Twenty-five Netflix Films for Spring 2016

         
 

04 April 2016| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

 

 

It took a lot of video rentals, but I’ve finally caught up with some of the most essential titles of 2015. With family obligations, i.e., parenting two kids, I was taken away from covering as much as I would have liked. This list of 25 stands as a recap of what I had previously missed and not reviewed on this website, and offers you suggestions for the rest of this year of what to catch up with on home video this year. If this isn’t a good plan on how to occupy yourself with home entertainment, I don’t know what is. All the good ones should keep a sane person busy for the entire year. Of course there are disappointments, too, to consider avoiding.

As I was binge-watching, I recollected that 2015 offered few great films (“Ex Machina” was the only film I gave 5-stars last year), but it did offer an amazing count of very good films. Really, there were a lot of very good films that compensates generously for the fact that finding a masterpiece in recent times has been hard to do. These past couple of months I was dunking in film after film and I couldn’t believe how many of them were not just worth my time, but enriching assets to my film watching appetite. I have listed them in order of preference, and yet, I could easily find some of the order interchangeable on any given day.

ROOM (2015, 118 Minutes, R) has the queasy subject of abduction and sex slavery, and yet how it turns into an emotionally astute piece that spurs empathy and curiosity for such victims is credit to some key artists who worked on this film. Brie Larson was indeed last year’s best actress as the years’ ongoing victim who raises her five year old son (Jacob Tremblay) within a shed that occupies a kitchen, a skylight and a TV as their only connection to the outside world. What director Lenny Abrahamson does remarkably well is elicit a child performance of quivery tenderness – we fret over little Jack’s deprived understanding of his born situation and his trepidation with the outside world, and it’s handled so sensitively, I was enormously touched to the point of shock. Available at AmazonA-

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MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015, 108 Minutes, R) is the first true delivery of impressive filmmaking by Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden since their 2006 debut masterpiece “Half Nelson” — they’ve coasted along on tiny slices of life since then with “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Sugar,” okay movies but not much there. This immediate, cogent character study of gambling addicts professing there are junkies worse than them (liars!) has a quite pathetic Ben Mendelsohn as unlucky guy in deep debt and Ryan Reynolds as a happy go lucky muse go on the road to catch a river of winning cards! Hit up some loose women! Get into fights in dangerous neighborhoods! It’s a loose remake of 1974’s estimable “California Split” by Robert Altman, yet it strikes its’ own distinctive nerve. I do wish though the ending was more vividly explanatory without hitting around the bush. Note: I had underrated it. I bumped up its rank from its original spot after re-consideration. A-

LOVE & MERCY (2015, 120 Minutes, PG-13) is the emotionally insightful and unconventional biopic of musician Brian Wilson, the genius / sufferer behind the ’60’s pop band The Beach Boys. The structure is unconventional with Paul Dano as young man Wilson crumbling under the pressure of, well, to be great, and John Cusack as the over-medicated warped mind of Wilson in the late ’80’s induced by exploitative therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) would become Wilson’s savior. I had so much revelation in my newfound appreciation of Wilson that I went and bought his watershed 1966 album “Pet Sounds.” B+

GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM (2015, 115 Minutes, Unrated, Israel with English subtitles) was the best foreign film of this past year. Keep in mind, it was a weak year of international titles, but let’s not count that against it. In contemporary day, a woman tries for years to get a divorce within a male supremacy government that treats her as subordinate. The entire drama unfolds at a courthouse with flash forwards months or years at a time, and while that sounds claustrophobic, the drama rises in steam against the immalleable husband and sexist panel of judges. Thoroughly interesting. B+

TRAINWRECK (2015, 125 Minutes, R) is as fast-moving and fast-talking as a raunchy rom-com gets. Amy Schumer entertains in every scene as a magazine writer who jumps from guy to guy, until by chance she meets a great one in Bill Hader. Schumer wrote the throttling screwball script, and Judd Apatow directed. Time and again, I raise my reservations against Apatow, but the truth is he never makes boring movies. Whenever his comedy teeters on crassness, it is still comparable to the messy chapters of our own love lives. B+

