Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New in October, Pt. 2: Something for Everyone

Now that we've gotten all those Woody Allen titles out of the way, what about the rest of this month's arrivals? They're actually a pretty extensive—and diverse—group and include a number of welcome returnees, some of which snuck back onto Instant in the final days of September. Among those are 1994's tear-jerking basketball doc, Hoop Dreams; arguably the best of the Merchant-Ivory productions, A Room with a View (1986); and the less well-remembered (except by avid '80s cable watchers), The Wild Geese (1978), a satisfyingly virile action yarn from director Andrew McLaglen, starring the Stallone, Statham, and Schwarzenegger of their day: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Roger Moore.

Harris, Burton, Moore
As fun as it violent and cool-headed, The Wild Geese is filled with real men doing manly things, and doing them the way God intended—without computer effects. See all those figures parachuting down into enemy territory? Those really are guys in parachutes, jumping out of real airplanes. And the explosions? Actual on-camera fireballs. I mean, yeesh, kids today with their fancy computer-generated men and airplanes and clouds and water that's never quite convincing. We're talkin' old school here, okay? Back when stars could actually be expendable. None of this mamby-pamby digital blood, or worse, fake animals (hire a deer wrangler already!) or talking dogs, or...

Sorry, um, where was I?


Oh yeah, returning titles. There are quite a few others, some equally filled with manly, CGI-less men—such as 1951's wartime actioner, The Desert Fox, and 1953's classic western, Shane (you came back!). You won't see James Mason or Alan Ladd messin' around with no computer-generated guns or planes or...or cows, okay? Same goes for Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II (1987), with its elaborately gooey and gory ghouls splattering across the set, oozing gallons of fake blood straight into the floorboards.

Dirty Dancing (1987) is also back. And I can guarantee that warn't no computer-generated Jennifer Grey being hoisted into the air by Patrick Swayze. Computers wish they could create a synthetic being as anatomically perfect as Swayze in his prime.

You know who else wasn't computer-generated? James Caan, that's who. He stars in the rarely seen James Toback-written, Karel Reisz-directed The Gambler (1974), which, unlike the Dostoyevsky story of the same name, is actually another chapter in Toback's long history of obsessive characters getting in over their heads with guys who want to break their fingers. This was Caan just as his post-Godfather star was rising, doing what amounted to a little New York indie. Playing opposite him was former fashion model Lauren Hutton (who also isn't CG), mostly holding her own while looking gosh-darn adorable in one of her earlier acting gigs. They make an unusual pair, these two, but for low-profile oddities like The Gambler, that's part of the fun.

Which is real?
And while we're on stars of the 1970s, we might as well mention Warren Beatty, whom it's rumored owned a time machine that actually did allow him to be computer-generated, which is how he always seemed to be with so many different women at once. Although he's not really with anybody in 1974's The Parallax View, one of those bleak Watergate-era thrillers that bring such perverse pleasure to viewers of a certain vintage (review here). The film's opening scene takes place atop Seattle's Space Needle—which is really all the segue necessary to note another returning title, the late Nora Ephron's much beloved Sleepless in Seattle (1993). And since I know you're wondering: No, the movie's Space Needle was not computer-generated. Although some believe that in certain scenes Meg Ryan was played by an animatronic puppet.

The Classics

Whether by coincidence or design, Netflix also chose this month to stream 1957's An Affair to Remember, the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr melodrama that inspired Sleepless in Seattle and which appears in clips throughout. (Double feature, anyone?) This is good not only for fans of romantic weepies, but for anyone lamenting the lack of classic films on Netflix. Among those joining Affair are the 1954 Frank Sinatra suspenser, Suddenly (also a returnee), and Stanley Kubrick's always excellent anti-war drama, Paths of Glory (1957), starring Kirk Douglas and Adolph Menjou in a symbolic chess match pitting obstinate military authority against the lives of soldiers being tried for cowardice in WWI. This is indispensable Kubrick—lean and mean and with fire in his belly.

Along with Shane, a couple more westerns have saddled up for streaming. First up is John Sturges' Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, released the same year as Paths of Glory and also starring Kirk Douglas, who plays gunfighter Doc Holliday opposite Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp. Watch closely and you'll spot a young Dennis Hopper and—for you Trekkies out there—DeForest Kelley, who as Star Trek's Leonard 'Bones' McCoy would return to the O.K. Corral in the classic episode, "Spectre of the Gun." The other new western may not be a classic in the temporal sense, but 1993's Tombstone is over 20 years old already (how?!) and is a gritty, well-regarded retelling of the same tale, this time with Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell in the Holliday/Earp roles, heading an outstanding cast.

Redford, Wood
Want more classics? How about Vincent Price and David Hedison in the original The Fly (1958)? (Supply your own "Help meee" jokes.) Or Robert Redford and Natalie Wood in director Sydney Pollack's period melodrama, This Property Is Condemned (1966)? Or if you're looking for something lighter, there's Mel Brooks' original The Producers (1968), which will allow you to thrill once again to Ken Mars performing "Springtime for Hitler" and Zero Mostel assaulting a perpetually nervous Gene Wilder, who's wet and in pain and still very, very hysterical.

In the action category you may want to check out 1973's Hit!, a not-too-well-known blaxpoitation flick
starring Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. Directed by Sidney J. Furie (Little Fauss and Big Halsy, Lady Sings the Blues, The Boys in Company C), it appears to be a step
above the lower-budget exploitation fare of the day, featuring cinema-tography by ace D.P. John Alonzo (Vanishing Point, Harold and Maude) and a score by the peerless Lalo Schifrin.

You've also got a couple of options for freaking yourself out, first with David Cronenberg's feature debut, Shivers (1975), which promises no end of gross-out fun, and then with 1979's Best Picture winner, Kramer vs. Kramer, which despite its otherwise sober subject matter may cause certain viewers to bulge out their eyes and exclaim, "Holy cow! Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep were practically kids!"

Kid Stuff

(Don't try these segues at home, boys and girls.)

I didn't plan to cover family films again so soon after all that Flubber and Disney film confusion last month, but I felt like there were enough promising new titles that it would be a shame not to point them out. First up is that soon-to-be-a-remake, 1982's Annie—which, I'll be honest, looked pretty crappy back when it came out (even though it was directed by John Huston, of all people). But apparently it was ahead of its time or something, because now it's looked at fondly and rates just shy of 4 stars on Netflix. So maybe it's worth sharing with the little ones? Tell you what, why don't you tell me—since it will be a long, drunken weekend in hell before I sit down for two hours to watch that singing moppet, her shaggy ol' dog, and Albert Finney in a bald cap.

However, I can personally recommend Chicken Run (2000), which is a clever and very funny stop-motion animated romp from Nick Park and the makers of the always inspired Wallace & Gromit. It does occasionally skirt some dark areas (like what really happens to chickens on a farm), but a recent viewing with a seven-year-old didn't seem to induce any trauma. Also supposed to be entertaining are Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, from 2001 (I saw the trailer for it once and, well, it didn't insult or annoy me), and 2002's The Wild Thornberrys Movie, which I know nothing about except that it's based on a Nickelodeon cartoon. (Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea for me to cover family films after all...?)

Decidedly Not for Kids

If the last thing you want is tales for tots, a grown-up antidote might be the ever-so-grim Nick Nolte drama, Affliction (1997), directed by the always intense Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Light Sleeper)—who here guided James Coburn to an Oscar win and Nolte to a nomination. The cast also includes Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe, and Mary Beth Hurt, so there's no fear of encountering wacky talking chickens. You'll also find Dafoe starring with fellow ladykiller John Malkovich in 2000's Shadow of the Vampire, a fictionalized account of the making of 1922's Nosferatu (conveniently also streaming), which clearly benefited from the existence of Tim Burton's earlier Ed Wood. So if you're still hurting from last week's loss of Bram Stoker's Dracula, here's another vampire flick to sink your molars into.

Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, and Gary Oldman take the reigns in Rod Lurie's The Contender (2000), an inside look at how Washington, D.C., eats its own; while Sean Connery appears in one of his final films, Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester (2000), a companion piece of sorts to the director's Good Will Hunting. And if all that's not adult enough for you, Christian Bale starring in Werner Herzog's Vietnam War drama, Rescue Dawn (2006), is guaranteed to make you clench in all your grown-up places. One Netflix commenter claims he almost threw up while watching it—so you know it's gotta be good.

Also worth mentioning: Baz Luhrman's intensely rewatchable Romeo + Juliet (1996), which definitively put the director and his young stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, on the map. This is cinematic Shakespeare the way it ought to be done—the way Orson Welles would have loved it—vital, edgy, alive.

Meanwhile, over in TV land, everyone's been talking about the debut of Gilmore Girls. But I also hear good things about the new British show, Peaky Blinders, season 1 of which is supposedly addictive to the point of unreason. The second season already aired in the U.K. and is scheduled to reach Netflix in November, so those who like to binge won't have to wait long for their next fix (yes, Sarah, I'm looking at you).

After so much dark and gritty fare, it may be time to indulge your inner kid and cleanse your palate with some comedy. There's 1999's irrepressible Star Trek parody, Galaxy Quest, with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and a comic ensemble that repeatedly knocks it out of the park (Rickman! Rockwell! Shalhoub!). Or if you prefer comedy to make you feel smart and dirty and kind of guilty all at once, take a gander at Team America: World Police (2004)—a raunchy puppet satire from Trey Parker, the director who brought you, yes, South Park, but also Cannibal! The Musical. Even grown-up kids may find themselves throwing up during this one.

Take that, suckas!

Late September

Hoop Dreams (1994)
On My Way (2013)
A Room with a View (1986)
Suddenly (1954)
The Wild Geese (1978)


Affliction (1997)
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Annie (1982)
The Boxcar Children (2014)
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Chicken Run (2000)
The Contender (2000)
Cool World (1992)
Finding Forrester (2000)
The Fly (1958)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series (2000-2007)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
From the Hip (1987)
Hit! (1973)
House Arrest (1996)
In a World... (2013)
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
L'Auberge Espagnole (2002)
Please Subscribe: A Documentary About YouTubers (2013)
Nick of Time (1995)
Paths of Glory (1957)
Peaky Blinders: Season 1 (2013)
The Producers (1968)
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Shivers (1975)
Team America: World Police (2004)
This Property Is Condemned (1966)
Three Fugitives (1989)
Tombstone (1993)
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)
The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)


The Desert Fox (1951)
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Evil Dead II (1987)
The Gambler (1974)
The Hunted (2003)
Mike Birbiglia: What I Should Have Said Was Nothing (2008)
Nell (1994)
The Parallax View (1974) - Review
Shane (1953)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Swimming with Sharks (1994)


Kirby said...

"Shane (you came back!)"

Well played sir.

David Speranza said...


Carol said...

Excellent (and funny) recap - thanks. My queue list is longer now.

I took up your challenge to watch Annie. I can't in good conscience recommend anyone else do the same. Since preference is so subjective, I did a bit of research, and found that it was nominated for both a Razzie and a Stinkers Bad Movie Award for Worst Picture of the year. I'm a die-hard musical lover, and it was tough for me to get through it. There were a few good things, but not enough to outweigh the problems.

As far as being appropriate for kids, I would advise some caution. Netflix includes it in the "movies for ages 5-7" category, but it's rated PG for adult content and mild violence. Netflix offers many good choices for wholesome, truly entertaining family movies. Kids are usually happy to watch favorites again, so fire up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang one more time.

David Speranza said...

Thanks for taking the bullet on that one, Carol--and for the additional info. Looking forward to your report on the upcoming remake with Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz. ;-)