Category Archives: Stream It

Stream It!: Witness for the Prosecution

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

Stream on Netflix: Witness for the Prosecution

si-witness_for_the_prosecutionI really want to start doing these more often, since a ton of great stuff is dropping onto on demand subscription services all the time. This is one that’s actually been on Netflix Instant for quite a while, but it’s a great movie, I’ve got Billy Wilder on the mind right now, and it has a great double feature combination that’s also on Netflix Instant. Win all around.

Witness for the Prosecution is a late film in three acting careers – Charles Laughton, as experienced but physically ailing barrister Sir Wilfred; Tyrone Power (this is his final credited film), as the murder suspect Leonard Vole whom Laughton defends; and Marlene Dietrich, as Power’s beautiful and devoted wife. It may be late in their careers, but they are all at the top of their game, and so is Wilder, delivering a consistently witty and surprising courtroom drama with a dose of mystery. Laughton’s delightful wife Elsa Lanchester also plays his nurse, who emphatically thinks he is not ready to take on a case after recently suffering a heart attack.

Laughton is always great to watch, from his early villain-type roles like Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty to his imposing girth as King Henry VIII a few times to his witty charm in movies like this one. He’s got a reputation as a scenery-chewer, and that’s not entirely wrong, but he’s one of the absolute best scenery-chewers ever in the movies, and comes across more as a scene-stealer here. Dietrich has her share of meaty roles, but this may be one of her absolute best, as her duplicity (or is it?) comes to light. The script will keep you guessing, all the way up to the delicious ending.

Double Feature: Anatomy of a Murder

si-anatomy_of_a_murder_ver2In some ways, Anatomy of a Murder is a more traditional courtroom drama than Witness for the Prosecution, with more courtroom scenes (and American ones, which feel a bit more familiar to us on this side of the pond) and a battle of lawyers front and center as James Stewart defends and George C. Scott prosecutes a man (Ben Gazzara) claiming a temporary insanity defense for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There’s a mystery at the heart of this one, too, as Stewart digs into the evidence to find out what really happened, but it’s not as whimsical or twisty as Witness for the Prosecution.

In 1959, a film touching on the subject of rape was fairly rare and pretty controversial. Director Otto Preminger was no stranger to controversy, having pushed the limits of the Production Code already, notably in 1953 when his film The Moon is Blue included the word “virgin.” Here Remick’s character is known to be something of a flirt or worse, and Gazzara’s is known to be violent and possessive, which brings his plea of temporary insanity into question. The film is also well-remembered for its brilliant Duke Ellington jazz score (also unusual at the time) and the focus on Stewart as a character rather than simply focusing on the plot. That said, his courtroom scenes opposite Scott are electric.

Besides both being courtroom films about a dubious murder case, the films have another connection in terms of the surprising outcomes of each case – which I obviously can’t talk about in any detail without spoiling stuff. I’ve probably said too much already. Both films are streaming on Netflix for the low low price of “included in your $8 a month subscription,” so just watch them. You’ll have a delightful time.

Stream It!: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

New on Netflix: Sunset Boulevard

sunset_boulevard

A bunch of new stuff hit Netflix at the beginning of the month, as usual, but the immediately standout was Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Wilder is known for his cynical yet often uproarious approach to his films, and here he turns that cynicism directly toward Hollywood, making one of the most scathing and ruthlessly entertaining movies about the movies you’ll ever see.

In true film noir fashion, our hero (?) tells the story of his inevitable undoing in flashback – but not only is he in existential defeat, as noir heroes usually are, he’s actually already dead, floating facedown in the pool of a decaying mansion on Sunset Blvd. His relationship with faded silent screen star Norma Desmond (played by silent screen star Gloria Swanson) takes up the bulk of the film, and Norma is a gloriously over-the-top character. This film is not going for realism in any way, but it’s about as perfect an encapsulation of Gothicism in a Hollywood setting as you could wish to see.

All the extra little touches Wilder brings are great, too, particularly in the casting. Erich von Stroheim plays Desmond’s butler, but he also used to be her director – Stroheim himself was a director (and actor) in the silent era, and directed Swanson in the unfinished Queen Kelly, footage from which is used within Sunset Boulevard. Stroheim’s relationship with Hollywood studios was notorious, baggage which certainly informs the critique Sunset Boulevard makes about the way the system chews people up and throws them away when it gets done with them. It’s kind of amazing Wilder even got this film made in Hollywood, to be honest – he doesn’t say a lot of good things about the system.

