Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May Expiration Watch: Breaking It Down (2014)

An interesting mix of titles are expiring this month, which I'll group loosely into three categories:

Not Charlie's Angels


In the mood to have your mind bent, broiled, or otherwise contorted into a WTF curlicue? Any one of these films will leave you variously scratching your head, choking on your popcorn, or considering life in a monastery.

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Abel Ferrara directs Harvey Keitel in this intense tale of a New York cop battling his inner demons in the original Sin City (i.e., NYC in the early '90s).

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Gorgeous 1970s actress Maren Jensen (Athena in the original Battlestar Galactica) in one of only two movies she starred in before leaving showbiz. This one, a creepy horrorfest directed by Wes Craven, co-stars a young Sharon Stone and an old Ernest Borgnine sporting a Quaker beard. (For trivia buffs, Jensen's other starring role was in the even more obscure Beyond the Reef., a.k.a. Sharkboy of Bora Bora.)

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Kinky horror madness from the king of extreme himself, director Ken Russell (Tommy, Altered States, Women in Love). Featuring the unlikely cast of Amanda Donohue, Hugh Grant, and (Holy '80s, Batman!) Catherine Oxenberg.

Friday, May 23, 2014


I admit it: mysteries, crime procedurals, and courtroom dramas—with their rote formulas and seemingly predetermined outcomes—tend to trigger my yawn reflex. I prefer stories with characters less bound by the strictures of narrative destiny. It may only be an illusion concocted by a clever writer, but I need to believe a character can at any moment do something that will surprise me, turn the story on its head, or at the very least make me believe the conclusion isn't preordained. And, with apologies to Columbo, TV murder mysteries are about as predictable as it gets: someone is killed, the hero investigates, and, by way of wits and the overcoming of obstacles, the killer is apprehended—all within a neatly wrapped hour. Except by that point I've usually reached for the remote.

But then I got my first glimpse of Miss Phryne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher. Sleek and mischievous behind glossy lipstick and jewels, brandishing a pearl-handled revolver and bright blue eyes and that fatal Louise Brooks bob, she made me forget all about my impatience with overly ritualized storytelling. Flappers with perfectly structured cheekbones trump snobbery every time, leaving me little choice but to spool up the first episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Instant Classic: PAPER MOON

When Paper Moon was first released, in 1973, it was already a throwback. Compared with other great films of that amazing year—The Exorcist, Mean Streets, The Long Goodbye, Serpico, American Graffiti (among so many others)—it must have seemed downright archaic. Part buddy film, road movie, and picaresque, the film's contrasty black-and-white cinematography, long takes, and classical storytelling techniques ensured its status as an instant period piece. And yet this jaunty cross between The Sting (also 1973), The Grapes of Wrath, and The Little Rascals, with an unlikely love story at its center, became a sizable hit and remains one of the more purely enjoyable movie experiences.

As any student of film will tell you, for a few brief years in the early 1970s, Peter Bogdanovich was God. After cutting his teeth as an actor, Esquire film critic, and eager acolyte of low-budget king Roger Corman (for whom he directed 1967's Targets), Bogdanovich took the cinematic world by storm with his morose, artful adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel, The Last Picture Show (1971). Critical hosannas greeted the cocky wunderkind, whose devotion to his Old Hollywood idols—notably John Ford, Orson Welles, and Howard Hawks—was reflected in every carefully composed frame of his black-and-white potboiler.

Monday, May 5, 2014

New in May: Getting Adventurous (2014)

Minya, can you hear me?
If you like action and adventure, then this is your month. Perhaps in an effort to compete with Hollywood's big spring releases, Netflix is bulking up on its escapist fare. From the high cheese of Fantastic Voyage and all things Godzilla (including Rodan!) to the thrills of the Romancing the Stone flicks and the artful splatter of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, there are any number of ways to get your streaming action groove on. Oh, and did I mention the latest return of Bond, James Bond? Yep, 007 is back again (some of him, anyway), although if recent history is any guide, he won't be around for long—so take advantage of that license to kill before it inevitably gets revoked. (Click here for an earlier rundown of select Bond titles.)

Raquel, I'm over here!
There's a little something for every taste, from every decade since the 1950s. Want to gawk at a miniaturized Raquel Welch, shrunk down and wetsuited to enter a dying man's bloodstream? Apparently, a lot of people did in 1966, which is where the aforementioned Fantastic Voyage comes in. Feeling the urge to bone up on the many moods and manifestations of Godzilla before the latest remake hits the big screen? Then plan to spend a lot of time sitting in front of the little screen, because over half a dozen Godzilla films have reemerged from the earth's core after being buried in January. Most of these are pretty crappy (including what's arguably the worst of all, Godzilla's Revenge), but if you take your monsters seriously—and prefer to avoid a talking baby Godzillathen stick with the first installment, Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) or 1964's Godzilla vs. Mothra. Or, go ahead, queue up Godzilla's Revenge. As long as you're prepared to uncork a bottle of Awwws (and guff-awws) to randomly hurl at your screen. Talking baby monsters, indeed...