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. For the next two weeks, Matt is on a well-deserved vacation. So, this week, Scarecrow’s Jamie Han has stepped in to recommend a deliciously unstreamable Michael Mann TV movie. Thanks Jamie!
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Less than a month ‘til Unstreamable swings through NWFF with a rare screening of All That Jazz: Save your seat!
United States, 1971, 102 minutes, Dir. Monte Hellman
Two-Lane Blacktop is a car movie through and through: the inky black of both the road and the night, the simmering masculinity, the aloof stoicism of its guy leads. There’s hardly one feeling between them! The movie follows two extremely chill men simply called the Driver and the Mechanic (rockstars James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in their only film roles) who drive around in their 1955 Chevy 150, racing insecure men for money. They pick up a fitful passenger called the Girl (Laurie Bird) along the way. One day they meet a man with a 1970 Pontiac GTO (Warren Oates in an impeccable performance) and challenge him to a race from New Mexico to Washington, D.C. Whoever wins gets both the cars’ pink slips.
From there, the film really breaks down into something beyond a simple road movie. I came in half-expecting a ‘70s version of Easy Rider, but Two-Lane Blacktop is a lot less rock n’ roll, leaning heavily into the loneliness and transience of the open road. Despite buzz from Esquire, the existential film was a major flop at the box office. And because of issues with music rights (The Doors song “Moonlight Drive” is featured heavily in one scene), Universal Studios deprioritized releasing the movie on home video. But attention from a 1994 Scarecrow Video petition (they collected 2,000 signatures, including Werner Herzog’s!) helped push Universal to get Two-Lane Blacktop on video with Anchor Bay in 1999. I would assume those same music hangups are what’s preventing the film from streaming in 2022. JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Directors section under Hellman, Monte.
United States, 1989, 97 minutes, Dir. Michael Mann
What if I told you that in the late ’80s, one of the most important American directors of recent history would write and direct a low-budget TV movie version of what eventually would be his most beloved and influential film? That can’t be, right? We’d all know about it because it would be on every disc released through the years, right? Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where Michael Mann, co-king (along with Sir Ridley) of the “extended-directors-definitive-final-cut” can’t get around to seeing that we all have the pleasure of drinking in 1989’s L.A. Takedown, a television baby-steps version of 1995’s Heat.
Heat, if you don’t know, is a seminal ’90s three-hour epic of macho coffee shop posturing with a side of underlying love affair that hinges on work ethics topped with a dollop of hand-holding seen through eyes blurred by tears. There’s guns & action too but that’s less important.
Back in the ’80s, after he finished up Manhunter (and Miami Vice was on the way to cancellation), Mann decided to cut his original script for Heat in half and direct it as a pilot for a possible TV show. The result is basically the same story as Heat—but imagine you had a serious UTI and you went to see Heat on a Friday night and you had to spend half of your time sprinting for the water closet and missing all the character development scenes. Filmed over three weeks, instead of Mann’s usual six-to-nine months, the narrative practically sprints forward. But if you can get over its issues, it becomes an exercise in watching Mann quickly flex his director muscles with only his barebones TV wits about him. Please release the TV Mann cut, says the 19-year-old inside us all. JAMIE HAN
Find it in the Directors section under Mann, Michael.
Japan, 1991, 89 minutes, Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto
IDK what came over me. I impulsively bought Arrow’s definitive Shinya Tsukamoto box set (“Solid Metal Nightmares”) from Scarecrow last year, which was weird because I don’t like horror or metal. (I was surprised by how much I liked it.) This movie from Tsukamoto, Hiruko the Goblin, is not in that box set, probably half-due to it being a sort of departure from what Tsukamoto’s most known for: Tetsuo the Iron Man, a pioneering movie for the Japanese cyberpunk genre about an average man who becomes, um, an iron man. While that movie is quintessentially metal in style and substance, Hiruko is more of a straight horror film—but only by comparison. It isn’t very regular at all.
In Hiruko, a heterodox archaeologist discovers a demon burial ground under a school. Kids start becoming demons, but they look like spiders with human heads. Blood and a little bit of guts, as well as destiny and valor and heroism, happens. But what’s most interesting is watching Tsukamoto veer off course and dip into his other interests—objects growing out of bodies; characters creating fucked-up, DIY gadgets. The tone is all over the place. Sometimes it’s Ghostbusters; other times it’s Twin Peaks. Then a slaggy yokai drama. Then a school romance. I think it’s fun. And some scenes are shockingly pretty. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Directors section, under Tsukamoto, Shinya.
Every week, we feature one formerly unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week it’s….
USA | Mexico, 1974, 112 min, Dir. Sam Peckinpah
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is pulpy as hell. Blood, sweat, dirt, grime cover every surface. You can smell the alcohol stank on Benny (Warren Oates), a scuzzy white piano player living in Mexico City. He’s contracted to find and kill Alfredo Garcia, an associate of a powerful Mexican drug lord who’s been on the lam for betraying the mob. The men demand Alfredo’s head in exchange for cash. Benny enlists his girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), to help him find Alfredo so that they can get the proof they need.
I love a good story of bad people trying to find a way to “get out” of their current situation through violence. As if killing for cash will bring them anything other than more misfortune or death. According to Sam Peckinpah, this was the only film of his that was released the way he intended. It was made on a tiny budget and bombed at the box office, but has since enjoyed a “comeback” as a cult classic. I think part of it must have to do with the surprising moments of tenderness between Benny and Elita. In her role, Vega is both playful and sad, her eyes oozing emotion. (There are obviously a lot of intense scenes of violence, just FYI.) JAS KEIMIG
Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video. Now streaming on Xfinity.
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.