Double Feature: All About Eve

all_about_eveIn looking for a good double feature to go with Sunset Boulevard, I first thought of other films about Hollywood with similarly dark tones – Mulholland Drive, The Bad and the Beautiful, etc. But none of them were streaming. I thought I was going to have to go with a typical director pairing and choose Double Indemnity (which would be a good double feature, mind you), but then I thought why not pair one of the greatest films about Hollywood with one of the greatest films about the stage – and they just happen to have been made the same year!

All About Eve follows eager fan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) as she worms her way into the life of established stage star Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but her intentions may not be the best. This is one of Davis’ absolute best roles; Margo’s combination of star power and neuroticism make her one of the great characters of the screen, while Baxter amazingly holds her own as the scheming Eve. That they were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars is fitting, though they may have split the vote (the Oscar went to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, a good film, but it ain’t All About Eve).

The rest of the cast is a dream, too, with Thelma Ritter especially shining, as always, as Margo’s no-nonsense maid Birdie, the only one of Margo’s crowd who sees right through Eve. The other person with Eve’s number is drama critic Addison Steele (George Sanders), whose acerbic wit grants many of the film’s devastatingly good one-liners. Look for a young Marilyn Monroe as “a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.”

Stream It!: Robin Hood (1973)

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, and Amazon Prime.]

New on Netflix: Robin Hood

Growing up, I saw many of the classic Disney films – Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp, etc. – but as a child my favorite one was without a doubt the 1973 version of Robin Hood, with a foxy Robin Hood and Maid Marian, a petulant shorn lion as Prince John, and various other characters given appropriate animal form. I didn’t know it at the time, but Disney was in recycle mode here, not even bothering to disguise the re-use of Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book as Little John, or the King of the Animals from Bedknobs and Broomsticks as the ineffective Prince John. Sometimes there’s something to be said for ignorance, and my childhood glee at watching and rewatching this film is something that will never escape me. I’ve heard others who saw this film first as adults say that they didn’t like it much at all, but I’ll never be able to watch it without nostalgia glasses, I guess. Thankfully, Jonathan feels the same way about it, so at least I have one very important person on my side. If you do have kids who are into adventure but may not quite be ready for the 1938 Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood quite yet, give the Disney version a try. It’s a good stepping stone, and they won’t know that it falls into Disney’s “lazy” period.

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Stream It!: Wrong

There’s a lot of good streaming media out there these days, if you know where to look for it – Netflix is still a major player, but as they move more and more toward TV shows, others are taking up the slack. These Stream It! columns may pull from any of the major streaming services, and will be sporadically produced as I have time and feel called. Films often expire from these services, so if you’re reading this from the future, the films I highlight may no longer be available.

New on Netflix: Wrong

Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong is as delicious a dry humor absurdist comedy as you could wish for. It ended up in my Top Ten for 2012, and here’s my capsule review from when I saw it at 2012’s AFI Film Festival.

I was a pretty big fan of Quentin Dupieux’s previous film Rubber, and I may have loved Wrong even more, with its full-blown absurdity bolstered by an ever-so-slightly more substantial story. Dolph Springer wakes up one morning to find his beloved dog missing, an event that sends his already spiraling life even more out of control. Other things he’s dealing with: his workplace is constantly raining (yes, inside the office), his coworkers seem very intent that he doesn’t belong there, his neighbor and seemingly only friend leaves suddenly on a driving trip to find himself or something, the girl at the pizza place seems to have developed an obsession with him, and what’s more, the palm tree in his backyard has mysteriously turned into a pine tree. “There shouldn’t be a pine tree here. It doesn’t make sense.” No, it doesn’t, and neither does anything else in the film – except, as true absurdity should, it sort of does, right down to the eventually-revealed reason for the dog’s disappearance. Everything in the film is wrong, from obvious things like it raining indoors and trees randomly changing types to the ways people interact with each other. It’s a perfect storm of the awkward and nonsensical, and thanks to the deadpan script and actors’ perfect timing throughout, it’s absolutely hilarious even as you feel bad for these people who can’t quite manage to get along in any way that even resembles normalcy. It’s definitely getting my vote for funniest film I’ve seen this year, and I think it’s safe to say that Dupieux is perfectly tapped into my sense of humor.

Double Feature: Being John Malkovich

Both films treat absurdity with a matter-of-factness that I find simply delightful. In Wrong, as mentioned above, it’s raining in Dolph’s office. In Being John Malkovich, John Cusack’s office is on a half-floor, and everyone has to crouch to be there. Crouching around, he notices a mytserious door and goes through it, finding himself temporarily in the head of John Malkovich, a discovery he decides he can profit on by selling it as a weird sort of tourism. Both films carry out their premises to ridiculous conclusions, and they’d make a great double feature.