Add in a dash of Paul Newman, a pinch of Will Smith, and a spoonful or two of Jim Carrey, David Bowie, and James Caan, with a garnish of Jo(h)ns—Wayne, Travolta, and Voight—and you've got some tasty treats of cinematic goodness. Where are the women, you ask? Good question. Among the better titles, there's Jodie Foster, Jennifer Connelly, and Charlize Theron, but most of the films with strong female leads fall decidedly in the crappy category (yes, Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman, and Shelly Long, I'm talkin' to you).
The film abounds with humor, charm, and Crowe's distinctive sense of humanity, not to mention a killer classic rock soundtrack (authentically enhanced by Nancy Wilson's era-appropriate originals) and a cast to die for—starting with the young Patrick Fugit, whose ingenuous performance holds its own with those of Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. That's to say nothing of Kate Hudson's luminous turn as Penny Lane, still considered her defining performance (even after so many bad rom-coms), or the very funny Jason Lee as the fictional band Stillwater's insecure frontman. If this theatrical version of Almost Famous feels slightly lumpy and truncated (the longer, "Bootleg" cut provides some needed breathing room), there's no denying the film's warm, beating, nostalgic heart.
Martin Scorsese's latest exploration of macho badassery, 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, hits Netflix on December 11. I haven't seen it yet (don't judge me), but you can bet I'm looking forward to all its coke- and money-fueled excess. Also showing up this month—after briefly appearing and disappearing last month—is Zhang Yimou's 2004 poetic martial arts drama, House of Flying Daggers, with Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, and the always mesmerizing Zhang Ziyi. Only a notch below Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in quality, it's well worth a look for fans of beautifully choreographed fight scenes and equally beautiful costumes. Meanwhile, one of my all-time favorites, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist (1970), arrived at the end of November. A full review is on the way, but for now I'll just say I'd trade it in a minute for all those midlevel '80s classics that expired in November.
The ClassicsSpeaking of classics, the most significant to find its way to streaming this month is Robert Rossen's great pool-shark drama, The Hustler (1961), with Paul Newman in his prime as Fast Eddie Felson. Joining him in this celebration of seedy black-and-white pool halls are Jackie Gleason (in his greatest dramatic role), George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie. Based on a novel by Walter Tevis—who would later write The Man Who Fell to Earth—this was also the inspiration for the belated, not-bad sequel, The Color of Money (1984), directed by Scorsese and pairing Newman with an overamped Tom Cruise.
The pickings are otherwise slim for pre-1980 titles in December, but Adios Sabata, a 1971 western starring Yul Brynner (the second part of a trilogy), and Hondo, a 1953 John Wayne western based on a Louis L'Amour novel, are worth noting if only for their rarity. I can't remember the last time I heard the names of these movies, much less when they were readily available.
|Meet Ms. Theron|
The UnderdogsBefore he made his name producing TV's Miami Vice and directing The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, and The Insider, Michael Mann was carving out a career as a stylish, indie-style genre director. His first feature film was Thief (1981), a moody exercise in style, soundtrack, and noir-ish city streets. Starring James Caan and Tuesday Weld, the film would anticipate much of the director's later work, leading naturally to 1984's Miami Vice and 1986's Manhunter, not to mention later classics like Collateral (and 2001's Ali, returning this month to Instant).
In the guilty pleasure category: 2 Days in the Valley (1996), a brutal, Tarantino-esque indie crime thriller which features not only a fun turn from the dependably sleazy James Spader, but an impressively solid ensemble cast that includes Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Keith Carradine, Louise Fletcher, and a va-va-voom debut by one Charlize Theron (whose bedroom scene with Spader and violent tussle with Teri Hatcher have made many an Internet highlight reel).
|Jon Voight in Runaway Train|
The Dark FantasiesJim Henson and his non-Muppet puppets arrive this month in the form of two elaborate '80s fantasies, The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). Neither film was a big success upon its release—the latter was an unequivocal flop, making back only half of its $25 million budget—yet both have attained a cult status in the years since, especially Labyrinth, notable for its twisted coming-of-age tale featuring a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly and a singing David Bowie as the Goblin King. In both films, the designs (by Brian Froud), animatronic puppetry, and physical effects are outstanding, especially for the time, and really speak to the artistry and ambition of Henson, who directed both productions (partnering with Frank Oz for The Dark Crystal).
The AnthologyAfter reading about the BBC anthology series, Black Mirror, over the past year, I was pleased to see Charlie Brooker's acclaimed drama make its way to Netflix. With their technological, satirical slant on the modern world, the show's six episodes (three per season) have been described as a hybrid of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected. I've so far watched only the first episode, and it was indeed provocative and disturbing—in a good way. Rod Serling would be pleased.
|Jim Carrey in The Truman Show|
The ReturnsI've already mentioned the return of Michael Mann's Ali, starring Will Smith as the titular boxing legend (to be joined on the 11th by the 2014 documentary, I Am Ali). But there are a few other welcome returnees, including Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible (1996), the first of the big-budget action movies inspired by the classic 1960s TV show (one that, despite its quality, I'm still bitter about for its treatment of Jim Phelps and overall lack of team spirit). There's also David Fincher's Panic Room (2002), a tense, high-tech woman-in-peril flick starring Jodie Foster protecting her kid from home invaders; Peter Weir's funny and accomplished satirical fantasy, The Truman Show (1998), starring a restrained Jim Carrey and an amusingly pretentious Ed Harris; and the disco-defining classic, Saturday Night Fever (1977), which is far better than you might expect (or remember), and in fact received a full writeup last year.
Last but not least, there's the return of those persnickety Francis Ford Coppola films (listed below), accompanied as always by those two Coppola-produced curiosities, Hammett (1982) and The Escape Artist (1982); plus the first sighting of classic James Bond flicks on Netflix since the end of June. Hang up the keys to your Aston Martin and start viewing, as chances are good these won't last into January.
The RidiculousA number of titles don't really merit recommendations, but I feel I should mention them in case you have a higher threshold for movie pain than I do. Many of these provide their own punchlines. For instance:
Britney Spears in Crossroads.
Demi Moore in Ridley Scott's G.I. Jane. (Almost as funny as: Demi Moore in Striptease.)
Nicole Kidman in Bewitched.
And the best of all: David Caruso in...Jade.
There are also a bunch of Friday the 13th Movies (all of them, I think), and something called The Deadly Bees (1967), whose poster image alone is worth a chuckle. Watch at your own risk.
A Small RequestIn the last few months, some of you may have noticed the Amazon presence at the bottom of certain posts and over in the righthand column. For the most part I consider this blog my own charitable contribution to the Internet, as I've partaken of so much great free info over the years. However, maintaining this does take considerable time and effort and, as we're coming into the holiday season, it would be great if some of you would consider making occasional purchases through this site (family members excluded). If you're not interested in any of the specific DVDs or electronics advertised, you can also search for anything using the Amazon search box to the right. Then, as long as you buy one of the items found in the search results (washing machines and automobiles are encouraged), a small percentage of the purchase price will come my way—at zero cost to you. I certainly don't expect to get rich here, but every little bit helps. Thanks. Happy streaming, everyone!
December 12 Days in the Valley (1996)
Adios Sabata (1971)
Almost Famous (2000)
American Beauty (1999)
American Horror Story: Season 3 (2013)
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) / Super-Sized R-Rated Version (2014)
Black Mirror (2011-2013)
Black Rain (1989)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
The Hustler (1961)
An Innocent Man (1989)
A Knight's Tale (2001)
Knights of Badassdom (2013)
Last Night (2010)
Mighty Machines (1995-2008)
The Omen (1976)
Runaway Train (1985)
Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
The Escape Artist (1982)
The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall (2013)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Panic Room (2002)
The People That Time Forgot (1977)
Saturday Night Fever (1977) - Review
The Truman Show (1998)
COPPOLA FILMS (Reviews):
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
One from the Heart (1982)
JAMES BOND - Reviews of select titles
From Russia with Love (1963)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Live and Let Die (1973)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Never Say Never Again (1983)
A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
Not Exactly RecommendedBatman Forever (1995)
The Deadly Bees (1967)
Friday the 13th Movies (1980-1989)
G.I. Jane (1997)
Damien: Omen II (1978) / Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)
Out of Time (2003)
The Out-of-Towners (1991)
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
Waking Up in Reno (2002)
December 9I Am Ali (2014)
December 11The Village (2004)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
December 22Dark Skies (2013)
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)