Friday, September 5, 2008

On demand

Last week, I got another message via my cable box that this weekend (Sept. 5-8), I was going to be rewarded with a bounty of cinematic riches due to the fact that I’ll be getting HBO and Cinemax on Demand for free, courtesy of CharredHer Communications. I glanced through the offerings last night and discovered, of course, that most of the movies I wanted to see were ending (drum roll, please) the same day the free stuff was being offered. (Camera 2, I want a tight close-up shot of me really being surprised.)

So I looked through the HBO and Cinemax menus this morning and while there really wasn’t anything to get all excited about I jotted down some candidates to take a look at this weekend. I’ve been trying to break up my TCM addiction with movies from Flix on Demand (which I get free all the time); I managed to catch Joan Micklin Silver’s debut feature Hester Street (1975). A fascinating tale of Jewish immigrants in NYC during the turn of the century, Hester assisted a then-unknown Carol Kane (who’s truly magnificent) in getting an Oscar nomination as Best Actress…and also broke the mold for independent films by focusing on real characters and stories instead of the usual artsy-fartsy content. Silver’s feature films include Between the Lines (1977), Head Over Heels (1979; aka Chilly Scenes of Winter) and Crossing Delancey (1988)—and it’s a crying shame that of these three, only Delancey is available on DVD (though Hester is, too).

I also watched Hal Ashby’s feature film debut, The Landlord (1970), and while I’ve never been a huge fan of his work (The Last Detail [1973] is about the only movie of his that I find myself wanting to return to again and again) I have to say Landlord is certainly in competition with Detail as my favorite of his films. Beau Bridges plays a wealthy and clueless WASP (his name is Elgar Winthrop Julius Enders) who purchases a tenement building with the intention of building his dream house…but starts to have second thoughts when he meets the hostile tenants and begins to sympathize to the point where he addresses their complaints and make repairs inside their apartments…just like the titled occupation. Bridges’ character is a likable sort despite the fact that he just doesn’t “get it” most of the time, and most of the race relations satire in the film is still pretty razor-sharp. Marvelous cast in this one: Lee Grant (as Bridges’ waaaay-too-uptight mother), Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey (she has a hysterically funny scene with Grant where the two of them get piss-drunk while eating ham hocks) Walter Brooke, Lou Gossett, Jr. (with hair), Marki Bey, Mel Stewart, Susan Anspach and Robert Klein. I don’t expect my free HBO/Cinemax weekend to produce any viewings to match these two films—but maybe there’ll be a nugget or two among the dross.

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