Here are a cross-section of a number of mildly-to-firmly recommended films now available on Canadian Netflix. (You can click on the movie titles to read my original reviews where I’ve written them in the past.)
You may note the exchange of a vowel in my post title: Previously in these Netflix-related reviews I’ve tended to select movies recently arrived on the screening giant, but going forward I’m suggesting a few new-to-me titles, too, that may have been on the streaming service for awhile. Also, I’m planning to pay more attention to the Netflix-produced feature film material—the company has boasted that they’ll be premiering dozens of movies in the next year. It’s good to get a sense of the quality of what they’re helping to produce and distribute.
A Netflix original, a mean, violent 82-minute thriller starring Frank Grillo, who’s been playing heavies for awhile now, most prominently in a couple Marvel movies. Writer-director Jeremy Rush’s first feature takes place almost entirely in a getaway car—sharp shards of Locke here—where Grillo drives a couple guys to a bank job while making and getting calls to his daughter, his ex-wife, and some mysterious handler who changes plans on the fly. It’s an impressive effort technically, but there’s not much more to it than that. Grillo gets to carry the picture with his darting eyes and sweaty brow, and we get to enjoy a higher volume of vehicular mayhem than we got in, say, Baby Driver. Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two movies—if Edgar Wright’s picture is a gorgeous, souped-up ’57 Chevy, this here is a nasty, stripped-down ’71 Nova with more than a few spots of rust that it doesn’t give a shit about.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.
I knew I probably loved this movie way before this moment, but it was entirely confirmed by the appearance of the raccoon in the thrift shop. It’s a delightful touch, and this quirky detail seals this picture as one of this years’ finest and most surprising oddball comedies.
Melanie Lynskey is the soul of the thing, a nurse’s assistant adrift in her life, bereft of feeling for humanity and frustrated with almost everyone around her. She likes to read fantasy novels and listen to old-time country music and live in her pleasant suburban house. When her home is burgled and her computer and her grandmother’s silver is taken, it’s the proverbial final straw. She takes matters into her own hands to find the thieves and retrieve her stuff, with the help of a socially awkward neighbour (Elijah Wood).
It sounds madcap, but it’s way too sly and humanist for that, full of Coen-esque criminal dolts and a sense of mundane absurdity. The script is a gem, and the direction subtle and moving. I’m not entirely sure the bloodletting in the final act is worthwhile, but it does further evoke the Coens and a few of Soderbergh’s best works.
First time writer-director Macon Blair is having a hell of a career. A standout as an actor in his buddy Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room—don’t miss either— this picture reveals a major filmmaking talent. (Also, major props for the Manhunter reference. A Twitter exchange with Mr Blair revealed he put a Heat reference in there that I missed. I’ll need to see it again.)
A low-rent amalgam of Die Hard, Assault On Precinct 13, and Dawn Of The Dead, but it has Antonio Banderas going for it, and his tide lifts all boats. I have to ask: What happened to his career? He was a leading man for years, with those popular Zorro movies and Puss In Boots. He seems to have folded back into the world of the character actor, offering support in films like The 33, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, and Knight Of Cups, but only playing the lead this stuff like this and Acts Of Vengeance. But if you’re on the hunt for a certain kind of actioner, featuring a middle-aged hero with a certain set of skills and a villainous turn from Ben Kingsley, there’s less fun to have elsewhere.
The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
Adam Sandler’s best trick is his anger. It’s his funniest thing. (It’s the one performance quality he shares with John Malkovich.) He has other, muscular talents he rarely flexes. In the hands of New York dramatist Noah Baumbach he shines. He’s Danny, the middle-aged son of a past-his-prime sculptor, Harold (Dustin Hoffman, rapidly becoming Yoda in his old age), who’s been forced to move back home with the old man when he splits up with his wife and his startlingly mature, filmmaking daughter (Grace Van Patten, hard to believe she’s the product of Sandler’s genes) is off to college. Meanwhile the successful businessman son, Matthew (Ben Stiller) appears, and he comes with his own set of personal problems. As a portrait of a family, where the neglect of the older generation visits repeatedly upon the younger, and they spend their time together trying to figure out ways to unfuck their fucked-uped-ness, it’s really something. Vivid and impressive, it brings out the best in the supporting cast, including Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Marvel, and in smaller parts, Candice Bergen, Adam Driver, Rebecca Miller, and Judd Hirsch. And Stiller does something in this film I’ve never seen him do before—he breaks down. It’s lovely work, from him and everyone else.
I really liked Baumbach’s, While We’re Young, and slightly less so Mistress America, but this feels like his best, deepest film yet, a comedy that examines mortality, the failure of memory, the self-criticism inherent in the creative class, and the mistakes that we all get to own. The shadow of Woody Allen’s best is all over this, but since Allen’s great films are likely behind him, it’s good to see the influence carry forward in such a talented filmmaker who’s found his own voice. It’s almost a shame this didn’t get a cinematic release. It would have been more immersive in the cinema, and a perfect December release.
One awkward note: A subplot recognizes a character who was sexually abused as a child, and the impotence of male anger in such a situation. Given the recent allegations of Dustin Hoffman’s bad behaviour, it leaves an ironic, unpleasant aftertaste.
Midnight Run (1988)
In the era of buddy-cop movies, Martin Brest’s buddy criminal/bounty hunter picture remains a gem, if not a classic. It’s partly the odd-couple chemistry of Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro, and partly it’s the ribald, laugh-peppered action-comedy script. Why they never made a sequel to it I’ll never know. I guess a stew this good can’t ever be replicated.
And speaking of gems, this sweet little British period drama is the perfect small-screen accompaniment to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, offering a far more feminine perspective on telling the quintessential British war story, with a sterling cast of thespians knowingly playing off cliches while simultaneously indulging in them, giving us a taste of the very thing they’re deconstructing. Frequently delightful.
Silver Streak (1976)
I wrote about this train movie when I remembered Jill Clayburgh back in 2010. Here are my thoughts, slightly updated:
This really strikes me as a prime entertainment to be remade. In it, the inimitable Gene Wilder is George Caldwell, a milquetoast book editor who takes the train from Los Angeles to Chicago because he wants to be bored. On the train he meets Hilly Burns (Clayburgh) and they fall for each other. The first 20 minutes is spent on how they meet and the lovely evening they spend together on the train and might be the best part of the whole movie. Then the thriller plot kicks in, as George thinks he’s witnessed a murder and gets thrown off the train by Reace, Richard Kiel’s earlier version of Jaws from the James Bond picture The Spy Who Loved Me, right down to the steel dentures. The film turns out to be a lot of fun, as George gets framed for murder and spends all his time either being thrown off the train or trying to get back on it. Bright points include Richard Pryor as Grover, a thief who helps disguise Wilder, maybe the whitest guy in the world, as a black dude.
As my co-host on LENS ME YOUR EARS, Stephen Cooke, pointed out, blackface is always uncool, but somehow, with Richard Pryor as Wilder’s enabler, it’s somehow makes laughing at Wilder’s terrible efforts to pass as black OK. Or maybe that’s just my privilege showing.
A conventionally appealing historical drama about African royalty marrying a white British commoner. May be of interest to those who want a better understanding of British colonial and racial politics from the era, but I mostly, and lightly, recommend it for the performances. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are always solid, and a worth seeing in these roles.
And here’s another Rosamund Pike picture. I find it interesting that despite having massive fame in her grasp and what must have been a deluge of big budget Hollywood scripts raining down on her following the success of Gone Girl, she went back to the UK and continued to make smaller, independent films. Good for her.
When this opened in 2015, a surprising British comedy drama, I wrote this:
For the most part, an unpredictable pleasure, an unpolished and intermittent comic adventure in a season with far too much polish—over-cooked, pre-masticated audience-tested product.
I still stand by that, largely due to the wonderful dynamic between Billy Connolly and a group of kids. It takes a turn in the middle you won’t see coming, but that’s a lot of what I like about it.
The F Word (2014)
A charming, Toronto-set romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan that should have received a whole lot more attention than it got. It may have stumbled due to having been renamed What If? in the US and UK, which wasn’t an improvement on the title.
With whatever name, I loved it—it manages to be very true to the genre while still feeling fresh, a real challenge in our cynical times. It also features a great turn from Adam Driver as “the best friend,” and takes time to show off the best, most summery version of The Big Smoke. And if you click on the title above you’ll be taken to my Q&A with the director and writer of the film, respectively: Michael Dowse and Elan Mastai.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Before the new PT Anderson film opens in a few weeks, The Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, it might be a good idea to go back and take in their last collaboration. It goes back 10 years and is a film that features on many film writers’ lists of the best of the 21st Century so far, an epic of American ambition that turns to madness. Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a successful oil baron, the kind of character mythologized in American society since its beginnings, someone who built an empire from sheer grit. It also features another of Day-Lewis’ huge performances, dwarfing everyone around him. It makes him incredibly watchable, but I’d argue that it sometimes feels like he’s so large on the screen he’s sucks up all the oxygen around him. It’s fine when he’s there alone, as he is through an incredible opening segment, but later he seems to crush actors like Paul Dano, who weirdly acts in a dual role. I haven’t been back to see this in ages, because it’s not an easy viewing. But I will take a look at it again soon.