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.

Another Day in Paradise (1998)

One thing you can say about Larry Clark, director of Kids and photographic chronicler of the young and unstrung: he doesn't pull his punches. Call him honest or just exploitative, but going in to one of his films you know you're going to encounter examples of youthful behavior that don't exactly paint our species in the most flattering (or buttoned-up) light. No sugarcoating here, boys and girls. And yet, uncomfortable as they make us, we often end up caring for Clark's little devils. What's refreshing about Another Day in Paradise is that it's equally generous in its depiction of adults-gone-wrong, in this case the two criminal junkies played by James Woods (who else?) and Melanie Griffith. Along for the ride—in this case literally, since this is a road movie—are two young lovers played by former indie darling Natasha Gregson Wagner and Mad Men's own Pete Campbell—that is, Vincent Kartheiser, like you've never seen him before (young, skinny, frequently unclothed).

Pete, we hardly knew ye
It makes for a tense, kinetic romp as the older criminals take the young sprouts under their wing in a drug and sex-fueled attempt at the modern family. The acting is excellent across the board, with Woods achieving that perfect mix of James Woodsian sleaze and likability. Even Melanie Griffith, whom I'd found impossible to watch by this point in her career, sheds her movie-star self-consciousness and gets her hands dirty with everyone else. Again, this is a Larry Clark film, so it can get messy (not to mention sexy). But it's also a more tightly plotted, more straighforward crime film than you would expect from the director of Bully and Kids. Dave sez: hitch a ride.

Sex and Lucia (2002)
- See full review -

Bond, James Bond

License to smokeand look suave doing it

And last but not least, a bucketload of James Bond movies returned to Netflix Instant after being removed in January.* Among those are a couple of Sean Connery classics, Roger Moore's two best contributions, and one from the underrated Timothy Dalton, who lent Bond a gravitas that wouldn't return until Daniel Craig donned the familiar tux.

(*4/9 UPDATE: It seems these films, along with much of the MGM/UA catalog, are due to expire at the end of April. That puts them in both the What's New and About to Expire categories, which is pretty crazy. In other words, stream 'em while you can!)

Dr. No (1962)
What is there to say? Sean Connery defines James Bond for generations to come in this, the first installment of the legendary franchise.

Goldfinger (1964)
This is the third Bond flick, and it would jumpstart the bigger-is-better philosophy the series came to live—and at times, almost die—by. (Turns out some things do live more than twice.)

Ahh, Bach
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Following Man with the Golden Gun and Live and Let Die, all the elements finally come together for Roger Moore as 007, with the perfect mix of action, humor, gadgets, car chases, and babes (was there ever a Russian spy more alluring than Barbara Bach?). This one has something for everyone, including a guy with metal teeth and the series' best theme song, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better."

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bond in a minor key following the bloated sci-fi fiasco of Moonraker. It seems every decade or so the series tries to atone for the sins of a particularly misguided installment and recapture its roots as a spy thriller. For Your Eyes Only is actually a personal favorite, as it eschews the usual arsenal of Bond conventions in favor of a more grounded approach (much like another fave, From Russia With Love). Roger Moore actually seems human here, implicitly acknowledging his age by not bedding the adoring young cutie, while the stunts and villain are back to a human scale not seen since Live and Let Die. This is a Bond where relationships—and subtlety—count far more than quips and special effects. Plus, you don't mess around with Carole Bouquet toting a crossbow.

Licence to Kill (1989)
Some call him...Tim
Timothy Dalton has gotten stuck with the gooey end of the Bond stick in recent years, which is a shame, especially when the series' previous punching bag, George Lazenby—despite his stiff performance in On Her Majesty's Secret Service—seems to be getting belated respect. Dalton's grim, all-business Bond was meant as an antidote to the excesses of Roger Moore's final halfhearted entries (the forgettable Octopussy and the downright awful A View to a Kill), much like Daniel Craig would be to Pierce Brosnan's Bond Lite. And Dalton, i.e., Mr. Shakespearean Actor, did exactly what he was asked. Unfortunately, his darker, more humorless approach didn't give the franchise the boxoffice bump its producers hoped for, and after only two movies he became an ex-Bond. As I said, it's a shame, since while Dalton may lack the charisma of previous 007s, he's pretty effective as a secret agent on the edge. This film in particular has a solid storyline (Bond goes rogue after his licence to kill is revoked), some impressive stunts with tractor trailers, and an unconventional villain in Robert Davi. There's also the 1-2 babe punch of Cary Lowell and Talisa Soto—or 1-2-3 if you count Priscilla Barnes as wife of shapeshifter Felix Leiter (this time played by David Hedison). Oh, and don't forget Wayne Newton and a young Benicio del Toro as Henchman No. 1.


Jean said...

Thanks, David...these are interesting suggestions, all.

David Speranza said...

Thanks for reading, Jean. Hope you find more titles of interest in the future.