Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

Click here to read Part I

Velvet Buzzsaw

Set in the world of high-end modern art, writer-director Dan Gilroy reunites with his Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (plus Toni Collette and John Malkovitch) for this wonderfully wicked mashup of satire and horror.

The plot follows the discovery of an unknown artist’s work after his death, and the assorted bon vivant (a celebrity critic, a gallery owner, an art agent, etc.) who both admire the craft as well as see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Only one problem: the paintings appear to be imbued with some hostile and supernatural force that sets about eliminating the cast in increasingly gleeful displays of carnage.

You’re mileage will certainly vary with this one, and Gilroy’s attempts to zip two genres together (as if the Final Destination franchise had been grafted onto The Devil Wears Prada) don’t always result in a seamless delivery. But the experience is so unique, kinetic and unassuming, anchored by a hypnotically devoted Gyllenhaal, that it makes for a rare, if beguiling, treat.

Grade: B+

*Watch it NOW on Netflix

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell, a very funny if not yet widely known comedian, stars and shines in this semi-biographical film by debut director (and screenwriter) Paul Downs Colaizzo.

As the titular Brittany, Bell plays a woman who, after some hard truths about her health from a doctor, resolves to turn her life around by training for and running in the New York City Marathon. Brittany finds confidence and new purpose with each lost pound, but the film is far from an advertisement for Gold’s Gym memberships — it follows a woman’s search for identity and self-appreciation, trading laugh-out-loud comedy with cringing tragedy as it builds up to a powerhouse finale.

Grade: A-

Watching “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s documentary on populist provocateur and propagandist Steve Bannon, one can’t help but wonder what the subject expected to get by granting a filmmaker such intimate access to his life.

Much like the 2016 fly-on-the-wall documentary “Weiner,” which similarly premiered at Sundance, “The Brink” finds a controversial and scandal-prone American political figure behind closed doors in the places where the public typically isn’t invited to go.

In this case it’s Bannon’s intimate meetings with far-right European leaders as he attempts to stitch together a coalition of the misfit toys to take on “the establishment” over immigration and exclusionary nationalism. At every turn Bannon insists his work is not racist, anti-Semitic or vitriolic, then he gives a smile and a wink as he’s pressed to explain his fearmongering tactics and dog whistles.

The movie is book-ended by two major setbacks for Bannon’s philosophy — the defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama and the election of a Democratic House majority in 2018 — but the lingering message from The Brink is that Bannon is always one to regroup, reinvent, and resurface.

Grade: B

The Report

In the years since the September 11 attack and the War on Terror, America’s pop culture response has incrementally shifted from the escapism of 24 to the repressed jingoism of Zero Dark Thirty to the pessimistic criticism of Looming Tower.

Into that maze steps The Report, the Adam Driver-led film by Scott Burns that zealously hopes to set the record straight on the moral shortcomings of U.S. intelligence and government leaders.

It’s vehicle in that effort is the “Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Report of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” and its lead researcher, Daniel Jones, whose dogged pursuit of the facts despite byzantine bureaucratic intransigence exposed the truth of the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture) and the agency’s lies and misrepresentations to two presidents and the American public at large.

You might wonder how the creation of a 6,000-page government report can make for compelling drama, and The Report is initially clumsy and disjointed as it attempts to set the narrative background and cast of characters (played by a stellar supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Cory Stoll, Michael C. Hall and Annette Benning — as Sen. Diane Feinstein). The end result is an enlightening and thought-provoking film that is perhaps 30 minutes too long due to its slow start, but one that finishes strong and on an aspirational note for American democracy.

Grade: B

Read Full Post »

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sitting on this post for no good reason since before 2018 ended. I had seen everything I needed to see (within a reasonable degree of certainty) but couldn’t settle on the final order until, literally, moments ago.

I’m still not certain I got it quite right, and every film in my top five at one point or another held the top spot. So before I doubt myself and reshuffle the deck, yet again, here’s my 10 favorite moves of 2018.

