Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on streaming services in the United States.
US, 1990-1995, 60 min episodes, Created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey
A cozy little hour-long drama series from the early ‘90s, Northern Exposure would have made for perfect pandemic power-watching … if only it hadn’t been yet another brilliant series doomed by music rights mismanagement. The premise is basically Doc Hollywood (or Cars for you youths): A stuck-up city-slicker doctor from New York is sent to a remote town in Alaska, where he must serve as the sole health care worker for several years to pay off his state-funded medical education. The town, Cicely, is filled with colorful weirdo eccentrics, and each episode introduces gently wacky culture-clashes in an outpost far from the rest of the world. It’s Schitt’s Creek with a less maudlin trajectory.
Set in Alaska, the show was filmed in our backyard — Roslyn, Washington, about a two-hour drive east — with a production office in Redmond and a live moose borrowed from UW. The show has a lovely heart and beautiful writing, winning numerous Emmys over its five-year run along with a Peabody and DGA award; it included some groundbreaking queer characters along with primetime’s second gay wedding (after Roc, which until recently was also unstreamable). After watching just a few episodes, you’ll find the folksy harmonica-driven theme song eliciting a Pavlovian sensation of settling in for a comfortable vacation in the wilderness, far from modern woes — honestly, the main character’s initial horror at being granted an opportunity to live off the grid is one of the only elements that doesn’t age well. MATT BAUME
Hong Kong, 1992, 128 min, Directed by John Woo
Hard Boiled is a classic bit of John Woo cinema. Chow Yun-fat plays Inspector "Tequila" Yuen Ho-yan, a bad boy detective who ~doesn't play by the rules~. He ends up entangled in a giant crime syndicate and teams up with Alan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), a deep undercover cop posing as an assassin, to kick ass, take names, and form a brotherhood with one another. Honestly the plot kind of got lost for me, simply because the film has some of the most operatic and incredible action sequences I've ever seen. Who needs a story when you have violence?
Threaded through the film are deeply chaotic scenes of bad guys going down with guns blazing, glass breaking, and blood splattering in slow motion. The film's centerpiece is set in a hospital with a secret underground lair crawling with gangsters as patients and a room full of BABIES end up in the crossfire. The movie spends what feels like an hour just focusing on the absolute carnage Tequila and Alan wreck inside its walls. Apparently, the sequence took 40 days to shoot with all its stunt complexities. In an interview with GQ, Leung said "it felt longer than that."
Hard Boiled was Woo's last film in Hong Kong before he high-tailed it to Hollywood. Criterion released a DVD version of the film in 1998 that has since gone out of print. It seems that with the American rights belonging to Miramax (R.I.P.), Hard Boiled will remain in a rights stranglehold for the time being. JAS KEIMIG
THE TALL GUY
UK, 1989, 92 min, Directed by Mel Smith
This charming and dorky comedy features a strong celebrity cohort: Jeff Goldblum as a haplessly tall stage actor, Emma Thompson as a no-nonsense nurse, Rowan Atkinson as a diva, and its the first screenplay from Richard Curtis, who'd go on to write (*~*deep breath*~*) Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bean, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary 2, War Horse, the Mamma Mia movie, etc, etc. Big rom-com guy. The rom-com guy, maybe, if we're considering the very controversially large impact of Love Actually. The Tall Guy is fortunately very different from Love Actually, though you can see the roots of that rom-com slop here.
The Tall Guy follows Dexter King, an American actor who moves to London because he figured he'd face fewer actors competing for American characters across the pond. His bet isn't paying off, and his best asset happens to be his very tall height, which lands him a spot as the Elephant Man (lol) in a musical adaptation of The Elephant Man (lol). The strongest parts here are the performances from Goldblum and Thompson. Notably, this is Thompson's first role in a feature film, which is remarkable because she comes out of the gate fully formed. Doubly notably, the best scene in this film is a comedic sex scene between her and Goldblum (thanks to SIFF programmer Marcus Gorman for the tip), where they shag on the piano, shag on the breakfast things, as she's described. "There was shots of my arse with bits of toast stuck to it. Two fucking days of being nude on set." It's a randy rumpy-pumpy. CHASE BURNS
Every week we feature one formerly unstreamable title that's now available to watch online.
USA, 2000, 135 min, Dir. Spike Lee
Shot on a Sony VX 1000 camera, Bamboozled has the tinny, cold, low-res sheen of the digital, both informal and immediate. Despite this aesthetic distance from his other work, the characters are extremely and uniquely Spike—neurotic, witty, teeming with opinions about race that ring true but also sound like a rant your uncle might get into at a family gathering.
Bamboozled is an inspired satire about how modern media views Black people and culture. Dissatisfied with his job as a TV producer, the Harvard-educated "Buppy" Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) develops a modern-day minstrel show, expecting that he'll be fired by his higher-ups and free to live on severance for a bit. Recruiting two Black, homeless tap dancers who perform outside their work, Pierre and his assistant Sloane (Jada Pinkett Smith) cook up an extremely racist and offensive pitch, which their white boss, to their horror, eats up. As does the audience and the world, turning the racist minstrel show into a smash hit, making the Black creators and actors morally diverge on making a profit off of the dehumanization of their own people.
Although the script gets away from Lee in certain parts, there are several delicious, hilarious, and thought-provoking layers to the story that continue to resonate. "The network does not want to see Negroes on television unless they are buffoons," Pierre says to Sloane at one point in the movie. The breadth of roles for Black actors has certainly gotten better in the last 20 years, but all I've got to do is remember that fucking Green Book won the 2019 Oscar for Best Picture to make me want to scream.
In 2020, Bamboozled entered the Criterion Collection and got the full treatment—a 2K digital restoration, audio commentary from Spike, a behind-the-scenes documentary, as well as great interviews and essays by scholar Racquel Gates and critic Ashley Clark. I'm happy that this excellent Spike Lee Joint is more readily available to all. JAS KEIMIG
Looking for more? Browse our big list of 350+ hard-to-find movies.
The fine print: Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ 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.