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Cut the Cord: #s-H
April 2023. Volume 2, Issue 4.
Welcome back to Cut the Cord.
I've let you down, regular readers of this column. I could make excuses all day about hosting three podcasts and running this site and whatever else, but the truth of the matter is: I promised you upwards of 10 free streaming recommendations in every issue of Cut the Cord. Aside from a few outliers, I hover around six every month.
In an effort to change that, I've come up with a monthly theme that will at least keep me to nine a month: A-Z recommendations. Throw in a "numbers" category, and you've got 27: or nine a month for the next three months.
They'll be filled with a mix of genres and periods. This month alone has documentary and blaxploitation and western and dark comedy.
April brings the first nine, with May and June seeing the rest of the project.
Here's to more Cut the Cord than ever before.
#: 10 to Midnight (1983)
Warren Stacy, an office equipment repairman, begins murdering women after they reject his advances. To minimize the evidence, Stacy always kills while naked, wearing nothing but gloves, and further evades the law with his strong alibis. Veteran detective Leo Kessler is convinced of Stacy’s guilt and begins using questionable methods to catch him.
This Charles Bronson vehicle comes courtesy of The Cannon Group, whose distinct flavor of exploitation takes this police procedural from creepy to down-right sleazy. The fearful moments are those of the killer, who has to strip down totally naked to perform his perverted murders. The wtf comes from Bronson, the detective on the case, bringing in his own daughter as bait. The laughs come in a climactic ending that you wouldn't believe if I told you.
Dark enough to be deadly, light enough to be dark comedy. I loved both sides.
A: Ammonite (2020)
In 1840s England, palaeontologist Mary Anning and a young woman sent by her husband to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship. Despite the chasm between their social spheres and personalities, Mary and Charlotte discover they can each offer what the other has been searching for: the realisation that they are not alone. It is the beginning of a passionate and all-consuming love affair that will defy all social bounds and alter the course of both lives irrevocably.
I don't think I, or most people, gave Ammonite a fair shot when it came out. Not only did it come out just a few months after the shockingly similar and vastly superior Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but it was released smack in the middle of a never-ending pandemic lockdown that had us all pissed off.
Thinking back, it's a valuable movie in its own right. How bothered can we be about a movie where Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet fall in love? How cold-hearted can we be?
B: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (2020)
A portrait of the lives of a disparate group of patrons and employees at an American watering hole today.
I have an odd story about actor Michael Martin, who passed suddenly and unexpectedly not long after the release of this viral cult hit in 2020.
Michael and I had some mutual friends through a playwriting MFA program, where I was one of the actors. We had never met in real life, never spoken, but one day he added me on Facebook. I learned later that this was something he did. If he found someone interesting, he added them.
I watched his daily Facebook musings for a while. We never spoke directly.
Some while later, when I started a business, I hit the “invite all to like” button on the company’s page. I knew that would annoy some of the people I hadn’t spoken to since middle school, but I get enough of them myself that it seemed common practice to me. I’m constantly getting invites to like real estate and tow truck pages.
Michael immediately unfriended me. He sent me a message, the first between us, that said something along the lines of, “See my post from yesterday.” He forwarded it and it said something like, “If we’ve never shared a word together, don’t invite me to like your page. I’ll unfriend you.”
I felt bad. I didn’t mean in any way to upset him. If only I had seen his post the day before, perhaps I could have gotten to know someone it seems thousands loved dearly.
Rest In Peace, Michael.
C: Comes a Horseman (1978)
Ella Connors is a single woman who gets pressured to sell her failing cattle farm to her corrupt ex-suitor, Jacob Ewing. She asks for help from her neighbor, Frank Athearn. As Ella and Frank fight back through stampedes, jealousy, betrayal, and sabotage… they eventually find love.
The following appeared in The B-Sides: James Caan.
Cowboys are tough guys, right? John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin.
Well, that’s what Jimmy Can did so well — subverting expectations. Bring authenticity to tropes. Make stock standard characters into real people.
And this is no regular western. Taking place in the wake of WWII and featuring a female protagonist (Jane Fonda), Comes a Horsemanisn’t about a lawless wild west. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s about how the law is crafted in a way to support the big fat capitalist and screw the little guy.
Jimmy and Jane are filmed against the stunning landscapes of Colorado and Arizona and since they are a couple of lookers themselves, it really is a gorgeous picture. Slow, methodical, yes. But patient and powerful. The love story doesn’t even appear until the end of the film — the movie requires your full attention.
Think Lonely Are the Brave or Brokeback Mountain for similarly thoughtful, mid-century set westerns.
D: Disco Godfather (1979)
Retired cop and celebrity DJ Tucker Williams (aka The Disco Godfather) takes to the streets as a dangerous hallucinogenic drug called Angel Dust begins to take hold of the neighborhood.
Blaxploitation first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Rudy Ray Moore may be known as The Godfather of Rap, but in his 1979 directorial effort, he plays the title character of Disco Godfather, alternately known as The Avenging Disco Godfather for some releases.
The thing he's heroically avenging is PCP, known as angel dust in the film, the drug that has infiltrated his community, whacked out his nephew, and made his disco an unreputable place. In awesome blaxploitation fashion, there are whacked out scenes and disco scenes in equal measure. The drug scenes are the greatest PSA ever as it takes some folks a whole-ass exorcism to rid themselves of the disease. The disco scenes are basically just extended Soul Train sequences, right at the height of that show's popularity. Only Rudy Ray could balance the two and he does here to make his flick a fun time.
E: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
A documentary about the Enron corporation, its faulty and corrupt business practices, and how they led to its fall.
It definitely gets the informative part of a documentary. It's a little textbooky, but that might be a necessary evil when it comes to the ins and outs, numbers and figures, lies, and falsified truths of one of history's great swindles.
If you're looking for a little less by the book, seek out a production of Lucy Prebble's play ENRON, a splashy Shakespearean version of the tale.
Remember when those two Fyre Fest docs came out within a week of each other? And one was really serious while one was really goofy? I'm telling you to do that with these two Enron tales.
F: Fender Bender (2016)
In a small New Mexico town, teenager Hilary gets into a fender bender and innocently exchanges her personal information with the other driver, a terrifying and bizarre serial killer who stalks the country’s endless miles of roads and streets with his old rusty car, hungrily searching for his next unsuspecting victim.
This is what you could call diet high concept. Yes, “Killer causes car accidents to gain contact information and address he will then use to kill” can be boiled down to one sentence. But it’s not exactly a strong elevator pitch. They’ve really only found a new way to give the stalker access to the house.
As a result, you get a generic slasher. But this one is efficient enough to be fun. It’s clearly inspired by many films of the subgenre, complete with classic character cliches, a synthesizer score, great final girl grit, and lightning strikes used for lighting effects. But it also has a pretty creepy mask for the killer, some fun performances, and a great When a Stranger Calls “He’s in the house!” adjacent moment. With many other moments clearly inspired by Halloween, if you’re a fan of classic slashers, it’s fun to watch the offspring of that inspiration.
G: Gangs of New York (2002)
It’s 1863. America was born in the streets. Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points of America to seek vengeance against the psychotic gangland kingpin, Bill the Butcher, who murdered his father years earlier. With an eager pickpocket by his side and a whole new army, Vallon fights his way to seek vengeance on the Butcher and restore peace in the area.
The Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio pairing is one of cinema's all-time great collaborations: The Aviator, The Departed (my favorite), Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street (my second favorite), and the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon.
It all started with Gangs of New York, a movie that, for some reason, gets labeled as stuffy homework. Yes, it's a grand 19th-century epic about a lesser-known aspect of American history. But it's violent and messy and has a sneering Daniel Day-Lewis and a blooming Cameron Diaz and a five-hour runtime and a billion-dollar budget. It's huge and that's why it's great. You feel every part of it.
And it was, of course, the very beginning of that great partnership.
H: Harold and Maude (1971)
The young Harold lives in his own world of suicide-attempts and funeral visits to avoid the misery of his current family and home environment. Harold meets an 80-year-old woman named Maude who also lives in her own world yet one in which she is having the time of her life. When the two opposites meet they realize that their differences don’t matter and they become best friends and love each other.
If you ever watch Harold and Maude with a group of friends and you love it while they find it exhausting, I understand you.
Forget those people, you and I should hang out.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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