Here’s a cross-section of a number of mildly-to- solidly recommended films recently made available on Canadian Netflix. (You can click on the movie titles to read my original reviews where I’ve written them in the past.)
For me, Netflix is a go-to usually to watch films I’ve already seen or to give the odd TV series a try, but every once in awhile features show up I’ve been wanting to see and have yet to check out. This month it’s the documentary Tower, about the first mass shooting in the United States back in 1966. It’s told via rotoscoped archival footage, and I’ve heard it’s powerful stuff.
The Light Between Oceans (2016)
One of those romantic dramas that justifies its existence purely by its aesthetic. Everyone on screen is beautiful, especially the fetching leads played by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who I gather became a couple in RL as a result of working together on this picture. It’s classy melodrama all around when the couple, living on a remote antipodean outcrop, find a baby and raise it as their own before discovering the identity of the child’s mother (Rachel Weisz). The ending is rushed, but the film is a quality weepie for those predisposed.
Howards End (1992)
I still yearn for the peak days of Merchant Ivory when superior period dramas were seen in cinemas every year. This is likely the finest of that crop, a story of class, poverty, love, and tragedy across rigid societal lines, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, and Anthony Hopkins.
De Palma (2015)
A terrific documentary for fans of American film—a look back at the work of Brian De Palma, one of those love-him-or-hate-him filmmakers whose early work through the 1970s and 1980s channels deeply the genius of Alfred Hitchcock, but with a more modern, bloody, and exploitative edge, in films like Carrie, Scarface, and Body Double. Since then he’s delivered a few quality blockbusters such as The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible, but is still capable of shockingly OTT storytelling. De Palma walks us through his filmography and tells stories out of school.
A late-arriving but utterly welcome film version of the popular British TV series about Edina (Jennifer Saunders, also the creative force behind the series) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley, forever hilarious), two women working in fashion and public relations desperate to have a good time, all the time, hang on to their fast-disappearing youth and whatever fame and status they can find. If you were ever a fan of the TV show, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and if you ever found the ubiquity of Kate Moss hard to take, there’s even more.
An epic—and I do mean epic—Bollywood action movie. It has all the signifiers of the industry that produced it—crazy tonal shifts, deep sentiment, beautiful people, exhausting running time (3+ hours), and lots of music—but this time it’s an Indian take on a rural superman. Yup, it’s a superhero movie.
Children Of Men (2006)
A modern classic, Alfonso Cuaron’s dark drama imagines a world not long from now where the human race is on the verge of extinction due to total infertility, with society having descended into fascist authoritarianism. Clive Owen’s lead gets roped into helping the resistance to the government when he’s presented with evidence of a pregnant woman desperate to leave the UK. More and more relevant every year, this would be a good picture to watch this week before the premiere of the new adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, with which it shares thematic tropes. Also starring Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Michael Caine.
The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
Robert Redford’s legacy will likely be the handsome star of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Candidate, as well as the founder of the Sundance Film Festival. To me, he’ll always be first and foremost a director, and this is one of his charming, less-seen pictures. It’s a grassroots magic-realist drama about a hispanic farmer and his efforts to irrigate his crops while fighting the corporate interests in the property. It feels like a John Sayles picture, which is a high compliment in my book.
Every few years it looks like Jennifer Aniston is going to break out as a dramatic actor and leave her comedy roots behind when she stars in some well-regarded indie like The Good Girl or Cake and shows off her serious chops. For a few weeks back in early 2015 people were even talking about her work in Cake as potentially earning her an Oscar nod. That didn’t happen, and the movie isn’t too much to write home about, though her performance is. That’s the real reason to see it, and we patiently await Aniston to take a break from hawking beauty products and add another drama to her CV.
For those enjoying British filmmaker Gareth Edwards’ work in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Godzilla, this is his first picture and might still be his best. An indie drama and travelogue, it tells a politically charged tale of two Americans travelling through an “infected zone” in the years following an alien invasion. Though the critters are smartly kept off-screen for most of the running time they make a big impression when they show up.
Das Boot: The Theatrical Cut (1982)
For anyone who has been put off watching this German granddaddy of the submarine movie due to the extended running times of the more recent cuts, this is the one originally released in cinemas and the briefest at two-and-a-half hours. It’s peerless as a thriller, telling the story of a group of WWII submariners trying to survive in a tin can at the ocean’s bottom. Not recommended for claustrophobes, and can you imagine the smell? For more on this and other submarine movies, check out a particular episode of Lens Me Your Ears.
Michael Dowse’s surprise hit hockey comedy is a lot of fun for those who love the minor-league and its violently entertaining tropes. It’s no spot on Slap Shot, but it’s aiming for the same corner of the net and deserves to be considered in the micro-genre conversation. The recent sequel didn’t quite manage the same charm, but is worth catching up to if you loved this one.
Hell Or High Water (2016)
One of the best movies of last year, a modern western about two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) systematically holding up a series of banks in west Texas in order to secure enough money to pay off the self-same banks and save the family farm. Hot on their trail are a pair of grizzled lawmen (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). It was up for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars a few months back, and I would’ve been OK with it winning. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is some kind of genius.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
I recently caught up with this gem of a film and was pleasantly surprised at how well it holds up. Its arrival a little more than 10 years ago was in a period of whimsical dramedies like Garden State, some of which have dated a little harder than others. This one remains a charmer, and may offer Will Ferrell’s best performance. He’s Harold Crick, IRS agent and rigid watch-watcher, whose daily schedule and vectors are illustrated through terrific on-screen illustrations throughout the picture. Out of nowhere he hears an omniscient narrator (the unmistakable Emma Thompson) in his head, telling him he’s going to die. All this just as he’s starting to have feelings for a local baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who he’s auditing. Also starring Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah.
Train To Busan (2016)
A thrilling zombie picture with the bones of a disaster movie, what makes Train To Busan special is it also manages to be a genuine study of the (mostly) dark side of human nature—the ways people will put aside any sense of compassion to protect their own interests. At the heart of the story is Seoul fund-manager Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) who cares only for his work, even more than he does his own daughter, Soo-an (Soo-an Kim). He agrees to accompany her to her mother’s place in Busan via high-speed train, just as the zombie outbreak begins to consume the country and one of the infected gets on board. If it goes on about 25 minutes longer than it needs to and includes some dodgy new zombie rules—they can’t see in the dark, what?—the sterling cinematography, characterizations, dramatic script, and a locomotive conclusion that almost tops the end of Runaway Train forgives all sins.