Sunday, September 7, 2014

New in September: It's All About Pacing

This month's new offerings are a bit deceptive. On the one hand, most of the titles showing up in the first few days of September don't inspire a lot of excitement. There was the return of a number of on-again, off-again classics (welcome back, Ms. Hepburn and Messrs. Cooper and Wayne), a bunch of 1980s and '90s comedies and sci-fi/horror, and a handful of returning kid flicks. So far, so predictable. But once we look forward, things start to get interesting, with the debuts of a number of recent films that are undeniably top tier, as well as new seasons of quite a few notable TV shows.

Robin Williams down but not out

But let's take a moment to break out the older and returning titles. First off, last month's loss of two Robin Williams movies, Popeye and The Fisher King, was certainly bad timing given the actor's own untimely departure. But Netflix seems to be making up for that with the joint arrival of Barry Levinson's beloved wartime comedy, Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), and 1997's Flubber, a serviceable remake of Jerry Lewis' Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). Which means the late Mr. Williams hasn't been totally left out in the cold, even if his incoming titles are arguably a downgrade from the outgoing. Perhaps the Michael Keaton comedy two-fer of  Mr. Mom (1983) and Multiplicity (1996) will help balance the scales?

Hello, kiddies

It's also more or less a wash as far as family films go, with last month's expirations being offset by a number of  (mostly returning) titles. Among those are the above mentioned Flubber, Barry Sonnenfeld's witty remake of TV's The Addams Family (1991), Disney's Fox's animated Anastasia (1997) and live-action Swiss Family Robinson (1960), Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs (1987), Pee-Wee Herman's second big-screen appearance, in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988), and the welcome return of Martin Scorsese's sumptuous ode to cinema, Hugo (2011). Also making its way to streaming is that rite-of-passage film for generations past, Old Yeller (1957), which may be a bit musty but should still leave a tot or two bawling by the end credits.

Classic returns

We've seen all these on Netflix before, from High Noon (1952), Roman Holiday (1953), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) and True Grit (1969) to the more modern classics, Ordinary People (1980) and An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). But that doesn't make them any less essential, especially if you've yet to check them out. Take this opportunity now, as there's no telling how many more reprieves they'll get, especially given Netflix's decreasing patience with pre-1982 titles in favor of TV series and original content. New additions to this month's classics mix are Cecil B. Demille's 1952 Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show on Earthwhich is sure to be equal parts ridiculous and thrillingand another chiller from The Haunting's Robert Wise, 1977's Audrey Rose.

Embracing the darkness

And then there are some indisputably great, more recent films, all of a fairly dark tenor. These include two topnotch titles starring Billy Bob Thornton: Sam Raimi's nail-biting A Simple Plan (1998), co-starring the excellent Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda, and Thornton's own Sling Blade, which put ol' Billy Bob on the map back in 1996. John Cusack dips into the first of many darker roles as a hired killer attending his high school reunion, in the 1997 black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank (a personal favorite); while the 1950s domestic zomb-edy, Fido (2006), returns after being M.I.A. for merely a month (why, Netflix?).

Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams
But by far the most pleasant surprises from yesteryear are two all-time greats, David Lynch's stirring, real-life drama, The Elephant Man (1980), and Phillip Kaufman's creepy-as-hell Invasion of the Body Snatchersone of many remakes of the 1956 original, and arguably the best (although Abel Ferrara's 1993 Body Snatchers comes in a close third). Showcasing a typically offbeat 1970s cast of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, and Veronica Cartwright (with a young Jeff Goldblum thrown in for good measure), Kaufman's retelling of Jack Finney's pod-filled cautionary tale manages to crawl under your skin and scare the shit out of you just as effectively as when it came out. Probably not a good idea to watch this one by yourself late at night.

Bring on the new

Or the new-ish, anyway. Making their Netflix debuts are a number of impressive titles dating from 2009 to just last year. The most prestigious would be David O. Russell's award-winning Silver Linings Playbook (2012), an edgy romantic comedy that showcases some stellar acting from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and a resurrected Robert DeNiro. Another recent resurrection is Robert Redford, who takes his most impressive leading role in years, in the taut, dialogue-less All Is Lost (2013). He's literally a one-man show in this no-nonsense tale of survival on the open seas, playing a man who finds his yacht sinking with no land in sight. I've never been a fan of Redford's stoic, jaw-clenching dramatic performances, but his entirely silent turn as a man doing everything within his power to stay alive is gripping, as is J.C. Chandor's fly-on-the-wall direction.

Your Sister's Sister
Last month I reviewed Lynn Shelton's Touchy Feely, and I'm happy to report that her previous film, the even better Your Sister's Sister (2011), is now streaming on Netflix. Starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass, this serio-comic romance about an unexpected love triangle in a remote cabin has the kind of loose, intimate feel of something more European. And that's a good thing.

Speaking of European, also making its debut is Le Week-End (2013), a more mature love story set in Paris and starring Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan and Jeff Goldblum. I haven't seen it, but the reviews were pretty good. I've also heard good things about A Single Man (2009), with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, and I'm very much looking forward to Beginners (2010), starring Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor in a testy father-son relationship, as well as last year's The Double, a surreal update of the Dostoyevsky novel starring Jesse Eisenberg and directed by Richard Ayoade. Known primarily for his genius comic performance as Moss in The IT Crowd, Ayoade's directorial debut, Submarine, was an inventive, bitterly funny coming-of-age tale that refused to pull punches.

Lots and lots of TV

And then there are all those television shows, quickly becoming Netflix's bread and butter (to the consternation of classic movie fans). Right out of the gate comes the raunchy David Duchovny comedy, Californication (2007-2014), which is welcome if only for being one of the few Showtime series to find its way to Instant. Outrageously ribald, the show itself kicks butt in its first three seasonswith recurring guest stars Callum Keith Rennie and Kathleen Turner, in seasons 2 and 3, respectively, knocking it out of the parkbut offers increasingly diminishing returns beginning with season 4 as it begins to eat its own tail (or in the show's parlance, disappears up its own little conrnstarched ass).

Other debuts include season 1 of About a Boy, based on the Hugh Grant movie based on the Nick Hornby book, and the intriguing, much-discussed The Blacklist, starring James Spader, which Netflix set a dangerous precedent for by forking over $2 million per episode to stream (one can only imagine all the 1960s and '70s films such coin could have acquired). Meanwhile, new seasons of more established shows abound, including for The League and, in the latter half of the month, Arrow, Bones, New Girl, Revolution, How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation, and The Walking Dead. Safety tip: Do not attempt to view all in one sitting.

September 1

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
American Experience: 1964 (2014)
American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (2014)
Anastasia (1997)
Audrey Rose (1977)
The Believers (1987)
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
Californication (2007-2014)
Chuck and Buck (2000)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
The Elephant Man (1980)
Event Horizon (1997)
Eve's Bayou (1997)
Eye for an Eye (1996)
Girlfight (2000)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Hoodwinked (2005)
Invaders from Mars (1986)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Jerry Maguire (1996)
K19: The Widowmaker (2002)
The League: Season 5 (2013)
Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Monkey Shines (1988)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Multiplicity (1996)
Old Yeller (1957)
The Presidio (1988)
School of Rock (2003)
She's the One (1996)
A Simple Plan (1998)
Sling Blade (1996)
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
The Unbelievers (2013)
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Varsity Blues (1999)


The Addams Family (1991)
Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - 9/12
Escape from Alcatraz (1979) 
Fido (2006)
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
High Noon (1952) - 9/12
Hugo (2011)
In and Out (1997)
The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Love (2011)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Ordinary People (1980)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Spaceballs (1987)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
True Grit (1969)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

September 5

All Is Lost (2013)

September 6

Le Week-End (2013)
Refuge (2012)
Your Sister's Sister (2011)

September 7

The Blacklist: Season 1 (2013)

September 10

Deadly Code (2013)

September 11

A Single Man (2009)
Filth (2013)
The Moment (2013)

September 14

About a Boy: Season 1 (2014)
Arrow: Season 2 (2013)

September 16

Beginners (2010)
Bones: Season 9 (2013)
New Girl: Season 3 (2013)
One Day (2011)
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

September 22

Revolution: Season 2 (2013)

September 25

The Double (2013)

September 26

How I Met Your Mother: Season 9 (2013)
Parks and Recreation: Season 6 (2013)

September 29

The Walking Dead: Season 4 (2013)


Carol said...

Just want to clarify a small piece of info in your post about Robin Williams' movies now on Netflix. Flubber is indeed a remake of the 1961 film, The Absent-Minded Professor, but that was not a Jerry Lewis movie. It was a Disney movie starring Fred MacMurray, and directed by Robert Stevenson (who also directed Mary Poppins). The Jerry Lewis movie is 1963's The Nutty Professor, remade with Eddie Murphy in 1996.

I rejoiced the day I found the WoNN blog, and so appreciate all the work you put into it, and keeping it current. Also grateful to all those who regularly comment/supplement with additional expiring and new films. You're all brilliant!

David Speranza said...

Argh, you're so right, Carol. The sad thing is, I did know that, but for whatever reason my brain sees The ________ Professor and automatically thinks Jerry Lewis. Thanks for pointing that out. And thanks, too, for your kind words. It's nice to know I have such attentive readers.

Kirby said...

Anastasia is not a Disney movie, it's from Fox.

David Speranza said...

Right you are, sir. Double argh. Looks like I picked the wrong month to try and cover kids films. Thanks for the catch.