Man, there are quite a few disturbing picks in here this month.
You’ve made it through the holidays intact, but chances are good that you’re probably exhausted. Embrace your urge to veg for a month, because Netflix has recently added a bunch of exciting, high-profile movies to their streaming service, and they’re ripe for the streaming. Click on the films’ titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
This many movies into Marvel Studios’ superhero franchise, you’d think that they would start to feel played out. You’d think that people would be beyond sick and tired of watching super-powered beings in flashy outfits fighting on the screen. You’d think, but oh my God is Civil War such a fun movie. The action is more thrilling than anything you’re going to get from the all but dead action genre these days. The dialogue is more banter-packed than practically anything that’s existed since the golden age of screwball comedies. What’s most surprising about these movies though is that they keep managing to find strong emotional centers. Why is that? Because Marvel focuses so strongly on getting character right that you always care about what happens to their heroes. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and Marvel’s cadre of screenwriters have gotten the Captain America and Iron Man characters so right, and Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. are so perfectly cast in their roles, that it practically feels like your parents are splitting up when they finally come to blows. Compare that to Batman v Superman, which felt like watching a fist fight in a douchey nightclub, and there’s no comparison. It’s not often that Netflix gets a movie this huge this soon after it was released into theaters. Let us think upon our good fortune and rejoice.
It doesn’t matter what The African Queen is about or how well it’s made. It just doesn’t. All that matters is that is takes two of the most powerfully talented, unique personalities ever to appear on film – Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart – and it turns them loose to wreak havoc on each other, performance-wise. That’s not to say that this story isn’t interesting or that the film isn’t well made though. The African Queen is set in Africa during World War I, and it was made by directing legend John Huston, so it’s impossibly interesting and astonishingly well made. Still though, there’s just no overstating how awesome it is to get a chance to watch Hepburn and Bogart acting opposite of one another. The African Queen is a classic for a reason. If you don’t yet know why, good lord, get on that.
Director Craig Brewer has made a career out of making movies that sound terrible on paper but end up being really enjoyable when you actually watch them. Black Snake Moan is one of those movies. It’s about an old black man (Samuel L Jackson) who chains up a young, nymphomaniac white girl to his radiator, and somehow it’s not trashy or exploitive at all. Actually, it’s really emotionally honest, and really affecting, and it features outstanding performances from both leads. This might be the least schticky Jackson has been in the past decade. All of the music in it is great too. If you’re a fan of the Blues, this movie is full of authentic audio suffering. If you’re not, it’s still got Justin Timberlake.
Opinions were kind of mixed when Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was released in 2014. Sure, there were a ton of people who called it one of the best movies of the year, but there was also a pretty loud backlash that called it things like overrated and overlong. If you haven’t seen it, it doesn’t really matter what your opinion is going to be though, because the film is worth seeing whether you love it or hate it just based on what an interesting experiment it is. Linklater filmed it over the course of 11 years, so you actually watch the main character (Ellar Coltrane) grow up over the course of the film, and you watch his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) age from confused youngsters into wise old sages. It’s an amazing thing watching characters age on the screen for real, when every other movie you’ve ever seen has had to resort to casting multiple actors or using janky special effects. It’s so amazing that the sight of it actually becomes emotional. One moment you’re watching a regular movie about a kid coming of age and the next you’re staring the fragility of human mortality in the face. It’s powerful stuff.
Everyone knows that The Graduate is one of the best and most influential films ever made. Everyone knows that Mike Nichols was one of the most important storytellers of modern times. Everyone knows that Dustin Hoffman is one of our most vital living actors. Everyone has an opinion on the music of Simon & Garfunkel. Have you really sat down and watched The Graduate beyond just noting off a checklist of all of its iconic moments though? Everybody knows this movie is important, but it’s also still a really vital, really relatable movie as well. Forget all of the images that have been burned into our brains and the lines that have been quoted for decades. Watch The Graduate with fresh eyes. It feels like something that could capture the imagination of today’s youth just as much as it captured the imagination of the youth of its time. What a wonderful, irreplaceable piece of filmmaking – and we haven’t even mentioned how heartbreaking Anne Bancroft’s performance is yet. She burrows deep inside of you and lay eggs of despair. Damn.
Think it’s impossible for 90 pound, sweeter than sugar Ellen Page to be intimidating? Then you haven’t seen Hard Candy. This movie is unnerving on a whole lot of levels, and not the least of which is how many dark places Page’s ridiculously young-looking character is willing to go while entrapping an internet predator who goes after underage girls and exacting grizzly revenge on him. Imagine the most annoying teenager you’ve ever met, and then give them the sociopathic ability to commit blank-faced mutilations while still never shutting up. So many shudders. Patrick Wilson plays the pervert, and he plays his character with a veneer of faux politeness that’s more than enough to make your skin crawl. If there’s anything worse than a rapist creep, it’s a mannered rapist creep who’s clearly very practiced at what he does. This movie is an endurance test of unpleasantness, but kind of in a fun way.
Normally if a movie steeps itself deep in high school culture it enjoys a brief moment of popularity, eventually becomes viewed as being a product of its time, and is then forgotten. Not Heathers though. Because it created unique characters, its own lingo, and even an interpretation of high school life that plays as being a little bit fantastical, it’s been able to hold onto its relevancy and stick around in the cultural conversation. At this point there has almost been 30 years worth of angry, annoyed, teenaged outsiders who have watched this movie, learned to love it, and taken inspiration from its rebel spirit. Got a budding teenaged misfit of your own at home? Throw this one on and show them what Winona Ryder was doing before she was the mom on Stranger Things. They’ll thank you when they’re 30.
What’s Hellraiser? It’s only one of the best, most highly-regarded horror movies ever made. Set aside all of the weirdness and the questionable decisions of the sequels, and set aside all of the crap that Clive Barker’s name got put on after he made this. None of that sullies how revolutionary Hellraiser was when it was released. It doesn’t change how iconic Pinhead is as a horror movie villain. It doesn’t change how delightfully dryly droll Doug Bradley is while playing Pinhead. It doesn’t change how cringe inducingly disgusting all of the S&M gore in this movie is. I guess all of this is a long-winded way of saying that Hellraiser is one of the most important horror movies ever made. It’s also engaging and entertaining as a standalone film apart from all of the expectations though. Though most of this series is crap that’s only embraced by fanatics, the original Hellraiser really earns its reputation. Check it out.
When all of these live action remakes of Disney’s classic animated movies started getting announced, it was pretty hard to get excited for the idea. Haven’t we seen the same stories get told over and over again enough at this point? So far they’ve all been really good though, so it’s hard to keep complaining. With this latest Jungle Book, director Jon Favreau has created a rich, detailed world that’s gorgeous to look at and tons of fun to explore. He really went above and beyond. Plus, the script he’s working with layers a familiar story with new thematic depth, and the cast of voice actors he recruited are so universally great that it’s hard to not come away impressed.
This movie features Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, and Christopher Walken, all playing iconic roles, and none of them are phoning it in. What a dream. Sure, the musical numbers don’t work as well here as they do in the animated version, but other than that The Jungle Book is a shockingly strong movie. Bring on Favreau’s The Lion King, I guess.
Here’s a movie that unfairly flew under a lot of people’s radars this year. Did we need another indie film about a disenfranchised creative type who’s forced to move back to his home town? Probably not. But this is a good one, so it should get seen by more eyeballs. Other People is sad and dark, but it’s always able to find moments of humor in its darkness. Its star is Jessie Plemons, who’s such a strong actor and who would absolutely thrive if he was given more leading roles like this (he has a freakout over some laxatives here that’s Philip Seymour Hoffman-level powerful). It gives Molly Shannon a meaty role, and though she’s always amazing at playing the quirky side character, it’s a huge breath of fresh air to finally get to see her try her hand at something more dramatic, because she really pulls it off. You watch this and you suddenly realize that she’s been criminally wasted over the past 20 years. Check this one out. It’s got a scene involving a van full of white people singing along to Train’s ‘Drops of Jupiter’ that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie all year.
If you believed the horrific trailers that got cut for Paddington, you’d think that it was one of the biggest stinkers to have been released in theaters in recent years. Good thing we’re smart people who don’t fall for advertising, because Paddington is actually one of the most delightful, charming, legit-good kids movie that’s come out in the last decade (okay, there are a couple of Pixar joints that give it a run for its money). How can a movie about a talking bear who loves marmalade be so entertaining, so memorable, so affecting? You kind of have to watch it to understand. All of the characters are so adorably awkward and delightfully British that you can’t help but fall in love with the whole production. Have some faith. You won’t regret the time you spend on this one.
Here’s another 2016 movie that should have gotten a bunch of attention, but was released without much fanfare. Rainbow Time is one of the weirdest movies that’s come out in a while, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, because generally everything that the Duplass brothers have their fingerprints on ends up being unique. This one stars Jay Duplass as a man who has an up and down relationship with his always strange, often off-putting brother Shonzi (Linas Phillips), who’s developmentally disabled, and also a huge pervert. Phillips is great in this and he was great in last year’s Manson Family Vacation, so he’s someone who needs to start getting way more attention. The best thing about Rainbow Time is that Melanie Lynskey is in it though. She elevates everything. She’s movie pixie dust. Melanie Lynskey for every movie ever.
When is it appropriate to shoot a documentary like a horror movie? When the subjects of your documentary are those creepy, scurrying, disease-carrying hordes of vermin that serve as the sometimes hidden, sometimes all too visible scourge of our urban areas – rats. These little critters give me the wiggins something fierce, and director Morgan Spurlock taps into that by putting way too many rats on camera, and telling you way too many disturbing facts about the creatures. Watching this thing might not be the best idea, as far as future nights of restful sleep are concerned. You have to admit that Rats is pretty educational though, and there are quite a few people out there who enjoy being creeped out. If that’s you, give this one a try. Just know that you’ll never be able to walk down a city street without scanning for rat nests ever again. They’re everywhere!
Ravenous might be the best movie about cannibalism ever made. Anyway, it’s certainly the best dark comedy about cannibalism ever made. This movie is sick. It’s twisted. It’s gleeful in its depictions of unspeakable acts. The story here riffs a bit on the infamous fate of the Donner Party, and it mixes in an extra bit of weirdness via the Wendigo myth, but story isn’t really what you’re diving into this one for. You’re in it for the nail biting tension, the release of that tension through the guffaws produced by the dark humor. You’re in it for the unforgettable score and the completely strange performances delivered by powerhouses of talent like Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeffrey Jones, and… David Arquette? Yes, this movie is so delightfully disgusting that it even makes David Arquette palatable. That’s not the sort of feat you see pulled off every day. Dude was in Ready to Rumble.
Director Darren Aronofsky is a man of many talents, but what he might be best at is editing together pulsing, throbbing, powerfully alive film sequences that are intense enough to give his viewers nervous breakdowns. His characters are driven to the point of obsession. Following their stories can be harrowing experiences. That’s especially true in this pressure cooker of a movie, that’s all about drug addiction and the ravaging affects it can have on our bodies and our psyches. Ellen Burstyn’s performance here is haunting, electric, and unforgettable. It needs to be seen. People talk about how Requiem is one of those movies that’s so intense you can only handle watching it once, but nah. There’s so much good filmmaking going on here that revisiting its misery is always an absolute pleasure.
Is there such a thing as a good Michael Bay movie? Yes, The Rock is a good Michael Bay movie. It suffers a bit from his constantly moving camera, but not as much as his other works, and it’s driven forward by strong acting work from its stars, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris. Cage and Connery are crap shoots who can be good or terrible depending on how interested they are in the material they’re working with, but they’re both playing it straight here, and Harris is a steady old rock (snicker) of a performer who’s helped ground any movie he’s ever been cast in, so put them all together and what you’ve got is a potent blockbuster that does its job to thrill its audience without insulting their intelligence. There’s a lot of bombastic Bay influence on display here too though – it just doesn’t get so extreme that it sinks the whole picture. That destructive chase through the streets of San Francisco that involves a street car is one of the most memorable things that we got from 90s action movies. Say what you will about Michael Bay’s output, but at least he gave us The Rock. And, to a lesser extent, Armageddon.
It’s got its moments.
Martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s sole directorial effort, Way of the Dragon, gets off to something of a rocky start. Lee is playing a “Chinese boxing” badass who travels from Hong Kong to Rome in order to help protect a friend’s restaurant from a group of thugs who have been shaking them down in order to acquire their property, and the first act contains a whole bunch of corny fish out of water humor that doesn’t work at all. Once Lee starts battling the organized crime goons, things get much better though. The physical presence this guy brought to the screen hasn’t been matched since. The best thing about this movie? It ends with a big, climactic battle between Lee and Chuck Norris’ body hair. No, that’s not some kind of attempt at one of those Meta Chuck Norris jokes that the internet loves so much – Bruce Lee literally has a confrontation with Chuck Norris’ mane of wiry chest hair at the end of this movie. It’s basically the stuff of legends.
This movie is reality bending, it’s astonishingly Meta, it’s endlessly interesting, and it stars Alison Pill, who’s just a powerful little explosion of charisma condensed into female form. What’s it about? It’s about a cartoonist who works at a sex doll factory who struggles with the relationship men have to her body, the relationship she has to men’s bodies, and all of the suffering and confusion we welcome into our lives thanks to those confusions. It’s occasionally funny, it’s occasionally disturbing, and it’s always chalk full of themes and ideas. There’s so much great exploration of our poisoned relationship to our bodies in here, as well as examinations of the ways in which we detach ourselves from reality in order to deny how confusing our day to day existences are. If any of this interests you, or if you’re interested in the idea of Gael García Bernal playing a comic book character who lives and dies according to how big his penis is drawn, then Zoom is the movie for you. Just be warned… it’s weird.