A Movie Mount Rushmore: John Wayne, Jaws, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon
If you’re super into horror movies, chances are probably good that you have your entire October planned out already. If you’re not though, you might be at a loss as to what to do with yourself while all of your movie-loving friends are spending the whole month concerning themselves with screaming teenagers, fake blood, and things that go bump in the night. Don’t fret though, because Netflix has a lot of new movies, and we’ve waded through them to find out which ones are worth checking out. Click on the films’ titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Sleeping Giant (2015)
When Sleeping Giant first opens it feels like you’re about to watch some kind of Millennial, Canadian version of Gummo, which is a terrifying proposition but also an exciting one. Pretty quickly it settles down into a movie that’s more Millennial Canadian Kids though, which is less terrifying but still really, really exciting. The story here is about a timid kid (Jackson Martin) spending a summer in a Canadian lake community who has his capacity to act like a sleaze bag tested when he befriends a pair of brothers (Reece Moffett and Nick Serino) who are your typical dirtbag, despicable teenagers.
There are parts of this movie that make your skin crawl, because they’re just so damned true to the scummy tween years that every one of us lived through. Coming of age is such a terrible thing, and Sleeping Giant is the most authentic (kids wear gold chains outside of t-shirts, they play “keep away,” they call each other “fucking fucks”), engaging coming of age story I’ve seen in a long time. The kids are all great in their roles, their roles are well-written to appear shallow at first, but to slowly reveal hidden complexity as the story develops, and in general this is just the sort of movie that looks like an unassuming, low-budget indie project that you’d see at a festival and forget about, but that eventually sneaks up on you and shocks you with how completely it’s able to get you emotionally engaged. It makes you want to run out and tell everyone in the world about it. Olly olly oxen free.
In many ways director Malik Bader’s (Street Thief) Cash Only is your prototypical film noir. It’s about a down on his luck landlord (Nickola Shreli) who gets presented with a money-making opportunity that comes with a moral compromise, and the downward spiral of darkness and violence that he gets sucked into once he makes said moral compromise. That’s the structure of noir storytelling to a T. Cash Only feels like it takes place in a much more modern world than most noirs, though – even neo-noirs – because it taps into so many of the economic concerns and moral quandaries that lower class people are forced to make in today’s lopsided global economy. This movie is soaked in danger, it takes us on a ride alongside a complex and interesting protagonist, and it gradually builds up into an explosion of terrible, disturbing violence. It’s exactly the sort of thing to watch with the kids on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
So many war movies have set themselves during World War II at this point that you would think the setting would be played out, but so much intensely interesting, intensely horrible stuff happened during that war – especially in Europe – that it’s just never going to run out of drama to be mined. We’re never going to be able to wrap our heads around what the Nazis did, but it’s likely cinema is going to continue to try. Defiance is one of the many movies that utilizes this period in history as a setting in order to make itself inherently interesting. It’s about a group of Jewish people in Belarus who refuse to live in a Nazi-instituted ghetto, and instead create an encampment out in the woods, effectively turning themselves into one part Robin Hood’s Merry Men and one part The Wolverines.
This is a true story, or at least as true as anything adapted by Hollywood gets, and it’s brought to vibrant life through great performances from Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, who act as kind of the sober yin Professor X and raging yang Magneto of the community. Defiance didn’t get the best reception when it was released, for whatever reason, but it’s got interesting characters and it’s engaging all of the way through, so it might be time to give it a second look. It is about the craziest thing that’s happened in human history, after all.
Footloose is exactly the sort of 80s cheese that shouldn’t hold up for anyone who doesn’t view it through the rosy lenses of nostalgia. A movie about a town that’s outlawed dancing and the big city rebel who sweeps in and breaks open everyone’s hearts by shaking his booty? Dumb, right? Not really. Footloose was really good when it was released, and it’s still good today. Not only is its soundtrack still totally awesome, but Chris Penn is also totally awesome, John Lithgow is totally awesome, and Kevin Bacon starts a fight with a bully by jump kicking him off the front porch of a barn, which is totally awesome. Footloose isn’t a guilty pleasure – get that nonsense out of here – it’s just a pleasure, plain and simple. Go ahead and cut loose.
Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers) makes crazy movies full of big ideas. He doesn’t make safe decisions. Sometimes that approach can lead to absolute magic and sometimes it can lead to an interesting car wreck. I’m not going to go as far as to call High-Rise a car wreck, but it’s definitely a big mess of a movie that’s undeniably full of unforgettable visuals, great performances, innovative ideas, and more than a few awkward scenarios that never quite come together as a whole. The mess is too interesting to turn away from.
