Ten Netflix Films in May 2013

         
 

03 June 2013| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Titles I happened to check out on Netflix in the month of May 2013 listed from best to worst:

Manhattan (1979, 96 Minutes, R) is one of the apexes of first-class black & white cinematography (its’ techniques of high contrast cityscapes are aped in the current “Frances Ha”). This is the uncomfortable but severely honest portrait of Woody Allen in love with Mariel Hemingway, a girl who is only 17. His ex-wife Meryl Streep is now a self-righteous lesbian author, his new friend Diane Keaton is intellectually equitalble and appealing in more compatible terms. Woody’s character Isaac Davis, sometimes charming intellectual and sometimes irritating self-analyst, tells his underage girlfriend that she simply isn’t special enough. He’s willing to lose her one moment, but then the next wants everything done his way. Some guys can talk with brilliance and at the end of the day make immature decisions. Somehow, with wit and candor, this is a classic that still resonates. Cinematography by Gordon Willis, music accompaniment from George Gershwin classics. A

DRAMEDY / ADULT ORIENTATION / MASTERPIECE VIEWING

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, 105 Minutes, PG) was the lump in your throat Best Picture Oscar winner about divorce and fight for child custody. By no means a virtuoso directorial vision by Robert Benton who won the directing Oscar over Bob Fosse and Francis Coppola (come on, that’s going too far!), it’s simply a well-grounded and pertinent look at the issues and tug of war drama of it. Dustin Hoffman is a pitch-perfect representative of the workaholic executive who finds himself watching over their son, this following the walk out of Meryl Streep as the mother who is a bundle of nerves. Returning months later, she thinks she is ready for an ugly custody bout. “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), the recent “What Maisie Knew” and this one are the essential drama films on the divorce and child rights subject. A

DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / SUNDAY NIGHT VERBAL SLUGFEST

The Onion Field (1979, 121 Minutes, R) is probably a greater film now than it was in the year of its release. There are not many films that explore the Los Angeles Police Department in 1963, before certain protocols were implemented, such as never relinquishing your gun to a criminal. James Woods is the psychotic, small-time hood Greg Powell who along with another ex-con kidnapped two cops with intent to execute. One of the cops (the haunted John Savage) got away, but guilt of poor police performance led to psychological deterioration. The courts toiled away on the death row case for years due to a few legal loopholes that couldn’t be settled. This is one of Woods’ best performances. A-

CRIME DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / NIGHTWATCH

My Dog Skip (2000, 95 Minutes, PG) is a schmaltzy but irresistible dog tale featuring one of those loner kids (Frankie Muniz) who gains town popularity because of his mutt. Kevin Bacon is a disapproving dad who eventually breaks a smile, Diane Lane is the gleaming mom who helps her kid get past the awkward stage. Then there’s Skip, and the aww-shucks montages. Luke Wilson plays a war veteran who lost his innocence (I’m not sure he’s needed). Life lessons are made, it’s mild and easy-going, and it’s set in a scenic-esque small town of 1942. ’Ruff said. B+

NOSTALGIA COMEDY / LIFE LESSONS / WEEKEND AFTERNOON

Bee Season (2005, 104 Minutes, PG-13) has sharp and vivid production values, so if there is trouble following it at first, it’s because we’re adrift from expectations. The little girl (Flora Cross) exceeds through one spelling bee after another, but this is more than a spelling bee movie. Her father (Richard Gere) is a theologian-professor and waxy intellectual – you get the feeling that he is paying attention to his 12-year old daughter for the first time only because she has accomplished something. Her mother (Juliette Binoche) is a scientist but has been hiding a dirty compulsive secret her entire life. Her brother (Max Minghella) is musically gifted but takes a backseat now to his sister. As a token rebellion, he joins the Hare Krishnas to upset his parents. This is a heartrending portrait of a family loving each other, conditionally. Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. B

STARK DRAMA / SMART TEENS / AFTERNOON REFLECTION

I Am Legend (2007, 101 Minutes, PG-13) has an opening that echoes one of those “Life After People” History Channel documentaries, and some flashback New York evacuation and quarantine shots – the coolest things about the movie. Looking back, this acting alone and subtle Will Smith performance was just nuanced enough without going too far (he goes way too far into dour territory with his recent “After Earth”). Some genuine suspense is generated in this Richard Matheson adaptation (the third following “The Last Man on Earth” from 1964 and “The Omega Man” from 1971), up until we see the too computerized zombies, too up close. B

SCI-FI & FANTASY / YOUNG TEENS / NIGHTWATCH THRILLS

Timecrimes (2009, 92 Minutes, R, Spanish with English subtitles) is a time travel yarn of an ordinary guy (Karra Elejalde) trying to correct one-day’s worth of mistakes after he messes with the time-space continuum. Is there ever really a guy in any of these types of movies that doesn’t alter the future ineptly? In the mix is the man’s girlfriend, a naked babe in the woods, a research scientist and a mysterious bandaged-faced man. Not excessively violent, fitfully clever, tightly looped plotting. B

SCI-FI & FANTASY / SMART TEENS / LATE NIGHT PUZZLES


Zombie (1979, 91 Minutes, R) is just gross and disgusting enough to gloss over the creaky parts, but even then it has irresistible zeal. Caribbean zombie experiments run amok that lead to a viral outbreak in New York City harbor and then back to the Caribbean again. What sets the creatures apart from other entries is that these zombies are really rotting. Nastily comical Grade-Z trash. With Tisa Farrow and Ian McCullough. B

HORROR / CREATURE FEATURE / SATURDAY NIGHT AFTER DARK

The Great Gatsby (1974, 143 Minutes, PG) is as tone-deaf an adaptation as one could fear, missing the entire irony of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s speech. Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan – the love triangle should sizzle, but it’s just drowsy. Sam Waterston as the narrator Nick Carroway, also is off-pitch. The director Jack Clayton, regards the cast as rich pretty people without seeing the excess vanity. The 2013 Baz Luhrmann remake, as over-the-top razzmatazz as it is, at least captures the spirit of the characters. C-

COSTUME DRAMA / PERIOD PIECE / LAZY SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Lilith (1964, 113 Minutes, Unrated) is the kind of movie that would have led you to believe that Warren Beatty didn’t have any talent until he made “Bonnie & Clyde” (1967). Interesting premise is obliterated in no time: Beatty is an occupational trainee therapist with an individual emptiness. Unbelievably, he has to be talked into taking the job (Really, is it true there was a time you could go to a job interview with reluctance and still land the position?). He actually tells his bosses that he is attracted to their patient Lilith (Jean Seberg) who is schizophrenic and sexually unselective. And yet they let him continue in giving her overabundant care, with field trip privileges, all the while he appears to neglect the other institution patients. Guess what: You got it – this is a love story. At the film’s disposal is splendid black & white cinematography but it cannot make up for subject phoniness and the drone in Beatty’s pitch of dialogue. D

DRAMA / PSYCHOLOGY / LAZY SUNDAY AFTERNOON

 

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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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