10. Vice

Adam McKay’s film about the modern Republican Party and the rise, and rise, and rise of Dick Cheney has its detractors, many of whom make very good points about the film’s overt distaste for its central subjects and over-reliance on gimmickry. But there’s no denying the power of Christian Bale’s chameleon performance, juxtaposed against the otherwise surrealist take on American political “history” (characters occasionally break the fourth wall or slip into Shakespearean prose to hammer home the narrative’s points about the hollow theatrics of government).

You’re mileage will definitely vary here, but I’m always prone to award points for bending the rules of convention, which “Vice” does from start to finish.

9. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut landed with a bang during the summer, and while its status as the “it” movie of 2018 has diminished somewhat against late-arriving contenders, it’s still likely to be one of the movies that people remember even after they stop confusing the dates on their checks (Is that still a thing? Do people still write out checks?).

That’s due in no small part to the raw and dynamic performances by Cooper and Lady Gaga, a killer soundtrack and a confident, observational directing style that feels as if the story on screen is something accidentally, and heartbreakingly, stumbled upon.

8. Hereditary

It’s easy to overlook the skill involved in a good horror film. Lesser entries over-rely on conventions: dark rooms, loud noises and ghastly manifestations that send a chill down the audience’s spine before sending them home with a smile on their face. Then there’s movies like “Hereditary,” which use those tools to burrow under your skin and sit with you for days.

“Hereditary” is packed with shocking, disturbing moment, but the movie doesn’t rely on stunts. There’s a mythology at play, and an examination of grief and familial bonds, all obscured under a deep and bewitching atmosphere of dread.

7. Annihilation

“Annihilation,” the novel by Jeff Vandermeer is, to put it mildly, ambiguous. It conveys mood — and particularly a deepening sense of unease — more than plot, with its characters barely attempting to describe the fantastic and terrifying things they encounter as they venture into…something.

It’s also a great read, and wonderfully adapted for the screen by Alex Garland, whose film combines beautiful and haunting imagery with a more concrete narrative about an expedition of women scientists exploring a phenomenon of likely alien origin located along a rural segment of the Florida coastline.

6. Paddington 2

I never got around to seeing the first Paddington, and I was somewhat confused when I started hearing reports that it’s sequel was the best-reviewed film in Rotten Tomatoes’ history (at the time).

So I took the bait, and I’m here to tell you the hype is real. Paddington 2 is infectiously joyful, a film that gushes sincerity and charm, and combines slapstick humor with thrilling chase sequences and, somehow, everything in between. As the film’s antagonist, Hugh Grant has simply never been better, and a stand-out scene utilizing pop-up book imagery took my breath away. See this movie, now.

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It took a few years, but Netflix finally did it. With “Buster Scruggs” the streaming giant had its first must-see feature film, a collection of six western vignettes by the Coen Brothers.

Frequently funny, often tragic, occasionally disturbing and sometimes all of the above, the Coen’s ballad has a little bit of everything and will leave you wanting more.

4. First Man

I was born into a world where man had already walked the lunar surface, with the tragedies, national rivalries and scientific uncertainties of the space race long since past. As a result, the most compelling aspect of Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic was, for me, the anxiety it conveys as now-historic ambassadors of Planet Earth set off on unproven and spectacularly dangerous missions to test the boundaries of human accomplishment.

The film’s centerpiece is a coup de grâce, as Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his crew make their decent from Lunar orbit and, once landed, step out onto an otherwordly landscape. Chazelle takes it all in, giving the scenes room to breathe without needless interruption or embellishment.

3. BlacKkKlansman

From the “You can’t make this up” file comes “BlacKkKlansman” the mostly-true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee, the film sizzles with a sharp, darkly-comic energy, aided by the pitch-perfect, odd-couple casting of John David Washington and Adam Driver, as well as a surprisingly effective Topher Grace as KKK grand wizard David Duke.

2. Roma

The term “visionary” is thrown around a little too liberally in film criticism, but in the case of Alfonso Cuaron it applies. Consider the recent run by the director, from “Children of Men” in 2006 to “Gravity” in 2013 and now “Roma,” which was wisely snapped up by Netflix.

Known for his long takes and massive scale, Cuaron painstakingly recreates Mexico City circa 1970 for his meditative profile of an affluent family and their live-in housekeeper/nanny. It’s a movie brimming beyond the edges of the screen with life and detail, following one young woman’s path through a city, and nation, in a state of social and political flux.

