Ten Netflix Films in November


01 December 2011| No Comments on Ten Netflix Films in November     by Sean Chavel


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

Back to School (1986, 96 Minutes, PG-13) with Rodney Dangerfield is a better made movie than you would think – it even opens with an artfully assembled black & white montage of the capitalization of America during the mid-1900’s. Not that the movie isn’t dopey, it is, but in a good way. Dangerfield is Thornton Melon, a magnate of a Tall & Fall clothing chain, who fails in his second marriage and so decides to join his son (Keith Gordon) at college. Thornton has a funny way with bribing and cheating, but when his English professor (Sally Kellerman) steals his heart he learns how to be hard-working scholar. But of course, before any of that, he builds a hot tub in his dorm room and invites over bikini girls. His son Jason has low self-esteem and mopes, but eventually father and son inspire each other. Robert Downey Jr. is the unmannered friend who runs erroneous protests on campus. B


The Dresser (1983, 118 Minutes, PG) is the kind of film that has you in disbelief that it was ever nominated for Best Picture in the year of its release. It’s a day in the life backstage drama with an egomaniacal actor (Albert Finney as Sir) as head of a Shakespeare troupe, set against the bombing days of London in World War II – this backdrop frame though is nearly arbitrary. Sir is not only a tyrant but a boor on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His dresser and assistant (Tom Courtenay) is more a butler and a gay hangers-on who would suffer occupationally if he didn’t have his King Lear-like demigod. Speaking of the Lear showcase, the backstage hullaballoo has some peculiar weight once you get to the film’s second half. The focus though is on Sir and his Dresser who share Norma Desmond and Joe Gillis hissy-fit tantrums. Both the actors were nominated, too. C


Goodbye, Lenin! (2003, 121 Minutes, R, German in English subtitles) is a German film about a much neglected subject – the fall of the Berlin Wall and the people’s new reflection about people. It’s not an entirely successful movie, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. At the center is the story of Alex (Daniel Bruhl, he was Frederick Zoller in “Inglorious Basterds”) who cares for his mother after she comes out of a coma. The mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) is a hardcore member of the Socialist Unity Party, i.e., pro-government and pro-Marxism-Leninism, and so, she might go into shock and a second coma if she were to learn of Germany’s new liberated reform. Alex spends the next several months filtering and editing news broadcast, doing anything he can to keep the truth about the new Germany a secret. Alex’s new girlfriend, Lara (Chulpan Khamatova), can’t stand these fabrications and swears that she will tell Christiane the truth. In a way, she is more right than Alex. The mother-son dynamic is sweet, but it’s better seen for its documentary and recreated footage of the young protestors and the fall of Berlin as well as a portrait of scuttled lives of the people in the aftermath. B-


A Little Help (2010, 108 Minutes, R) is a small refined independent comedy with the adorable but stressed out Jenna Fischer. What happens to her in this movie is sad actually but we cheer for Fischer who plays Laura, a dental hygienist. When her husband (Chris O’Donnell) expires unexpectedly, Fischer’s family pushes her to file a lawsuit with a litigator (Kim Coates). She doesn’t like lawsuits and she doesn’t want to stir any trouble or hurt anybody in this life, but with her husband’s short life insurance she’s in need of money. Surprisingly, the best scenes are with this avaricious litigator and his perfectly toned dialogue. But the story consists of Laura learning some degraded family secrets and then rebounding. She has a harmless but chronic lying teenage son to care for, she has two different guys interested in her, bills to pay, and family members who are mean to her. Easy to watch with medium-mild drama, but the resolutions at the ending are way too pat. C+


Micki and Maude (1984, 118 Minutes, Rated PG-13) has a hilarious concept that has got to please Dudley Moore fans – the daffy Brit who tries to be serious. This is indeed a serious comedy and also a farce: Rob Salinger is a TV reporter who impregnates his mistress and wife at the same time (Amy Irving and Ann Reinking, respectively) and conspires to continue a relationship with both of them for nine months, even marrying his mistress which makes him a polygamist. Of course, both women are due to deliver birth at the same time. When it comes to the tech work, this Blake Edwards movie has some shoddy colors that screams 1980’s, but it’s got what counts – a good script and terrific actors. Not to disappoint, the ending is as wicked and debauched as you could possibly hope for in an Un-PC adult comedy. It’s become somewhat a forgotten movie, give it a shot. It also is thankfully missing Robin Williams playing a wacky doctor, praise Jesus. B+


Purple Rain (1984, 111 Minutes, R) is a stylized quasi-bio of the pop star Prince and his early music hall days. Accompanying the glam rocker is his muse Apollonia, a tough shapely babe in garter belts who also is a song siren. Delivering ample rock numbers and pop montages, it doesn’t put emphasis on story for long stretches. Basically, it works very well as drunk logic, and it has a buzz-happy music video aesthetic. Three thematic currents materialize: The domestic abuse between Prince’s father and mother, the competitive sleazy producer trying to put the moves on his girl segued with professional promises, and the idea of Prince using the pain and anger as a channel in creating great music. Honestly, it is a great album, one that is unified and cohesive, pulsating and elevating. B


The Secret Garden (1993, 101 Minutes, G) finally spends some fair amount of time in the magical garden about an hour into it. This is one of those legitimate for smart kids only movies. Which would have been great for the younger generation had it not droned so much in the first half. Mary (Kate Maberly) has lost her parents in the earlier half of the 20thcentury which moves her from India to the outside rural area of Liverpool, England to live in a Gothic castle owned by her rich but withdrawn uncle. Nary a friend in her life, she befriends her paraplegic cousin Colin (Heydon Prowse) who has spent most of his life indoors. She is going to change that, inspire him, wheel him outside, assist his rehabilitation in walking. This sounds uplifting and it should be so, but too much of the film is locked up inside, and I mean suppressed emotions, too. But when the visitors go to the garden and it’s in bloom, your eyes are in for some temporary splendor. C


Space Jam (1996, 88 Minutes, PG) intermixes NBA basketball icon Michael Jordan, as himself, with Bugs Bunny and Looney Tunes. It doesn’t try to go after cinema aficionado appeal, just broad commercial entertainment aimed for kids. Jordan is always in live action. It begins with him, as he did in real life, retiring from the Chicago Bulls and then proceeding onto Major League Baseball as a second career – this sets the stage for some funny sequences. Then in outer space, Bugs Bunny and the gang is in the clutches of Swackhammer (Danny DeVito) who wants them permanently detained under his power. Bugs Bunny works out a deal that if he can defeat the “Monstars” in a basketball game, they shall gain their freedom. So naturally, Bugs Bunny goes to Earth and obtains Jordan as a teammate. We get a long cartoonish, antic-filled basketball climax, with Bill Murray as a late arrival into the game. It’s silly and all, but the excessive zoom shots and brassy colors can be an eyesore. C+


Stairway to Heaven (1946, 104 Minutes, PG, title also known as “A Matter of Life and Death”) could be the 1940’s romantic movie you want to love more than “Casablanca” just so that you have a different answer about what’s the best old romantic movie. It also could be a precursor to the imaginary heavens seen in “What Dreams May Come” (1998). In the opening war scene, against red-hot lighting as scene ambience, David Niven (as a British Royal Air Force fighter pilot) has no choice but to jump out of his bomber plane when he figures it is going to crash anyway. Before it goes down, he has a suspended-in-time flirtation with an American radio operator played by Kim Hunter. The gates of heaven are splendid – you feel high up in the clouds. The corniness of the whole thing is delicious corn (Calling one “darling” was en vogue for the time). As it turns out, Niven is not up there because he miraculously survived. But there seems to have been a mistake made by heaven’s angels and constables. When he survives, Niven takes his second chance to fall in love with Hunter. But now he is to be collected by “the other world” except that he refuses to accept death on earth because he refuses to abandon his greatest love of all time. The gestures, the old-fashioned purity, the preciousness – is all very romantic, and all that unabashed romanticism is bold, isn’t it? But it is just not quite up there with the best of Bogey and Bergman only because Niven and Hunter just quite aren’t the quintessence of sensual heat. Heaven is done in black & white, while Earth is in rich Technicolor. A-


Pick of the Month

Winnebago Man (2009, 85 Minutes, Unrated) is a documentary about the “angriest man alive.” Jack Rebney was a promotional video spokesperson whose 1989 video of unremitting expletive outtakes – getting pissed at flubs, mishaps and buzzing flies – made him a YouTube sensation many years later. Documentarian Ben Steunbauer at first explores the nature of why as a mass culture we love videos that humiliate its participants. But when he tracks down Rebney, who in his elder years has become a mountain hermit, there comes several surprises to this man’s dual natures. Rebney, above all, believes the world has gone to hell and that America has become a moron culture. But Steunbauer’s best strategy is to present the youth of America to Rebney at a revival movie house that showcases human interest videos like the Winnebago compilation. This documentary, nimbly moving along with hardly any dull gaps, can be both hilarious and a prompt to chest  burn. Watch it late night with the toilet in close access. B


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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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