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?

The Parallax View (1974) - EXPIRED 10/1/13

Thanks to Watergate and the social upheavals of the previous decade, the 1970s saw a great run of conspiracy thrillers--from The Conversation to 3 Days of the Condor, Marathon Man, and of course the too-true-to-be-believed All the President's Men. If you like any or all of those paranoid classics, then The Parallax View is worth a watch. Starring Warren Beatty as a reporter in over his head, the film was directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President's Men) and reflected that era's wave of distrust for big government and (bigger) corporations. With cinematography by the legendary Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Manhattan) and a Blow-Up-like sense of unreality, The Parallax View will boggle and tease and leave you shedding a tear for those not-always-cheery endings of yore.

Heaven Can Wait (1978) - EXPIRED 10/1/31

Along with the above-mentioned Roeg, Warren Beatty and Julie Christie also enjoyed a good run of films in the 1970s, co-starring in Shampoo and McCabe & Mrs. Miller before Beatty made his directorial debut with this slight but enchanting romantic fantasy. A remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. JordanHeaven Can Wait raises the stakes--and star power--in its tale of a prematurely deceased quarterback (Beatty) whose soul is temporarily stored in the body of a ruthless millionaire. Christie, who was then Beatty's girlfriend, plays the angelic love interest while a superb cast of supporting actors (including James Mason, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon, and Charles Grodin) provide the laughs. With a frothy, nuanced script by Beatty, Elaine May, and co-director Buck Henry, the film's tale of romance, comic intrigue, and second chances ;was deservedly nominated for a slew of Oscars and remains smart, engaging fun. But even if it were only half as good, Heaven Can Wait would be worth watching for the sheer chemistry--and beauty--of two movie stars in their prime.

Rockwell channels Barris

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Often overlooked among the higher-profile films also written by the great Charlie Kaufman (Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), this fictional(?) account of game-show-host-turned-government-assassin Chuck Barris is a seedy little sideswipe of a black comedy. Stylishly directed by George Clooney, who also co-stars, the film is Exhibit A of why Sam Rockwell should be bigger than he is (see also: Moon). He owns this role of the paranoid, morally compromised--and possibly deluded--showbiz huckster responsible for such TV landfill as The Dating Game and The Gong Show. Clooney's pacing and directorial flourishes echo the main character's psychological bob and weave, mixing flashbacks and fantasy with sharp satire, comedy, and some disturbing images straight out of early David Fincher. While Rockwell, Clooney's direction, and Kaufman's script are the clear stars, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts (against type), and Rutger Hauer more than hold their own. You may feel a little dirty after watching it, but the film's laughs and one-of-a-kind premise are as entertaining as they are disturbing. Even if you don't believe Barris's "autobiographical" tale, you can't help wondering what kind of mind--dangerous, disturbed, or otherwise--would try so hard to convince you you should.

13 Going On 30 (2004)

As a sucker for time-travel romances and romantic comedies that don't, well, suck, I was pleasantly taken in by this fizzy Hollywood fantasy (it also makes a good palate cleanser after some of the more disturbing films above). Starring Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, and directed by the late Gary Winick (Tadpole), 13 Going On 30 does a great job of milking both laughs and heart from its Big-like premise (13-year-old Jenna transports herself into the body of her future self and learns how her childhood actions reshape the dream of who she hopes to be). Also reminiscent of Peggy Sue Got Married, only funnier and less sappy, the film gets sterling support from Kathy Baker, the always watchable Judy Greer, and a refreshingly in-the-flesh Andy Serkis, who should do more non-Gollum, non-ape roles. To some the ending may feel like a cop-out, but that doesn't diminish the film's solid laughs and nostalgic, infectious spirit (especially for anyone who grew up with Michael Jackson's Thriller). Garner, who was then known mainly for her more dour Alias and Elektra personas, seems downright giddy to be lightening things up. Is it art? No. But it's a great example of Hollywood doing what it's historically done best: make you feel good about being distracted and entertained.

Garner gets giddy


13 Going on 30 (2004)
Antz (1998)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
Benny & Joon (1993)
The Big Fix (1978)
The Boxer (1997)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Cookie's Fortune (1999)
Don't Look Now (1973)
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
The Ice Harvest (2005)
Mother (1996)
New Girl: Season 1 (2011)
The Parallax View (1974)
Personal Velocity (2002)
Richard III (1995)
Starlet (2012)
Strange Days (1995)
The Truman Show (1998)
Under Fire (1983)

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