Life is short and Netflix queues are long, but if you’re looking for something new or different here are some suggestions worth watching before they’re gone. Besides, I believe in balancing your diet with the overlooked while consuming the popcorn fare of the summer.
Note: click on film titles for a direct link to its Netflix page.
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Did you enjoy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Diego Luna is the guy who played Cassian Andor. He is also the director of Mr. Pig, a road movie starring Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph as a father and daughter trying to sell the former’s prize-winning pig. If you’re thinking this premise is cutesy, it’s anything but, remaining true to the realities of the road and parent-child relationships. What’s more, the ending adds an unexpected twist to the genre. I can’t think of a better way Luna could have ended it.
Here’s another: Other People stars Jesse Plemons, best known as “that dead eyed Opie son-of-a-bitch”/child murderer on Breaking Bad. Here he does an about-face, playing a struggling gay writer trying to reconcile himself with his mother’s impending death from cancer. Molly Shannon tackles the role of his mother and best friend with a depth I never would have predicted during her SNL days. Bradley Whitford also plays against type as his homophobic father. Sound too serious? Don’t get me wrong. All it takes is watching the opening scene and you’ll know what you’re in for.
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Horror / The “Holy Shit” Award:
If you’re a fan of slow-burn, creepy-as-hell arthouse horror (think A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Under The Skin or Let The Right One In), then The Eyes Of My Mother emerges as a new, nightmarish fairy-tale standard. It seems like a story from long ago crossed with a terrible dream you had one night and were too shaken up to share with anyone. To say this film is creepy is an understatement. You’ve been warned.
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As someone familiar with PTSD it’s frustrating and disquieting to see how it’s represented in media. Alice Winocour’s Disorder (known in France as Maryland), is the closest I’ve seen to a representation of what it feels like from a first-person perspective. The underrated Matthias Schoenaerts plays a vulnerable powder keg of a man hired as a bodyguard for a rich man’s wife (Diane Kruger) and her son while dealing with his symptoms. Emotional mayhem ensues. (Bonus: a killer score from Gesaffelstein. Sold.)
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I’ve got to say that Dave Chappelle’s return to Netflix was the most callous, disappointing and unfunny two hours I’ve spent streaming something. In the aftermath I ended up trying Neal Brennan: 3 Mics to find out if both creators of Chappelle’s Show had gone insane. Brennan proved me wrong, debuting his new solo material in an unusual format: 3 microphones set up on a stage, each one for different material.
To say the least this brings a diversity to the show I’ve never seen in stand-up. We don’t only get to see what makes Brennan a talented comedy writer, but who he actually is. The way he tackles the “emotional stuff” is particularly interesting, since being confessional is hard to integrate with punchlines. Nevertheless he pulls it off.
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Miss Sharon Jones is no longer with us, and that’s what makes this documentary all the more amazing and poignant. It was released a year before her death in November 2016, capturing her battle with cancer while trying to maintain her career with The Dap-Kings and her connections with loved ones. No matter what happens she always proves to be a powerhouse, exhibiting incredible strength even when her body is weakened and betraying her. A scene where she sings in a church until she loses her breath will stay with me for a long time- a primary example of someone who refuses to give up in the face of despair.
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Can’t Wait For Game Of Thrones?
Game Of Thrones returns to us in July (finally), but in the meantime you can check out what some of its performers have to offer on Netflix. In Small Crimes your are treated to a charismatic and amoral performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister), playing a corrupt cop released from prison and returning to civilian life. What makes this film stand out is how uncompromising and messy it is. There are a few WTF moments and the performances are solid, culminating in an ending that makes sense but doesn’t care about convention.
On the other hand I have to say Resistance wins the “totally unexpected everything” award. To begin with, it’s just hitting the states although it was released six years ago. Its trailer makes it look like Michael Sheen is the star (he’s not), the poster art makes it look like a war film (it isn’t) and there’s a promotional photograph with tons of explosions (there aren’t any). And that’s just the beginning of the weirdness.
The film opens with an alternate history timeline where Germany wins D-Day. Soon after all of the men in a small Welsh town disappear to help with the Resistance, leaving their wives, mothers and other females unattended. When a small troop of German soldiers show up and take over, I braced myself for the expected: domination, terror, rape and death. But Resistance departs even further from the unexpected, becoming a character study of the various players and their conflicted feelings about the war. The head of the German company, played by Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H’ghar), has no interest in fighting or furthering his country’s cause. He discourages his men from causing problems and brokers an alliance with the women to help them through a harsh winter and protect each other from the Gestapo. Of course that plan is more than fragile, especially since the town is being surveilled by one lone Resistance fighter played by Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), and collaborating with the enemy is seen as an act of treason.
I know, right? War be bananas. Resistance is by no means a perfect film, at times stilted and slow, but both Wlaschiha and Rheon turn in conflicted and complex pre-Game Of Thrones performances. It also boasts one of the most startling dream sequences I’ve seen on film, so deceptive in its simplicity I felt as shaken up and confused as the character who was having it.
Honorable mention: There’s also A Patch Of Fog, featuring Conleth Hill (Varys) and Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy) in a Hitchcockian thriller about a famous writer (Hill) who gets conned into an unwanted relationship after getting caught shoplifting. It’s kind of like The Cable Guy except you’re actually really uncomfortable and scared.
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Gun control has been a debate in this country for a long time, and coincidentally two of the best films I’ve seen in the past few months address instances where a lone gunman terrorized innocent people. Although both of them branch from an instant where a weapon falls into the wrong hands, they are more about bravery and survival of people who are pushed to do their best while reacting to the worst.
Newtown follows people directly effected by the Sandy Hook shooting, in which twenty children were murdered as well as six women trying to protect them. It profiles several parents who lost their child as well as others who are shaken and effected by what happened in their small town. Over its short running time it creates a portrait of shock, grief and a longing for what was lost as well as a better future. Like I said, gun control has been an issue for decades…
…which brings us to Tower, an engrossing and moving account of a shooting at the University Of Texas back in 1966. Shot with rotoscoped animation, the film is like a cross between Waking Life and Bus 174, giving the audience a blow-by-blow of the 96 minutes a man began gunning down students and civilians from a tower overlooking the campus and neighboring streets. The way this is presented is stunning, but not as much as the actions ordinary people took to help the wounded, protect others and eventually confront the shooter himself while putting their own lives at risk. All I can say is that this is a film you won’t soon forget.