There’s been a lot of buzz on social media about a report that Netflix Instant will be dropping about 80 movies at the end of the year — i.e. the end of today — as licensing arrangements expire. Some folks are desperately trying to cram those movies in while we’re still in 2013 before they’re gone for good.
Poor Martin Scorsese. When he made “Goodfellas,” he never thought he had to put in a scene where somebody told Joe Pesci it was morally wrong for him to shoot Spider. He didn’t bother to include a scene in “Casino” where Robert De Niro questioned the ethics of smashing a card cheater’s hand with a hammer. And in “Gangs of New York,” nobody stopped to talk about how bashing each other’s skulls might be considered antisocial.
He must have thought this was self-evidently bad behavior or something.
This is Friday, normally the day when I write about “What’s Playing in Madison” for the next week. But because it’s the holidays, what’s playing in Madison this week are the same movies that were playing in Madison last week. There’s nothing new opening Friday, and the UW-Cinematheque and other local screening series are shut down over winter break.
So, instead, I thought I’d look ahead to some much-anticipated films that have opened in other cities already, but haven’t made it to Madison, and handicap when I think we’ll finally get to see them. Some are considered Oscar contenders, others thought they would be but may have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Merry Christmas Eve! If you’ve got a mountain of presents still to wrap, or just want to chill a little before heading up for a long winter’s nap, here are five yuletide films streaming on Netflix, from naughty to nice.
Pick of the week: “The Ice Harvest” — A friend recommended this 2005 black comic thriller, starring John Cusack as a Wichita mob lawyer trying to get out of town on Christmas Eve with $2 million of his employers’ money. It’s great — funny and mean and violent, and the screenplay by novelist Richard Russo and his filmmaking partner Robert Benton (“Nobody’s Fool”) elevates the material into an unsentimental look at middle-age disappointment. Cusack has a great speech about his father and his uncle that serves as an acidic corrective to the “Every life means something” message of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” basically saying “Pottersville. Bedford Falls. Either way, we’re all dead.”
Comedy of the week: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” — Now this is probably much more what you had in mind, as the Griswolds suffer one holiday disaster after another. Comedy sequels are tough to pull off (see “Anchorman 2”), but the “Vacation” series arguably made their “threequel” their best.
Musical of the week: “White Christmas” — Saw this for the first time last year and loved it as kind of a grown-up, mixed-drinks kind of Christmas movie, as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye put on a show to save their old commanding officer’s inn. Lots of great musical numbers, the highlight for me being Kaye’s weirdly passive-aggressive slam on modern dance. And, of course, the title song.
Romance of the week: “Love Actually” — Yes, yes I know. Some of this is insufferable. But some of it is great, like debauched rock star Bill Nighy or Emma Thompson quietly falling apart as she learns of her husband’s infidelity. If nothing else, it will remind you not to get your wife a CD for Christmas.
Fantasy movie of the week: “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” — This Finnish movie is completely nuts, reimagining the St. Nicholas figure as an ancient evil that reindeer herders and one brave young boy must catch to protect their village. You’d better watch out.
“Saving Mr. Banks” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to charm a frosty British author (Emma Thompson) into letting him make a movie of her book, which happens to be “Mary Poppins.” Since it’s a Disney movie, I’m guessing he wins?
“American Hustle” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. R, 2:17, three and a half stars out of four.
“From the feet up” is a phrase that comes up again and again in “American Hustle.” It’s an expression con artists in the film use to signify full commitment to the role they’re playing.
For his follow-up to last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” writer-director David O. Russell has assembled a cast that all perform from the feet up. The result is an entertainingly shaggy riff on the caper film that emphasizes loose, naturalistic performances and comedy over plot and thrills. If you’re looking for a clockwork-perfect crime plot, you won’t find it here. But if you want to hang with some wildly unpredictable and complex characters and wonder who will come up on top, “Hustle” is a lot of fun.
Some use ice fishing. Some use football. Some use bourbon.
For me, not surprisingly, what gets me through a Wisconsin winter is the movies. Luckily, just as the thermometer plunges and the snowblower comes out around this time of year, the big Oscar contenders start hitting theaters. And when the holiday rush is past, there’s always a new UW-Cinematheque winter-spring schedule, and the tantalizing signs of the Wisconsin Film Festival up ahead in April, to keep us going until springtime.
“Anchorman 2” opens Wednesday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinema. PG-13, 1:19, two and a half stars out of four.
At one point in “Anchorman 2,” Ron Burgundy bottle-nurses a shark back to help, and then gently sets it free in the wild, where it happily devours other fish to the strains of a “Born Free”-like ballad.
What does this have to do with early-’80s newscasting, exactly? Nothing, which is part of its genius. It’s just one of those random moments that longtime partners Adam McKay and Will Ferrell like to throw into their films, just because they can.
Pick of the week: “Blackfish” — My full review is here. There have been better documentaries released in 2013, but none as immediately effective as “Blackfish,” which shines a light both on the mistreatment of killer whales at SeaWorld as well as how trainers have been left in the dark about those abuses, with sometimes fatal consequences.
“I can’t help it,” Lola (Marlene Dietrich) sings languidly from the stage at the Blue Angel cabaret, bemoaning the inadvertently ruinous effect she has on men. Which somehow makes it worse — you destroyed my life, and you weren’t even trying?