1. The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has a style all his own, simultaneously enticing and intentionally off-putting, as seen recently in “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” His films are absurd, but with absurdities masked under a veneer of sterile banality that he carefully cracks to expose the bizarre machinations at play.

With “The Favourite,” working off a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos focuses his singular artistic eye on the court of England’s Queen Anne (a superb Olivia Coleman) and the schemes of two women (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) who battled for the monarch’s trust and affection.

In the world of “The Favourite,” the familiar pomp and circumstance of imperial English decorum are on full display, albeit ratcheted up to farcical heights that, while deliciously anachronistic, convey the petty jealousies and political scheming that carry through to modern society. The result is a period piece unbound by the trappings of history that, through caricature, captures something wholly real, grotesquely bizarre and hilariously relatable.

Read Full Post »

Netflix is increasingly investing in original programming — television series and films — and if the myriad anecdotal reports are to be believed, a key plank in their pitch to lure talent is the promise of a hands-off approach.

The deal, reportedly, goes something like this: Dear director/writer/producer, if you choose Netflix over a traditional studio you won’t get released in theaters nationwide, but you’ll be able to make the film you want to make, without interference, and the potential to connect your film with its intended audience in their homes.

It is, to be sure, a tempting offer and one with merit. In the hands of an auteur, the Netflix platform has the potential to create fantastic cinematic storytelling.

But — and you knew there was a but coming — studio criticism can be constructive, and a slate of recent Netflix originals shows that boundless autonomy might actually work against the production of a great film by allowing talented filmmakers indulge too greedily in their worst instincts. 

Take, for example, “Hold The Dark,” the Alaskan-set murder mystery from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Ruin). It’s assuredly a Saulnier film, with its moody and matter-of-factly violent take on human nature. But it loses itself somewhere along its plot transition from a nature writer hired to track the wolf that killed a woman’s son to, well, whatever the movie is actually about.

More engaging, and ultimately more disappointing, is “Outlaw King,” which sees writer-director David Mackenzie follow up his incredible “Hell or High Water” with a biopic on Scottish revolutionary Robert the Bruce starring Chris Pine. 

There is a great movie hiding inside Outlaw King, and Mackenzie has already copped to trimming 20 minutes of footage after a mixed reaction at TIFF.

The post-production editing clearly could have, and should have gone farther. And the whiplash-like experience of watching the movie bounce from gorgeous and fine-tuned set pieces to indulgent filler is infuriating, made more so by the realization that some studio guidance possibly could have made Outlaw King a classic.

But as “Hold the Dark” and “Outlaw King” fall in a tangle of melted wax wings, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” soars. Here, veteran filmmaking duo Joel and Ethan Coen demonstrate the kind of fun they can have with a blank check from Netflix.

Told as six Wild West vignettes, the movie has all the storybook oddity and black comedy of a classic Coen film, albeit with a certain winking playfulness that seams calibrated for our new home-streaming paradigm.

By my estimation, “Buster Scruggs” is the first truly great Netflix original. And as such, it sits on top of a pile of would-be contenders that failed to justify the their running times — the less said about “Bright” the better.

“Outlaw King” and “Hold the Dark” are not without their merits, but the shoulda-woulda-coulda aspect makes it hard to give them a full-fledged endorsement. In a way the three movies, together, make a perfect combo for that old party game: F@#k “Outlaw King,” Kill “Hold the Dark,” and Marry “Buster Scruggs.”

Read Full Post »

I’m still a few weeks out from completing the due diligence for this year’s list. Living in Salt Lake City doesn’t help things, as several of the big December titles won’t make it to Wasatch Front theaters until January (sigh).

But the end (of the year) is near, and inevitably there are more films warranting recognition than fit onto a Top 10 list. Sure, I could write a longer list, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s a few favorites from the year that you should check out if you haven’t already.

MacAvoySplit1.0.jpg

Best January Surprise: “Split”

Welcome back M. Night Shyamalan. The pop culture world had rightfully written off the erstwhile-wunderkind behind The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable after a lengthy string of mediocre to downright awful films.

