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...

Barton Fink (1991)

"Fink! Whaddya got?"
"I'll show you the life of the mind!"
"You're a sick fuck, Fink."
As in so many of the Coen Brothers' early films, Barton Fink is chock full of quotable lines. But it's also a lot more. Set in 1941, the film stars John Turturro as a beleaguered New York City playwright who just wants to write about "the common man," but can't resist the siren call of Hollywood. Out in La-La Land, he's tasked—to his bewilderment and chagrin—with writing a Wallace Beery wrestling picture (don't ask), something for which he's clearly not suited. But then he's not cut out for much of anything, it seems, spending much of the film stammering and helpless as a parade of characters suck him deeper into a Hollywood that's straight out of Dante's Inferno (Nathanael West doesn't know how good he had it). John Goodman plays the needy but sympathetic traveling salesman next door (or is he?), while Michael Lerner and Tony Shalhoub are the Hollywood bigshots who continually bedevil and confuse Fink (Shalhoub is particularly inspired, especially when shouting). The film's comedy is subtle, derived from mood and nuance and the particulars of each performance (all of which are exemplary, down to Steve Buscemi's Chet!). Even the sound effects have a creepy hilarity to them. Just listen to that sticky wallpaper peeling away of its own volition, or the mosquito buzzing over Fink's head, or the tiny whip of wind each time the hotel door is opened or closed. I wasn't entirely sold on the film's climax the first time I saw it—and the ending frankly still puzzles me—but on a repeat viewing I was more accepting of where the Coens chose to take things, and feel this dark, twisted, brilliant little movie is a near-masterpiece of macabre comedy.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

What else is there to say about Midnight Cowboy? Rated X when it was released (since downgraded to an R), it went on to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Both Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight were nominated for Best Actor, and both give astonishing performances (especially when you compare Hoffman here to his character in The Graduate two years earlier). Much like Taxi Driver seven years later, every frame of this movie feels marinated in human existence and urban extreme. It's permeated with the seediness and desperation that was particular to Times Square in the 1960s and '70s, a quality personified in Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo and thrown in stark relief by Voight's naive Joe Buck. The friendship that forms between these two is painful and tragic and kind of beautiful. This certainly isn't a feel-good movie, but it has moments of comedy born from the utter humanity of its characters and the realities they're forced to confront. Screenplays don't come any better than this one by Waldo Salt, nor does direction as immaculate as John Schlesinger's. And if you've never seen either Hoffman or Voight in his prime, you're in for a real treat. This movie remains a landmark of American cinema for a reason.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Wes Anderson's first film introduced not only brothers Owen and Luke Wilson to movie audiences, but an entirely new fictional universe that Anderson continues to populate to this day (see the trailer for his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, for Exhibit A). Granted, Bottle Rocket doesn't yet display the formalistic verve of its successors (it would take Rushmore for Anderson to fully realize his unique vision), but this charming caper comedy was enough to get the director noticed and launch his career. For those who find some of his later films a bit precious, this unassuming indie is his most straightforward and conventional, with basic pleasures available for all.

The Man from Earth (2007)

Is a movie a sleeper if no one you know—including yourself—has ever heard of it? Made for no money and pirated online before it could capitalize on a proper release, this cult film of cult sci-fi films is a quiet little gem that's been gaining a following beneath the radar for years. If not for its 4-star reviews and screenplay by the late Jerome Bixby (of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone), I would have hardly given it a look myself. But I'm glad I did, and if you enjoy thoughtful science fiction of the mind, you will too. Playing like an extended Twilight Zone episode, The Man from Earth explores the fallout among a group of friends when one of them confesses to being a Cro-Magnon man who's managed to survive for 14,000 years. In essence: an immortal. Is he lying? Is he insane? The specific details he offers, and his sense of conviction, make a strong case. And yet how can it be possible? His friends, all open-minded academics, quiz and poke and prod, trying to get to the bottom of his seeming delusion. Or is it a delusion? And if not, what does that mean for their most important beliefs? The Man from Earth is anything but flashy. And yet it very quickly becomes riveting as each argument and counter-argument unfolds. Bixby's brilliant script avoids the usual narrative traps while leading us through history, morality, religion and what it means to be mortal. It's the kind of heady, fascinating material found in a good play—and I'm only sorry I didn't discover it sooner.

Psych-Out (1968)

"Warren's freaking out!"
You don't watch Psych-Out for a transcendent cinematic experience. You watch it to see a pre-Easy Rider Jack Nicholson and an equally (and shockingly) young Dean Stockwell playing Haight-Ashbury hippies back when that shit meant something. Ol' Jack is a ponytail-wearing aspiring rock star grinding out knockoff Hendrix riffs while helping deaf runaway/cute naif Susan Strasberg find her long-lost brother (a strung-out and bewigged Bruce Dern). Stockwell wears a beaded headband and preaches anti-establishment morality, Henry Jaglom(!) gets to wear the freakiest fake sideburns in movie history, and director Richard Rush—who went on to helm Freebie and the Bean and The Stunt Man—makes sure we all know how trippy the world back then was, creating lots of woozy drug sequences by way of quick zooms, blurred focus, and kaleidoscopic lenses. A nearly wall-to-wall soundtrack of period-appropriate psych-rock—no doubt aided by producer Dick Clark—make the whole thing a weird and wild trip into an era that seemed far messier than most of us realize.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

One of Woody Allen's more perfectly realized fantasies, this narrative cousin to Midnight in Paris gives us Mia Farrow as Cecilia, a Depression-era waitress whose only escape from the drudgery of her life is going to the movies. Her passion for cinema—and one movie in particular—is so strong that she induces the film's lead character, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), to walk off the screen and run off with her. But Baxter's absence from his movie sets off a chain reaction of events, including the arrival of the actor who plays Baxter (Daniels again), charged by the studio with getting the celluloid version of himself back on screen. It's clever and funny and romantic, and is possibly the most thorough realization of Allen's enduring fascination with how fantasy colors reality. And vice versa.

Also expiring this month (sadly) are a handful of films that only recently made their way to Netflix Instant. There's the low-key Dennis Quaid-Meg Ryan drama, Flesh and Bone (reviewed here), and four Francis Ford Coppola films: Apocalypse NowApocalypse Now ReduxOne from the Heart, and Tetro. I covered all four of these back in June (here, if you're interested). It was good to see all of these available to stream, even briefly. Here's hoping they come back again soon.

And if none of the above movies grab you, click on the tab at the top of the page to see what other notable titles are expiring at the end of the month. Happy Halloween!

October 11

Black Heaven (2010)

October 13

Croupier (1998)

October 31

8 Million Ways to Die (1986) - Jeff Bridges and Andy Garcia go mano-a-mano in Hal Ashby's final feature
Bad Boys (1995) - Michael Bay back when he still had a shred of credibility. Also: Tea Leoni's legs!
Barton Fink (1991)
Bottle Rocket (1996)
La Chevre (1981) - Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu in a classic Francis Veber comedy
Clear and Present Danger (1994) Tom Clancy meets Harrison Ford
The Evil Dead (1981)
Flesh and Bone (1993) - Review
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) - Henry Fonda in John Ford's adaptation of the famous Steinbeck novel
Hammett (1982) - Wim Wenders attempts noir in this odd, fictional take on the famous mystery writer
Hombre (1967) - Paul Newman in a western based on an Elmore Leonard novel, directed by Martin Ritt
Hoosiers (1986)
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
The Man from Earth (2007)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Monsieur Hire (1989) - French drama directed by the great Patrice Leconte
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Psych-Out (1968)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Therese Raquin (1953) - French noir from the 1950s, starring Simone Signoret and directed by Marcel Carné
Trees Lounge (1996) - Steve Buscemi's directorial debut

Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
One from the Heart (1982)
Tetro (2009)

No comments: