Wednesday, March 25, 2015

March Expiration Watch: Hitting Where It Hurts

Welcome to the blog's 100th post. Combined with next month's 2nd anniversary and the recently added Amazon Prime page, these are celebratory times at What's On NETFLIX Now? (Cut to: David dozing off at his keyboard). Would that Netflix itself provided greater cause for celebration: unless original series are your be-all/end-all, pretty much every category takes a sock to the jaw this month, from classic Hollywood's biggest stars to underappreciated comedies, cult indies, and, in a big blow to the kid in all of us, nearly the entire stable of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim programs. But let's start with the classics...

Goodbye, Norma Jeane

It's a rough month if you happen to be a Marilyn Monroe fan. On March 31, three of MM's more flamboyant 1950s productions are getting the hook: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). Over the last couple of years we've seen these titles come and go, but my faith in their return isn't terribly strong now that Netflix seems to have lost interest in maintaining its back catalog. In fact, at this rate I may need to rename this blog What's NOT on NETFLIX Now?.

These colorful, over-the-top spectaculars (two are musicals) marked an unofficial coming-out party for the former Norma Jeane, who emerged from half a decade of supporting parts, prurient publicity, and a couple of low-profile dramatic leads (Don't Bother to Knock, Niagara) to fully cement her blonde bombshell status and create an iconic persona for the Hollywood ages. So if you've ever wondered what the fuss was about, this trio of films—filled to bursting with star power and production value—makes a pretty good argument for Monroe's status as a larger-than-life sex symbol who could sing, dance, and play the dumb blonde to comic perfection. She was much more than that, of course, as a number of her more dramatic roles would prove (particularly Bus Stop and The Misfits). But these early flowerings of stardom are how a majority still remember her, before her personal and professional problems overtook the headlines and lent a lasting aura of sadness to the woman whose show-stopping performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (in Howard Hawks' Gentleman Prefer Blondes) remains a joyful pop-culture touchstone.

Brando in The Men
I hope I'm wrong, but this could also be your last chance to stream a number of other titles from Hollywood's classic period: another musical (Daddy Long Legs), two westerns (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The River's Edge), a Roman epic (The Robe), and three dramas (Jane Eyre, The Men, Les Miserables). These include one of only two Fred Astaire titles on Netflix, a Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas bromance, the first movie released in CinemaScope (even if How To Marry a Millionaire was shot first), Orson Welles memorably starring in a picture he didn't direct, and Marlon Brando's first big-screen role.

Flashing forward to the 1970s, you can say goodbye to a pair of highly lauded dramas finishing up their one-year streaming residency: the ballet-themed The Turning Point (1977), a high-toned soap opera starring Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov that received 11 Oscar nominations and features some gorgeous dancing and not a little scenery-chewing; and the sweet teen-bullying tale, My Bodyguard (1980), starring a young Matt Dillon, Adam Baldwin, and Joan Cusack. In the same vein, all the Karate Kid movies are getting waxed off.

Horror fans are also taking a hit, bidding farewell to two haunted house tales, 1973's The Legend of Hell House and 1979's The Amityville Horror (again), as well as Hammer's final Frankenstein film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), starring the dependable Peter Cushing and the Lord of the Sith himself, David Prowse, only a couple of years before both were reunited for a little space pic called Star Wars. And then there are all those Friday the 13th flicks, which I only mention here because there are so damn many of them.

Better than they seem

The clueless comic cast of Clue
Besides starting with the letter C, what do Clue (1985), Coneheads (1993), and The Craft (1996) have in common? They're all solidly crafted entertainment that are better than they have a right to be. Take Clue, for example: basing an entire movie on a board game was one of the sillier ideas Hollywood ever came up with (by 1980s standards, anyway). But when you sport a comic roster like Tim Curry, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan, and Michael McKean (looking remarkably like a Peter Bogdanovich lead), and combine it with Jonathan Lynn's twisty script and breathless direction, then it goes down surprisingly easy.

The same can be said for Coneheads, which seemed one of the least likely SNL skits to get its own movie, but due to its goofy sense of fun and a who's who of that era's SNL players (including, once again, Michael McKean), it's quite enjoyable. And then there's the teen witches movie, The Craft, from writer/director Andrew Fleming, who deserved some sort of award in the '90s for his remarkable run of unpromising-looking-movies-that-turned-out-to-be-pretty-good, starting with 1994's Threesome and on through The Craft and 1999's Dick. (His latest, Barefoot, just hit Netflix, but I have yet to see it.) Aside from what I remember to be an overheated finale, The Craft was an honest, engaging combo of teen angst, cute girls, and the supernatural which predated both Charmed and TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Gettin' witchy in The Craft
Coincidentally, three other better-than-they-seem titles all start with the letter I: Identity (2003), Insomnia (2002), and Inventing the Abbotts (1997). The first two merited brief shout-outs in my January roundup, while the third was mentioned when it debuted last April. Rereading that post today is especially depressing, with its mention of nine Marilyn Monroe and four Howard Hawks pics, which are about to dwindle to two apiece (one of which, Monkey Business, is shared).

Indie oddities

I reviewed Darren Aronofsky's gloriously gonzo Pi (1998) back in April of 2013—this blog's first month of existence—so I'll merely remind the more adventurous among you that, if you still haven't seen it, now's the time. I suggest strapping yourself to your sofa, pulling the blinds, and turning off any phones beforehand—oh, and telling loved ones you'll see them on the other side. The same goes for the Coen Bros.' wacky and surreal Hollywood hit job, Barton Fink (1991), which was reviewed the last time it expired, back in October 2013. Let's hope for a speedy return of both.

Would that some of Aronofsky or the Coens' singular cinematic vision could have rubbed off on Paul Auster, who wrote and directed The Inner Life of Martin Frost (2007). Auster, one of my favorite novelists, possesses his own distinct take on the world, but it's one that's predominantly literary. He took a lot of critical heat for this, his second solo attempt at directing, not all of which was warranted. It's an odd film, for sure, with some interesting, half-formed ideas and characters, but it's not terrible. If you're a fan of Auster (or his daughter, singer Sophie Auster), then this falls firmly into the category of Essential Curiosity.

Another film that didn't fare too well critically but which I enjoyed was Matt Ross's 28 Hotel Rooms (2012). Starring Chris Messina and Marin Ireland, it's one of those tricky two-handers, like 9 Songs, Intimacy, En La Cama, or Nuit #1, that attempts to spin out an entire relationship over a few hours (or nights) of heated sex and/or conversation. Such films are tough to pull off, and are especially dependent on high levels of acting and a genuine rapport between the leads. 28 Hotel Rooms, whose twist is to follow its couple over several years of one-night stands in, yes, 28 different hotel rooms, has the acting part down. Messina and Ireland make a convincing couple, with Messina not afraid to play against his natural likability (and equally unafraid to partake in some equal opportunity nudity). Not as graphic as some of the above mentioned titles, the film's certainly better than many (especially the vacuous 9 Songs) and makes for a nicely observed take on a uniquely difficult long-term relationship.

 WoNN Spotlight  Submarine (2010)

Probably my favorite expiring indie this month is Richard Ayoade's little-seen feature debut, 2010's darkly funny Submarine. Ayoade, known to most as the Brillo-haired, cartoonishly brilliant Moss in the brilliantly cartoonish cult TV series, The IT Crowd, has been slowly building up his CV as a director—first on a number of TV shows, then with Submarine and its follow-up, the Dostoevsky-inspired The Double. I have yet to see the latter film, which looks intriguing, but what's notable about Submarine is how it delivers a fresh spin on that most tired of genres, the coming-of-age story.

Roberts and Paige
Well, maybe not entirely fresh: just as When Harry Met Sally couldn't have existed without the work of Woody Allen, so Submarine owes a significant debt to Wes Anderson. And yet Ayoade's film, like When Harry Met Sally, proudly acknowledges its influences (which also include a bit of Allen) while being an entirely charming experience all its own. Helping it stand apart is its Wales setting and British cast, which automatically take it out of Andersonville, along with a consistent darkness to both the humor and the film's look.

The cast, which includes Sally Hawkins (who would soon appear in Allen's Blue Jasmine), is excellent all around, especially the two young leads, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige. Ayoade proves himself to be an adept visualist, bringing a strong sense of imagery to his storytelling that heightens the humor immeasurably while providing some impressive sequences that perfectly externalize our put-upon hero's emotional state. With its clever, inventive camerawork and a subversive wit that never betrays its tortured (but very funny) characters, Submarine is an unashamed homage with enough style and humor of its own to silence the toughest cynic, cinematic or otherwise.

Bon Voyage, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim

As mentioned earlier, the bulk of Cartoon Network's much-loved programs are about to become animated roadkill—some on March 29, the rest on April 5 (check individual listings). That also includes Cartoon Network's more mature offshoot, Adult Swim. I can't say I've seen most of these shows, but I appreciate their appeal (especially Adventure Time and Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and am a big fan of the dark and wildly inventive Childrens Hospital (expiring 3/29) and Robot Chicken (expiring 4/5), even if Netflix did only license the first two seasons of each. So if you or your kids want to experience (or re-experience) some clever and creative modern animation—or some fantastic weirdness definitely not for kids—now's the time to get your binge on. (Note: It also looks like a few Disney titles, such as Phineas and Ferb, are leaving on the 3rd, but given Netflix's long-term contract with Disney, I won't be surprised if they turn up again soon.)

The doctors at Childrens Hospital prepare to operate

March 29

Adventure Time (2010-2011)
Childrens Hospital (2010)
Regular Show (2010)

March 30

The Inner Life of Martin Frost (2007)
Legends of the Fall (1994)

March 31

28 Hotel Rooms (2012)
48 Hours (1982)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Annie (1982)
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2006)
Barton Fink (1991) - Review
Blue Mountain State (2010-2011) RENEWED
Bruce Almighty (2003)
The Cable Guy (1996)
Chalet Girl (2011) RENEWED
Clue (1985)
Coneheads (1993)
The Craft (1996)
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
Days of Thunder (1990)
Diggstown (1992)
The Evening Star (1996)
Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
Friday the 13​th 1-4, 6, 8 (1980-89)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Get Shorty (1995)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Identity (2003)
In & Out (1997)
The Inexplicable Universe w/Neil deGrasse Tyson (2013) RENEWED
Insomnia (2002)
Inventing the Abbotts (1997)
Jane Eyre (1944)
The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Les Miserables (1935)
Madeline (1998)
The Man with One Red Shoe (1985)
Miral (2011)
My Bodyguard (1980)
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Mystic River (2003)
Notting Hill (1999)
Pee-­wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Philadelphia (1993)
Pi (1998) - Review
Poetic Justice (1993)
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Reindeer Games (2000)
The River's Edge (1957)
The Robe (1953)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
Submarine (2011)
Taking Lives (2004)
There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)
The Turning Point (1977)
The Whole Nine Yards (2000)

April 1

The Men (1950)

April 5

Aqua Teen Hunger Force (2000-2003)
Cow and Chicken (1997)
Dexter’s Laboratory (2001-2002)
The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2005-2006)
Johnny Bravo (1999)
Robot Chicken (2005-2006)
Samurai Jack (2002)
The Venture Bros. (2003-2006)

April 9

Sleeping Beauty (2011) - RENEWED

April 14

Various animated Marvel shows (check individual titles)

April 17

Phineas and Ferb (2007-2011) RENEWED
The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2012) - extended to 5/1
Twisted (2013) - extended to 5/1


Anonymous said...

Blue Mountain State looks to be remaining on, for now.

David Speranza said...

Thanks, noted.

Anonymous said...

Until 4/1/15
The Innkeepers (2011)

Steve-Dave said...

What happened to Batman:Beyond, and the various Justice League shows? Seems like there's no more DC universe cartoons... did I miss a notification?
Thankfully Arrow seems to still be on.

Michael Scarpelli said...

Yeah, Batman Brave and the Bold appears to have quietly vanished as well, which is a CRUSHING blow to my five-year-old.

David Speranza said...

Sorry, I don't account for every title in my recommendations, but those particular ones were mentioned in the comments section on the Expiring page. Be sure to check there for anything I might not to list, as I'll always leave those in the comments until a couple days after they've expired.

David Speranza said...

Sorry to hear about that, Mike. See my above reply for future reference.