Archive for May, 2016

If you’re anything like me, your Netflix “list” consists mostly of TV series and a few lesser films that you never got around to watching in theaters.

And that’s a shame. While the Netflix library and format lends itself primarily to binge-television viewing, there are some incredible films available that you may have never heard of, or may not notice while scrolling through the auto-aggregated suggestions (No Netflix, I DO NOT want to watch The Ridiculous Six).

So allow me to help. I watch *a lot* of movies (fact check: under-exaggerated), and often as I’m looking through the latest additions to the screening platform I’ll see a title that I caught at Sundance or at my local arthouse and I think “Oh man, if only people know how good that movie is.”

You may not need any suggestions. But if you do, here’s a few that I noticed this month that you should carve out a couple hours for if you haven’t already.

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A.C.O.D (2013)

Don’t let the 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes fool you, A.C.O.D. (an acronym for Adult Children of Divorce) is an effortless charmer perfect for that rainy night when you’re stuck inside with a bag of chips and not much to do.

It stars Adam Scott in one of his signature uppity-man-child roles as Carter, a commitment-phobic restaurateur forced to broker a cease-fire between his divorced parents in preparation of his younger brother’s wedding. This leads him to confront some buried emotions, personified by Jane Lynch, the child therapist who met with him after the divorce and who, in news to Carter, wrote a very successful self-help book based on Carter and other C.O.D.’s.

The real money is in the ensemble: Richard Jenkins, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Catherine O’Hara. I gave it an A rating when I saw it at Sundance and have been meaning to revisit it myself.

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The Wolfpack (2015)

One of the most fascinating and bizarre documentaries you will ever see, The Wolfpack tells the stranger-than-fiction story of a reclusive New York City family whose sole contact with the outside world is through movies. Growing up in that setting, 6 brothers take to meticulously recreating their favorite films using DIY sets and costuming and in time slowly begin to venture out doors.

85% and certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I gave it a B+ when I saw it at the 2015 Sundance Festival.

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Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn! Cary Grant! Deception and Lies! Charade is not a Hitchcock film but shares a lot of DNA with the Master of Suspense. This film is a one of the classic thrillers (un-memorably remade in 2002, but just watch the original) with heists, murder, double crosses and, again, Audrey and Cary! Watch it.

92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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The Diving Bell and the Butterly (2007)

In real life, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a former editor of the magazine Elle, suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed, able to communicate only by blinking. Despite this, he wrote an incredible book (also titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and  which I would wholeheartedly recommend reading) again, BY BLINKING, which is both an autobiography and a peek into the emotional state of a brilliant man trapped inside the prison of his own body.

The film uses Bauby’s writing as its spine, with narration laid over Bauby’s stroke, hospitalization, re-education and the final days of his life. It’s a beautiful, haunting film, and you’ll find yourself at the local library soon after picking up the book.

94% and certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Primer (2004)

What is more impressive: That writer-director-actor Shane Carruth made arguably the most complicated time travel movie ever? Or that he did it for a paltry $7,000?

Primer made a big splash when it hit Sundance in 2004 (it ultimately one the festival’s Grand Jury Prize that year), and after you’ve seen it you’ll know why. I finally caught it last night on Netflix and then spent several hours reading synopsis, looking at illustrated plot diagrams and, this morning, watching an animated 20-minute youtube video that explains the film.

This is a challenging movie that gives its audience nothing by way of exposition. Carruth expects you to follow along, piecing things together by yourself and spend some time after the movie putting the picture together in your head. He deliberately withholds crucial plot points and leaves major questions unanswered, but everything you need  is there on screen.

Oh, what’s it about? Two friends inadvertently build a time machine. They try to be careful. They’re not careful enough. Things get complicated.

71% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, is a perfect example of the type of movie that doesn’t really get made anymore.

Smarter and more experienced men than myself have made this argument (see Stevens: Spielberg and Soderbergh) but the idea is that today’s Hollywood is binary. There are extravagant tentpole blockbusters with ungodly budgets and their are micro-indies made for a song that fight for every last eyeball on the festival circuit.

In Hollywood, much like America, the middle class has eroded.

It is in that landscape that “Money Monster” now enters the fray, with a healthy but reasonable $30 million budget and a recognizable cast of A- and B-list actors (George Clooney and Julia Roberts get top billing, with The Wire’s Dominic West, Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell and Gus Fring — Giancarlo Esposito — supporting).

And while Foster may not have intended it, the film’s plot also functions as a meta-commentary on the state of modern movie-making. It concerns a working class schmoe (O’Connell) who went all-in with his family savings based on the stock tips of a Jim Cramer-style economic televangelist (Clooney). When the stock goes bully up due to an algorithmic “glitch,” O’Connell’s Kyle forces his way onto Clooney’s set mid-broadcast, holding the Money Monster hostage on live television and demanding answers.

Read into that what you will, but even at $30 million it will be a small miracle if Monster can make its money back competing against Marvel’s Civil War.

But if you saw The Big Short (which, you better have) and you left the theater wishing someone would strap a bomb vest to every C-level executive on Wall Street, this movie has the schadenfreude you’re looking for.

Unfortunately, Foster and screenwriters Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore and Jim Kouf, fail to fully capitalize on their premise. For two-thirds of the movie, everyone on screen is mostly stalling for time before a third act that sees far too many convenient puzzle pieces fall into place as the too-obvious conspiracy behind the stock’s failure come to light.

That’s not to say the movie is without merit. The story packs in a couple of bombshell emotional twists, which Foster sets up like a pro before hitting them out of the park, and the events get a much-needed shot in the arm when hostage and hostage-taker take their show-within-a-movie out into the streets of New York for a confrontation with smarmy Wall Street exec Walt Camby (played, naturally, by West).

All of which is to say that Money Monster is hardly the must-see movie event of the summer, but it succeeds as the modestly-budgeted, non-blockbuster, mid-range drama that it is.

Grade: B

*Money Monster opens nationwide on Friday, May 13.

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