This weekend, as you search for a movie to watch, you can either go out to see The World’s End or Drinking Buddies, or stay home and pick one of approximately 14 billion options available on streaming over a variety of services, be it Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, On Demand, or other sites. Every Friday, Vulture tries to make life easier by narrowing it down to a handful of heartily recommended options. This week, we take shots of a martial-arts classic, a history buff’s perfect cocktail, and the BFI’s 29th greatest movie of all time.
The Legend of Drunken Master
If you’re wondering why there’s still reverence for Jackie Chan after three Rush Hour movies and The Tuxedo, see Drunken Master II, a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master, which has little to do with Drunken Master and everything to do with breathtaking fight choreography. The conceit that massive amounts of booze would enable Chan’s Wong Fei Hung to kick ass may not be the greatest life lesson Chan could bring over to the States, but his imperfect Zui Quan (“drunken fist”) moves are downright intoxicating. This is Arthur with fight scenes, a slaphappy circus routine that’s on par with Chaplin and the great contortionists of cinematic history. The guzzling of fine wine allows the action to loosen up; where most staged fighting feels rigid and overly devised, Chan convulses through his enemies, punctuated with comic timing. The star pulls out all the punches for this installment. (Available on Hulu.)
Withnail and I
The Brits have a knack for laughing in the face of absolute horror. Take Bruce Robinson’s cult favorite Withnail and I, for example. The hopelessness and despair of two struggling actors become the foundation of the titular characters’ farcical escapades. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) has everything and nothing to say, as drunks often do. “I” (Paul McGann) follows him into the pits of hell, a soldier of debauchery. Their tornado of human chaos is completely destructive and irresistibly funny.
Nicolas Cage’s performance in Leaving Las Vegas is often cited as the defining portrait of alcoholism, but Grant’s Withnail is the more recognizable of the two. He’s charming, wry, and demanding. We want to follow him, just like “I.” As we laugh at the wild thespian, reciting drinking plans as if he were playing Hamlet, Robinson reminds us of the lows this human is hitting. At one point, Withnail drinks lighter fluid out of desperation. Moments later, the duo are buying drugs from a burnout that looks like an ancestor of The Mighty Boosh. It’s tragic absurdity that, like a bottle of ‘53 Margaux, tastes even finer with age. (Available on Amazon, Netflix.)
Tour a local brewery and you will find a passionate team of beer chemists fighting a losing battle. Making beer takes a lot of money, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of taste buds. In the end, turning a profit is near impossible. In Beer Wars, former Mike’s Hard Lemonade head honcho Anat Baron wants you to know just how impossible.
Baron’s documentary is Craft Beer 101. While Anheuser-Busch and Miller spend gazillions of dollars each year on brewing, bottling, and advertising, the folks at a brewery like Dogfish are breaking their backs to forge a beer that actually tastes good. How they do it and why is the heartwarming center of Baron’s film. If foodies can indulge in hours and hours of TV cooking shows, can’t beer drinkers bask in the magic of microbreweries? (Available on Hulu, Netflix.)
Surprise: America has made some colossal mistakes over its 237-year history. In Ken Burns’s three-part series Prohibition (c’mon, only three hours, Ken?), the famed documentarian presents a frank look at the events that swayed the country into passing the Eighteenth Amendment and the subsequent ripple effect that led to the alcohol ban’s demise.
Like his earlier films, Burns lets the exhaustive research and photographic documentation do the talking. Alcoholism was a problem in the late-nineteenth century and the government was taking full advantage by taxing the hell out of whiskey. Powerful religious groups ushered in the era of Prohibition, leading to a rapid increase in crime and an economic collapse that desperately needed alcohol sales as a crutch. Burns turns the historical triptych into a sweeping narrative bustling with character. The highlight, and a lady in desperate need of a biopic, is Carrie Nation, a pre-Prohibition enforcer who laid her axe into alcohol barrels of saloons across the Midwest. (Available on Amazon, Netflix, Hulu.)