Wisely, Shyamalan gave up on trying to be blockbuster director (remember After Earth? Ugh) and went back to his smaller-scale roots, crafting a low-frills, eerie thriller about a man with multiple personalities, some of whom like to kidnap young girls as offerings to “The Beast.” James McAvoy anchors the film with his playful and committed performance, and the signature twist at the end is a whopper for fans of Shymalan’s filmography, setting up ever more exciting things to come.

Stream it on: HBO Now/Go

1*ifuFLyXPHSQYhDAEIIoeUA.jpeg

Best Box-Office Flop: “Free Fire”

“Free Fire” to put it mildly, was not a successful film. It had a limited, art house run and while not an expensive film to produce (online reports say roughly $7 million) it made decidedly less than that in ticket sales.

And that’s a shame. It takes a fairly traditional set up — a gathering of criminals erupts in violence after a deal goes bad — and churns out a funny, exciting and entertaining-as-hell bottle episode of a movie as the various characters (played by Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley  try to gun their way out of a bad spot, shifting alliances and betraying hidden motivations as they go.

Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video

5952e8975834d.image.jpg

Best Binge: “Okja”

Netflix is inching closer and closer to having it first bonafide film smash. It’s original television shows have already broken through, but it’s original films have yet to cross that Rubicon. In 2015, Beast of No Nation was a critical success, but wasn’t exactly a water cooler conversation, and the streaming giant is putting a lot of weight behind next week’s “Bright,” starring Will Smith in a more traditional (and likely underwhelming) fantasy-adventure role.

But all of that makes Netflix’s acquisition of “Okja” all the more interesting, and commendable. In no world was a surreal drama about a South Korean girl trying to save her pet giant pig from the slaughterhouse, and directed by the guy behind “Snowpiercer,” going to achieve mass appeal.

Okja is like nothing else you’ll watch this year. It’s got both Jake Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton in roles that almost seem to be competing to out-crazy the other and a legitimately hard-to-watch scene of forced animal reproduction, all in service of a larger allegory on the meat processing industry. It’s out there, like *way* out there, and it’s great.

Stream it on: Netflix

raw.jpg

Best Foreign: “Raw”

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, “Raw” is a French film about a vegetarian woman at veterinary school who develops a compulsion for raw meat after a new-student hazing ritual. That compulsion becomes intense, to put it mildly, eventually leading to fatal results.

It’s a dressed-down approach to what could have been a campy, neo-Zombie/Vampire retread. If there is anything supernatural at play, Ducournau only hints at it, instead preferring to tell a human story of addiction, which just happens to involve the consumption of human flesh. The movie is also deft in its use of gore and practical effects, making quiet scenes hang in the air with apprehension — a particular sequence involving the main character’s sister, a botched bikini wax and a pair of scissors stands out.

Best to watch it on an empty stomach.

Stream it on: Netflix

hugh-jackman-logan-forest-xlarge.jpg

Best Superhero: “Logan”

As far as superhero films go, 2017 was an embarrassment of riches. Warner Brothers, which has little to show for its DC efforts so far, scored a major victory with Wonder Woman, the long-overdue superheroine movie we’ve all been waiting for. Marvel had two successes by embracing the weird in Guardians 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. And even Sony got into the game with it’s Spider-man: Homecoming, which put Peter Parker back in high school where he belongs.

(The less said about 2017 *other* big superhero movie, the better).

But the biggest risk, and subsequently greatest reward, was Fox letting writer-director James Mangold go out on a limb with the studio’s marquee character, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In “Logan,” Wolverine is nearing the end of his long life, his healing powers of near-immortality waning, and is living off the grid as a limousine driver in a post-mutant world while caring for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier.

For long stretches of the movie, you might forget you’re watching a superhero film. It has little of the computer-generated phantasmagoria that have come to define the genre, instead putting its characters in actual dirt, covered in blood and sweat. It also does what most of these mega-franchises are too afraid to do: it ends.

Stream it on: HBO Now/Go

028_coral_bleaching_at_heron_island.jpeg

Best Documentary: “Chasing Coral”

Climate change is no longer something that can be safely ignored (in fact, it never was) and yet the nonsensically controversial and unnecessarily partisan “debate” drags on. Meanwhile, the Earth’s oceans get hotter and hotter, literally cooking the plant and animal life that make up a largely-unseen but crucially important ecosystem beneath the waves.

