Friday, September 13, 2013

Weekend Stream for 09/13/13

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, guy!

Weekend Stream for 09/13/13

This week's selections all feature people trapped in bad relationships, though one of these relationships is between a man and a hotel. I say it still counts as a theme. Let's get to it!

First up this week is Woody Allen's 1985 romantic dramedy The Purple Rose of Cairo. Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a poor waitress in Depression-era New Jersey, is stuck in an abusive relationship with the loutish Monk (Danny Aiello) and goes to the movies as an escape. But after re-watching the same film—the titular "The Purple Rose of Cairo"—a number of times, the character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) takes notice and descends from the screen to join her in real life. Baxter's departure causes chaos, as the film's remaining characters can't move on or even exit the room without him. Disruptions occurs on all prints of the film, and the fear of copycat characters threatens to paralyze the industry. Eventually Gil (also Daniels), the actor who plays Tom, is dispatched to try to sort things out, and an awkward love rectangle between Gil, Tom, Cecilia, and Monk ensues. Allen has employed magical realism in a number of times over the years, but rarely does it feel as charming and bittersweet as it does here. Gordon Willis's photography is striking in both his vision of '30's New Jersey, and his admirable facsimile of that era's films (which Allen uses to great comedic effect). Allen gets great supporting turns from Dianne Wiest as a snarky prostitute and Edward Herrmann as one of the film-within-a-film's stars. Most similar in tone, perhaps, to Midnight in Paris, The Purple Rose of Cairo perfectly balances humor with emotion and longing with whimsy, touting the cinema's powers of escapism while warning us about buying too far into what we see on the screen.

Next, we have 2000's In the Mood for Love, a tender, evocative story of betrayed spouses and repressed longing in 1960's Hong Kong from writer/director Wong Kar-Wai. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) are neighbors, each committed to a mostly loveless marriage with a largely absent partner. In time, Chow and Su realize their spouses are sleeping together, and strike up a friendship while imagining their partners' courtship. However, they too develop feelings, feelings that their role as the "wronged parties" basically forces them to tamp down to keep the moral high ground. Wong choreographs the film like a tango (as the score sometimes indicates), with a back-and-forth rhythm that illustrates the start/stop nature of Chow and Su's relationship. Wong is aided in this by two world class cinematographers (his long-time collaborator Christopher Doyle, and Mark Lee Ping Bin) who provide dance-like camera movements and sharp compositions within a palette of blues, yellows and deeply saturated reds. The film is the centerpiece of a loose trilogy, as well, and its "prequel" Days of Being Wild is also streaming (the third film, the twisty, futuristic 2046, is only available via disc). If you've ever had a mutual attraction for someone with whom everything was perfect but the timing, you will relate to In the Mood for Love's heightened-but-buried emotions.

Finally, we have Fawlty Towers, John Cleese's farcical follow-up to Monty Python's Flying Circus, co-written with (and co-starring) his then-wife Connie Booth. Fawlty Towers concerns the goings-on at a seaside hotel run by Basil Fawlty (Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), with the assistance of waitress Polly (Booth) and bumbling Spanish waiter/porter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). Basil is a prickly innkeeper at the best of times, always hoping for a higher class of clientele in spite of his establishment's obvious shortcomings (to say nothing of his own). His need to put on airs and his oft-wounded pride leave him ripe for comic misunderstandings, which tend to blow up into major disasters over the course of an episode (usually due to his own hot temper). Basil's fits of pique are a perfect showcase for the sputtering rage and gangling physical comedy Cleese mastered in his Python days, and he's matched by Scales, whose gregariousness, practicality, and sharp tongue make Sybil a perfect comic foil for Basil's mania. Based on an actual hotelier Cleese and the Pythons supposedly met during location shooting, Basil seems like the last person who should ever be in charge of a hotel, but there he is, unwilling and unable to extricate himself. Cringe comedy before it was "in," Fawlty Towers's twelve episodes (over two seasons, separated by nearly four years) paved the way for everything from The Office to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Seriously, why haven't you just watched it yet?

That's all for this weekend. Enjoy yourselves and we'll see you next week. Until then, keep watching the skies movies and TV!

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