Ten Netflix Films in December 2011

         
 

29 December 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Titles alphabetically I happened to check out on Netflix in the month of December:

Cujo (1983, 95 Minutes, R) is Stephen King’s tale of a killer St. Bernard after it contacts rabies from a cave of bats. The dog makes a couple of teeth-gnashing kills out on the farm, but primarily Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro are the mother and toddler trapped in a stalled Pinto for marathon hours with no help in sight as they weaken from dehydration and hunger. A heatwave causes their car to heat up by greenhouse effect, which prompts mom to finally take some risky moves. Meanwhile, a police investigation as to the missing whereabouts of the mother and boy go awry when they chase the wrong lead. The rugged, gritty cinematography lends excitement to the tale but otherwise it doesn’t try to be great – it is missing context and detail that made King’s book so gripping. The abrupt ending is telling that it’s a movie that’s just after cheap thrills. But on a mindless night, I’ll take cheap. B-

HORROR / LATE NIGHT SUSPENSE / ADULT ORIENTED / SUNDAY OR MONDAY NIGHT HORROR AFTER THE BRAIN IS HALF-ASLEEP

The Family Stone (2005, 106 Minutes, PG-13) has a scene at about the 45-minute mark that I will never forget: Sarah Jessica Parker, the uptight fiancé to Dermot Mulroney, is so pedantic that she queries her impending in-laws about whether their gay son can really enjoy being gay in an intolerant world. (Parker is tone-deaf to humor and to the idea of tolerance.) Strongly advertised as a huggable and feel-good Christmas flick for the holidays, it’s necessary to point out that this isn’t that – it’s a dysfunctional family dramedy that happens to take place in the season of jingle bells. For any family that has ever fretted over whether to object to one of their progeny’s engagement to someone repellant like Parker’s character, then you might be able to relate to this movie. That said, Parker is perhaps a little too good at being gratingly neurotic. More interesting than delightful. Co-stars Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes and a deliciously smartass Rachel McAdams. B-

DRAMEDY / ADULT THEMES / MONTH OF JANUARY MOVIE

Hotel Rwanda (2004, 122 Minutes, PG-13) is a powerful film of African genocide that holds up indelibly in memory. Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) is the real-life hotel manager circa 1994 who became hero to 1,200 people during the massacre outbreak of the Tutsi tribe being slaughtered by the Hutu. Paul was born Hutu himself but married a Tutsi (Sophie Okonedo). Political upheaval begins gradually until all social order is lost, yet because Paul’s hotel is protected by the United Nations he continues to operate. Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) is a United Nations peacekeeper commissioned to uphold peace but not engage in intervention, in doing so he saved lives but broke the rules. As the bloodshed increases day to day, Paul sneaks in refugees into his hotel and issues bribes to protect them. All of this is told with equal measures of magnitude and clarity by director Terry George and writer Keir Pearson. And Cheadle, in the best performance of his career, is the delegate and savior to a very difficult but righteous cause. His risk-taking and sacrifices are emotionally moving and impacting. A-

HISTORICAL DRAMA / INSPIRATIONAL HEROISM / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE

Pick of the Month

Jacknife (1989, 102 Minutes, R) deals with Robert DeNiro and Ed Harris as two Vietnam War survivors who have been psychologically damaged for ongoing years but still think they have manageable lives. The music score has an outdated 80’s earnestness to it that is way-y-y distracting, but you watch this for its subject and for its performances. I wouldn’t call this one of the great DeNiro performances, but it’s a good one. He uses his mullet hair and frantic walk as dysfunctional attributes. DeNiro falls in loves with his old wartime buddy’s sister (Kathy Baker) who has a respectable teaching career but has very low self-esteem. The buddy is of course Ed Harris who might give the best performance here – he’s a former high school football hero who has dissolved into bona fide white trash, and he has scenes where he demonstrates a terrifying run of reckless drunken behavior. The catalyst to this recklessness is brought on by old time memories of battlefield horror, but it’s pretty low-rent Vietnam battle flashbacks. B

DRAMA / MOODY CHARACTER STUDY / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE

Kissing Jessica Stein (2001, 96 Minutes, R) is a gay and lesbian romantic comedy that had me concerned about one thing: I hoped I didn’t have to wait until the very end to see Jessica get her very first kiss. Not a problem, Jessica is a thirties-something professional woman who embraces her first ever lesbian kiss around the twenty minute mark. Early on, the movie is a little glib at portraying men daters as downgrade dumbasses. But the movie overall has a very chipper and sleek feel to it. To lend it humor, Jennifer Westfeldt plays Jessica as the most neurotic of women. As the love interest, the terrifically perky love Helen (Heather Juergensen), who has past experience with men, too. Surprisingly, the movie is an exploration of “bi-curious” sexuality instead of it being about women who have made an all-out conversion to gay, and it does this with unexpected legit honesty. B