That effect, happening in real time, is what “Chasing Coral” captures, by sending a team of divers with underwater cameras to document the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. The footage is striking, showing the decimation of once-vibrant areas over a matter of weeks, and making it abundantly and undeniably clear that our oceans are burning we all fiddle with the politics.

Stream it on: Netflix

it_wide-fa925ae7cc850785c9a259369f088206908d6fcd-s900-c85.jpg

Best Horror: “It”

The horror genre took a decidedly indie-dominated turn a few years back, with films like “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” and “It Follows” generating buzz while mainstream fare puttered along with diminishing returns.

But there’s no denying the particular alchemy of “It,” which managed to take one of the biggest titles in horror history and update it. With all deference to the great work by Tim Curry, the old “It” doesn’t hold up very well, and it was high time somebody take another stab at adapting Stephen King’s signature work for the big screen.

Enter director Andy Muschiett, working off great writing by multiple screenwriters and equipped with a cast of capable child actors (including Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard). The script moves the action up a couple decades to capitalize on peak-80s nostalgia and wisely trims some of King’s more problematic impulses. And deserved credit to Bill Skarsgård, who is faced with the task of filling Curry’s shoes while making the character of Pennywise his own. He succeeds.

Stream it on: N/A

ICAN-cover.jpg

Best Indie: “It Comes At Night”

Few films stuck with me after I left the theater the way “It Comes at Night” did. Set in a thinly-defined post apocalyptic world, ICAN is focused on a family who live in solitary isolation in a boarded-up cabin, barricaded to keep out the unspoken menaces of a communicable ailment and the people who might bring it with them. After a man invades their home, ostensibly in search of supplies, the family is forced to weigh their safety over the risk of exposing themselves to other people.

It’s a quiet, dark and moody film with an omnipresent air of menace. So much is left abstract, with blurred lines between nocturnal dream sequences and diurnal reality, and only whispers on the wind and the fear on the characters faces communicating the stakes. The conclusion is haunting and begging for interpretation and it left me shook like few films can.

Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video

screen-shot-2017-09-05-at-5-29-18-pm.png

The 2017 Wood’s Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award: “Mother!”

The saying is “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and by God, did “Mother!” venture. A challenging and provocative film by Darren Aronofsky, operating as an allegory on religion and the creation story (I guess?) “Mother!” would likely have been best served as a limited art house release, but distributor Paramount decided instead to go all-in on a nationwide roll-out.

That meant a lot of surprised and frustrated audiences, earning a rare “F” grade from CinemaScore (akin to exit polling, but for theaters) and a lot of “What were they thinking?” from the entertainment press.

But all of that noise distracts from the actual movie, which is bonkers and beautiful and dangerous and confusing and incredible. A synopsis would be pointless, suffice it to say that an artist and his wife find their country home increasingly invaded by strangers who adore the man’s work, culminating in a hypnotically gonzo sequence that follows Jennifer Lawrence through an escalating hellscape of violence and destruction. It’s a boldly executed, jarring film, the sheer ambition of which left my jaw on the floor.

Stream it on: N/A

Read Full Post »

mosaic.jpeg

*Update: As of January 18, Mosaic is available for desktop users.

There has long been talk of applying the choose-your-own-adventure format of children’s storybooks to cinema. Various attempts have been made, largely by blurring the dividing lines between video games and movies, but none that have made significant splashes in the pop culture pond.

And that is what makes “Mosaic” — the new smartphone app-slash-television miniseries by Steven Soderbergh — all the more interesting; not for what it accomplishes but for what it suggests for the future of the medium. Having made my way through most of its episodic chapters and arrived at one of its two conclusions, I would say the story “Mosaic” tells is simply OK — perhaps 3 out of 5 stars if I’m generous — but its structure is fascinating to a degree that elevates the otherwise thin plotting.

The comparison to choose your own adventure books is incomplete, but fair. As a viewer, you’re not able to dictate shifts in plot the way a reader can; instead, you select the perspective of a character to follow through the next sequence of events. I’ve seen other critics describe it as “choose your own *protagonist*,” which is more accurate, as you travel through a static story and ultimately arrive at the same conclusion, albeit with certain pieces of information arriving out of sequence or simply alluded to as off-screen occurrences depending on the route you choose.

