Netflix Streaming Round-Up

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I am not a Netflix die hard. Maybe it’s the ex-Tower Video clerk inside me, but I like perusing the video store (the two left here) and searching at my leisure. It’s the journey, not the destination. Nobody likes to go to video stores with me. My problem with Netflix is that I don’t want to live my life out of my computer. I have a postal block that stops me from making the trek from the living room to the mailbox outside my door; GETTING STRAIGHT sat on my TV for two months.

Now Netflix has the savvy choice to stream films to your TV or computer, and this is easier to partake. Although the selection is extremely limited at this point, there are still plenty of choices and it’s almost easier to pick a movie you’re less likely to have mailed. So I’ve been watching a shitload of streaming films. The worst problem is the levels of compression or remastering; this is no substitute for a good DVD. But here’s a select rundown of what I’ve watched and why:

DINOSAURUS! (1960) – No, not the story of the GOP, but a goofy Saturday Matinee favorite with stop-motion animation by Marcel Delgado, genius KING KONG model-maker. Sadly, the animation is on a par with LAND OF THE LOST rather than KING KONG, but it’s still fun to watch and the ideas are strong, such as the final duel between T-Rex and a big crane. Surprisingly, the print was a decent Cinema Scope transfer, so I was able to watch the film in its correct ratio for the first time. Evolution!

CAPRICORN ONE (1978) – I’ve never seen all of Peter Hyam’s sleeper hit about a faked Mars landing that despite my geekitude, never interested me. Although I did know a man who claimed he came up with the original story and had the most magnificent, semi-plausible conspiracy saga I’ve ever heard. Nonetheless, I think a line from the review in CINEFANTASTIQUE scared me off: “Besides, no movie with Telly Savalas as a cropduster pilot can be taken seriously.” After finally watching the whole thing in Netflix’s atrocious non-widescreen version, that line stands as gospel truth. But I found the film engrossing, if only from a 70’s conspiracy angle and Hal Holbrook turns in a killer performance as the NASA man who will stop at nothing to get more congressional funds. Elliot Gould is fun too and it represents an interesting point in his varied career. The movie loses conspiracy for run-and-chase action, but the dogfight between the cropduster’s bi-plane and two black military helicopters is crazy thrilling in this CGI age. Oh, and yes, they’re remaking it.

CHEECH AND CHONG’S NICE DREAMS (1982) – My favorite C&C film remains their third at the height of their popularity. I loved the risque ads they placed in HEAVY METAL and NATIONAL LAMPOON, with the grinning duo holding out “dream sticks” — push up cones with giant buds. This was the tail end of the counter culture marketing as the Reagan 80’s “Just Say No” were going to make obsolete Cheech and Chong’s stoner anarchy. The duo are at their relaxed amiable best (“A lot of smart guys do coke, man.” “Who?” “Sherlock Holmes did coke, man.” “Sherlock Holmes?”) and are generous in letting a boatload of brilliant comics (Sandra Bernhard; Michael Winslow) steal whole scenes, especially Paul Reubens in pre-Pee Wee mode as a drugged out mental patient (“Bruce Springsteen’s fucking up the future of rock n’ roll.”) — it’s still his funniest performance. The best moment is the pair’s visit to a Chinese restaurant as an archetypal L.A. agent bothers them, stealing their food. I watched this damn film every single time it was HBO in the day.

ALTERED STATES (1980) – Paddy Chayefsky is my ideal screenwriter. A master of words and monologues, I love his outraged, outspoken voice. And he had control over his films in a way NO screenwriter has had since. As producer, he hired and he fired. Nobody could change one period without his approval, as is done in theater. After NETWORK, Chayefsky became fascinated by sensory-deprivation experiments of the 60’s and 70’s, doing intense research into the drugs, rituals and mechanics of “God fuckers” as he called them. Arthur Penn was the first director for Chayefsky’s script, and he hired the brilliant ensemble cast of William Hurt (his debut); Blair Brown; Charles Haid and Bob Balaban, a lean, mean thespic team. Sadly, Penn and Chayefsky had “creative differences” and Penn was replaced by the risky, inspired choice of Ken Russell, British surrealist. The combination of Chayefsky’s disciplined script directed by a madman like Russell was a smart one, since this is the only film of his I can say I love. Dick Smith’s make-up effects are still awesome and the cast is superb, particularly Hurt, tearing up the screen, and Haid as the bearish scientist trying to stop Hurt from his “hippy dippy bullshit.” Decent streaming transfer, but this engaging, genuine science fiction film definitely needs a nice new remaster. And I need me one of them sensory tanks.

GRINDHOUSE (2007) – The coolest thing about Netflix streaming is that the entire theatrical cut of my favorite film from 2007 is — or was — available for repeated viewing. Since the double feature was unwisely split up for DVD release in a decision that still astounds me since the glorious theatrical release is the only way to view this, it’s fantastic to savor Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s trash movie fever dream, replete with scratches, missing reels, wild trailers (WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE S.S.) and the infectious “Our Feature Presentation” bumpers. GH is an experience more than a film, exactly what the filmmakers were trying to bring to the multiplexes, but it plays great on the homsecreen and it’s okay not to watch every second. You have three hours to eat pizza, drink coffee, talk a walk, surf the web, and come back to watch Kurt Russell in one of his greatest roles get his crying man-ass handed to him by a bunch of grrls. Get More Out Of Life, Go Out To A Movie.

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12 Responses to “Netflix Streaming Round-Up”

  1. some good-to-terrific flicks there (weirdly, ‘capricorn one’ is one of my boy’s faves, he finds the premise endlessly fascinating and watches it heaps, go figure)

  2. christian Says:

    I can see why, it’s an intruiging premise. Plus there’s a cropduster plane chase with Telly Savalas;]

  3. Speaking of Peter Hyams, I recently watched OUTLAND. The pace keeps killing it (not a great idea to impose an ALIEN slow-burn on a HIGH NOON in space) but Connery is startlingly effective and manly. Yes, he’s James Bond, that shouldn’t be much of a shock, but playing the Forthright Hero in a Space Movie could be enough to kill most any actor’s vitality. Not Connery, he dominates and is still human. I think, on its terms, its a pretty amazing performance.

  4. christian Says:

    I saw OUTLAND opening night and the only memorable thing about it is Sean Connery’s performance, one of his all time best. He has his second greatest line outside of Bond with “I’ll be back to kick your nasty as all over this room.” The theater erupted. Frances Sternhagen and him made a good team.

    I respect Hyams for wanting to make sci-fi, but his directing style I always found choppy and uninvolving. Tho I thought he pulled off a minor miracle by making 2010 an enjoyable sequel on its own terms.

  5. ‘Plus there’s a cropduster plane chase with Telly Savalas;]’

    indeed. my son thinks telly savalas is HILARIOUS in ‘cap one’, ‘PERVERTS!!!’ (which means i had to explain the meaning of pervert and telly’s odd use thereof in the film)

  6. christian Says:

    He is funny in a slumming cameo sort of way and I say that as a fan of Savalas, particularly his Blofeld, IMHO the best. As if Telly doesn’t look like the biggest pimpin’ perv eva…

  7. totally

  8. I have the same attitude towards Hyams, he seems to mean well, you want to like him, but his approach tends to be draggy and impersonal and boring. 2010 is certainly his best movie (that I’ve seen).

  9. christian Says:

    Altho Harlan Ellison tore him a new one in his eviseration of OUTLAND many moons ago, one of the most brutal sci-fi reviews eva….

  10. Ellison is brutal man, he can make Pauline Kael look like Peter Travers. What’s even more brutal is the fact that Ellison can back it up, you can’t chant “he’s just a critic, its easy to yell from the sidelines” into someone’s ear, he’s a brilliant imagination in his own right.

  11. christian Says:

    He’s more like the acerbic John Simon….

  12. […] Streaming Theater: Summer Edition Because it’s fun to write capsule entries, time for another schizoid round-up of Netflix streaming viewings. Although the streaming is fine for instant gratification, there’s often format and […]

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