Your Netflix Instant Weekend: TAPEHEADS, CALL NORTHSIDE 777, and more
Let me start off by saying I watched last week's wildcard, GRIZZLY PARK, and it made me think twice about even including wildcards from here on out. Not that it was terrible, it was just a bit boring with little action until the very end. But then I remembered how much fun I had with a previous wildcard, EYEBORGS, and decided they will stay. Hopefully, you guys understand these are completely blind recommendations, usually bred from my love of b-cinema but occasionally more "refined" tastes, unseen by me. So while I make no apologies, I can say if you watched last week's wildcard, I feel your pain.
This week is a doozy, with an enormous flood of titles of all kinds added. It was hard to whittle it down to just a few to highlight and it's going to be even harder to not mention all of the 50+ more on my list in the "If you're looking for more..." section. However, the whole point of this column is to select a few films out of the weekly additions to recommend you add so you don't have to pour through a giant list. Plus I can always move a few to next week! Today, let us take a look at a groovy '80s masterpiece that is far too seldom talked about, a character-based procedural starring the great James Stewart, a bizarre film about a boy who becomes his mother's arms, and a much maligned action film with tons of wit and explosions.
Easily one of the most under-seen masterpieces of the '80s, TAPEHEADS is about two security guards (played by John Cusack and Tim Robbins) who, after losing their jobs, form a video production company called Video Aces. Fueled by their lifelong love of the Swanky Modes (played by real life R&B masters Junior Walker and Sam Moore), they dive headfirst into the music video industry with mixed, but always hilarious, results. There isn't a frame of TAPEHEADS that doesn't deserve to be iconic. From hilarious subplots populated with incredible actors such as Clu Gulager, Susan Tyrell, Jessica Walter, and Mary Crosby to a climax that revolves around a Menudo concert, TAPEHEADS oozes effortless irreverent entertainment. That's not even to mention the many cameos (I'll spoil none here), the incredible soundtrack and a script that is line-for-line as quotable as the best Mel Brooks works.
Through it all, there's an honest-to-goodness decent and realistic axiom ("You do what you have to, so you can do what you want to.") that makes this a bit of an inspirational film as well. It's certainly offbeat, consistently witty and has a re-watchability factor that is through the roof. It's additions like this- under-appreciated films that deserve to be considered classics- that make the Netflix streaming service worth every penny. "Let's get into trouble, baby."
This documentary style, near-noir is based on the true story of a reporter who was able to prove a man who had been in prison for 11 years innocent. In the film, Frank Wieck in convicted of murdering a policemen in a Chicago speakeasy in 1932. Years later, Chicago Times reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) is assigned to look a bit deeper into the case when an ad is submitted to the paper offering $5,000 to anyone who can find the real killer. What follows is an (admittedly) linear investigation by Stewart's McNeal which brings him to the prison to face Wieck and has him writing a series of editorials on the subject. Through it all, nobody with authority takes him seriously as he begins to convince himself of Wieck's innocence.
CALL NORTHSIDE 777 shouldn't really be labeled a noir, it plays better as a simple procedural and a character study. Stewart's driven reporter is masterfully written and even better performed. While the film isn't exactly thrilling, it is engaging and a pleasure to watch. Filmed on location in Chicago, CALL NORTHSIDE 777 has a truly authentic feel which makes the fact that it is based on a real case even that much more interesting. A classic by no means, this is simply an entertaining film, strongly written and acted and definitely worthy of your time.
I personally have spent a lot of time on Gordon and the Whale covering this very film. I'm not going to pass up another opportunity to express my undying love for Alejandro Jodorowsky's slice of cinematic perfection, SANTA SANGRE. After witnessing his father (who had just relieved his wife of her arms) commit suicide in a public square, Fenix is institutionalized. Years later, his armless mother retrieves him, determined to have him become a proxy for her missing limbs so that she can take revenge for the misery forced upon their family. Being a Jodorowsky film, it's not even as simple as that, though. Don't worry- the narrative isn't as seemingly impenetrable as, say, HOLY MOUNTAIN. The themes and subtext in SANTA SANGRE do run deep but paying attention to them is not required to enjoy the film. It's a visual and aural treat the likes of which are rarely seen. If you're unable to pick up Severin's feature-packed DVD or Blu-ray, this is your next best option, one I encourage you to act upon sooner rather than later.
