Netflix Movie of the Week #21: Frida

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After last year’s Oscar season, I was so sick of biopics I wanted to puke. But for every Unbroken, and American Sniper, there’s a film like Frida waiting just around the corner, or in this case, just around the Netflix instant streaming side-scrolling thing. Frida—as in Frida Kahlo—manages to hit that biographical sweet spot by being both surprisingly informative and hugely entertaining in its own right.

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Netflix Movie of the Week #20: The Triplets of Belleville

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After having sat through too many disappointing major Hollywood this year already, I delved into the Netflix instant streaming catalogue to find solace and to cleanse my palate, as it were. I had heard before of The Triplets of Belleville, but I initially dismissed it as the type of ponderous European animation that you’d need to be nostalgic about to properly appreciate. But, being the wild and free-spirited soul that I am, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a watch anyway. So imagine my surprise when I found Triplets to be one of the most weirdly absorbing and imaginative films that I’ve seen in a very long time.

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Netflix Movie of the Week # 19: In a World…

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The first film from writer, director, producer, and actress Lake Bell, In a World… is a near perfect indie comedy. With an all-star cast of B-list celebrities, many of whom co-star along side Bell in the hit web series Children’s Hospital, and Bell’s heartfelt and unique comedic voice shining through in every beat, In a World… is a supremely entertaining film that sets a high standard for the quality of Bell’s directorial work in the future.

Following in the footsteps of her father, Carol Soloman (Lake Bell) has high hopes of becoming the first female voice to break into the sexist and male dominated world of voice over. Though I do find the subject material particularly interesting after recently watching a great documentary about voice acting, I Know that Voice, the thing that really makes this film stand out are the dysfunctional, and seemingly genuine relationships between characters throughout the film. It’s rare for a film to exist without any stock characters, and yet even the secondary characters have their own little quirks to set them apart.

While demonstrates that she has some serious acting and writing chops, Bell is certainly not the only star of this film. Demetri Martin and Rob Corddry were bright spots of this film, offering both strong comedic notes and also giving a very organic and believable soul to this movie.


Rating 4.5 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #18: Snowpiercer

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The most recent movie in a growing list of American films made by prominent South Korean directors, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer is one of the most ambitious and challenging sci-fi thrillers in recent memory. The extremely brutal, often bizarre film follows the last group of humans on Earth, after a weather experiment to stop global warming freezes the planet. Aboard the perpetual motion train SNOWPIERCER, a group of oppressed, lower-class survivors led by Curtis (Chris Evans), hatch a plan to make their way to the front of the train to take control, and in doing so improve the quality of life for the passengers living under a makeshift military dictatorship in the rear. Curtis, aided by a series of cryptic messages, pushes his ragged crew through increasing resistance, all while discovering horrific truths about the society they live in aboard the train.

In a time when the science-fiction film market is catered to primarily by sequels and remakes of existing sci-fi properties, a film like Snowpiercer offers fans of the genre a breath of figurative fresh air. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film combines original concept sci-fi with Bong Joon-Ho’s unique directorial sensibilities to create a bleak and extremely engaging film. Joon-Ho builds a sense of claustrophobia and dread in the narrow, fastidiously designed train, each car looking markedly different than the last and offering new challenges for the core group of characters.

While the film is in many ways an action movie, Bong Joon-Ho’s style shines through in the myriad moments of conflict and confrontation. Action sequences are often brutally violent and the hyper stylized, providing ample opportunity for Joon-Ho to show off his directorial chops, and remind us why he remains one of Korea’s premier filmmakers. The film is not particularity averse to the idea of killing-off characters, and despite the underlying glimmer of hope that the protagonists cling to, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that things will not end well by the time the story reaches its satisfying and unexpected climax.

If you are interested in something a little out of the ordinary for your next Netflix session, Snowpiercer might be the film for you. Though most of the news surrounding the film was due to its shockingly high VOD sales in comparison to a lackluster theatrical release, Snowpiercer  is ultimately a really good film, and presents a complex and thought provoking story within the framework of its slick, hard sci-fi presentation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #17: Tombstone

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I was scrolling through the Simply Film archives the other day when I noticed a shocking dearth of Western movies! Now, dear reader, could I simply abide such a blatant lack of cinematic diversity on my blog? I could not! So I alt + tabbed over to Netflix and scoured the online catalogue for a Western I had already seen, because it happens to be finals week here, and time is a college kid’s most valuable resource.

So, Tombstone. The story follows a retired Wyatt Earp, the grizzled gunfighter and ex-sheriff with a shadowy past, as he travels with his two brothers to the blossoming mining town of Tombstone, Arizona, where the trio hopes to settle down after claiming a stake in the local “hospitality” industry. Soon after arriving, the Earps are beset by a brutal gang of outlaws, and Wyatt finds himself once again in the role of reluctant peacekeeper to a helpless and fragile town. Naturally, tensions soon boil over, leading to the film’s signature moment; the legendary gunfight at the O.K Coral, which serves as the film’s narrative focal point. Joined by storied gambler and friend-of-the-family Doc Holiday, Wyatt and co. must hunt down the remaining outlaws, eventually coming face to face with their psychotic leader, Ringo.

