Ten Netflix Films in October

         
 

27 October 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

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

Big Trouble in Little China (1986, 100 Minutes, PG-13) is a real cheesy grindhouse of a movie, the kind of plotless but antic-filled martial arts adventure that probably entertained Quentin Tarantino as a kid. Making good use of laconic dialogue, Kurt Russell is the American truck driver turned action hero here who gets sucked down into a Chinese magic and sorcery underworld tucked beneath the surface of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Russell wants to lipsmack with Kim Cattrall, while sidekick Dennis Dun wants to rescue the green-eyed beauty Suzee Pai. There’s little time for romance, though. This is more about shooting down levitating creatures with myriad eyeballs, Venus mantraps and wizards with electro-magnetic powers. If you require all your movies with sanity in their plots, then this will drive you nuts. But if you’re looking for something way-y-y-y mindless then here you go. B

ACTION-ADVENTURE / CHEESY COMEDY / GUILTY PLEASURE / NIGHTTIME FLICK

Bill Cunningham New York (2010, 84 Minutes, NR) is a documentary about the New York Times’ most peculiar fashion photographer. For nearly fifty years Bill rode around New York on his bicycle taking pictures of commoners down the avenues as long as they represented a new wave fashion trend. During evenings, he attended galas and soirees to shoot celebrities. But he never asked for autographs or splurged on food because it wasn’t his place for that. Devoting his lifetime to this occupation he would starve out nearly every other activity known to man, but that mattered none to Bill. He is so darned satisfied with his life to the point that you kind of admire his obstinacy. Oddly, he dressed so plain himself and lived frugally (his tiny studio apartment was inside Carnegie Hall). Amiable and lightweight, it nevertheless feels too long even at its scant running time – you might grow impatient by its tangents, too, and it doesn’t cover enough fertile ground on the evolution of fashion over the generations that Bill covered. C+

DOCUMENTARY / NICE & SWEET / LAZY AFTERNOON

Broken Embraces (2009, 127 Minutes, R, Spanish with English subtitles) is a sexy melodrama by Pedro Almodovar, who uses multiple timeframes in a way that make you think. Or makes you have to think. Penelope Cruz is the pretty ingénue in training Lena, but what makes it forbidden sexy is this: Once prostituting herself to an older rich man in order to support her dying father, she gets a big acting break and falls in love with the director. The swooning director is Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), whom we learn is blind in the present scenes of the film, and so we wonder to its where in its flashbacks where it will reveal the reason as to why he went blind. Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez) is the financier and cuckold whose jealousy of seeing his love Lena fall for the director reaches raging heights. First he pushes Lena down the stairs, then he goes after destroying Mateo’s film. Mateo and Lena look for the right time to abandon all commitments, but is waiting the best strategy? Almodovar’s masterful use of vibrant pastel colors is evident here, and like all of his work, he loves providing strong roles for women. Judit (Blanca Portillo) is the other woman, Mateo’s long-suffering assistant, who is harmless to the turmoil of those at peril and yet has a stunning secret of her own. Sex and possession, the creative process, the artist’s need for a muse – it’s all part of Almodovar’s thematic repertoire. If you have a kinky thing for watching pretty women like Cruz putting on makeup and trying on different outfits, then this is a prize, too. And if you’re a girl, you might have a thing as to how a blind but attractive artist manages to seduce a beauty with the power of his mind. B

DRAMA / FOREIGN FILM / FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHT WITH WINE

Exam (2008, 101 Minutes, Unrated), taking place entirely inside the occupancy of one room, had a budget of about $2 million. But it could have cost two grand and it still would have been entertaining. Premise:  Eight candidates for a highly sought-after job are placed together in a concrete room and given 80 minutes to answer one question with one answer. When they turn over their paper, they see it is blank – this seems like some kind of a cruel joke. (Theory could be made that the question can be read if placed under ultraviolet light.) Rules include not spoiling the paper they have been given either intentionally or accidentally, attempting to speak to the moderator or to the guard at the door, and to not leave the room. The slightest infraction disqualifies a candidate. Instructions also assert that there is no law within the room. The contenders call each other nicknames – Brown, White, Dark – instead of using real names. The Middle Eastern man Brown brings up a theory, that because they can be pinned down to stereotypes, there could be no job and that they are all part of a game in which they are being bet on by men behind the glass window. Could the game/test/exam be as to whether they can lose their equanimity by hurting each other before the clock runs out? If there is one remaining survivor does that mean he/she will be rewarded? One thing is for sure. It keeps you guessing, and that equates to dark adult-oriented fun. B+

MYSTERY / ADULT ORIENTATION / SATURDAY OR SUNDAY WATCH FROM BED

Let Me In (2010, 115 Minutes, Rated R) is the one truly artistic vampire movie in the American cinema of the last ten years. In a cold wintry town, Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the outcast teen Owen. The strange but enticing Chloë Grace Moretz plays 12-years old vampire Abby who is new to town along with her “father” played by Richard Jenkins. Both of them prey on people at night by surviving on human blood. On the case is Elias Koteas as a policeman who thinks he is on the trail of murderers, not vampires. The integrity of the film relies on the boy and girl relationship: Abby becomes a girlfriend of sorts to Owen, but more importantly, she instills courage in him so he can defeat the bullies at school that torment him. These two get in touch with their dark side as a survival mechanism, but when the film is at its most sensitive, you can see how they bring the best out of each other. This is a remake of the 2008 Swedish film “Let the Right One In” which is remarkably first, but both films are stunning. Directed by Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”). B+

