Cults, Cannibals, and Cormac McCarthy.
Sick of watching the same movies on Netflix over and over again? You should be. That’s a ridiculous way to use the service. Especially considering they’re always adding new movies to their catalogue and we go through the trouble of rifling through the new entries to let you know which ones are worth your time. Click on the film’s titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: No Country For Old Men (2007)
What’s the best movie of the last 10 years? What’s the best movie in the entire Joel and Ethan Coen filmography? I’m sure I don’t know, but No Country For Old Men is in the conversation for both. This is just about the most tense crime drama ever made, and it’s infused with that unique Coens personality from top to bottom, so it’s hard to put into words just how good it is, unless you’re talking to a Coens fan who understands just how singular everything they make is (which is you, right?). Look at the performances in this thing. Josh Brolin is so good as the lead that he had a Travolta-esque career resurgence because of it. Javier Bardem went from being fairly unknown in the United States to being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood because of how memorable he is as Anton Chigurh, one of the few film characters from this century who already feel iconic. Tommy Lee Jones – is it possible to overstate how good he is in this movie? It’s probably the best performance he’s given in a long, legendary career. Or, at least, it’ll do until his best performance gets here.
No Country For Old Men already has all of this going for it, but it also brings to the table the way in which it brilliantly breaks traditional story structure in the third act, which tends to enrage anyone who’s watching it for the first time. Why not find a Coens virgin and make them sit down with this one so you can giggle while they lose their shit? That’s an evening of good, clean fun right there.
Overall, Baskin doesn’t really add up to much as a movie, but it does manage to provide a ton of creepy, messed up, bad-trip visuals for fans of the horror genre. Its story is about a squad of Turkish cops who crash their van out in the country, stumble upon a Satanic ritual in an abandoned building, and then end up being tied up and tortured while all manner of brutally violent and psycho-sexual things happen in front of them. Think of every messed up heavy metal album cover and every banned alternative comic you’ve ever seen, put it all in a blender, and that’s basically what director Can Evrenol puts up on the screen in the third act of Baskin. There’s not much story here, and the characters are pretty annoying to spend time with, but there’s so much blood, deviant sexual acts, and dead babies in cages put up on the screen that none of that really matters. Baskin would be great to put on in the background during a Halloween party, and it’s definitely time for you to start planning your Halloween party, so check it out.
After hitting a trifecta of successful starring vehicles with Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler shit the comedic bed by making The Waterboy. But he hadn’t yet completely turned into the living embodiment of poop jokes and cargo shorts that we know him as today. He had one decent comedy left in him, 1999’s Big Daddy, which has the distinction of providing us with the most ridiculous and unrealistic court scene ever put on film. Aside from that, it’s kind of heartwarming (a success that Sandler would chase with diminishing, schmaltzy returns for the rest of his career), and it’s actually pretty funny (that little kid who asks Sandler if rum means Rumplestiltskin is a legend). Also, of the many Steve Buscemi cameos that have happened in Sandler movies, this one has the best, because not only does it give Buscemi a chance to act completely unhinged, but it also gives the movie a chance to cash a pretty big McDonalds check, and a Sandler movie just ain’t a Sandler movie if it ain’t chalk full of big money product placement.
Most people remember Blue is the Warmest Color for it’s ludicrous and over-the-top, though admittedly pretty hot lesbian sex scenes. It’s so much more than that, though. It’s one of the most effective coming-of-age stories we’ve gotten in the last decade, and that’s keeping in mind that indie cinema and the festival circuit are always saturated with coming-of-age stories, so it takes quite a bit for one to stand out. Léa Seydoux is one of the most charismatic actors working today, and she’s very memorable here as the bad girl love interest, but she’s not even the story of the film. The story is lead Adèle Exarchopoulos, who shoulders the weight of this movie in a way that can’t be understated (the vast bulk of the film’s considerable run time is spent with director Abdellatif Kechiche’s camera pushed up way close on her face, in order to register every little flutter of emotion that she allows to play across it, and there isn’t a single moment that ends up ringing false). Making this movie must have been a marathon of torture for Exarchopoulos, but what she ended up creating out of her effort will no doubt live on as a much-respected piece of art.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for documentaries about cults. This one focuses on a family of women who survived being members of David Berg’s Children of God cult, who later became known simply as The Family. There’s a lot of dark stuff in here, as you would expect – the darkest being the tales of child sexual abuse and the video clips of child strip teases that cult leaders made – but there’s also an element to this film that provides quite a bit of Ned Flanders-esque, so-religious-and-nerdy-it’s-hilarious, schadenfreude. Sure, the reality of what goes on in this cult is dark and horrifying, but that’s going to be the last thing on your mind as you’re sitting through all of their sunny dance numbers set to tunes as charmingly titled as “Do it Right Now,” and “Do it Because Daddy Says So.” The bubble society that Berg built looks something like an expansive, incestuous Partridge Family, and getting a glimpse into their day to day life is often just as hilarious as it is disturbing. Seriously though, anyone who can’t take tales of sexual abuse should stay far, far away from this one. It’s necessary to come to Children of God with a pitch black comedic sensibility and zero triggers.