Kurt Russell gives an admirable performance as Wyatt Earp, portraying him as appropriately hassled and ultimately pained by his inability to let well enough alone. Val Kilmer—who, to his credit, steals every scene he’s in—portrays a remarkably Jack Sparrow-esque Doc Holliday, and despite being afflicted with a debilitating case of tuberculosis, comes across as suave and debonair in a way that only a true Western hero can pull off. Director George P. Cosmatos also pulls his weight, and has quite the eye for the weighty action scene, also have been responsible for Rambo: First Blood – Part II as well as Cobra, both starring Sylvester Stallone. And like any Western worth its salt, cinematographer William A. Fraker makes the most of the natural, rugged splendor of the American West. The scope is appropriately epic, and the natural visual atmosphere changes seamlessly from the often claustrophobic confines of the sprawling town of Tombstone, to the relentlessly bleak and strangely desolate beauty of the plains.

Tombstone is a movie that does a lot of things right, but at the same time seems to be bound to a sort of “by-the-book” type of thinking. By that, I simply mean that it suffers a little from a lack of creativity and might not have the kind of vibrant and lively execution that the interesting and rich characters seem to deserve. It sits on the verge of being a really excellent movie, but falls just short of the mark, mostly for its slightly predicable plot and some minor pacing issues.

Despite its few flaws, Tombstone is a very fun film and is guaranteed, at the very least, to hold the interest. After my initial viewing, for instance, I had the insatiable desire to call people “pard-ner” and cheat at cards, to the immense displeasure of my friends and colleagues.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #16: Manhunter

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I had originally written this piece before Halloween, but then things piled up—as they do—and I’m only getting around to sharing it now. Be that as it may, this week’s Netflix pick is very much in keeping with the theme of Halloween, and also happens to be tangentially related to one of the most recognizable horror/thriller properties around, namely The Silence of the Lambs.

Canonically preceding the events of Lambs, Manhunter follows the story of former FBI profiler Will Graham, played by William Peterson, as he is coaxed from retirement to take on one last case—that of the twisted serial killer known as “The Tooth Fairy.” Using his uncanny ability to get inside the headspace of a killer, effectively allowing him to think as they would, Graham finds himself in the company of the incarcerated Hannibal Lecktor, admirably portrayed by Brian Cox, as the pair conspire to get to the bottom of the investigation.

Though not especially successful at the box office, the film enjoyed a bit of a resurgence after its initial video release, and stands as one of my personal favorites within the Lambs mythos. Cox plays an excellent Lecktor, and brings across the subtly menacing and dangerous aura of the character in a way that I believe might make Anthony Hopkins himself proud. Director Michael Mann—a bit of a hit-and-miss filmmaker, in truth—proves that he has an excellent understanding of atmospheric pacing and tension, all while creating a visually interesting and engaging world—with plenty of signature 80s day-glow, naturally.

With a compelling dynamic between Cox and Peterson, and an exciting and well-executed “race against time” style plot, Manhunter, despite the admittedly bland title, is a fun, well-paced thriller that makes the most of its source material.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #15: Bronson

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This week, I’d like to delve into the work of one of Hollywood’s most polarizing filmmakers, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn’s filmography consists of a number of heavily stylized action/thriller films, including the Pusher trilogy, Drive, and the relatively recent Only God Forgives. This week’s Netflix feature, Bronson, is one of my personal Refn films and is a perfect example of how a little imagination can elevate a simple concept from simply ‘good’ to decidedly outstanding.

British actor Tom Hardy gives perhaps the best performance of his career as the titular inmate, Charles Bronson. The film focuses on the sensationalized, though still mostly accurate, life and subsequent incarceration of Charles Bronson as he copes with his brief stints of freedom, institutionalization, and turbulent love life. Bronson’s desire for notoriety is the impetus for his violent behavior, and his real-life brutality and savagery is offset in the film by some truly ingenious narration and surreal, dark humor.

At once a crime thriller, biopic, and dark comedy, Bronson is a film that is best seen for oneself. Endlessly imaginative and expertly written by Brock Norman Brock and co-written by Refn himself, the story is broken up between plot points and hugely entertaining asides in the form of Hardy’s minstrel-esque soliloquies. Bronson’s character really gives the impression that he lives solely for the sake of making a name for himself; it give him a purpose, without which he would be completely lost. The key is that Hardy’s portrayal is eminently believable and infectiously charismatic, even at his most brutal and sadistic, culminating in one of the most compelling anti-heroes around. As with many Refn film, the reason some may love Bronson is that same reason that some may despise it. Stylized in the the typical Refn fashion, the film is nothing if not a visual treat, and Hardy’s flawless performance is guaranteed to captivate.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5