“My Own Private Idaho” (1991)

Submitted by Linda Knight. Streaming on Amazon.

“My Own Private Idaho” has become even more popular in the years since its release in 1991, and it has become a cult classic especially among LGBTQ audiences. Written and directed by Gus Van Sant, the story is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.  It even features some paraphrased Shakespearean dialogue (don’t worry, it’s not off-putting). Keanu Reeves stars as the rich kid turned street-hustler, Scott. His story is a modern update to Shakespeare’s Prince Harry figure in Henry IV. Scott’s father is the mayor of Portland, Oregon. When Scott turns 21, he will inherit the family fortune and retire from street hustling. River Phoenix plays Mike, another street hustler, but one who experiences frequent (and sadly amusing) narcoleptic episodes. There are many in the rag-tag band of hustlers that surrounds Scott. There is even a Falstaff figure around whom the wayward hustlers congregate. The movie feels timeless and riveting. It certainly helps to think about the Shakespeare connection; I rewatched the film after I realized the connection, and I appreciated it so much more.