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AMY (2015, 128 Minutes, R) hit me blindsided since everything I thought I knew about the late bluesy singer was incorrect, I had been judgmental. I had no idea she formulated herself after the music of Billie Holliday, and no idea she didn’t get hooked on drugs until after her first America tour (I figured she had always been a drug addict). It was a far more complicated, and potentially would-be inspiring life, before she took a wrong turn. B+

THE END OF THE TOUR (2015, 106 Minutes, R) concerns enigmatic author David Foster Wallace, the author who committed suicide following the publishing of several noteworthy books including his epoch “Infinite Jest,” and his multi-day interview with a Rolling Stones journalist. All the praise of this being a rich dialogue piece is mostly true, I wouldn’t say all, but 70% of the scenes have wonderful wordplay. Jason Segal (as Wallace) and Jesse Eisenberg may look like themselves, but they do get deep under the skin of their characters to create complex egos and enigmas. B+

99 HOMES (2015, 112 Minutes, R) features tenacious performances by Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield as a real estate shark and the unlikely protégé who sells his soul to work for him. This fierce drama and polemic tackles the housing crisis of South Florida. Underrated director Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”) whips together an especially great montage of evictions. Fans of “The Big Short” should see this as a pertinent companion piece. B+

THE GIFT (2015, 108 Minutes, R) reprises the outdated stalker formula, but it’s surprisingly one of the better written genre movies in recent years with a corker of a plot twist. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall is the ingratiating married couple, Joel Edgerton is the unstable friend with some compellingly shameful secrets from the past. Edgerton wrote and directed, and I hope he continues more to make more thrillers in this vein. B+

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MAGIC MIKE XXL (2015, 115 Minutes, R) is all strut and no plot, but when you’re this engorged with style, it can’t matter all that much. Just listen to these guys expound their natural gifts and mouth off! Channing Tatum is the king dick of cool, that let’s face it, I do wish I was him. Some saw this as a cash-whoring sequel, I say it’s pretty good mindless entertainment. I counted four terrific music dance numbers. B+

TRUMBO (2015, 124 Minutes, R) is a noble tribute to the liberal screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was among the Hollywood Ten blacklisted for having “communist” ideals – the dirtiest word in the witchhunt crazed 1950’s was the C-word, with hindsight, it’s harmless. This intriguing nugget of Hollywood history is not the shabby docudrama as some critics found it (some chapters of his story have been a tad simplified). Bryan Cranston captures the vinegary genius of Trumbo, yet makes him heartrending just as well. Oscar nomination definitely deserved. B

THE INTERN (2015, 121 Minutes, PG-13) once in awhile says something relevant about our times, but basically, it is a highly likeable piece of fluff that’s job landscape fantasy and feel-good therapy at the same time. Anne Hathaway is the e-commerce fashion company boss whose striving career comes at her family’s expense, and Robert DeNiro is the benign father-like and does-it-all senior intern. Nicely acted. Nancy Meyers wrote and directed modestly. B

CONCUSSION (2015, 123 Minutes, PG-13) isn’t one hundred percent anti-NFL, but it’s close. Will Smith, in one of the nine or ten best performances of last year (he has exactly one scene where he overacts — “TELL THE TRUTH!” — but this is still smartly persuasive acting), is the Nigerian doctor turned American resident forensic pathologist whose findings that football contact gradually causes brain damage over time was met with severe opposition. About a half hour in, it has about three minutes that intellectually proves its case, I am forever sold on it. The rest of the movie, of a man holding onto his credibility is simply gripping dramatics. B

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Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015, 95 Minutes, PG-13) poses a dilemma for three people in the aftermath of nuclear radiation fall-out. They should be able to get along, but can’t. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine shed all doubts I ever had for them, there’s plenty of fine nuanced moments from these actors. The script’s illogical faults didn’t kick in for me until after it faded to black. Yet it sure has interesting themes. B

IT FOLLOWS (2015, 100 Minutes, R) became the most admired horror film of last year. I think it certainly has fifty or so minutes of masterly control in the way it uses long takes and wide angles for this tale of a supernatural entity that languorously chases its prey (Maika Monroe is the target) that never stops pursuit. This redundant method ran out of interest for me, but there’s no denying quite a few shots contain shuddery boogeyman power. It’s scary enough for a one-time trip. B

