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.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Following his early-career Annie Hall peak, Woody Allen began turning out more grown-up comedies and dramas, seemingly leaving his slapstick roots behind. As in Stardust Memories, one of his more artistically inclined comedies of that era, there was plenty of grumbling for his "early, funny films." Broadway Danny Rose was a direct callback to that more farcical period, pitting Woody's hapless small-time talent agent, Danny Rose, against New Jersey mobsters who mistake him for his most successful (and most needy) client, '50s nostalgia singer Lou Canova (Nick Appolo Forte). Canova is having an affair with daughter-of-the-Mob Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), whose ex-fiance fingers Danny as the man behind the white roses Tina's been receiving. Farrow is virtually unrecognizable as the amoral, gum-snapping Tina, offering a surprising comic turn in what may be her best performance. Allen holds his own in one of his few roles that's not the usual "Woody" character, here playing a low-end hustler with too many scruples for showbiz's sharky waters. The only nod to "art" in this breezy, unpretentious comedy is the shimmering black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis, which gives the film an appropriate period feel hearkening back to an already vanished world of Borscht-belt comics trading punchlines over corned beef and beer.

Deadgirl (2008)

There's nothing pretty about Deadgirl, a tale of male teen lust gone very, very wrong. But if you like your horror movies disturbing, angst-filled, and politically incorrect (but with a twisted message beneath the misogyny and muck), then this hormone-and-blood soaked fairy tale should keep you entertained. When two horny teens discover a beautiful but seemingly deceased woman bound and naked in the bowels of an abandoned mental hospital, their first instinct is to call the police. Until they realize the girl isn't dead. Only she's not exactly alive, either. In fact, she's some kind of zombie. A very sexy zombieif you overlook the cold, greenish flesh and random bullet holes. Of course to an outcast teen with way too much testosterone in his veins and nothing to lose, what's a leaky wound or two? Give a child a match, and expect a fire. Give an adolescent his very own zombie plaything, and, well...don't expect a candle-lit dinner. And yet the film's makers take a relatively subdued approach to the story's obvious sensationalism, opting for the naturalism and character texturing of a coming-of-age tale. Well acted and subtly scored, at times the film seems downright poetic (think David Cronenberg meets Stuart Gordon, only without quite reaching their giddy heights). I'm not generally a fan of horror moviesthe formulas and predictability tend to bore mebut when there's a clear intelligence and sense of humor at work, I'm happy to go along for the ride. Plus, knowing what I do about the teenage male libido, the only thing unrealistic about Deadgirl is the title character herself. (Props to cousin Ben for putting this one on my radar.)

No comments: