Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January Expiration Watch: Not So Bad (if you don't count the BBC)

For a lot of you, this month's expiration story boils down to only one headline: All Those BBC Titles—Gone!

But wrenching as that is, it's become something of an old story already, and now that many of us have had time to work our way through shock, denial, and into acceptance (sort of), there's another story being told this month—one that's peculiar and a bit less devastating. It's the tale of 52 notable, non-BBC titles leaving the service by the 1st of February, a full 31 of which arrived within the last three months—suggesting a chronic case of premature (ahem) expiration on the part of Netflix.

But here's the good news: the bulk of those recent additions aren't exactly what you'd call masterpieces, while the rest seem to pop off and on Instant with the regularity of blinking neon in an old film noir. Here's what we're looking at, broken down by month:

Arrived in November

Batman Returns (1992)
Babes in Toyland (1961)
Breakheart Pass (1975)
The 'Burbs (1989)
The Crimson Cult (1968)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Hiding Out (1987)
Kingpin (1996)
Live Nude Girls (1995)
Phase IV (1974) - Reviewed
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Trading Mom (1994)

From November's list, I'd make the case that only the bold titles are indispensable, with allowances for Breakheart Pass if you're a '70s action/western buff, and Babes in Toyland and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you need to keep your kid occupied while you fix yourself a stiff drink before disappearing into the garage with a pair of padded headphones. The remaining movies certainly have their merits, but mostly rank as curiosities and light entertainment.

Arrived in December

2 Days in the Valley (1996)
Batman Forever (1995)
The Escape Artist (1982)
Hammett (1982)

Coppola Films:
Apocalypse Now (1979) / Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
One from the Heart (1982)
Tetro (2009)

Bond Flicks:
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
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)

Again, mostly minor works aside from the bolded Coppola and Bond films—even if I do have soft spots for One from the Heart and Tetro. These are serial repeaters and have been regularly noted, not to mention thoroughly covered in the linked reviews, while most of the remaining titles were previously addressed in December's post. (And you really should avoid A View to a Kill at all costs, up to and including losing your least favorite finger.)

Arrived in January

Batman & Robin (1997)
The Mod Squad (1999)
Mr. Mom (1983)

Hardly a major loss here except in terms of kitsch, nostalgia, or kitschy nostalgia. And it definitely puts the nail in the '90s Batman coffin, although have no fear: the Caped Crusader will no doubt fight his way back to streaming in the future (plastic nipples and all).

So, what does that leave us among the more long-term titles? I'd say a few curiosities, a couple of solid entertainments, and two or three bona fide classics. Of the classics, let's put Robert Altman's M*A*S*H (review here) indisputably at the top, with the older From the Terrace (1960) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947) getting points for seniority (and big stars). In the case of the Altman film, you may want to sneak in a final viewing to compare it with the M*A*S*H TV series, the first five seasons of which will arrive on Netflix in February.

If we're counting modern classics, we should also include David Fincher's compelling procedural, 2007's Zodiac, starring everyone's favorite bad-boy-gone-good, Robert Downey Jr. I tend to stay away from serial killer movies, but this one has a lot to recommend it, including some great '70s period detail to go along with its superior acting and slow-burn plot.

Among the purely entertaining, there's the original (if cheesy) Mad Max, plus what I consider Chris Columbus' best movie: 1987's Adventures in Babysitting. Along with its perfectly constructed script and subversive sense of fun (in the mold of Risky Business and After Hours), the biggest selling point is of course the irrepressible Elisabeth Shue, who was hailed in ads at the time as "the next Madonna"—something I find as baffling now as I did then. But one thing's for sure: Nobody gets out of this place without singin' the blues.

Which brings us to the curiosities, starting with the Extended Edition of the Swedish Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (expiring 2/5 now renewed). This nine-hour miniseries restores nearly two hours of footage to the three theatrical releases and breaks it up into six 90-minute episodes. I'm told this version, with its more novelistic pacing, does greater justice to the books than the seriously truncated movie versions, especially parts 2 and 3. Another curiosity: Luis Bunuel's Tristana (1970), starring Catherine Deneuve. Is it up there with the Spanish master's best work? Most would say no. But still, it's Bunuel and Deneuve, damn it—back when that meant something—and it's the kind of older streaming title that's becoming a dying breed on Netflix.

And then there's Pootie Tang (2001). What to say about Pootie Tang? The title alone, writ large on a theater marquee, once caused me to snort with enough derisiveness to invert a party balloon. Little did I know that it was written and directed by future personal comedy god, Louis C.K., who lost control to the studio during the film's editing and was forced to see it released as a shadow of its intended self. That shadow is still something to behold, even if it doesn't entirely resemble a movie. As a sendup of blaxpoitation flicks in a manner best described as "The Jerk on helium," it's a ridiculous and surreal exercise featuring a veteran comic cast including Chris Rock, J.B. Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Jennifer Coolidge, and David Cross. For fans of comic weirdness, it should be seen at least once, and of course it's essential for C.K. completists.

That leaves us with one remaining category: TV shows. Not counting the BBC titles (cue single tear), there are a few other programs you might want to take note of. For small kids there's Astro Boy (2003) and Phineas and Ferb (2007-2011), while larger kids will mourn the passing of Dilbert (1999), Blue Mountain State (2010-2011), and the short-lived cult classic, The Tick (2001). For ladies (and Lucy Liu fans), the lone season of 2008's Cashmere Mafia is taking its final lunch break, while Zach Braff fans should begin their candle-lit vigils for Scrubs (2001-2009). [Update: It seems Scrubs has been renewed.]

And while you're at it, light a candle for Black Adder and Coupling and Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf and Michael Palin and... Oh dear, I'm going to start crying again...

January 31

2 Days in the Valley (1996)
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Astro Boy (2003)
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)
Babes in Toyland (1961)
Blood (2005-2006)
Blue Mountain State (2010-2011)
Breakheart Pass (1975)
The 'Burbs (1989)
Cashmere Mafia (2008)
The Crimson Cult (1968)
Dilbert (1999)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
The Escape Artist (1982)
Flashdance (1983)
From the Terrace (1960)
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Hammett (1982)
Hiding Out (1987)
Kingpin (1996)
Live Nude Girls (1995)
Mad Max (1979)
M*A*S*H (1970) - Review
The Mod Squad (1999)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Nacho Libre (2006)
Phase IV (1974) - Review
Pootie Tang (2001)
Revenge (1990)
Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)
Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Small Soldiers (1998)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The Tick (2001)
Trading Mom (1994)
Tristana (1970)
The White Buffalo (1977)
Zodiac (2007)

  Apocalypse Now (1979)
  Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
  One from the Heart (1982)
  Tetro (2009)

JAMES BOND - Reviews of select titles
  From Russia with Love (1963)
  Goldfinger (1964)
  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)

BBC Titles

(full list here)
All Creatures Great and Small (1978-1990)
Allosaurus (2001)
A Bit of Fry & Laurie (1987-1995)
Black Adder (1983-1989)
Black Adder's Christmas Carol (1988)
Bleak House (1985)
Bleak House (2005)
Campion (1989-1990)
Canterbury's Law (2008)
The Catherine Tate Show (2004-2006)
Coupling (2000-2004)
Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
Hyperdrive (2006-2007)
Inspector Alleyn Mysteries (all episodes)
The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (2002)
Jane Eyre (1983)
Kidnapped (2006)
Little Britain (2003-2004)
Mansfield Park (1983)
MI-5 (2002-2011)
Michael Palin Travelogues (Sahara/Himalaya/New Europe)
Middlemarch (1994)
Miss Marple (all episodes)
The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries (2000)
Pride and Prejudice (1980)
Primeval (2007-2011)
Red Dwarf (1988-2009)
The Secret Garden (1975)
The State Within (2006)
Waiting for God (1992-1993)
Waking the Dead (2000-2005)
Walking with...series (1999-2005)
Wives and Daughters (1999)

February 3

High School Musical (2006)
High School Musical 2 (2007)
Phineas and Ferb (2007-2011)
Princess: A Modern Fairytale (2008)
Scrubs (2001-2009) - RENEWED
Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2012)

February 4

Arbitrage (2012)

February 5

Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (2010) - RENEWED

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