Now Streaming: A touch of the grotesque

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[Streaming movies—on services such as Netflix—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series—written by film critic Jeffrey M. Anderson—is to alert you to what movies are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other cinema treasures that are worth checking out.]

Rango [source: Paramount Pictures]


★ ★ ★ ★

Many of the notables in this first installment veer toward the grotesque. Take Rango (2011), a genuine Western that recently won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and is newly available. Most animated feature films these days attempt to design cuddly, cute, or appealing characters. But the characters in Rango are deliberately lopsided, odd, and creepy—yet still cuddly and appealing because of it.

The movie has a uniquely warm feel that can be chalked up to director Gore Verbinski’s method of filming his actors. Normally animated films start by recording actors, separately, in little booths. Characters that pal around during a movie rarely meet in real life. This time they recorded their dialogue together on a big sound stage, like performing a play, creating genuine camaraderie. It helps that their dialogue—credited to John Logan—is among the slickest and funniest this side of the Pecos. All this combines make Rango one of the best animated movies made to date.


★ ★ ★ ☆

Watching streaming movies provides a perfect opportunity and venue to re-visit films that did not go down well the first time. Another grotesque figure that’s new to streaming is our old friend Hannibal Lecter, in his third film. (Although this is only the second Lecter played by Anthony Hopkins; true fans know that Brian Cox played the famously carnivorous killer first, in Michael Mann’s Manhunter.)

Ridley Scott’s Hannibal (2001) was released between his overrated Gladiator and Black Hawk Down and most felt it was rather insignificant. But Hannibal, which arrives on May 1, is far more interesting than its reputation suggests. Filled with blood-red tapestries and bloody brains for dessert, Scott devotes his movie more to shadowy, sumptuous atmosphere than to any kind of psychological exploration. Compared to Scott’s more recent duds (A Good Year, Body of Lies, Robin Hood), it now seems far more playful and alive than most of his body of work. It’s a good indication that Scott should have stuck to genre storytelling (Alien, Blade Runner).

Dr. T & the Women

★ ★ ★ ☆

Dr. T & the Women

Robert Altman’s Dr. T & and the Women (2000), which expires from Netflix on May 1, likewise puzzled viewers in its day. Arriving between two much more beloved Altman features, Cookie’s Fortune and Gosford Park, it was one of his widest openers, and one of his biggest flops. This very strange comedy has a certain bite, and it’s awfully long (122 minutes), but in retrospect it has some offbeat pleasures, especially in its teasing of blonde, rich, plastic Texas housewives (more grotesques). Richard Gere plays the title doctor, constantly surrounded by admiring women, patients, nurses, daughters, sisters-in-law, and the like. He’s driven to distraction by a new golf pro (Helen Hunt), mainly because she is the only one he doesn’t have figured out.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

★ ★ ★ ★

Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) also will be expiring on May 1. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell—both built like no other (natural) women in history—team up for this colorful, cartoonish, slightly off-kilter musical, about two husband-hunters on an ocean liner. The movie is best described in a throwaway line of dialogue, spoken by two bit players. First man: “Suppose the ship hits an iceberg and sinks. Which one of them do you save from drowning?” Second man: “Those girls couldn’t drown.”

Repo Man

★ ★ ★ ★

Repo Man

Finally, I’m very sad to report that Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) expires from Netflix on May 1 as well. It was among the first movies to become cult classics on home video rather than on the midnight movie circuit. It’s worth many, many viewings. Emilio Estevez stars as Otto, a young punk who lands a job repossessing cars. He learns a lot of lessons about life, coincidences, codes, and also about a Chevy Malibu containing four dead aliens in the trunk (spoiler alert: when the trunk is opened, the contents vaporize anyone standing nearby). Harry Dean Stanton has one of his greatest roles as Otto’s grumpy mentor.

I’ll close with a couple of lists of other new and expiring titles:

What’s new

  • Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
  • Donnie Darko
  • Limitless
  • The Lincoln Lawyer
  • Adaptation (5/1)
  • The Border (5/1)
  • Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (5/1)
  • High Anxiety (5/1)
  • Outrage (5/1) [Kirby Dick’s excellent documentary about closeted gay politicians]
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (5/1)

Expiring soon

  • An Affair to Remember (4/30)
  • At Long Last Love (4/30)
  • Bodies, Rest & Motion (4/30)
  • Hook (4/28)
  • Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (4/30)
  • Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends: Season 1 (4/30)
  • To Be and to Have (4/30)
  • Antitrust (5/1)
  • The Dead Zone (5/1)
  • Full Contact (5/1)
  • Hart’s War (5/1)
  • In Dreams (5/1)
  • Lethal Weapon (5/1)
  • Misery (5/1)
  • Practical Magic (5/1)
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