ROMANTIC COMEDY / GAY ORIENTATION / SEXY IMAGES   

On the Beach (1959, Not Rated, 134 Minutes) is a film that would have been great if it had been made in the 1970’s by somebody like Hal Ashby or Sidney Lumet, or made today, by say, Danny Boyle. As it is, it is a completely wooden and over-literal dud based on the remarkable 1957 novel by Nevil Shute in which his literary dialogue was ironic and piteous, not sappy and optimistic. World War III has transpired and the world is facing doomsday. American survivors rest off the coast of Australia while they wait for their final six months of life before radiation poisoning will end in genocide for the remaining population. Gregory Peck, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire – ungainly in a rare dramatic role – poise themselves with inflated dignity as military officers carrying on with duty in their final months. One of their expeditions is to see the United States west coast to see the death and destruction – it was a curiosity in the book to see death and the aftermath of mass destruction, but in the movie the sequence is played like a damn optimistic search party. This painfully earnest film Stanley Kramer is such a dud (by today’s standards, not the over-praise of the year of its original release) that it’s almost shocking when it does something right! The friendly auto race morphs into a death race with multiple casualties of drivers who don’t give a damn how they meet their departure, and an AWOL sailor who knows he will die in days of radiation but insists he wants to die in the sentiment of his hometown. Not much else goes right in this tone-deaf drama. D

CATACLYSMIC DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE / BOMBS AWAY

Sgt. Bilko (1996, 92 Minutes, Rated PG) is Steve Martin in family movie mode – this is one of his goofiest and is mildly harmless. Bilko is the Master Sergeant at a small U.S. army base who never bothers to train his regiment. Martin plays him as a fast-talking con man and racketeer – at one point he’s accused by his nemesis Major Thorn (Phil Hartman) of diverting funds from a war-tank project. But Bilko is really just a benign carnival host who organizes fun and games, thus, the movie is just a series of such amusements. His troops merely pick up their easy government paychecks, but are of course tested to participate in a training obstacle course with awfully funny results. As for romance, Glenne Headly is his fiancé who has been stood up at the altar more than once. Out of spite, she begins dating Major Thorn. The Army Base Colonel who miscalculates Bilko’s intentions at all times is played by Dan Aykroyd, strictly a gullible rube. If you loved the service comedy “Stripes” (1981), then this is the way more inoffensive film cousin. B-

GOOFY COMEDY / MINDLESS FUN / WEEKEND FAMILY MOVIE

Terri (2011, 106 Minutes, R) is a high school teen misfit drama that is just plain sad until the sadness is relieved. Jacob Wysocki is the titular fat kid who begins to wear pajamas to school because he claims “they’re comfortable” but really is just a pretense for his depression. He has a senile Uncle at home (played by Creed Bratton), and at school, well, nobody likes him. But John C. Reilly as the outlandish assistant principal Fitzgerald, sets aside time to befriend Terri during school hours. Reilly’s supporting performance, in an  exceptional mix of goofy but stern, is really one of the very best you will see out of any 2011 feature. Then there’s Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) who is both pretty and decimated by such low self-esteem that she needs a Terri type to redeem her. The fat kid and the pretty girl? Improbable, but the keen and nuanced writing by Patrick Dewitt and directing by Azazel Jacobs makes this scenario absolutely believable. Fitzgerald and Heather come into Terri’s life to alleviate his lonely outcast pains at, what is to me, in the nick of time. In a way, “Terri” is a rare film of grace. B+

DRAMA / MOODY CHARACTER STUDY / WINTER INTROSPECTION

Trust (2011, 104 Minutes, R) takes the inevitably queasy subject matter of an online sexual predator seducing a young teen girl and turns it into a must-see cautionary film for parents with teens. In addition to everything else, “Trust” is about the misleading fantasy life of the internet. 14-year old girl Annie (Liana Liberato) has become infatuated with a high school boy she met online who plays volleyball for a different school. He strings her along for several weeks in pretending to be her age when she finds out that he has lied to her and he’s actually a college undergraduate. “Why do you keep lying?” Annie asks. The invisible Charlie tells her that he was afraid that she would be too intimidated if she knew his real age. Annie agrees to meet Charlie at a local mall and immediately cries in betrayal when she sees that he’s at least 35. He buys her trust, so to speak, and tricks her into his hotel. Without permission, Annie’s teen girlfriend reports the incident to the authorities, turning into a harrowing aftermath that’s endlessly problem mounting. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are the parents who learn of their daughter’s rape after she’s been admitted into the hospital once submitted to a rape kit. An ongoing investigation takes place by the FBI, but Owen as the incensed father decides to take revenge into his own hands. “Trust,” directed by former television star David Schwimmer, isn’t after tidy ups but is instead interested in the natural grieving and consequences of both parents and the daughter. It’s not a reaffirming easy packaged revenge story, but you might be better off probing for the realistic truth that it conveys. B+

DARK DRAMA / FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE / LIFE LESSONS

Volver (2006, 121 Minutes, R, Spanish with English subtitles) is heavy on the estrogen appeal. The feisty Penelope Cruz and her displayed cleavage are the foremost reasons to watch this Pedro Almodovar melodrama that has a faint hint of supernatural elements. Raimunda (Cruz) mourns the death of her mother (Carmen Maura), whose spirit makes an unexpected return. Not long after, Raimunda has to clean up the mess her daughter makes when she kills her husband after attempting to violate her. When a family friend asks Raimunda to take over his family restaurant, Raimunda uses this opportunity to hide her husband’s body in a frozen locker. The film surges with comedic juices when it comes to Raimunda’s unexpected success in taking over the restaurant. But the final third of the movie is about reconciliations between family, as well as long held secrets that have broken up loyalties. Raimunda has reasons to hate her mother, but when she becomes familiar more with her mother’s unknown past it lends to healing. None of the other actresses make us quite care like Cruz does. B

FOREIGN FILM / ADULT THEMES / SPRING HEALING

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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