Sunday, January 12, 2014

January's Lost & Found

Following last month's mass movie-title massacre, it would be easy to join the chorus of Netflix naysayers and cancel the streaming service in a noisy, indignant huff (see also: Netflix Huff). But a funny thing happened on January 1: a lot of great new and returning titles appeared, going a long way toward filling the gap left only hours earlier. Sure, it's going to be tough to make up for losing the Charlie Kaufman films or the incomparable Miller's Crossing, but this month's additions arguably go toe to toe with last month's departures.

Classic sci-fi fans may have cried foul at the loss of Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain, but in its place we got not only the director's even more classic The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), but the first of the Star Trek films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Sure, it's not the franchise's best, but it's far from the worst, and it has the distinction of being much closer in spirit to the exploratory/philosophical nature of the original series than the flat-out action-oriented installments to come. And to those of us who saw this on its first release and thought: "Wow, look how old those guys are!" it's refreshing (and a bit painful) to now think: "Wow, look how young those guys were."

Robert Wise fans (and I know you're out there) may also get some satisfaction from the availability of West Side Story (1961), a multi-Oscar-winning musical about star-crossed lovers from the opposite side of the tracks. This should ease the loss of not only Franco Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet, but another award-winning epic about equally mismatched lovers, Titanic. Richard Beymer is no Leo, of course, but then Billy Zane's no Rita Moreno, either (thank goodness).

Some Like It Hot
Auteurists--or those who simply like perfectly constructed movies with standout characters and iconic performances (and if you don't, this blog's probably not for you)--were sad to see the loss of yet another Billy Wilder film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, even if it wasn't his best. But you can now rejoice in the addition of two of his all-time greats, Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960), a one-two movie punch that's rarely been equaled. These more than make up for the loss of The Odd Couple, whose Walter Matthau/Jack Lemmon pairing was inspired by Wilder's earlier The Fortune Cookie; and Elizabethtown, the charming but underrated romantic comedy that, like so many of director Cameron Crowe's films, owes more than a little to Wilder (which Crowe is the first to admit).

Sissy Spacek, Shelley Duvall
And while we're on the subject of classics, how painful was it to see the expiration of the Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn romance, Roman Holiday (reviewed here)? And yet in its place we've been given Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961), which may be an even more beloved Hepburn concoction. For Blake Edwards aficionados, this should also mitigate the loss of A Shot in the Dark.

A few other directorial trade-ins are worth noting: Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye was swapped for his more obscure but no less fascinating 3 Women (1977), a Bergmanesque drama starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, the story of which came to the director in a dream. In place of Mike Nichol's Heartburn we now have his sprawling, star-studded anti-war comedy, Catch-22 (1970), based on Joseph Heller's best-selling novel. This also makes up for the loss of another anti-war epic based on a great novel, George Roy Hill's underrated Slaughterhouse-Five. Meanwhile the debut of Paul Mazursky's seminal '70s comedy, An Unmarried Woman (1978), with its poignant, funny, and all-too-real performance from Jill Clayburgh, more than offsets the disappearance of Heartburn.

Alan Bates, Jill Clayburgh
What's that? You're missing the misanthropic romance of Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets? Then try Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Play It Again, Sam (1972), one his early, funny comedies (one he didn't actually direct), reviewed here last April. Or maybe you were filled with rage at the loss of two intense urban dramas, Serpico and Requiem for a Dream. It's okay, take a breath. As great as those films are, you'll find more than your share of dark intensity in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), a sumptuous feast of cinema that wuz robbed at the Oscars. (Ordinary People, Academy? Really?)

Sarandon, Costner
Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in Capote has been supplanted with Marlee Matlin's breakout, award-winning turn in Children of a Lesser God (1986)--the first (and only?) time the award has gone to a deaf actor. The suspense and mystery of Masquerade meet their match in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), a twisty all-star thriller based on the Patricia Highsmith novel that was nearly as good as the 1960 French version, Purple Noon (Plein soleil).

If you need to fill a void in baseball comedies now that The Bad News Bears has been struck out, you've got the even better Bull Durham (1988) stepping up to the plate. And if high school comedies are your thing, no need to mourn the loss of Back to School and Summer School. Rodney Dangerfield can't hold a candle to the youthful anarchy of the Ramones in Alan Arkush's cult comedy, Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979). And could P.J. Soles (Stripes) be any cuter?

Speaking of anarchic comedy, one of the fathers of the genre, Mel Brooks, now enjoys a reinvigorated presence on Netflix. His Alfred Hitchcock spoof, High Anxiety (1977), returns to streaming (watch the skies!), as does his Star Wars takeoff, Spaceballs (1987). These are more than worthy replacements for Bond parody In Like Flint and the raunchy Star Wars riffing of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. Bonus points go to Brooks' less appreciated remake of the Ernst Lubitsch lark, To Be or Not To Be (1983).

Need some romantic French whimsy to ease the loss of The Young Girls of Rochefort? Amelie (2001), a modern fairy tale crammed to the chapeau with more story and incident than any five movies, should fit the bill and then some. Or maybe your tastes run toward war flicks, and you experienced your own personal Tet when Platoon vanished from your queue. Well, assuming Catch-22 isn't enough, you've now got Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) to demonstrate all the fun and creative ways we blow each other up. Fan of John Steinbeck? Shed no tears for the loss of Of Mice and Men; it's been switched out for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), directed by the great John Ford and starring the equally great Henry Fonda.


Or maybe your tastes run toward the more obscure, and, like me, you were curious to see why a film like 1970's Joe had been so long forgotten (for good reason, it turned out). Well, now we can take a look at the equally rare The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976). An out-of-print VHS of this "unsettling drama," starring Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles, has been sitting on my shelf for nearly a decade (it never made it to DVD), so maybe now I'll finally have incentive to see if there's anything more to it than the sex scenes once trumpeted in Playboy. [Update: There wasn't.]

The virgins
Indies also get their due this month, with Sofia Coppola's wistful adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides The Virgin Suicides (1999) filling the gap left by High Art. Along with the enchanting performances of the film's young leads--including a teenage Kirsten Dunst--this remains the only movie where I "get" Josh Hartnett, who's the perfect '70s dream boy here. And if you prefer your indies more like the expired Personal Velocity--shot raw and cheap on early digital video--there's the late Gary Winick's charmer, Tadpole (2000), which mixes newbie Aaron Stanford with a game cast of stars (Sigourney Weaver, Bebe Neuwirth, John Ritter).

Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage
John Carpenter's zany Big Trouble in Little China (1986), meanwhile, defies comparison with any one expired title (maybe if Buckaroo Banzai had left?*), no doubt making up for the loss of any number of cultish comedy-action flicks. Once you realize that Kurt Russell is doing a movie-long John Wayne impression, the whole thing seems even sillier.

And then there's the most obscure genre of all: movies with the word "moon" in their title (okay, I made that one up). In this case, Milos Forman's Man on the Moon has been exchanged for Richard Benjamin's WWII-era love story, Racing with the Moon (1984). With its modest, touching script by future Fabulous Baker Boys director (and Harry Potter adapter) Steve Kloves, this new "moon" is a solid, overlooked showcase for the early talents of Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, and Elizabeth McGovern. [4/1/14 Update: This title has now expired.]

I'll spare you further comparisons, but I think you'll agree there were some fair tradeoffs this month. Granted, it would be nice to keep them all, but given the rotating nature of the site's titles--and the limited hours of viewing time per day--the new stuff should keep you busy for a while. Or at least until it, too, ultimately expires.

Be sure to check out the full list of January's new movies from the tab at the top of the page. Until next time, happy viewing--


*Spoke too soon. Ol' Buckaroo is heading back to the 8th dimension on 2/1/14.


JANUARY ARRIVALS

3 Women (1977)
Amelie (2001)
American Psycho (2000)
An Idiot Abroad (2010-12)
An Unmarried Woman (1978)
The Apartment (1960)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Baby Boom (1987)
The Bicycle Thief (1948) - Returned
Big Trouble In Little China (1986) - Returned
Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961)
Bull Durham (1988)
Cafe de Flore (2011)
Catch-22 (1970)
Children Of A Lesser God (1986) - Returned
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
Desert Hearts (1985)
Drinking Buddies (2013)
Good Ol' Freda (2013)
Grand Canyon (1991)
Grapes Of Wrath (1940) - Returned
High Anxiety (1977) - Returned
Hotel (2003)
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Leave It to Beaver (1957-62)
The Longest Yard (1974) - Returned
Planes, Trains, And Automobiles (1987) - Returned
Play It Again, Sam (1972) - Returned, review
Racing with the Moon (1984)
Raging Bull (1980)

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