Tom Hiddleston stars here as the tenant of a futuristic, top-of-the-line high-rise apartment that devolves into dystopian chaos. Hiddleston is always great, and even though the things happening around him here are hit or miss, he’s the connecting thread that keeps you engaged throughout the film. The other great thing about High-Rise is the scene that features a Portishead cover of ABBA’s ‘SOS’ that absolutely demands to be heard. In a sane world this song would be at the top of every Billboard chart still bothering to track music. Unfortunately for all of us, this is no sane world.
The Jaws franchise recently got added to the Netflix catalogue, which has to be seen as being pretty big news, mostly because the Jaws franchise contains the movie Jaws. Sure, if you’re a huge fan, or if you have a particular affinity for aquatic monsters, the sequels might hold some sort of interest for you, but honestly they’re uneven to bad, and that original is just one of the most iconic, most entertaining, most memorable movies of all time. There’s humanity in it, there’s memorable dialogue, unforgettable characters, first-rate filmmaking, and – most important of all – it all gets built around a gigantic, killer shark who’s chomping down little kids by the baker’s dozen. You’ll never find a better example of a movie building huge tension and then paying it off in a totally satisfying way. People have been afraid to go into swimming pools after experiencing this movie. Or, at least, chickenshits like me have been afraid to go into swimming pools after experiencing this movie. What a great ride it is. One of Stephen Spielberg’s finest.
If you saw the 2015 film The Walk, first of all, shame on you for sneaking into the theater, because I don’t think it had any recorded box office sales, and second of all, what were you thinking watching that thing when it was just a fake recreation of something that was already put up on the big screen in one of the greatest documentaries of recent times? Sure, the special effects in the dramatization might have been amazing or whatever, but here you have the real thing – actual, gorgeous footage of Philippe Petit walking between the Twin Towers!
What’s great about Man on Wire is that the walk isn’t even the most thrilling part of it though. The best part is how the film takes on a heist movie feel as you watch Petit plan and pull off his very illegal stunt. You go into this movie expecting one thing, and it totally delivers on that level, but then it also gives you something unexpected that’s completely entertaining in its own right. That’s a rare and amazing feat that generally only gets pulled off by documentaries, and more specifically, it only gets pulled off by the greatest documentaries.
River doesn’t start out the best. It’s about an American doctor (Rossif Sutherland) taking a trip to Laos who gets in some trouble with the police after drinking at a bar and getting in a scuffle with a drunk Australian. The setup is a bit contrived and unbelievable, and the main character acts a bit too stupid in the face of his predicament for you to really identify with him. This is the sort of movie that just keeps getting better and better as it goes on though. Basically, the whole plot is our protagonist running from the law, trying to disappear in a country where an almost comically tall white man would never be able to blend in, and the results are a building of tension that just keeps going and going until the film’s final moments, where a late reveal turns everything on its head and basically makes the whole experience more enriching than you were anticipating. I wasn’t sure about this one for its first 20 minutes, but by the time its end credits rolled I was fully on board.
In the mood for a dumb comedy? Well this movie features Tom Green in a supporting role, and he’s basically the clown prince of dumb comedy. How could you go wrong? Honestly though, Road Trip is pretty solidly funny, which is kind of amazing, because I can’t think of anything that could possibly be any more annoying and not funny than being forced to take a road trip with a group of college-aged white guys. Somehow this movie was able to introduce us to a foursome of beer-chugging, sex-obsessed kids and make us laugh at them and like them rather than scowl at them and hate them though. Heck, Road Trip is so funny that it convinced Hollywood that DJ Qualls could be a thing for a hot minute. Talk about an impressive feat of filmmaking. The film also features that sensitive little guy that isn’t Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Seann William Scott in one of his first non-Stiffler roles, some other guy, and a very likable Amy Smart, who keeps the whole thing from being a total sausage party. Not a bad cast, all things considered.
If Jaws represents Stephen Spielberg at the height of his ticket-selling powers, then Saving Private Ryan represents him at the height of his Oscar-grubbing powers. This visually astounding, star-studded, powerfully dramatic war film was basically designed to win awards, and win awards it did. Let’s not diminish it by painting it as some kind of cynically bland attempt at appealing to old people like The King’s Speech or something though, because it’s also really entertaining and has a lot of legitimately good things about it. Nobody will ever forget those early scenes that recreate the storming of the beach at Normandy. Tom Hanks performance is so iconic and so memorable that it could properly be described as Hanksian. Also, the movie makes room for Tom Sizemore, which is always an appreciated gesture. There’s a dude who we all wanted to see in way more movies than we actually got to.
For a while Sea Fog seems like it’s going to be an engaging little slice of life about a struggling sea captain (Yun-seok Kim) trying his damnedest to keep his fishing boat in the face of economic hardship. There’s even a little bit of light-heartedness and some effective physical comedy early on. Then the film takes a crazy twist, the stakes get ridiculously life or death, and things turn real bleak. Eventually the tension of the situation escalates so much that it explodes into crazy violence, and you realize that what you were watching was actually a horror movie all along. Korean films are unique in the way that they’re able to fluidly move from genre to genre like this. Anyway, Sea Fog is a really engaging movie that’s full of haunting images and that’s interesting in the way that it explores how humanity and inhumanity can exist right alongside each other in our stupid, mixed-up world. Give it a try.
The 80s were a time when impeccably quaffed white guys jacked to the gills on cocaine were looked at to tell the rest of the world how best to live their lives. Those guys’ favorite movie? Without exception it was Top Gun. Sure, sure, the prototypical 80s yuppie was generally the worst sort of person imaginable, and we were collectively crazy for letting them take over so much of the zeitgeist of the decade, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and they couldn’t have been more right for making Top Gun a huge success. This movie is a celebration of American exceptionalism, and it’s a treatise on why the cocky dude-bro should be on top of the world, but damned if it isn’t balls-to-the-wall entertaining anyway. So much banter, so much fighter jets, so much Tom Cruise shit-eating, so much ‘Take My Breath Away.’ Top Gun would be one of the most entertaining blockbusters ever even if it didn’t have that volleyball scene that proves that most high-powered alpha males are suppressing homosexual urges. But it does have that scene – hilariously – which makes it legendary.
A lot of people like young, swaggery John Wayne, to the point where he’s probably one of the biggest icons of Americana that’s ever existed, but for my money I prefer the old, grizzled, whiskey stink version of Wayne that shows up in True Grit. Not only is this one of the very best performances in the actor’s long, storied career, but it’s also one of the most entertaining Westerns that’s ever been made, period. When the Coen brothers remake your movie, and do a fine job, but don’t really improve on your film in any way, you know that you’ve made something that’s truly great. If anyone else out there ever sat through old John Wayne movies in their grandpa’s living room as a kid and wrongly thought they were stuffy and boring like I did, give True Grit a try. It’s a great entryway into the wonderful world of Westerns. Maybe our grandpas had some things figured out after all.
The 1973 version of The Wicker Man is a tense, strange, wonderful film. Probably it’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time. This 2006 remake from director Neil LaBute is pretty much the opposite of that. It’s bad – really bad – ridiculous. Baffling. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t just as watchable as the original though. This Wicker Man remake has one big thing going for it – the fact that it stars Nicolas Cage – and this is the movie where he achieves peak Cage. He’s an actor who’s known for going broad and making odd performance decisions even when he’s in a good film, but when he knows he’s in something bad, man, he really turns it on.
His Wicker Man performance is absolutely unhinged, and it has to be seen to be believed. Even if you’ve seen all of the gifs and memes that this thing has inspired over the last 10 years, but have never seen the movie, it’s still something you need to check out. There are so many confusing, terrible little moments in this film that watching it can’t help but make you repeatedly question your sanity, but in a good way.
Zootopia is a message movie. It’s got a central theme that it’s trying to get across, and it just hammers you over the head with that bit of wisdom again and again. Subtlety isn’t its strong suit. That isn’t a huge problem though, because it is a movie for kids, and movies for kids do tend to paint in broad strokes. The good news is that, aside from the ham-fisted nature of the film, it’s also a vibrant, fun piece of animation that’s full of humor, personality, and memorable characters. It’s the sort of thing that’s constantly bombarding you with bright colors and loud noises that kids generally love, but with the added perk that it’s not completely stupid and can also be enjoyed by adults. That scene that got featured in all of its ads with the slow-moving sloth is just brilliant in its comedic timing. Ginnifer Goodwin is pretty great as the voice of the main character, too. She’ll make you believe that a cute little bunny can act like a hard ass everywhere she goes without having to be Scrappy-Doo annoying. Bless her for that, because this movie could have gotten real irritating, real quick in the wrong hands.