RICKI AND THE FLASH (2015, 102 Minutes, PG-13) showcases Meryl Streep as an aged slovenly rocker, but she’s rather small-time, and when it comes down to it, what’s really here is a domestic squabble movie between Streep and her estranged family. But since it is writer Diablo Coby’s dialogue that’s being worked with, the stock rises. Still, it’s no big deal if you miss it, but director Jonathan Demme does track in some nice music sequences that furl its themes of family reconciliation. B-

DANNY COLLINS (2015, 106 Minutes, R) features Al Pacino doing awful vocals, but he does pull off a narcissistic one-time lothario soft rock star convincingly. Late in life, he sheds his bad ways and is reborn when he reconnects with his long lost son (Bobby Cannavale). Another flick where it’s no big deal if you miss it, but it’s kinda of a nice slice of cheese, a spicy pepperjack. With Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner and Christopher Plummer. B-

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BLACK MASS (2015, 123 Minutes, R) is a shallow litany of notes on notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, without any of them shaping a sound point of view. You have a serpentine Johnny Depp causing havoc in an anti-star turn, but many of the supporting characters are personality-free voids. We hear Bulger is a money launderer and racketeer, but the movie, all gruff encounters, doesn’t even show us this stuff. C+

THE AGE OF ADALINE (2015, 110 Minutes, PG-13) has the fetching Blake Lively as a woman who can live forever, she never ages. Each scene is well-made, but overall it has no bounce and just wilts before our eyes. The style is too grey, too downtrodden. The second half dramatizing the reunion with decades ago lover Harrison Ford at least provides some watchable tension. C

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015, 147 Minutes, R) is a low class biopic, and I’ve sat on this sentence for ten minutes, but come on… it really is low class. Are there really people who think this was undeservedly snubbed at the Oscars? I have no doubt that Compton in the late 80’s really was a stirring pot for police brutality against black youth, and that a few young men turned gangster rap as a cry for social change (there are some interesting scrap moments). But there’s really just a lot of regurgitating cycle hate going on here, and the film has no good message about transcending one’s roots.

HOT PURSUIT (2015, 87 Minutes, PG-13) is meant for undemanding audiences who just want a silly buddy comedy with cute go-getter Reese Witherspoon and queen of gaudy Sofia Vergara. But this just feels like a warmed over road trip flick leftover from 1988. Way too much made of Reese’s shortness and Sofia’s boobs to wring out would-be laughs. C

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COMING HOME (2015, 108 Minutes, PG, Mandarin with English subtitles) is a too dry telling of an estranged marriage during the decades ago Cultural Revolution of China. Gong Li develops Alzheimer’s by the time she’s reunited with the husband who was ratted out by his daughter. Zhang Yimou (“Ju Dou,” “House of Flying Daggers”) is one of the finest filmmakers in the world, but when he has to work within the confines of a contemporary government that restricts free creativity, his work can get very vague.

TOMORROWLAND (2015, 130 Minutes, PG) dubiously succeeds at turning George Clooney into innocuous fodder. In-between a few good minutes here and there with its fancy special effects, this sham is otherwise unwatchable dead weight. Brad Bird is the usually immaculate director, but his story is bogged down with unfitting nuts and bolts. Who are the bad guys and why don’t they want a utopia to happen? Forget it, I don’t care. D+

CHI-RAQ (2015, 127 Minutes, R) starts with an interesting statistic that there have been more gun deaths in Chicago since 2000 then there have been mortalities of special armed forces in Iraq. Yet this self-conscious piece is so up to its neck in social commentary, in screeching rabble rousing, I wanted to revolt. Spike Lee is the director, so of course there are five or six scenes that burst with ferocity and gumption. But his worst didactic impulses are at play here, and when the film relies on Spike’s trademark shrill gimmicks, it is very, very unwatchable. D+

VACATION (2015, 99 Minutes, R) takes off from the Chevy Chase classic, but the new one is less a comedy than a vomitorium. Ed Helms has been a good movie actor once (“Cedar Rapids”), but I just want to squash his stupid little pea-brain after this one. F

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Additional bonus short takes:

Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman’s, with Duke Johnson, stop-motion animation film about one man’s middle-age melancholy and compulsory adultery while on a business trip. David Thewlis piteously voices this man, Jennifer Jason Leigh voices the woman he picks up, and what doesn’t make sense is Tom Noonan voicing every other character be it man or woman — until it does finally pay-off and makes thematic sense.