 

IMG_22966EACB5A4-1.jpeg

But the presentation is also jarring, particularly in the early stages. By way of synopsis, “Mosaic” is a murder mystery, concerned with the whodunit after a celebrated children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, vanishes following a New Year’s Eve party at her rural estate in “Summit, Utah” (a barely-veiled Park City, which in real life is the county seat of Summit County, Utah).

“Mosaic” doles out its exposition late, and then awkwardly. You start on your path by meeting Stone’s Olivia Lake, and are then presented with a choice between two characters at the end of each chapter — various flashbacks and additional scenes that add clarity are offered as optional detours within chapters — and if you primarily follow Garrett Hedlund’s Joel, as I did, you won’t even know who died, when, or how until quite late in the series.

And because the audience still needs critical information independent of their protagonist selection, Soderbergh is obligated to write in lengthy, momentum-killing monologues that state on-the-nose what has happened just in case you missed it the first time through.

There’s a lot of talent on screen here. In addition to Stone and Hedlund the cast includes Paul Reubens and Beau Bridges in non-POV roles. But no one really does much of anything, as the central gimmick of “Mosaic” means making 15 episodes (roughly 30 minutes each) out of story that can be told in 7.

Soderbergh plans to release a more traditional tv-format through HBO early next year, and I think the actual content of “Mosaic” will be better served that way. But I still wouldn’t recommend watching the show. I would, however, recommend downloading the free “Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh” app for exploration of the selective perspective model.

Why bother? It’s a reasonable question to ask since I don’t think the content is particularly good television. But while the recipe may not have worked out right, there’s no denying that Soderbergh has cooked up something special with “Mosaic.” And with more and more of our television viewing habits shifting away from live broadcasts and toward a binge-able, steaming model, it’s not to much of a stretch to imagine a future where you choose to dwell on the shenanigans of a supporting character a little longer before rejoining the main plot. Or what about a future season of Stranger Things in which you have the option of watching the show in its entirety from Eleven’s perspective, or Mike’s, or a demogorgon?

When the next episode in a series is just a mouse-click away, why limit audiences to a linear progression? In any movie or tv show there are scenes and footage that end up on the cutting room floor. Why not let viewers choose their own 13-step path to the finish line. We’ve already scene this is some DVD and Blu-Ray releases, where a click of the remote inserts a previously-deleted scene. “Mosaic,” in essence, is the natural evolution of the extended cut, in which there is no definitive “version” of a story.

Maybe I’m overreacting, and the many failings of “Mosaic” will put an end to this type of experimentation. I doubt it. I think Soderbergh, and others like him, are just getting started. So download the app, and check it out.

Grade: C+

Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh is currently available as a free download on iOS and Android devices.

Read Full Post »

i-dont-feel-at-home-in-this-world-anymore.jpeg

I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore

We typically have to wait almost a year — or more — for the public at large to see the big winner from the Sundance Film Festival. But not only is “I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore” out less than two months after snagging the Grand Jury prize in Park City, its also viewable from the comfort of your home due to Netflix scoring the distribution rights.

Starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, IDFAHITWA sees a woman shaken out of a rut after a break-in at her home triggers a compulsion to pursue justice. It’s also the directorial debut of Macon Blair, best known for his acting collaborations with director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room). Blair borrows from Saulnier’s style of minimalist, organic and unflinching violence, but also injects his feature with a heavy doze of sardonic humor. The result is something like a marriage of hipster comedy and Coenesque drama and shows a lot of promise for an emerging multi-hyphenate storyteller.

636114755410723339-Mascots-Unit-12277.jpeg

Mascots

If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest…well, you’ve probably seen Mascots already. But otherwise you should know that the team behind the mockumentaries Best in Show, A Mighty Win and Waiting For Guffman have a Netflix Original film about the cutthroat world of competitive Mascot-ery.

To  be sure, Mascots is a lesser-Guest. But it is still hilarious in its survey of bizarre, pseudo-surrealist characters, like Chris O’Dowd’s Tommy ‘Zook’ Zucarello, who performs as “The Fist” for a hockey team, and whose every action in the musculatured foam hand suit is a master class is sight gags.

burnafter.png

Burn After Reading

Speaking of Coenesque, and lesser-entries, “Burn After Reading” may not be the strongest entry in the Joel and Ethan Coen canon, but don’t let that stop you from its unique pleasures, number one on that list being that fully-committed and unbelievably ludicrous performance of Brad Pitt as a pompadoured buffoon of a personal trainer.

Combining gym rats, DIY sex toys and international espionage in a way that only the Coens can, “Burn after Reading” wrings gallons of humor out of a few ounces of its characters poor decision-making.

it_follows.jpeg

It Follows

The horror genre is experiencing something like a creative renaissance, and just in the nick of time. After 2004’s “Saw,” there was a decade in which horror producers were arms-racing each other to up the ante on torture porn. Thankfully, the trends are showing sign of shifting back toward risk-taking and storytelling, and there’s perhaps no better example of that New-School thank the incredible “It Follows” (which, as you may recall, was among my picks for the 10 best films of 2014).

As both an homage and a satire of classic scarers, It Follows takes the trope that in horror, sex = death, and stretches it to its logical extreme. Its antagonist is a loosly-defined specter that relentlessly pursues its victims as they pass its curse from one to another through sexual intercourse. You can survive by passing “it” on to someone else, but if “it” gets them, then you’re back at the top of the list, being followed again.

The device is incredibly effective as “it” shapeshifts through various forms, visible only to the infected. It causes the viewer to dart their eyes around the screen, looking for anyone who seems out of place, or a little *too* determined in their gait. Layer on top a gorgeous, pulpy style full of neon lighting and synth-pop atmosphere and you have a cinematic experience that leaps above the rest.

 

Read Full Post »

Galavant (2015-2016)

Galavant ran for just two short seasons on ABC, racking up 18, 22-minute episodes that are perfect for a quick binge. The show is a medieval musical comedy centered around the adventures of Galavant (Joshua Sasse) and his squire (played by Community’s Magnitude — “Pop POP!”) and filled with self-referential meta humor.

In short, it’s weird, and definitely designed for the music theater crowd. But after a somewhat shaky start the show leans into its surrealism, delivering bigger laughs and winningly absurdist song-and-dance sequences. I would have loved more episodes (not gonna happen) but at the same time the 18 installments are well-planned, making for a coherent and complete story, which is all-to0-rare among cancelled-too-soon television shows. And with only 9 hours of programming, it won’t weigh down you queue for long.

Dope3-1.jpg

Dope (2015)

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a good kid growing up in a tough neighborhood. A string of circumstances land him and his friends with a bag full of dope (hence the title) and no choice but to turn to some extra-curricular drug dealing in order to get back to their normal geeky ways.

The good-guy-forced-to-do-bad-things is familiar territory, but Dope takes a fresh approach, keeping things on the lighter side and splitting its time between coming of age story and loving tribute to hip-hop and urban culture.

better-off-ted-dead-guyjpg-ecf686295257353c_large.jpg

Better Off Ted (2009-2010)

Another two-season ABC tragedy. Better Off Ted ran for 26 episodes of bizarre workplace shenanigans, based out of a soulless R&D company that produces everything from itchy office chairs that increase employee productivity to perfectly aerodynamic bagels.

The protagonist is Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) but the strength is really in the ensemble, which includes Arrested Development’s Portia De Rossi and the paired perfection of Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Berrett as a sort of live-action Beaker and Bunsen. Gone too soon, but never forgotten.

150226_DX_Hunting.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlarge.jpg

The Hunting Ground (2015)

On a more serious note, every man woman and child (of an appropriate age for mature themes) should watch The Hunting Ground, a searing documentary about the plague of campus sexual assault. If there’s a better study of the subject in film form, I have yet to see it. Chilling, evocative and necessary.

Trolljegeren (Troll Hunter – 2010)

From Norway, with English subtitles, Troll Hunter is about…well…hunting trolls. And it’s delightful.

Shot in a documentary style, the movie skips around Norway while a ragtag bunch of troll hunters encounter and take care of an escalating string of monsters.

It’s kind of hard to describe. Watch it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »