christMonday: The Last Temptation of Christ

What: Forcefully non-deferential, the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ manages to maintain some sort of twisted reverence toward the Christ legend, combining a script from one of cinema’s most conflicted religious filmmakers (Paul Schrader) with direction from another (Martin Scorsese), fusing mysticism and intense doubt onto the classic story, not to mention a great cast given the freedom to explore interesting new variations on familiar characters.

Why: Mirroring the long-established practice of handing patrician Roman parts to equivalently posh British stage actors, Scorsese signals the earthy focus of his production by casting tough-talking New Yorkers as the lower-class Disciples, a brilliant move which transforms the tenor of the story while accentuating the film’s rough-hewn, non-traditional approach.

How: One of the few Criterion releases not currently streaming on Hulu Plus, Last Temptation is available at a host of other sources, including low-priced digital rental from most premier streaming services.

thinredTuesday: The Thin Red Line

What: Terrence Malick’s comeback film, the only one of his six works to date that can be called a genre film, collapses James Jones’ eponymous novel as well as From Here To Eternity in its fictionalization of World War II’s Battle of Mount Austen.

Why: In addition to the usual Malickian reasons (a gorgeous, thematically rich evocation of Paradise found, lost, and regained), The Thin Red Line reimagines World War II in the vein of Vietnam and uses some bold casting decisions in order to do it.

How: Netflix has a disc, or it can be rented/purchased digitally through the usual channels.

the-long-goodbyeWednesday: The Long Goodbye

What: Elliott Gould plays Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s druggy comedic take on the classic Raymond Chandler novel.

Why: Gould’s performance is like an extended jazz riff of mutterings and tics. It’s one of the most distinctive embodiments of freedom any actor has ever conjured.

How: Order it on Netflix.

aguirre1Thursday: Aguirre, the Wrath of God

What: Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) leads a Spanish expedition through the Amazon in search of El Dorado, the City of Gold. What they find instead is madness and monkeys.

Why: According to one of the stories surrounding this infamous production, director Werner Herzog threatened to shoot Kinski if he tried to walk out on the film. But all that behind-the-scenes tension was worth it, aesthetically speaking, resulting in a film that is one of Herzog’s masterpieces, and a central performance by Kinski so convincing in its madness that you can’t imagine anybody else in the role.

How: Available for digital rental from Amazon Instant and for DVD rental from Netflix.

doorsFriday: The Doors

What: Oliver Stone tackles the ‘60s again, but rather than the Vietnam War, he looks at the tumultuously short life of the Doors, one of the decade’s most influential rock bands. In this film as in life, Jim Morrison outshone the other three members of the band.

Why: Do you remember when Val Kilmer was svelte and beautiful? He is perfectly cast as Morrison, an almost dead ringer for the singer who passed away in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27.

How: Rent it on Blu-Ray. It’s the closest you will get to seeing a Doors concert in person.

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