The Assassin (China): Shu Qi is lovely to look at during this oblique martial arts fable. So often curiously beautiful, but its arty story is so distanced it lacks vitality. C

The Boy Next Door: Jennifer Lopez is terrible in a trashy stalker pic that isn’t trashy or fun enough. D

Cinderella: The casting simply does not charm me but this most expensive (yet overlong) retelling does have some lavishly decorous moments to behold. B-

Cop Car: Bad cop Kevin Bacon counter attacks two kids who took his car out for a joyride. There’s a body in the trunk he is hiding. This is a good movie idea, undone by a bungled ending (I hate gritty crime movies with characters that defy mortality). C+

The Duke of Burgundy (United Kingdom): Pervy lesbian master-submissive role play with dreamy surrealist interludes. For sex fiends who like WTF stuff. C+

Focus: Foxy Margot Robbie who matches well with Will Smith in this con artist caper that isn’t real world suited, but cinematically, it’s stylish and seductive B-movie fun. B

Goodnight Mommy (Austria): Eerily entrancing. But that makes its derivative downturn, with pretentiously arty torture pic touches, all the more unforgivable. C

Joy: A bad movie, but one that might still be worth watching. I loved the scenes when Jennifer Lawrence, playing a plucky 1970’s real life heroine, is hawking her modern mop and makes it onto the home shopping network. Even though I don’t know the whole true story, I can still tell this takes on too many dramatic liberties and certain supporting characters (Robert DeNiro among them) are grating. And director David O. Russell is selling American cynicism more than he is inspiration, if you look under the intended veneer. C+

Maggie: Arnold Schwarzenegger in low-key mode, and it adds nothing to the zombie genre canon. C

Minions: Sandra Bullock as the villain was a bad idea. For toddlers only. C+

Phoenix (Germany): Minor post-World War II parable on war displacement and identity had other critics make way too much of it, but it does effectively build to a thought-provoking conclusion. B- 

Rock the Kasbah: The funniest thing going on here is that it’s trying to be a smart and topical satire, and frankly it’s not (and it drags). Bill Murray is honed in, as a music agent washout trying to make easy cash in Afghanistan, so that he’s not allowed any outstanding moments. Another Barry Levinson directed failure, he hasn’t given us anything of worth since “Wag the Dog.” D+

Sisters: I’ve almost never liked bacchanal party movies outside of 1978’s “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have never been in a movie this sloppy/trashy, but this house party (without the elder parents’ permission) has some original gags. I suppose the girls have more fun aphorism is more fresh than a typical horny-boys-gotta-get-laid plot. It’s also a decent background noise movie. But with all those F-words, it’s not good for kids. B-

The 33: It’s not art, but it is visually arresting to see what the Chile mine disaster looked like (a gargantuan cave). The acting is respectable, even though the paranoia-fueled interpersonal conflicts are cliched, i.e., trapped men blaming each other for this and that.

Timbuktu (France-Africa): Islamic fundamentalists rule and then terrorize a small village, but it’s the thin acting and vague parallel stories that bring you down. C

The Visit: Small comeback for director M. Night Shyamalan. I was ready to dismiss the flick with its’ yet another found footage gimmick (two kids record their week with their whacky — and frightening — grandparents they’ve never met), but he creates some clever moments from it and there are some honest scares. Something to throw on some late Friday night. B-

Wild Tales (Argentina): Uproarious anthology stories, six total and all of them good, and number four’s “Little Bomb” is surprisingly my favorite. B+

Summary
Reviewer
Sean Chavel
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Twenty five Essential Movies from 2015 Recap and Consideration
Author Rating
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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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