Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekend Stream for 8/30/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content for you to watch this weekend from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service. Since titles can disappear with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, pal!

Weekend Stream for 8/30/13

This edition of the Weekend Stream features two very different performances by Henry Fonda, and a Steve Coogan TV show (but not the one you probably think).

First, we have 1941's The Lady Eve, a witty screwball comedy from writer-director Preston Sturges. Sturges was one of the very first high-profile screenwriters to make the jump to the director's chair, and during a period in the 1940's, he and his stock company of actors produced some of the very best classic screen comedies. The Lady Eve stars Henry Fonda as the hapless, hopelessly naive Charles Pike, heir to an ale fortune, and Baby Face's Barbara Stanwyck as Jean Harrington, a flirty con artist attempting to seduce Pike out of his money. Fonda's "good guy" persona suits him like nobody's business when it comes to playing a sap, and Stanwyck is always at home playing clever, seductive types. But Sturges's favorite bit players (like William Demarest and Eric Blore) steal the show in their hilarious supporting roles. Filled with Production Code–pushing gags, quippy dialogue, and loads of physical comedy, The Lady Eve is one of the cinema's great pleasures.

Many years later, Henry Fonda would take on a rare villainous role in Sergio Leone's epic 1968 Spaghetti Western, Once Upon a Time in the West. As Frank, a hired gun for a crooked railroad baron, Fonda subverts his star image, his clean-cut looks making Frank's evil deeds all the more shocking by contrast. Just as in his trilogy featuring Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, Leone settles us into a gritty, morally gray vision of the West. A real estate dispute between Frank's employers and a beleaguered widow/former prostitute (Claudia Cardinale) brings together unlikely allies in a bandit named Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and a mysterious gunman (Charles Bronson) with a harmonica and a vendetta against Frank. Patient and slow-moving, yet ready to burst into violence at any moment, Once Upon a Time in the West showcases Leone's much-imitated style: extreme close-ups, tension-enhancing editing, and a well-integrated, non-traditional score by Ennio Morricone. It is a bit long, at 164 minutes, but it's time well spent.

Finally, there's Saxondale, a British sitcom starring Steve Coogan. Coogan is perhaps best known for his character Alan Partridge, an oblivious, self-important media personality with a bizarre sense of style and a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth. In Saxondale, Coogan again disappears into a role, this time as Tommy Saxondale, a former roadie turned pest control expert stuck attending anger management courses. Saxondale's chief traits are his drug-addled past, short temper, love of classic cars, and age-defying need for smartassery and pointless rebellion. The show spotlights Tommy's unique philosophy on life, gleaned from his years in rock and roll, as well as his relationship with Magz (Ruth Jones), his anarchist girlfriend, and Raymond (Rasmus Hardiker), his live-in apprentice and de facto surrogate son. This kind of character-centric comedy is rare in the US, where long seasons tend to exhaust such gags, but is a perfect fit for the UK's shorter episode orders. Saxondale only aired for two seasons (13 episodes in total) between 2006 and 2007, and the whole thing is available on Netflix for your binge-watching needs.

So that's it for now! As always, if you watch any of this week's selections, feel free to drop me a comment or catch me on Twitter and let me know what you thought. See you back here on Tuesday for more bloggings.

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