Once upon a time, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans clung onto their tape-recorded copies of their favorite show like they were life preservers, watching them over and over and hoping they wouldn’t disintegrate in their hands.
Now it’s fair to say we have an embarrassment of riff riches at our fingertips. The “MST3k” offshoot Rifftrax constantly releases new commentaries and in-theater simulcasts. And, of course, there’s the new version of the show on Netflix, with 14 episodes and even a touring live show with two more new ones this summer. And, if you check your local comedy club listings, you might see former cast members Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff doing live riffs in your town as “The Mads Are Back.”
There are plenty of controversial movies. Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is notorious.
How notorious? The new Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Peckinpah’s 1971 film is the first Criterion disc I know of that includes an extensive interview with a film critic who is not a fan of the movie. Actually, Linda Williams, who calls the film “deeply misogynistic,” likens “Straw Dogs” to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as a film that shouldn’t be buried or dismissed, but studied and talked about.
Others are more complimentary, of course. But Peckinpah’s film stills hits like a punch to the gut, leaving us queasy and unsettled. The home invasion thriller has become a genre onto itself over the years, from “The Strangers” to “The Purge” — one could see Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” as a bald rebuke to Peckinpah’s vision. But none are as disquieting.
Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. Every month, movies leave Netflix as new deals are struck with other streaming services, Netflix decides they’re not performing so well, or one of the myriad other reasons that Netflix never explains to us about why movies come and go.
The bottom line is that these movies are leaving, and you’d better catch them while you can. All movies are leaving Aug. 1 unless otherwise noted.
“The Verdict” — Sidney Lumet’s 1982 film is one of the great courtroom dramas ever, Paul Newman gives one of his best performances as an alcoholic lawyer taking on the power brokers of Boston in an unwinnable case.
“20th Century Women” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Mike Mills’ film is semi-autobiographical, but his ’70s teenage stand-in really fades into the background as his film looks at several strong, influential women in his orbit, including Annette Bening as his prickly, baffled mother and Greta Gerwig as one of her older, worldly tenants. Not for nothing, the film also serves as a potent reminder of the impact that Planned Parenthood has had on countless’ women’s lives over the decades.
At first it seems like miscasting. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson are two of the most charismatic, playful, purely present actors working today, scarcely able to do a scene without some sort of spark.
So why would they be cast to play a plain, quiet, grieving, beaten-down German couple in World War II Berlin in “Alone in Berlin”?
It’s the absence of that spark we’re expecting that ends up being key to the performances, and to “Alone in Berlin,” out on DVD and Blu-ray from IFC Films. It makes us understand how much this couple has lost under the Nazi regime, and what it takes for them to foment a tiny rebellion from their dingy flat.
“I Am Not Your Negro” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Author James Baldwin’s words on race in America come to fiery life in this documentary, which artfully puts ’60s civil rights struggles hand in hand with Black Lives Matter protests to show how a society in which one man is allowed to subjugate another has a moral sickness that infects both oppressed and oppressor.
On a recent trip to New Orleans, I did all the traditional New Orleans things – saw jazz, ate jambalaya, walked the French Quarter and bought music on Frenchman Street. It was fantastic.
One of the highlights was the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone, a circular bar in which the patrons slowly revolve around the bartenders in the center. Two pieces of advice about the Carousel Bar. 1. Order a Vieux Carre, their specialty. 2. If you get to a point where you can no longer tell that the Carousel Bar is rotating, it is time to leave the Carousel Bar.
So, all in all, it was a typically great first visit in New Orleans. But, being a film critic, I just couldn’t resist. I had to see a movie while I was there. I almost felt guilty – this was New Orleans! – but it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.