Nearly a half-century later, Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” still shocks and unnerves

strawdogs

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.

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“Punch-Drunk Love,” the Paul Thomas Anderson cult classic that should have been

punchdrunk

Why isn’t Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” his cult classic? His 2002 curveball take on the romantic comedy seems like a perfect candidate for midnight-movie showings, Twitter bio quotations, and Threadless T-shirt designs. I’m surprised we don’t see more millennials getting married with the groom in a royal blue suit.

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“Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XXXVIII”: Warm up some Turkey Day leftovers

 

mst3k

For fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” November is December and Thanksgiving is Christmas.

Since the show was originally on the air in the 1990s, MST3K fans have been trained to get hungry at Thanksgiving and the annual “Turkey Day” marathons that Comedy Central would put on. For a full day, the network would show non-stop episodes of the show, and for several years included bonus segments in between the movies. If you thought your relatives were insufferable before, wait until you had to entertain them in the living room (the one with the good furniture that you were normally banned from), knowing that the marathon was going on in the TV room upstairs.

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Cleveland does not necessarily rock in “The Land” and “Uncle Nick”

theland

For a city whose river once caught on fire, Cleveland doesn’t seem to capture the imagination of many filmmakers. Sure, the Mistake by the Lake plays home to both one of the iconic Christmas movies of all time (“A Christmas Story”) and one of the most iconic baseball movies of all time (“Major League”). But outside of genre and the scruffy charm of the Harvey Pekar biopic “American Slendor,” you don’t see much of Cleveland in the movies.

Which is too bad, since the city embodies all that is both great and tragic about the American city – I would love to see a big-screen adaptation of Mark Weingarten’s epic novel “Crooked River Burning,” for example. But until then, by coincidence, two new films set in Cleveland, “The Land” and “Uncle Nick,” happen to be hitting DVD shelves this month. They’re very different films, but in their own ways both could only be made in Cleveland.

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“Len and Company”: The punk rocker in winter is not pretty

lenandco

Len wouldn’t watch his own movie. Len is a spiky, angry former punk rocker turned hit pop producer, stewing in his infinity pool and his own self-loathing at his “country estate.” He listens to audiobooks of Western novels and watches old police shows on television. I doubt that he would watch Tim Godsall’s “Len & Company,” the fuzzy and unfocused indie drama that stars Len, out on DVD this month from IFC Films and available on Netflix.

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“Modesty Blaise”: The spy who accessorized me

modesty-blaise

In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing how quickly spy movies became ridiculous in the 1960s. You start the decade with the relatively sane “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” and in the space of a few years you get to “Danger: Diabolik” and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.” It’s as if the counterculture looked at the Ian Fleming novels that their dads were reading, saw the silliness that underlay the machismo and violence, and decided to flip it inside out.

One of the shining examples of the genre is the gloriously silly spy-chedelic 1966 spoof “Modesty Blaise,” just released in a new extras-packed edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Take the most hard-to-swallow moment in any James Bond movie, magnify it by a hundred, and put it in a great outfit, and you have “Modesty Blaise.”

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