Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December Expiration Watch: This Time It's Personal (2013)

Where to begin? There are so many good and great movies expiring from Netflix Instant this month, it's the cinematic equivalent of getting hot chunks of coal in your stocking (Merry Christmas to you, too, Netflix). I haven't seen this many notable titles getting the axe since May's so-called Streamageddon. And these are only the titles I can personally vouch for, not ones that are popular but off this blog's radar. So, in light of there being simply too many movies deserving individual attention, I'll simply group them by category and add brief notes as the mood strikes:


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) - Dick van Dyke and his magic flying car (don't quote me on this, but this title may be getting a reprieve)
In Like Flint (1967) - James Coburn gets in on the James Bond spoof industry in this second of the Flint series
Roman Holiday (1953) - See review
The Odd Couple (1968) - Matthau and Lemmon--the original Oscar and Felix
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) - Billy Wilder's flawed, late-career classic--and an early attempt to scrape beneath the surface of the immortal detective
Shane (1953) - Come back, Shane?
A Shot in the Dark (1964) - Peter Sellers and Elke Sommer in one of the earlier, funnier Inspector Clouseau films (before "Pink Panther" was needlessly incorporated into every title)
True Grit (1969) - Kind of creaky (I prefer the remake), but still essential John Wayne
War and Peace (1956) - Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda in the classic Tolstoy tale
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) - Catherine Deneuve (and her sister) make music with Gene Kelly, in Jacques Demy's spiritual successor to his The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spaced Gets the Axe, Dick Spared, Garcia Smolders

Well, it looks like The Dick Van Dyke Show's absence from streaming was only temporary. The series is officially back online. That means if you still haven't managed to check out this always funny and engaging program, you've got another chance to see what made it so special and such an integral part of TV history.

But before you catch up on the shenanigans of Rob and Laura Petrie & Co., take a few hours to check out the equally groundbreaking (if not as universally known) British comedy Spaced, scheduled to expire from Instant at midnight on the 17th (that's one minute past 11:59 P.M. on the 16th, for those who get confused by such things). As I wrote back in April, Spaced is far from your average britcom, and not only helped spawn the current era of post-modern television comedy (think 30 Rock and Arrested Development), it introduced the world to the talents of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost, who went on to make Shaun of the Dead and this year's The World's End (among many others). Less well-known but equally praiseworthy is their partner-in-crime, Jessica Stevenson, who co-wrote and co-starred with Pegg and offers a brand of endearing daffiness all her own. Made up of only 14 episodes spread over two seasons, Spaced is perfect for a binge watch before it takes its leave.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More November Expirations (2013)

It doesn't look like I'll have a chance to write a proper post extolling the virtues of the titles expiring before month's end, but be sure to take a look at the list at the top of the page to see what's on the cutting block. Most notable is The Dick Van Dyke Show, which, despite being over 50 years old and in black-and-white, achieved a humor and freshness that keep it virtually ageless. Creator Carl Reiner made a point of not referencing the era's events or pop culture, and that—along with believable, archetypal characters, solid writing, and funny, grounded performances—make this series as entertaining today as it was in the early 1960s. All five seasons of the show expire at 12:01am on 11/29 [Update: since renewed]. If you're one of the few who have never seen it, and you enjoy traditional sitcoms, you should definitely check out a few episodes before they're gone.

Also of note: two '70s classics—Carrie and Saturday Night Fever—both of which have been mentioned here before and both featuring John Travolta—along with the tense, borderline exploitative Larry Clark thriller, Bully, which is based on a true story and, despite its tossed-off, documentary feel and casual, underage violence and sexuality, sneaks up on you by building some genuine, nail-biting tension by the time it's over.

That's all for now. Other titles worth a look can be found on the Expiring Soon list. Here's wishing you a happy, movie-filled Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November Comings and Goings (2013)

It's been an interesting month on Netflix Instant, for reasons both good and bad. Among the bad is the usual loss of some very worthy titles on October 31 (see previous post), but unlike in past months, the attrition has continued into mid month. It also seems to be taking an especially high toll on foreign films, a few of which are indisputable classics.

What else would you call 8 1/2, The Bicycle Thief, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? All of these, surprisingly, expired on 11/15 (note: The Bicycle Thief has since returned). Meanwhile, on 11/20 we'll lose a number of former Netflix mainstays, including the intriguing, Memento-like romantic drama, Novo (2002), starring a very easy-on-the-eyes cast headed by Eduardo Noriega and Anna Mouglalis; Russian Dolls (2005), Cedric Klapisch's sequel to his young-bohemians-in-Barcelona ensemble comedy, L'Auberge Espagnole; Jean-Claude Brisseau's controversial, sexually explicit Exterminating Angels (2006); and a personal favorite, Sex Is Comedy.

Sex Is Comedy (2002)

A kind of hothouse, female version of Truffaut's Day for Night, Sex Is Comedy is Catherine Breillat's witty look behind the scenes of a sexually charged coming-of-age film not unlike her own Fat Girl. Getting to the heart of the dynamic between a director (Anne Parrilaud) and her emotionally needy actors, the film displays in hand-wringing detail the games and manipulations that become basic currency in the negotiations surrounding a movie sex scene. The performances are excellent and subtle all around (especially Parrilaud's channeling of Breillat herself), the humor is smart and sly, and the emotional resonance by film's end comes as a welcome surprise. This is one of the few Breillat films that feels less like an exercise or political statement and more an honest-to-goodness movie, with an actual beating heart. Yet it still gets across its message, in some ways making it the lighthearted antithesis of Brisseau's above-mentioned Exterminating Angels, a semi-autobiographical fantasia that follows a similar, more explicit—and potentially more inflammatory—path. Come to think of it, these two films would make an excellent double feature. But be warned: Angels can be pretentious and a bit baffling in that French arthouse way, and the line between sexual exploitation and commenting on said exploitation has never been dicier. Prepare to squirm.

Monday, October 28, 2013

October Expiration Watch (2013)

As with every month, it's time to say goodbye to some exceptional titles that will no longer be streaming on Netflix. This time around, those among the fallen include Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen (again), Sam Raimi, a Best Picture winner, a sci-fi sleeper, and two of Francis Ford Coppola's most interesting, least-seen films (along with one of his best). Oh, and Jack Nicholson playing faux Jimi Hendrix in a ponytail.

The Evil Dead (1981)

If this wasn't the first of the "cabin-in-the-woods"-type horror films (it wasn't), then it certainly helped codify the rules for such movies, igniting a mini-franchise for first-time director Sam Raimi, a cult following for star Bruce Campbell, and a subgenre that's been exploited to the point of post-modern excess (see: Joss Whedon's giddily entertaining The Cabin in the Woods). Sure, Raimi's budgets and technique would improve exponentially in the years to come, but there's no mistaking his ghoulish glee at mixing horror, humor and gore with founts of foul, unidentifiable fluids. We'll consider it a sick joke on Netflix's part that this movie expires at midnight on Halloween. Meanwhile, Evil Dead 2 remains available if you're still looking for something gooey and dangerous to lock in your cellar. Trivia note: We all know the heights to which Raimi's career eventually reached (can you say Spider-Man?)—but did you know The Evil Dead's young assistant editor was none other than Joel Coen? Speaking of whom...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September Expiration Watch (2013)

I may not have time for my monthly expiration roundup (it's been a busy month), but I at least wanted to call attention to what's expiring from Netflix Instant in the coming days—a list that includes such significant titles as Robert Altman's Gosford Park, the steamy French classic Betty Blue, Wong Kar-Wai's melancholy In the Mood for Love, and important films by Alfred Hitchcock, Nicholas Roeg, John Sayles, and Peter Weir. Also biting the dust: Warren Beatty, Steve Martin, Jane Fonda, and John Cusack. Check out the updated Expiring Soon list, above, to see what you'll soon be missing.

September 27

Rango (2011) 

September 28

Gosford Park (2001)

September 29

Betty Blue (1986)
The Moon in the Gutter (1983)
Mortal Transfer (2001)

September 30

Barefoot in the Park (1967)
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Don't Look Now (1973) - Review
Eight Men Out (1988)
Frenzy (1972)
Heaven Can Wait (1978) - Review
Identity (2003)
In the Mood for Love (2001)
Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
The Parallax View (1974) - Review
Saved! (2004)
Witness (1985) - Review

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


With the arrival of Saturday Night Fever (1977) to Netflix Instant, I thought I'd reach back to an article I wrote a few years back for's 1970's-themed issue, "Dancing Ourselves Into the Tomb." It's more of a personal take on the film's soundtrack than an outright movie review, but my thoughts on the film do come across, so consider this a slight change of pace.

Can't Fight the Fever

(Published December 5, 2011, in slightly different form)

When the movie Saturday Night Fever was released in December of 1977, it became a smash critical and popular success that delivered disco to the masses, John Travolta to movie theaters, and a record that became the biggest-selling soundtrack of all time.

But in my household, the film’s influence was exactly...nil. Considering my family’s strict rock & roll diet and my impressionable age, I didn’t have to be told that a movie about disco was cinema non grata. (Say it with me now: “Disco sucks!") But beyond hewing to the party line, as a family we agreed those high-pitched, nasal Bee Gee voices had become annoyingly ubiquitous in the months following the film's release.

The Bee Gees and their chests
And those voices—along with the other Fever songs cramming the airwaves—were everywhere. I don't remember how many times that thumping bass and Gibb-brother whine would suddenly infect the car radio, causing one or the other Woodstock-era parent to reach violently for the tuner with a stream of R-rated invective. I knew the rules: if it had a dance beat, it was shunned—as clear as the laws of physics.

For the next half decade, my views on disco--and by extension, Saturday Night Fever—remained unchanged, even after the country's disco rage had subsided. When the movie showed up on cable in both PG and R-rated versions, I peeked in at a few key scenes to compare the levels of nudity and swearing (the '80s equivalent of watching deleted scenes), but even the charms of Donna Pescow and Karen Lynn Gorney couldn't overcome my lingering aversion to the film as a whole.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Expiration Watch: What's New Is Old

Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. Passing into Instant exile—if not downright oblivion—are a number of significant titles, including a couple of Oscar winners and a handful of movies previously spotlighted here. Taking the hit are such stalwart directors as Howard Hawks, John Carpenter, Barry Levinson and Mike Figgis, as well as stars Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Dustin Hoffman, Ashley Judd, Burt Reynolds and Nicolas Cage. Not to mention James Caan and those pesky Bond films...

Speaking of Caan, it seems the original Rollerball—reviewed here as a new title only last week—was simply on a one-month streaming loan. As of August 31 at midnight, it will once again be skating off into the distance. Thanks for the tease, Netflix.

Also on loan were those eternally recurring James Bond films, which arrived on 8/1 and will be departing on 9/2. At this rate I suppose we can hope for another return in the near future? I've only been tracking these titles since April, so I'm not sure how regularly such shenanigans occur.

Other titles previously recommended are the dark, fictionalized(?) biopic of game show producer/assassin Chuck Barris, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (review)—written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by George Clooney—and the wonderful coming-of-age comedy, Slums of Beverly Hills (review), with Natasha Lyonne as a brashly curious teen growing up with her nomadic family in 1970s Los Angeles. (10/1 Update: Confessions is now back!)

That brings us to this month's new expiring entries, starting with a couple of notable Oscar winners.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New August Titles (2013)

Among the notable titles joining Netflix Instant this month are a stellar example of '70s sci-fi, the Spike Lee joint of Spike Lee joints, an underrated drama from the writer-director of personal fave The Fabulous Baker Boys, Christopher Nolan in his more forgetful, pre-Dark Knight days, and a bit of unabashed filth from the mind (and groin) of Kevin Smith.

Rollerball (1975) - EXPIRED 9/1/13

Once upon a time, in a decade far, far away, science-fiction movies were built on ideas, not special effects. Before Star Wars changed the rules (and box-office expectations), all you needed to make a sci-fi flick were a respectable actor (say, Sean Connery or Charlton Heston or Robert Duvall), a script with some cautionary message reflecting the day's concerns, a newly built, futuristic-looking mall or campus as your setting, a few cool-looking props and/or model space ships, and maybe a miniature of a domed city. Presto—big-screen dystopian future. Those were the days of Zardoz, Logan's Run, Soylent Green, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and THX-1138, among others. Granted, most are not what you'd call "great" films, but they're all provocative and idiosyncratic (and flawed) in ways that give them an organic charm—something sorely missing from today's machine-stamped blockbusters. Even Rollerball—which posits a future run by benevolent corporations who keep the peace by pitting nations against each other in an internationally sanctioned blood sport—alternates its bursts of violence with hushed, meditative talks about free will and human nature (as well as the random burning of trees as party trick).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Slippery When Wet: THE ICE HARVEST

"Just act normal for a few hours and we're home free."
This advice, dispensed to Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) by partner-in-crime Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), is, of course, the crumbling bedrock on which many a crime film is built. And yet Cusack's weak-willed mob lawyer, who along with shady businessman Vic has just ripped off Charlie's boss to the tune of $2 million, truly believes in the perfect crime. As he explains in The Ice Harvest's opening narration, pulling one off is "only a matter of character."

But character is in short supply where Charlie is concerned. Waiting for the city's icy roads to clear before he and Vic can hightail it out of Wichita, Charlie spends one of history's most depressing Christmas Eves laying low at a favorite strip club, acting anything but normal. It's not long before he's dragging behind him a trail of interested parties, including mob enforcer Roy Gelles, strip club owner Renata Crest, an ass-kissing cop, a favor-seeking politician, and Charlie's drunken buddy Pete (Oliver Platt), who happens to be married to his ex-wife. Meanwhile, Vic is no longer giving Charlie the warm fuzzies about their shared plan, adding to his growing paranoia.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Face, Old Name: STARLET

There's a new kid in town, and she comes with a distinguished pedigree. Her mother is Mariel, who starred in Manhattan with Woody Allen. Her aunt was Margaux, a model and actress. And her great-grandfather was Ernest, known to have scribbled a noteworthy novel or two. This latest Hemingway goes by the name of Dree, until now a model herself but making an impressive acting debut in Starlet (2012), an unusual, carefully observed indie drama that snuck in and out of theaters before many people (myself included) could notice it.

Resembling a lanky cross between her mom and Bridget Fonda, Hemingway plays Jane, an apparently aimless beauty existing on the fringes of L.A.'s San Fernando Valley with her small dog and a pair of sketchy pothead roommates. After acquiring an old thermos at a yard sale, Jane finds herself compelled to learn more about its former owner, an ornery 85-year-old widower named Sadie—played with prickly impatience by Besedka Johnson (in her only film role before passing away earlier this year).

Friday, August 2, 2013

And Once Again... Bond Is Back

License to smoke--and look suave doing it
James Bond has returned to Netflix Instant in August. How long he'll remain is anyone's guess. [Not very long, it turned out.] The good news is, unlike the last time the erstwhile spy reappeared, now pretty much all the pre-Daniel Craig films are available. That includes the two dark horse entries, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1968), and Connery's "unofficial" 1983 return, Never Say Never Again. The latter I remember liking quite a bit--save for the crucial absence of Monty Norman's iconic Bond theme—and I still think Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo was the most nuanced and complex Bond villain until Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Herewith, an updated repost of an April look at select Bond titles, including two all-new entries. I may add more as I rewatch them—assuming they don't disappear again at the end of the month!


Monday, July 29, 2013

Expiration Watch: Wilder, Woody, and a Dead Chick

Short notice, I know, but among this month's expiring titles are two comedy classics and one horror classic in-the-making. All three will be gone from Instant as of Wednesday at midnight (8/1/13). So queue 'em up while you can...

Sabrina (1954)

Yet another classic Billy Wilder film bites the dust on Netflix. If a bit lightweight compared to some of the director's more well-known titles (Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment), Sabrina can still teach Hollywood a thing or two about crafting a genuinely funny and charming romantic comedy. Along with all the star power in front of the cameraAudrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William HoldenWilder is joined behind the scenes by co-screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who went on to pen classics Sweet Smell of Success and North By Northwest, among others. Bogie, in one of his last major roles, does seem old for the ascendant Hepburn (though not as old for her as Gary Cooper was in another Wilder souffle, Love In the Afternoon). But if you can get past such typical age-inappropriate Hollywood casting, there's a lot of fun to be had in this Cinderella-like tale of a chauffer's daughter climbing the social ranks to find herself torn between two high-society brothersstuffy businessman Linus (Bogart) and younger playboy David (William Holden). If you've only seen Sydney Pollack's unfortunate 1995 remake, then here's your chance to see the story done right.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Some Big Titles Going Away, Expiration List Returns

While there's still no scientific way to identify every soon-to-expire title since Netflix retired its public database in May (see post), I have found a more limited approach that should yield some of the more significant departing titles each month.

Among the bigger ones to be pulled from Instant on August 1 are Chinatown, Broadway Danny Rose, the acclaimed Helen Mirren series, Prime Suspect, and a couple of classics with Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Check out my full list in the tab above (which will come and go as needed). And if any others show up in your queue, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

8/1 UPDATE: I've since discovered a few other titles that expired, probably back on 7/1: Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers, Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Play It Again, Sam, and Another Day in Paradise. And the hits just keep on goin'...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Alien Invasion Meets Indie Road Movie: MONSTERS

Are you in the mood for superheroic characters fighting scores of scary 3D creatures amid exploding landmarks while computer-rendered populations are crushed beneath tossed cars and collapsing buildings? Then check out The Avengers. Or Pacific Rim. Or just about anything directed by Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich.

But if you need a break from cliche scares and lookalike blockbusters and prefer more character-driven sci-fi--with relatable human beings who aren't wielding weapons or one-liners--then Monsters, an impressive micro-budget alien invasion flick from 2010, should hit your sweet spot. It certainly hit mine.

Set six years after an extraterrestrial species has populated a swath of northern Mexico now walled off from the United States, Monsters utilizes a War of the Worlds-like premise to concentrate on the human toll of an alien occupation--an occupation fought with increasing (and unscrupulous) force by a desperate U.S. military.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New July Titles (2013)

This month brings a clutch of classic star-driven comedies and thrillers to Netflix Streaming, including a pair of Warren Beatty flicks, two movies with Julie Christie, and a couple of body-swapping romances. All that, and an overlooked oddity that teams writer Charlie Kaufman with Sam Rockwell and George Clooney (and is both comedy and thriller).

Don't Look Now (1973)

One of the prime examples of director Nicolas Roeg's amazing run of early greatness (including Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth and Bad Timing), this Daphne de Maurier-based supernatural thriller is as well-known for its creeping aura of dread as its infamous sex scene--a scene that even today provokes leering discussions of "Did they or didn't they?" (FYI, they didn't.) But along with those tender, erotically charged moments, the film stands out for its disorienting, slow-building sense of menace, haunting Venice locations, and the utterly human heart of the bereaved married couple at its center. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are riveting in that quiet 1970s way--casual, messy, unforced, their realistic intimacy almost unnerving compared to the more heightened, on-the-nose theatrics of today's Hollywood. It's refreshing and rare to see such unguarded (emotionally and physically) moments between major stars. You can't help caring for these wounded souls, worrying for their safety as a series of strange events and mysterious premonitions lead them (and us) to believe something terrible lurks within the city's twisty streets. Are dark forces at work? Fate? Or is it only coincidence?

Friday, July 19, 2013

The 'A' Word: NEW GIRL (Season 1)

FOX's marketing department insists on calling her "adorkable," but that's no reason to hate Zooey Deschanel or her show New Girl. The woman long ago proved her talents, not just with years of credible indie and big-studio comedies and dramas, but with a series of retro pop albums as one half of She & Him. Sure, she can be quirky and weird and dresses in overly colorful, girly outfits that accentuate her trademark bangs and enormous, perpetually startled eyes. But there's no denying she's found her own Gen-Y style niche--no small accomplishment in a world with Lady Gaga.

And if you watch New Girl, the single-camera comedy she produces and stars in, you'll see her successfully extend her personal style and humor into what over two seasons has become one of the funniest shows on television. Along with show creator Elizabeth Meriwether and a breakout cast, Deschanel and her writers took a questionable Three Horny Roommates and a Girl premise and transformed it from amusing trifle into something genuinely fresh and inventive.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Though often labeled a "sci-fi thriller," Upstream Color (2013) isn't easy to categorize and is even trickier to describe. A poetic mix of horror, romance, science fiction and art film, it plays like a mashup of Terence Malick and David Lynch, without being as dark as the latter or as deeply internalized as the former. But like those directors' best work, Upstream Color leaves you puzzled and affected in equal measure, its images and ideas supplanting easy answers with an emotional resonance that's hard to shake. Somewhat reminiscent of the personal, elliptical cinema that emerged from France in the 1960s (think Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, Je t'aime je t'aime, or Chris Marker's La Jetee), it represents an anomaly even by today's indie standards.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More New June Titles (2013)

A few more noteworthy titles that showed up on Instant this month:

Chasing Ice (2012)

A sobering, provocative documentary that follows nature photographer James Balog's on-camera quest to document how unnervingly fast the world's glaciers are melting and what this implies for the planet's future. Not simply an environmentalist polemic trumpeting the latest global-warming theories to mollify the already converted, Chasing Ice is an adventure story and travelogue about one man challenged by the elements, his own hardheaded determination, and the breakdown of his increasingly fragile body while seeking empirical evidence for what many of us already suspected but which until now had never been witnessed. The time-lapse images of enormous glaciers receding and shrinking into muddy splotches are horrifying and heartbreaking, but also beautiful and miraculous, especially once you've seen the struggle it took to achieve them. Balog's art and sacrifice may have worn him down physically—like one of his own compromised ice floes—but with any luck enough people will see his amazing work and be inspired to act. Or at the very least question their views. The evidence is here. All you have to do is look.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Like Coppola in June, How About You?

A number of new and notable titles snuck onto Instant this month. Among those are a handful of films directed by Francis Ford Coppola, an important filmmaker by any standard and one who obviously needs no introduction. What makes these titles worth noting is that they join Tucker (also reviewed) and The Conversation to form a solid collection of the director's least heralded, but most interesting, work. The one exception is the indispensable Apocalypse Now (1979), second only to The Godfathers I and II in the director's ouevre and arguably the greatest war film ever made--even if calling it merely a war film fails to account for its greatness as a film, period. There's simply no movie that better depicts the darker corners of man's soul, particularly as filtered through the psychedelic fog that permeated the conflict in Vietnam. With its basis in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the film elegantly channels a literary sensibility into one that's uniquely cinematic, creating a dramatic and powerful journey upriver that's as much existential meditation as war drama.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Expiration Dates Expired

Well, as I wrote last week, Netflix's public list of expiration dates for streaming titles seems gone for good. An official announcement was made Monday on the company's blog:

Starting today, we will no longer provide expiration dates for any of our titles in the public API... We are making this change because the expiration date can be inaccurate as a result of frequent, often last minute, changes in content flow. Netflix members will still be able to see the listed title expirations on on each individual title page.

That means even sites like will no longer have advance notice of what's expiring. The best we can now expect is a one-week notice for any titles already in our queues. Other titles, i.e., ones we may not know about or whose title page we haven't recently visited, will just disappear.

I'm hoping there will eventually be another alternative, but until then my plan is to spotlight any noteworthy titles that I discover are expiring in the last few days before they're gone. This will be more hit and miss than picking from a compiled list--and with shorter notice--but I should still catch a few good ones that would otherwise have gotten away. In other words, stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fell In Love with a Girl: KISSING JESSICA STEIN

If Woody Allen in his prime had made a lesbian romantic comedy that avoided the usual Woody neuroses and verbal tics while remaining immensely funny and likable, it would be pretty close to Kissing Jessica Stein—that is, a valentine to love, New York City, and old jazz tunes, only with two girls kissing. Cowritten and produced by its stars, Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, the film was a hit on the indie and festival circuits back in 2001 and remains the perfect antidote for anyone feeling nutrient-deprived by the formulaic slop served up with the likes of Kate Hudson, J-Lo, and Katherine Heigl (whose three names in succession summon up in me a kind of indigestion of the soul).

Juergensen and Westfeldt
But calling Kissing Jessica Stein a lesbian romantic comedy isn't entirely accurate, since both the main characters start out straight and with only a bout of bicuriosity. Westfeldt plays Jessica, a magazine editor and self-described "Jew from Scarsdale" who's a hyper-articulate Diane Keaton/Lisa Kudrow type with standards for men as exacting as her standards for words. When, after a dispiriting series of blind dates, her attention is drawn to a personals ad quoting Rilke (her favorite writer), she finds herself intrigued even though the quoter is a woman. That woman, a free-spirited art gallery director named Helen Cooper (Juergensen), has grown fed up with the hairier sex and wants to try the other side of the fence for a change.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Foiled by Netflix: QUEST FOR FIRE

[October 2015 Update: I'm happy to report that Quest for Fire is now streaming in its original widescreen aspect ratio. About time, Netflix!]

Today I was planning to post a review of a film I was genuinely eager to write up. It's one I think deserves a shout-out not only for its intelligent, near-documentary glimpse into the distant past but for how well it holds up today as an effective and imaginative adventure story. This is how I was going to start (give or take a sentence):

Aside from the Dawn of Man sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001, most cinematic accounts of the Stone Age have been relegated to B movies and comediesfrom One Million Years B.C. in 1966 up through 2008's 10,000 B.C. The former, I was surprised to discover, was more than simply a showcase for Raquel Welch and her fur bikini, and proved to be a surprisingly sincere effort at depicting the lives of our prehistoric kineven if it did promote the typical 1960s/1970s humbuggery of dinosaurs cohabiting with humans. Such chronological compression reached its apex in the 1981 Ringo Starr comedy, Caveman, an intentionally ridiculous account of Stone-Age man which happened to be released the same year as Quest for Fire, a film that was its polar opposite: that is, an attempt to portray the existence of early humanity with as much realism as possible. Low-budget mammoths (and minor historical inaccuracies) aside, I'm happy to report that Quest for Fire still remains the high water mark for such films, providing an enlighteningand truly entertainingglimpse back in time that exposes our thin veneer of civilization for what it truly is. 

Avoiding the Axe

As some of you may already know, the Netflix database has never been 100% accurate. A title that was marked for expiration might easily return to the service a day or a month later. And now that the company has closed down its public list of upcoming/expiring titles (see previous post), this information remains even more subject to inaccuracy. As such, I plan to regularly follow up on titles I've written about whose status may have changed. Here are a few I wrote about last month that actually survived the Great Purge of 5/1/13:

The Apple
Bad Timing
Doctor at Sea
Gregory's Girl 
Passion of Anna
Y Tu Mamá También

That's not to say these won't disappear tomorrow. But if they do, I'll do my best to update you.

A Note About Expiring & Upcoming Titles

When I started this blog in early April, little did I know that only four days later Netflix would discontinue its public database of upcoming and expiring titles. Unfortunately, that means that my (and many other websites') ability to list these titles in advance may no longer be possible. I realize the value in having those tabs at the top of the page--for myself as well as everyone else--but what this most likely means is that Upcoming Titles will be replaced permanently with New This Month, while Expiring Soon may become more limited in scope after June 1 (which is as far in advance as current lists go).

In the meantime I'll continue doing what I hope this site does best: calling attention to an eclectic mix of overlooked, underseen, and forgotten titles, so that you'll have a slightly easier time choosing what to watch next. I hope you'll continue checking in.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Expiration Watch: THE AMATEURS

My first exposure to The Amateurs (2005) was in a discount DVD shop on Manhattan's 8th Avenue. I knew nothing about it, but the large ensemble of character actors listed on the box--headed by the always reliable Jeff Bridges--immediately got my attention. With Bridges, Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenne Headly, Joe Pantoliano, Eileen Brennan, Judy Greer and (of all people) Valerie Perrine playing small-town denizens banding together to make a porn film, how bad could it be? Plus it was only five dollars, so even if it was crap I could probably make back a few bucks on eBay.

Surprise, surprise--it actually turned out to be one of those shaggy-dog sleepers you secretly hope all unheralded movies in an 8th Avenue video store will be, but never are. Bridges plays Andy, a softhearted, down-on-his-luck dreamer who's the de facto leader of a group of quirky losers who are always just a corner or two away from their Million Dollar Moment. As we learn from Andy's droll voiceover, those moments are usually engineered, in a burst of inspiration, by Andy himself and acquiesced to by his forgiving friends even when they know he's batting .000. (As one character later puts it, it's not like they've got anything better to do.)

New May Titles (2013)

Despite last month's massive MGM/UA purge, a few notable new titles have found their way to Netflix Instant.

The Three Musketeers (1973) - Expired 7/1/13

Director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, Petulia) brings a fresh take to this old tale, cramming a large all-star cast into corsets and tabards and letting the mud and swords fly. Bawdy, messy, violent, and occasionally thrilling, this first of two Musketeers movies shot back-to-back (The Four Musketeers is inexplicably unavailable on Instant) remains the standard for all Dumas interpretations before or since. Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Lee and others take part in some of the most spirited—and exhausting—swordplay ever put on film, made all the more convincing for being performed by the actors themselves. Lester accomplishes the rare feat of fusing a sometimes Monty-Pythonesque tone with genuinely escalating dramatic stakes. Good old-fashioned fun.

Harry & Tonto (1974) Expired 5/1/14

Art Carney gives an Oscar-winning performance in this Paul Mazursky road movie. I haven't seen this one myself, but it's always been well regarded and I'm a lifelong fan of Mazursky's other work (including Moscow on the Hudson, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Enemies, A Love Story). This one's definitely going into my queue. [UPDATE: Saw it. Loved it. Sorry to see it gone.]

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bending Reality: HAPPY ACCIDENTS

As far back as I can remember, I've always been a sucker for a good time-travel story. If the time travel is wrapped around a convincing romance, even better. Literary standouts of the genre include Time and Again, Bid Time Return (which became the movie Somewhere In Time), and The Time Traveler's Wife. Movie-wise you've got Time After Time, 12 Monkeys, the obscure but great 12:01, and last year's Safety Not Guaranteed. On TV the grandaddy of them all was the first-season Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever," written by Harlan Ellison and considered among the best Trek episodes ever made (of any generation).

Brad Anderson's Happy Accidents (2000) juggles elements from many of its predecessors yet manages, in its grounded, low-budget way, to make an impressive contribution to the time-travel-romance. You can tell this movie--written, directed, and edited by Anderson--was made with far more love than money. It's sci-fi of the mind, with nary a special effect to be seen. Imagine (if you will) a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone, only shot in a realistic New York setting with quirky humor and bucketloads of heart.

Over the Top: DHOOM 2

Bollywood movies are an acquired taste. You don't go into them expecting realism and subtlety. Having seen only half a dozen or so, I'm hardly an expert, but one thing I've learned is to toss out my assumptions about what a movie should be the moment I start watching. Designed to appeal to the broadest possible demographic (kids, parents, grandparents, uncles, the family goldfish), they follow the maxim of "more is more." Or in the case of a big-budget action-comedy-musical-romance like Dhoom 2 (2006), "more is lots more." Got a kitchen sink? Go ahead, toss that in, too--maybe someone will need to wash up.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Misjudged as a slap at his fans and widely panned on its release in 1980, Woody Allen's Stardust Memories finally seems to be escaping the tarnish of its initial reception. Even without considering some of the director's shakier misfires to come, this arty, funny take on one filmmaker's struggle with his own limitations deserves a place among the Flawed Classics in the Allen pantheon.

A serio-comic homage to '60s European cinema, Stardust Memories tracks a day or two in the life of Sandy Bates, a successful comedy director overwhelmed by the world's suffering, his own mortality, and his inability to do a thing about either—in other words, the usual Allen preoccupations. Caught at a crossroads in both his personal and professional life while attending a filmmakers retreat with adoring critics and fans, Sandy seeks escape in surreal reveries about his past and in the allure of a pretty cellist (Jessica Harper). She reminds him of a past love, the troubled Dorrie—played in flashbacks by a luminous Charlotte Rampling—who Sandy has never entirely gotten over. This of course complicates things with his current girlfriend, Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault), a French earth mother of two who represents sanity and stability but also a level of commitment he's not sure he's ready for.

Getting Animated: A Secret STAR TREK

For me one of the great pleasures of streaming services like Netflix Instant (or Amazon Prime) is the ability to quickly indulge a nostalgic twinge by calling up a favorite episode of a fondly remembered TV show—say, The Twilight Zone or Columbo or Star Trek. If you're a Star Trek fan you already know what a godsend these sites are to Trekkies: all five live-action series can be found there—in HD, no less—with every episode available to be queued and streamed quicker than Scotty can beam down a redshirt to his untimely demise. (True ST fans, of course, already own their series of choice in at least one DVD edition, and would rather mix matter with antimatter than give up their slick Starfleet packaging and requisite bonus features.)

The crew returns (minus Chekov, plus a couple of weird aliens)
But what a lot of fans of old-school Trek may not realize is that there was another Star Trek, one that holds its own with much of the existing canon but gets little recognition outside of hardcore ST:TOS fans (that's Star Trek: The Original Series, for you non-Trekkies). This was Star Trek: The Animated Series,—a.k.a. ST:TAS. Produced for Saturday morning TV in 1973 and 1974 to placate the growing base of increasingly rabid fans, it utilized the voices of nearly all the original cast. Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest were back, ready to complete the Enterprise's aborted five-year mission. Only Walter Koenig as Chekov was M.I.A. (one actor too many for the show's tight budget), replaced by an odd, long-necked creature named Lt. Arex.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Expiration Watch: INSERTS

You'd never guess that Richard Dreyfuss' first project after shooting Jaws would have been an X-rated black comedy that takes place entirely on one set. But that's exactly what the film Inserts was when it briefly hit theaters in 1975. Also notable for giving Bob Hoskins his first film role, this daring little indiscretion (since downgraded to a more palatable NC-17) is a provocative timepiece that's Exhibit A for the types of extreme subject matter filmmakers and actors were game for in the first half of the 1970s.

The film itself takes place in the early 1930s, soon after sound has hit the movies and the resultant industry fallout is still being felt. One of the talkies' casualties is a young superstar director known only as Boy Wonder (Dreyfuss), an artiste of silent cinema who refused to compromise his vision for Hollywood's bean counters. Reduced to an impotent, disillusioned alcoholic afraid to leave his mansion--which itself will soon be paved over to make way for a freeway--the Boy Wonder now plies his trade shooting no-budget stag films financed by low-rent producer Big Mac (Hoskins). Aiding and abetting him are lead actress Harlene, a living kewpie doll played by a surprising (and surprisingly sexy) Veronica Cartwright, and a dense leading man referred to disparagingly as Rex, the Wonder Dog (Stephen Davies). Rounding out the quintet is Big Mac's "maybe fiancee," one Miss Cake, an aspiring actress (Jessica Harper) who may or may not be as clueless as she seems.

Expiration Watch: TWO FOR THE SEESAW

There's a lot to be said for blunt, literate dialogue between two characters--something more common to plays, books, and high-caliber TV dramas than today's big-studio releases. Equally refreshing are movie romances minus the pinches of Hollywood fairy dust that often cloud the screen, especially if you prefer to see relationships with some semblance of real life. Functioning as a kind of companion piece to Billy Wilder's The Apartment, only less witty and with a narrower scope, Two for the Seesaw thrives in its carefully observed portrayal of two lost souls learning to trust each other in 1962 New York.

The details are what sell it. From the Oscar-nominated location photography to the peeling paint inside the cramped and sagging downtown dwellings, this is a world that's been lived in. Not that the film is some gritty kitchen sink drama soaked in gin and reeking of broken childhoods. But director Robert Wise seems to have taken great care to dispense with movie shorthand and actually show what living in New York was (and still is) like for the average striver. Accounts are regularly tallied, dollars saved, geographical integrity honored. Given the film's pedigree--from the director of West Side Story, starring Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine, shot in gorgeous widescreen black and white--such fidelity comes as a refreshing surprise.

Friday, April 19, 2013

May Expiration Watch: Death by Twos

If the latest list is correct, a substantial chunk of Netflix's MGM/UA catalog is set to expire on May 1. Sadly that means a lot of great titles will be disappearing--including films by some of cinema's top directors. Many of the films represent these filmmakers' only Instant choices and, for whatever reason, seem to be leaving in groups of two (and occasionally three). So if you're a fan of--or just curious about--the work of any of the below directors, you'll want to consider pushing these titles toward the top of your queue. (Comments accompany films I've seen and can personally vouch for.)

Other departing titles include those of a few big-name bombshells (hint: initals B.B.), and yes, the increasingly slippery Mr. Bond. (Update: titles that stuck around past 5/1 have been noted accordingly.)

Not Your Average Britcom: SPACED

Let's get Spaced
If you like your comedies smart and zingy and fueled with pop culture riffing, you're due for a visit to Spaced. Written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, Spaced is a British TV series that ran from 1999 to 2001 and still plays hummingly over a decade later. Long a cult favorite among geeks and filmmakers, it was well ahead of its time and credited as a major influence on the pace and comic style of such shows as Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Community. What made it unique was not just the way it was made--more like a short film than a situation comedy--but its ability to mash together an offbeat, often surreal sense of humor with the pop culture-soaked psyches of its twenty-something leads.

Set in a suburban North London flat, the show's 14 episodes follow platonic roommates Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson) as they learn to deal with living together, their oddball friends, and their larger place in the world. On its face that could describe any number of stories about slacker youth. But with its clever, finely tuned scripts and clueless yet sympathetic characters, Spaced brought a topical freshness to the drab sitcom world not unlike Quentin Tarantino's pop makeover of crime films.

Along with Pegg and Stevenson's scripts, equal credit goes to series director Edgar Wright, who went on to make Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His resourceful touch utilized every ounce of ingenuity to give practically every scene a visual zip or ping, turning an ostensibly low-rent sitcom into a charmingly baroque cinematic funhouse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Car Wreck Cinema: THE APPLE

There are guilty pleasures. There are movies so bad they're good. And there are those that, like a five-vehicle pileup on the interstate, you can't take your eyes off of. Welcome to Car Wreck Cinema.

Watching The Apple, a 1980 sci-fi disco opera, I couldn't help thinking of that brief period in the 1970s when porn films actually had a sliver of ambition. Some were entertaining enough that you wondered just how good they might be if the sex had been dropped entirely.

The Apple is the best porno musical ever made, without the porn. It's a movie that gives Can't Stop the Music a run for its money as Gayest Musical Ever--without having any Village People--and makes even Xanadu look like a pretty good idea. For the movie's writer-director, Menahem Golan, you wonder if it was the most elaborate tax dodge in history or, possibly more depressing, the realization of his life's dream.

Written as a Hebrew stage musical in 1977, it so impressed Golan, the co-head of Cannon Studios (purveyor in the 1980s of all things crap), he had it translated into English with the goal of producing the next Grease or Rocky Horror Picture Show. If only he'd aimed lower. Instead of making the best gay porn musical in movie history, he concocted something more resembling the cracked fever dream of a small-town Lady Gaga impersonator.

Set in the glitzy, square-shouldered future of 1994, The Apple spins an Adam and Eve allegory about two naive young folkies from Moose Jaw, Canada, who in their pursuit of pop fame must struggle to save their souls from BIM, a world-dominating music corporation run by a Mr. Boogalow (who's really, you know, Satan). The future, we're shown, will include lots of triangular drinking glasses, star filters, face paint, and baggy silver tunics in a proto Duran Duran style, not to mention young men with pants so tight they actually sport cameltoes. (A gay friend informs me the technical term is "bull's knuckle.")

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Erotic Musing: SEX AND LUCÍA

Original Spanish poster art
It's funny the tricks memory can play. I saw Sex and Lucía when it was first released, in 2001, and I loved it. Then I saw it again a few years later on DVD and loved it even more. I found myself impressed with not only the bravery and conviction of the film's actors, who really put themselves out there, but with director Julio Medem's ability to paint a complex and romantic tale that, even if it doesn't entirely add up, is so beautiful and intriguing you mostly don't care.

And yet when it came time to write about the film here, I realized I remembered little beyond a few key scenes--mostly involving sex--and the simple fact that I really loved it and wanted to share it with others. Yes, I could recall (more or less) the basic characters and their function within the story. But the plot itself? Not so much. My memories instead were more emotional, imagistic, as if drawn from a distantly lived experience of youth.

Giving the film a third look, I can understand why. There's a lot going on. Lots of past events overlapping with present, fact with fiction, passion with reflection. One moment you think you've got it figured out, the next you're not so sure. It pulls you in and challenges you while mostly avoiding being frustratingly opaque.


"It's a habit with me, like breathin'... If I skip one night a week I wake up the next morning with such a headache." -Dino (Dean Martin), on his daily need for sex

Anything to avoid a headache
If you're at all familiar with classic Hollywood movies, you probably know the work of Billy Wilder. He was the director and co-writer of some all-time gems, including Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, Sabrina, and The Apartment. Less well known is his 1964 sex comedy, Kiss Me, Stupid, a raunchy poke at showbiz sleaze whose subject--small-town songwriters do whatever it takes to convince a visiting superstar to buy one of their songs--would be right at home on today's reality TV.

But at the time, the movie proved far more risque than audiences (or critics) were equipped to handle. Even today there's something distinctly dirty about it. Aside from the illicit spark that comes with seeing undisguised innuendo in an old Hollywood movie, Kiss Me, Stupid is marked by a cynical leering quality that covers it like a crusty coat of pollen. With every lewd zinger and suggestive image, you can't help wondering, "How did they get away with this?"

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tales of the '70s: Freaks, Geeks, and Slums

Whether by coincidence or fate, two of the titles I decided to review today are late-1990s takes on growing up in the late '70s. One is a snappy indie comedy, the other a painfully honest (and funny) TV series that continues to deserve all belated praise hurled its way.

Slums of Beverly Hills (1998) - EXPIRED

For a long time I avoided this movie. A long time. Like, since it was first released, which goes back 15 years now. Why? I remember the positive reviews when it came out, and it still seems well regarded today. But despite that—and the fact that it co-stars my alternate-reality future wife, Marisa Tomei—I just never felt drawn in enough to give it a shot.

Maybe it was the title. For whatever reason, titles are important to me, and the word "slums" has never exactly squeezed my happy gland. (Come to think of it, that may be why I still haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire.) And though I'd loved Paul Mazursky's Down and Out In Beverly Hills (and liked Beverly Hills Cop well enough), as a devout New Yorker at the time I may have simply had my fill of things L.A.

I was wrong. Twenty lashes for Past David. This brash little comedy/drama is that all-too-rare coming-of-age story told from the girl's point of view, and unlike a lot of American films on the subject, it's not afraid to push a few buttons. That's attributable not only to its indie outlier status, but to writer/director Tamara Jenkins, who based much of the film on her own nomadic childhood. This isn't a rose-colored portrait of (cue violins) "one girl's coming of age." There's little sentimentality here—at least when it comes to the kids—even if it's not as comically merciless as 1995's Welcome to the Dollhouse. Still, any film that depicts its 14-year-old heroine on a bathroom floor experiencing her first vibrator gets big points in a film industry still notoriously squeamish dealing with young girls' sexuality.

Gallic Smackdown: DISTRICT B13

The French aren't usually known for action movies. More often the words "French cinema" evoke long, talky scenes of love, existentialism, or family strife accompanied by lots of smoking and shrugging, topped off by one character's inscrutable decision leading to an ambiguous or depressing conclusion, often resulting in death. In other words, my kind of movie.

But 2004's District B13 is a bête of a different color. It actually kicks some serious ass--French, American and otherwise. Taking place in an Escape From New York-like dystopia where large chunks of Paris have been walled off to separate the criminal element from its Perrier-sipping overlords, it uses a familiar storyline (elite cop teams up with inner-city hoodlum to save the city) to showcase a series of intensely choreographed fight scenes and a then-new form of gymnastics called parkour.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New April Titles, pt. 2

Continuing this month's rundown of notable flicks now available for streaming:

King of the Hill (1993)

(FYI, no relation to the Mike Judge cartoon series)

Following the success of sex, lies and videotape and the mess that was Kafka, Steven Soderbergh's third film received glowing reviews (it was nominated for the Palm d'Or at Cannes) but almost no audience. Based on a memoir by A.E. Hotchner, this coming of age tale set in the Great Depression follows a 12-year-old boy (played by a young Jesse Bradford) who has to fend for himself in a seedy St. Louis hotel after his mother ends up in the hospital and his salesman father has to hit the road to make ends meet.

Jesse (Taylor) Bradford
Granted, it sounds depressing, but it's enlightened by Bradford's spirited, fast-talking performance (think Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, only less wide-eyed) plus a fine role call of supporting players including Spalding Gray, Adrien Brody, Elizabeth McGovern, and Karen Allen. As always, writer/director/editor Soderbergh knows how to keep things moving, but there's also that warmth and passion he's been accused of lacking in some of his more recent work. For some reason this title has never been available on DVD in the U.S., so this is a great chance to see a movie for which the words "criminally underseen" were invented.

Pi (1998)

And the magic number is...
Before he became known for directing Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky concocted this no-budget black-and-white yarn of paranoia, mathematics, supercomputers, Hassidic conspiracies, Wall Street and...well, I'm not really sure what else, even though I've seen the movie twice. I know it's intense and visceral and the very definition of old-school indie filmmaking. Shot guerilla-style on black-and-white 16mm film, it uses inventive camerawork and quick cutting to turn New York's Lower East Side into its own Kafkaesque playground. Reminiscent of an amped up, stripped down Cronenberg film by way of Jim Jarmusch, Pi is not for everyone. But if you like your movies fast, weird, dark, and borderline incomprehensible, you'll get a kick out of this. I'm hoping by the third viewing to actually figure out what it means.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Romance with a Touch of Smut: CASHBACK

If you like your romantic comedies with more of an adult sensibility than today's Hollywood usually allows, take a look at 2006's Cashback. Despite its unassuming title and a plot description that does it no favors, the film manages to combine romance, whimsy, and a bit of healthy European randiness with an artistic sensibility that never interferes with its off-beat humor. This is owed to fashion-photographer-turned-director Sean Ellis, around whose Oscar-winning short of the same name the film was based (a short whose fantastical conceit--a young artist with the ability to freeze time--is incorporated here and successfully deepened). If you're familiar with the '80s films of Bill Forsyth--Gregory's Girl and Local Hero being two personal faves--then this has a similar sensibility, only with a bit of magic and a lot of breasts.

This overlooked charmer stars Harry Potter's Sean Biggerstaff and a cast of fellow Brits, including the lovely Emilia Fox

Yes, there are a fair number of beautiful ladies doffing their kits (as they say in the U.K.) throughout the film. So if that kind of thing frightens you, or if naked ladies are against your ideals of Art, Cinema, and Good Taste, then by all means dial up something with Julia Roberts or J-Lo. Otherwise, this slow-burn examination of a young artist's fascination with love, beauty, and the female form offers many small and satisfying rewards.

New April Titles, pt. 1

This monthly feature spotlights a number of titles that recently debuted on (or returned to) Netflix Instant.

For April, a bunch of great movies are now streamable (is that a word?), from classics to Bond to sexy foreign and indies. Today we'll look at a few of the classics:

Carrie (1976)

On March 31, Brian DePalma's Carrie came online. This 1976 classic, based on the Stephen King novel and starring an Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek and a young (pre-Kotter, pre-Saturday Night Fever, pre-Pulp Fiction) John Travolta is an over-the-top coming of age gothic horror tale that uses blood and religion the way most teen comedies use boobs (although, this being DePalma, there are plenty of those, too). A remake—likely to be far more politically correct—hits theaters later this year, so you've got a few months to bone up on the original and get one up on the inevitable "Which is better?" debates.

April 1 brought a number of other queue-worthy classics. Among them:

Thursday, April 4, 2013


To kick off this blog, I thought I'd start with one of my all-time favorite classic comedies.

There have been many attempts to bring Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 Broadway play, The Front Page, to the big screen, but the only one anyone talks about is Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940). And for good reason: it's one of the fastest, funniest, most perfect comedies ever produced. And while it certainly doesn't qualify as "neglected" or "underrated," it's worth noting for anyone born after, say, 1970 who might otherwise overlook a black-and-white movie. If that's you--or if you've simply never gotten around to seeing this paradigm of comic timing--then put it near the top of your Netflix queue, posthaste.

No, it's not a gross-out comedy. There's no cartoon violence or computer-generated talking wombats. But it's got Cary Grant at his sneaky, conniving, rascally best, with Rosalind Russell, as career-gal (and ex-wife) Hildy Johnson, matching him line for line. There's also hapless Ralph Bellamy (one day to appear in Trading Places) in what became forever known as "the Ralph Bellamy role"--i.e., the poor third wheel found in pretty much every romantic comedy ever.