Unstreamable is a column that recommends movies and TV shows you can’t watch on major streaming services in the United States. We publish every Wednesday.
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Japan, 1996, 118 minutes (Miramax) or 136 minutes (Toho), Dir. Masayuki Suo
If you watched a lot of foreign movies in the ‘90s, you probably stumbled on Japanese director Masayuki Suo at film festivals. I was watching Barney in the ‘90s, so I got introduced to him later in life, in a roundabout way via Jennifer Lopez.
The 2004 Miramax hit Shall We Dance?, a sappy movie about a burned-out salaryman who gets his groove back by secretly becoming a ballroom dancer, is in the pantheon of J Lo rom-coms. It stars Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, and Susan Sarandon, and it’s predictable and corny. Still, Miramax mined its charming leads for gold, making around $170 million at the box office, over triple the film’s budget. But that success is only a shadow of the whole story, since the film is a remake of a much better movie: Masayuki Suo’s Shall We Dance? from 1996. Unfortunately, that movie is hard to find in the US, unlike its glitzy remake, currently on HBO Max.
The starter Shall We Dance? stars Koji Yakusho (Tampopo, Memoirs of a Geisha, Under the Open Sky) and is tender, funny, and void of Hollywood cheese. It was even more successful than its remake, becoming an international hit and inspiring a ballroom dance craze. It shares a lot with Suo’s earlier movies, Sumo Do Sumo Don’t and Fancy Dance. All three focus on modern men who experience epiphanies after practicing something formal (ballroom) or traditional (sumo, Buddhism). When Miramax acquired the North American rights for Suo’s Shall We Dance?, they fucked with it—because of course they did—and cut about 20 minutes off the movie, mainly cutting out women. That sounds like Harvey Scissorhands. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Foreign section under Japan. There are two cuts: The Miramax DVD is 118 minutes. The release from Toho is 136 minutes.
U.S., 1984, 90 minutes, Dir. Amy Heckerling
Amy Heckerling’s second directorial effort—and early Michael Keaton vehicle—is a hoot and a half. This gangster satire set in 1910 New York City follows Johnny Kelly (Keaton), a humble newsboy forced to turn to a life of crime. The reason? His mother’s medical bills are astronomical. What the lack of universal healthcare will force you to do! With the worst gangster name in the biz, the newly christened “Johnny Dangerously” has a knack for the streets. But when his lawyer brother Tommy (theeee Griffin Dunne!!) joins the district attorney’s office, shit starts to go left. The cast is stacked with funny weirdos—Marilu Sheridan as a hot showgirl, Joe Piscopo as Johnny’s rival, and Danny Devito as the corrupt D.A. One of the best remembered characters is Richard Dimitri’s Roman Moronie, a gangster with a knack for malapropisms. “You lousy cork-soakers,” he says at his courthouse trial. “You have violated my farging rights.” Johnny Dangerously wasn’t so much of a hit with critics, but now—like Heckerling’s other features—has gained a bigger audience on the home market, earning it a certified Cult Status. Why can’t we appreciate things when they first come out!?! JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Comedy section.
USA, 1988-1995, half-hour sitcom, Created by Susan Harris
Early in Empty Nest’s run, its showrunners had to resign themselves to being the forgotten stepchild of The Golden Girls – or “TV’s unknown hit,” as the LA Times called it. Popular but not too popular, the show was about the parents of adult children, and was a spinoff of the far-more-beloved Golden Girls. Despite running for seven seasons, Empty Nest always seemed to have a Teflon-like quality that caused it to slide off the brain into obscurity, even while it was garnering big ratings and awards.
As sitcoms go, it was slightly cursed: At first, producers tried to create a backdoor pilot through The Golden Girls, but the episode was dreadful – and is still regarded as one of the worst of the show’s entire run – due to creator Susan Harris being too sick to give the project her full attention. That’s a shame, since Empty Nest’s original cast featured the wonderful Rita Moreno, who would have been a joy to see every week; but because the backdoor pilot’s script went through so many revisions, her performance comes off as flat (at best) and bewildered (at worst).
As a result, Empty Nest was heavily retooled, recast, and made a sheepish debut a year later, with only minor connective tissue to The Golden Girls via occasional visits from Sophia. Somehow, it was considered obscure for all seven of its seasons, and is largely forgotten today due to its tepid performance in post-cancellation syndication. It’s frankly bizarre that today it’s easier to stream the floppy one-season spinoff Golden Palace than Empty Nest, but that’s showbiz.
Every week, we feature one formerly unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week it’s….
USA, 1995, 102 min, Dir. Scott Kalvert
Fuck what you’ve heard, Leonardo DiCaprio was absolutely a star before he froze to death in the debris of the sunken Titanic. And his role as Jim in The Basketball Diaries (right before “Leo-mania” kicked off after his starring role as Jack in that James Cameron film) proves it. Based off the book by writer, poet, and punk Jim Carroll, the role supposedly fell through a long list of ’90s-era alt boys like Matt Dillon, River Phoenix, and Eric Stoltz before landing in DiCaprio’s lap. Centered around Carroll’s life as a 15-year-old heroin-addicted basketball player, his performance has all the early markers of a Classic Leo performance—spit, real-life source material, a sensitive golden boy gone bad, body transformation, lots of emotional scenes where Leo ends up scream-crying. It even stars future Departed co-star Mark Wahlberg and, like, half the cast of The Sopranos. It’s great. Well, DiCaprio is great. The screenplay could definitely have been better—but it’s worth the watch for Leo’s performance alone.
It should also be noted that Basketball Diaries was involved in some controversy after the 1997 Heath High School shooting and 1999 Columbine High School massacre because of a dream sequence where Jim is dressed in a black trench coat, shooting up his classroom. It is rather eerie. The film was one of several entertainment products that were the target of a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought about by the families of school-shooting victims in 1999, alleging that they were to blame for the school shooting. The case was dropped a few years later. JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Literature section, located under Beats & Bohemians. Now available to stream on Xfinity Stream.
Looking for more? Browse our big list of 350+ hard-to-find movies over on The Stranger.
The fine print: Unstreamable means we couldn’t find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other hundreds of streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn’t find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don’t consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.