HORROR / VIOLENT THRILLER / VAMPIRE MOVIE / FOOD FOR THOUGHT ART

Pick of the Month

The relentlessly sad but austerely made The Sweet Hereafter (1997, 112 Minutes, Rated R, Canadian in English) is driven by a human cataclysm: In a small Canadian town, a bus accident takes the lives of 14 children leaving the parents in neverending grief in the aftermath. Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm), a lawyer, comes to town to shop around his services to the parents with intent to file a class action suit. Contrary to what you will initially think, you really believe it’s more than about the money with him. For most of his adult life Mitchell has had his own personal grief with raising a junkie for a daughter (Caerthan Banks), and no matter how much money he has given her or rehab facilities he has procured for her, he has failed to stop her decimation. Mitchell’s professional course of action can be directed to what psychologists label as transference, anger towards the daughter he can’t seem to save, re-directed at the nameless responsible for the accident (he wants to chase after the manufacturers who built the bus, or perhaps the city that supplied a faulty guard rail on a cliff. But these are really intangible offenders, aren’t they?). “Hereafter” is by many considered one of the best films ever made, but I am not entirely sold. There are shocking developments like the unwholesome love between one parent and his teenage daughter – why suggest this without really finding a meaningful depth or sorrowful horror to it? As for story structure, it’s a non-linear narrative that teasingly goes back and forth to reveal details in parcels. It’s not really confusing in this sense. But concerning some of the supporting characters involved they come off as a tad too vague. Regardless, you admire the film in chunks, and it has a finish to it that beckons wisdom. Based on the Russell Banks novel (“Affliction” was also adapted with Nick Nolte) and directed by the technically assured Atom Egoyan (“Exotica,” “Chloe”). B-

DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / MONDAY-THURSDAY NIGHT FOOD FOR THOUGHT MOVIE

Switchback (1997) is an oddball thriller with two analog stories that eventually effect each other. Dennis Quaid is the downtrodden FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer who joins forces with R. Lee Ermey (from “Full Metal Jacket”) as the sheriff of a small Texas town. Then you have Danny Glover and Jared Leto as strangers who become road buddies travelling through the Pacific Southwest – one of them is the killer but the film wants us to guess at which one. Is it the chatty black man or the reticent former med student? The film gets by for awhile on its crisp images and wintry backdrops. But then it starts to just spin its wheels. The climax on the train isn’t slam-bang, rather it just chugs along. C-

MYSTERY-THRILLER / MOODY CHARACTER PIECE / MINDLESS WEEKEND MOVIE

Tidal Wave (2009, 120 Minutes, R, South Korean with English Subtitles) is an epic disaster movie that’s made like it was a Korean production of a Michael Bay spectacular with artificial story and characters to boot. There’s nothing really to do except cheer in hope that the victims get drowned real good! (You have to superficially enjoy disaster!) For the first hour, it’s all little soap opera character prefaces that just barely hold your attention. But when we get to the earthquake and tidal wave disaster, the special effects offer a huge quantity in shots of Seoul, Korea getting smothered. You also don’t mind the aftershocks. Typically, our concern is constructed so that we hope for the young and beautiful, and the children, to escape the perils while the insolent community members, I guess, get what’s coming for them. There is one character who idles on a bridge that just barely won’t collapse, and when he lights a cigarette, it sets off multiple explosions and lethal construction cables. You might be stuck in the middle in cheering for his escape or cheering for his demise. Depending on how morbid you are. C-

ACTION & ADVENTURE / DISASTER CHAOS / MINDLESS WEEKEND MOVIE

Vampires (1998, 107 Minutes, R) fulfills its promise of rowdiness for about fifteen minutes – good annihilation of the undead and boobs at a low-rent brothel party. Then it goes into lackluster territory in cheapo El Mexico and goes short on thrills. James Woods is Jack Crow, a vampire headhunter who works under wraps for the government. Most of his comrades get killed when angry vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) storms the brothel. From there, Crow confers with the Church in how he’s going to go after Valek. Although even without the Church, the gun-toting and crossbow-bearing Crow would go after them anyway. On the road, Crow’s sidekick (Daniel Baldwin, the pudgiest) and a partially bitten hooker (Sheryl Lee) blather on a lot, and those redundant cutaways to her really get irritating. John Carpenter’s flick (“The Thing,” “They Live”) is one of the most vapid in the vampire genre. Watching Woods get pissed at these undead a-holes is the only amusing thing about it. C-
HORROR COMEDY / ACTION & ADVENTURE / VAMPIRE MOVIE / FRIDAY AFTER DARK MOVIE

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2007, 117 Minutes, UNRATED edition) is a cheesy low-brow movie that at least tackles, at least for Adam Sandler, heavier race relation “issues” between Israelites and Palestinians in this outrageous comedy. Adam Sandler, outrageous? Never! Adam Sandler, half-mindful issues? Never, Really, Never! Sometimes stereotypes are funny when a comedy satirizes how ridiculous stereotypes are. This bawdy comedy has much sex and penis humor, which wouldn’t have been funny in another comedy but I defend it being used here. As for the clothesline plotline, Sandler is an Israelite counterterrorist killing machine who defects to New York to fulfill his dream of becoming a hair stylist / gigolo – those two things come hand in hand. John Turturro is his Palestinian nemesis and business foe whom has for the meantime chosen to be harmless. But an evil real estate industrialist (Michael Buffer) scheme is to rip a neighborhood apart by igniting a race war. This clash is good for the sake just to see Sandler accommodated by cheesy CGI-aided effects to go Jason Bourne and jump off high buildings like Peter Parker. Co-written by Adam Sandler (shameless) and Robert Smigel (brains). It’s also hard to reject anything with Emmanuelle Chriqui, an underused actress. B-

GOOFY COMEDY / RUDE HUMOR / GUILTY PLEASURES / WEEKEND VIEWING DEBAUCHERY

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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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