Clive Owen never quite took off as an actor like it seemed he would after blowing everyone away in things like Children of Men and Closer, but thankfully he’s still doing great work here and there, slightly under the radar. In The Confirmation he’s playing an alcoholic who’s been tasked with taking care of his son (St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher) for the weekend while his ex-wife (Maria Bello) goes out of town on a trip. That doesn’t seem like such a chore on the surface, but things like withdrawal seizures, eviction notices, stolen toolboxes, and random gunplay get thrown on top of the babysitting, and all of a sudden we have a movie with some stakes. The Confirmation is small in scope and simple in plot, but it will hook you in with its naturalism and authenticity, until eventually you find yourself caring about its characters. In addition to Owen’s great performance, it also features supporting turns from actors as diverse and awesome in their talents as Patton Oswalt, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tim Blake Nelson, Robert Forster, and Matthew Modine. That’s a first rate cast for a small movie that hasn’t gotten that much attention, so let’s give it some more.
Extract kind of came and went without anyone saying much about it, which is strange, because it was written and directed by Mike Judge, and it has a cast that features names like Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons, T.J. Miller, David Koechner, and a top of his game Ben Affleck. Those people are beloved (or Ben Affleck). Admittedly, this is probably the weakest thing that Judge has done, but he’s still the guy who made Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, and Silicon Valley, so you know that it has to have its moments. The disconnect here is probably that Judge’s characters are usually really charming and likable, even when you don’t completely identify with them, and here that’s just not the case. Even Bateman’s lead is pretty much a contemptible drip. The humor is still on point though, so if you’re in the mood for some simple, empty laughs, throwing on Extract and paying half-attention to it would be a nice way to fill a lazy evening.
After making movies like Cop Land and Walk the Line, James Mangold became beloved, but back when he released Heavy in 1995 he was completely unknown. The movie itself hasn’t really gained any notoriety thanks to the ascent of its filmmaker either. Maybe it was just overlooked because Heavy Weights came out the same year, and there’s no getting out of the shadow of Heavy Weights, but either way, Heavy is a really solid, character-based indie, and now that it’s on Netflix there’s a chance that more people will catch up with it. It features a dynamite lead performance from Pruitt Taylor Vince, who plays a sheepish pizza chef who works in his mother’s dive bar, as well as a charming turn from Liv Tyler, who plays a fetching young waitress who inspires Vince’s character to finally try to do something with his life, despite the fact that the world as he knows it is about to come crashing down around him. Heavy is a slow-burner, but it ends up getting pretty tense, and it features a dynamite cameo appearance from David Patrick Kelly, who is the absolute king of showing up in a movie and acting crazy for a few minutes, so you should definitely give it a look.
Teenagers are awful, insufferable people, but it’s important to remember that a large part of why they’re this way is that they live terrible, miserable lives. Memoria is so visceral a reminder of how terrible it is to be a teenager that watching it just about gave me PTSD. As you’re watching it, the claustrophobia of living in a terrible bubble that you have no freedom to move outside of comes rushing back, the blind cockiness of thinking you’ve got it all figured out when really you’ve yet to experience anything flushes your cheeks with embarrassment, and the downright sleaze of what it was like to be surrounded by people trying to figure out their sexuality and their particular moral codes, without having any experience existing as an actual human being, dumps on your chest like you’ve been caught laying behind a purging garbage truck. Teenagers do some messed up shit. Either the promise of said grossness is going to be enough to get you to check this one out, or the fact that James Franco shows up in it is. There are a certain subset of weirdos out there fascinated with following every strange thing that Franco chooses to do. I know, because I’m one of them.
As an initial warning, there’s a ton of painting indigenous people as being terrifying “others” happening in The Naked Prey, so if you’re going to watch it you should probably read Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ beforehand or something, just to even things out. But after you’ve made yourself correct with the world, the movie is a pretty damned entertaining relic of ‘60s-era filmmaking. It opens up with stock footage of hunters mowing down elephants with gigantic rifles, and it doesn’t let up from there. It’s the story of a safari leader (Cornel Wilde) who gets stripped of all of his earthly trappings and is forced to survive out in the jungle while a cannibalistic tribe remains hot on his trail, hoping to cover him up in wet clay and cook him over their campfire. The Naked Prey is almost dialogue free, and it’s pretty much just an extended game of cat and mouse, which might sound awesome to you or it might sound awful, depending on your sensibilities. For me it was awesome, but proceed with caution. One additional warning though: if you skip this one you’re skipping a pretty wicked spear fight, and that would be dumb.
There aren’t many Cormac McCarthy novels that would really work as film adaptations (without the influence of a Coen brother), but The Road is one of them. It’s a very simple, very bleak story that nonetheless benefits from the inherent entertainment factor of being set in a very dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Eh, maybe “entertainment” is the wrong word to use there, but there are certainly things that happen here that are very harrowing, which is a nice change of pace from the usual McCarthy story that’s mostly about solitary people being miserable. The only problem here is that super-young Kodi Smit-McPhee gets annoying with his incessant whining as the hero’s young son, but Viggo Mortensen is such a strong actor that he’s still able to hold the whole production up on his beefy shoulders and keep the audience engaged. He’s such a stud.
A lot of people invested a lot of energy in being huge Tim Burton fans. The guy was the ultimate outsider, the ultimate example of how everything weird and dark could be artistic yet still mainstream. Probably, he felt like salvation for a whole generation of teenaged outsiders. Since then he’s made terrible movies and we’ve been living through the long, slow process of Burton loyalists defending his failures until finally, inevitably giving in to despair. Still, before he totally lost his touch he made Sleepy Hollow, which is a flawed film to be sure, but one that puts enough of that unique Burton darkness up on the screen that it can still be loved. Yeah, most of the acting here is broad and terrible, and the story is generally plodding and boring, but Burton does a great job of creating an ominous, dark atmosphere for the film (Sleepy Hollow probably sent a whole host of dry ice company chairman’s kids to college), and the landscapes he creates are so gothic and spooky that you can’t help but be entertained by staring at them. No, Spooky Hollow isn’t great, but it’s pretty, it’s one of the last instances of Johnny Depp playing a character who looks like a real human, and it features a ton of decapitations. You could do much worse.
I skipped St. Vincent when it was released because I heard a lot of bad things about it. All of those things were rubbish, though, because this is actually a frequently charming and often funny movie that uses Bill Murray’s screen persona just about as well as it can be used (come one, he is obviously given a ton of room here to improvise those patented Murray zingers). Yeah, yeah, both he and Naomi Watts do broad accents, which is kind of annoying, but once you get past that there’s a lot to like in this movie. Jaeden Lieberher is very strong as the kid who gets babysat by a grumpy old Murray, to the point where he totally keeps up with him comedically. Melissa McCarthy isn’t used much, but where she is used it’s to add a necessary grounding humanity to the story. Chris O’Dowd only gets a few scenes, but he totally connects with the audience during them because he’s insanely talented. Is the story a little rote? Probably, but I’m a sucker for any movie where a cantankerous loner get thrown together with someone against their will and circumstances lead to them learning to love each other. It’s hopeful, and it’s charming, and it’s what the movies should be all about.
This movie is totally weird, on account of how horrifying its conceit is, but it still works because of how it’s eventually able to make you root for some of its worst characters, who are broken and awful. Ellen Page plays the title character, who is a faux-homeless crusty kid who was recently abandoned by her formerly rich boyfriend. After interacting with a vapid party woman (Tammy Blanchard) who has no business being a mother but is staying in a fancy hotel, she decides to steal the woman’s baby, take it to her former boyfriend’s mother’s (Alison Janney) apartment, and tell her that the baby is her grandchild so that she can scam a few weeks of free room and board. Of course, this being a movie, everyone eventually learns something from each other and hearts are warmed—but that doesn’t look so reductive in the face of how much edge Page brings to her character and how refreshing it is to finally see Janney lend her considerable talents to a leading role. Tallulah is smart, it’s unflinching, and it’s got enough cheekiness to cast “Crazy Eyes” from Orange is the New Black (Uzo Aduba) as an official for Child Protective Services. Also, if you’re the sort of person who gains satisfaction from someone pointing out the correct pronunciation of “espresso,” then this is the movie for you.
World War II is probably one of the easiest periods to set a movie during, because there was so much going on in the world at the time and so much of it was deadly. This particular story is set in the Netherlands during the tail end of the war, and it’s about a young boy (Martijn Lakemeier) who finds a downed British pilot (Jamie Campbell Bower) out in the woods and is torn between helping him and towing the line so as not to create risk for his family, who are still living in Nazi-occupied country. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this movie. There’s coming of age stuff, loyalty to country stuff, loyalty to family stuff, and in general there’s just a basic examination of what makes us human, which becomes easier to identify in times and places where we’re stripped of said humanity. This isn’t the most memorable movie, as far as filmmaking goes, but because it’s about such an important era in human history it still manages to be the sort of story that teaches you important lessons and sticks with you days after you’ve watched it.