Monday, August 25, 2014

August Expiration Watch: Cleaning House

It looks like a number of three- and six-month contracts are up this month, with Robert Altman and two recently deceased stars suffering the worst of it. Say farewell to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in Capote (2005), which returned in March, as well as two very different sides of Robin Williams, in Popeye (1980) and The Fisher King (1991). The former was directed by Altman, who is about to see his impressive catalog of streaming titles reduced by nineamounting to wholesale cinecide. That means that, along with Popeye, this will be your last chance to check out That Cold Day in the Park (1969) and Fool for Love (1985), both of which debuted in June, plus the five titles that arrived with such a splash back in March.

Among expiring classics there's Howard Hawks' El Dorado (1966), a June arrival that's already being put out to pasture (for shame, Netflix), plus a pair from that master of sarcastic wit, Billy Wilder, whose streaming oeuvre will now be minus The Seven Year Itch (1955), starring Marilyn Monroe (sporting her iconic white dress), and The Apartment (1960), with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine setting the standard for adult romantic comedies.

Matthau as Varrick

1970s action flicks are also taking a hit, with the pending expiration of two recent Pam Grier entries, Black Mama, White Mama (1972) and Bucktown (1975), as well as the Clint Eastwood mountain-climbing thriller, The Eiger Sanction (1975). But the real '70s gem may be Charley Varrick (1973), starring Walter Matthau and directed by Don Siegel, the tough-as-nails director who also gave us Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Gun Runners, and Dirty Harry, among others. Matthau is at his unflappable, efficient best as a bank robber who finds himself in possession of mob money and being tracked by a cold-as-ice killer, played by a scary Joe Don Baker. Gritty and merciless, this one was an early influence on Quentin Tarantino (who apparently cribbed a line of dialogue for Pulp Fiction). Keep an eye out for Sheree North, as a wised-up photographer, and Felicia Farr, a.k.a. Mrs. Jack Lemmon, as a mobster's mistress. As far as I'm concerned, Farr didn't make nearly enough movies after Billy Wilder's great Kiss Me, Stupid (no longer streaming, but reviewed here). The only thing I had trouble buying: Matthau as heartthrob. Or maybe I'm missing something?

1980s goodbyes

Moving onto the 1980s, there are a number of popular titles getting the boot, including the boomerang-like Dirty Dancing (1987), which seems to be always coming and going; Lawrence Kasdan's greatest-hits western, Silverado (1985), featuring an early, wiry Kevin Costner performance; and the 1980 Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder prison comedy, Stir Crazy, which may suffer from cable-fatigue but still offers that great Pryor-Wilder chemistry, especially in the film's first two thirds. The one 1980s wildcard would have to be Just One of the Guys (1985), which rates a solid three stars and seems to get a lot of love for what appears to be just another '80s teen comedy. And, hey, it does feature a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn, so there's that.

Trek watch

This isn't an especially good month if you're a fan of things Star Trek. The first of the Trek films, 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (reviewed here in January), is leaving, as are two other superior entries, Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)online for only a monthand the best of the Next Gen films, Star Trek: First Contact (1996), featuring those pesky Borg. This marks a puzzling Netflix trend in which Trek movies are being swapped out every month for no apparent reason. Given the company's ongoing contract with Paramount/CBS re: the Star Trek TV shows, it's safe to assume the streaming rights to the feature films are equally secure—which means there's no reason the films shouldn't be available all the time. It's almost as if (and this really doesn't make sense) there are a finite number of streaming titles possible on Netflix's servers, and this is the only way to keep the number constant. Otherwise, what's to gain, promotion-wise, from rotating older films like these from month to month?

From the captain's chair

Less celebrated Trekophilia getting the bounce is 2013's surprisingly insightful The Captains Close-Up, a five-part series which serves as an extension to the 2011 documentary, The Captains, where William Shatner interviewed all the actors who sat in Star Trek's command chair. The former James Kirk proves to be an adept and sincere interviewer, digging deeply into the life-changing aspects of playing such iconic roles and unafraid to explore the personal sacrifices that come with the daily grind of a weekly TV series. Shatner also doesn't hesitate to reveal some surprisingly candid facts about himself. It's especially fun watching him talk shop with Patrick Stewart and trade confessions with the prickly, fiercely intelligent Kate Mulgrew, who achieves new levels of honesty in a celebrity interview. And then there's Avery Brooks, who proves to be more than the space-case he seemed in the original doc. Also set to expire: the relatively lightweight William Shatner’s Get a Life (2012), an hour-long investigation of the Star Trek phenomenon.

I don't usually spotlight content for kids on the blog, but there seem to be an unusually high number of quality titles leaving on August 31, including the kid show of all kid shows, Sesame Street. Not only will the run of episodes from 2006-2011 be departing, so will the 2012 collection, Sesame Street: Classics, which includes appearances by Bill Cosby and Lena Horne. Also expiring are the superior family films, Harriet the Spy (1996) and Penelope (2006), not to mention the classic Rex Harrison version of Doctor Doolittle (1967). And if your kid is into cheesy sci-fi, 1970s-style, then plop them down in front of 1976's At the Earth’s Core, with none other than Doug McClure and Caroline Munro as, respectively, the beefcake and cheesecake du jour.

Other titles worth mentioning include Barry Levinson's Bugsy (1991), featuring an uncharacteristically fierce Warren Beatty performance; Ang Lee's super steamy Lust, Caution (2007), with Hong Kong cinema's go-to superstar, the ever-dashing Tony Leung; and the surprisingly affecting middle-age romantic comedy, Something’s Gotta Give (2003), which despite its grab bag of rom-com conventions is more than redeemed by the juicy pairing of Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson (with Keanu Reeves ably handling the Ralph Bellamy role). This is also your last chance to catch Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning Traffic (2000), which won't make it to the end of the month, expiring in the final seconds of August 26.

 WoNN Spotlight  Friends with Kids (2011)

One other noteworthy film not granted the dignity of lasting out the month is Jennifer Westfeldt's Friends with Kids, which leaves on Wednesday the 27th. This is the third romantic comedy written by and starring Westfeldt, who's now 3-for-3 since 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein and 2006's Ira and Abby. Taking the directing reins for the first time, the talented multi-hyphenate holds together a large and impressive comic ensemble (including Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, and Chris O'Dowd). What separates Westfeldt's indie romances from the bulk of Hollywood'sbesides the fact that they don't, you know, suckis that her characters and their problems seem rooted in the real (albeit New York-centric) world, and she's not afraid to steer them into occasionally dark places. It's a real pleasure to see characters genuinely earn their victories, and to hear them speak such smartly crafted dialogue. At her pace of one script every five years, Westfeldt's due for another in 2016. She's already covered dating, marriage, and kids. Let's hope she's equally inspired by whatever topic comes next.

Expiring August 26

Traffic (2000)

August 27

Friends with Kids (2011)

August 31

About Last Night… (1986)
Ali (2001)
Before the World Ends (2009)
Bellflower (2011)
Beyond the Grave (2010)
Black Mama, White Mama (1972)
Bucktown (1975)
Bugsy (1991)
Capote (2005)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Cujo (1983)
Dirty Dancing (1987)
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
El Dorado (1966) - Review
The Fisher King (1991) 
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2009)
Gothic (1986)
I.Q. (1994)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Lust, Caution (2007)
Midnight Express (1978)
The Mummy (1932)
My Summer of Love (2004)
Panic Room (2002) 
The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Perfidy (2009)
Perpetuum Mobile (2009)
Silverado (1985)
Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Stir Crazy (1980) 
What About Bob? (1991)
Wicker Park (2004)

Directed by Robert Altman

The Delinquents (1957)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
Popeye (1980)
Streamers (1983)
Fool for Love (1985)
O.C. and Stiggs (1985)
Vincent Theo (1990)

Directed by Billy Wilder

The Apartment (1960)
The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Star Trek

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - Review
Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
The Captains Close-Up (2013)
William Shatner’s Get a Life (2012)

You Know...for Kids

At the Earth’s Core (1976)
Doctor Doolittle (1967)
Harriet the Spy (1996)
Penelope (2006)
Sesame Street (2006-2011)
Sesame Street: Classics (2012)

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