Yes, the infamous LAST ACTION HERO is now available at the click of a button in widescreen (the DVD edition was complete crap, it's also available on Blu-ray now). The film is somewhat of a joke to many people, but I challenge most to give it a re-watch, knowing what they are in for and I bet a good number find it more enjoyable the second time around. For the uninitiated, the movie is the story of Danny (Austin O'Brien), a film junkie who is friends with an old projectionist that gives him the opportunity to see a sneak preview of JACK SLATER IV, the latest sequel in Danny's favorite action franchise. As Danny enters the theater Nick, the projectionist, tears a golden ticket for him. This ticket begins to glow during the screening right before dynamite flies out of the screen and explodes. Suddenly, Danny is in the film, joining in on the mystery Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is investigating while trying to explain to Slater they are in a movie. Of course, Jack doesn't believe him. Things go completely awry when the bad guys of the cheesy action film in which Danny finds himself discover a portal back to the real world.
LAST ACTION HERO has a fascinating history (one I would encourage you to read about) and it comes with a mostly negative reputation. The film is obviously a send-up of convenient action movie devices and is directed by one of the best action directors of our time (John McTiernan) and stars the action hero, Arnie. One's enjoyment of the film seems to hinge on whether or not one believes LAST ACTION HERO begins to become the very thing it is playfully lambasting. I'd argue that the obvious dichotomy between the goofball rules of Jack Slater's universe versus the much more serious ones of Danny's makes LAST ACTION HERO immune from falling into that trap. I won't go as far as to say the film is misunderstood, but I think it is lacking a fair shot from most. LAST ACTION HERO is exciting, imaginative, hilarious, occasionally very clever, and has explosions. Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, it is a film I will continue to fight for as it will always be one of my favorite movies from all involved- from McTiernan to Schwarzenegger to Shane Black.
The Wildcard - THE KILLING MACHINE
While some of Dolph's recent films have failed to hold my interest (I didn't care for THE EXPENDABLES or UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION), I've enjoyed some of the less buzzed-about movies like COMMAND PERFORMANCE. This film, like COMMAND PERFORMANCE, not only stars Lundgren but is also directed by the legend. The story is your typical Soviet-trained assassin tries to hide his past while living in America only to have his cover blown such that he is forced to kill once again in order to protect those things that he now loves. Yeah, Dolph Lundgren potentially kicks a lot of ass. As far as giving this one a fair shot, you don't have to do much more to sell me on it.
If you're looking for more...
First off, you can watch a double bill from Nash Edgerton- start with his hilarious short SPIDER and then follow-up with his fantastic neo-noir, things-spiral-out-of-control film THE SQUARE. For a truly clever twist on the vampire film, check out the sci-fi/horror film DAYBREAKERS. Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are both fantastic in the indie comedy PLEASE GIVE. Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman join forces for the powerful character drama, THE VERDICT. The masterful war film PATTON is without a doubt a necessary watch. I'm actually a big fan of Richard Kelly's wonderful mess of a film, SOUTHLAND TALES. It seems Woody Allen is coming in weekly doses to Netflix, this time we have the delightful mystery-comedy MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. On the horror front, check out Kevin "NIGHT OF THE DEMONS" Tenny's subversion of the childhood tale, PINOCCHIO'S REVENGE. Religious horror is handled actually fairly well in the Demi Moore film THE SEVENTH SIGN. As far as new foreign additions, ASHES OF TIME REDUX is Wong Kar Wai's exquisite wuxia film slightly recut and with the addition of a Yo-Yo Ma score. Also from China, THE ROAD HOME is a contemplative and beautiful love story from director Zhang Yimou and staring Zhang Ziyi. From Ireland we have THE FIELD, a powerful land rights drama with a round of solid performances. THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS is a tear-jerking melodrama starring Elizabeth Taylor and based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. Speaking of tear jerkers, I haven't seen RADIO FLYER since the '90s but I remember needing a lot of tissues. David Lynch's Wizard of Oz story WILD AT HEART must be seen to be believed and contains one of Nicolas Cage's best performances. The cult film CAR WASH seems to be more divisive than I had thought but I certainly love it. Finally, for some simple Jet Li ass-kicking fun, check out KISS OF THE DRAGON.