Saturday, November 3, 2007

Netflix Quick Picks - Round 4

Despite my TV viewing schedule, I have actually managed to watch quite a few DVDs over the last month or so. So join me for yet another list of suggestions of what and what NOT to add to your Netflix queue.

1. The Tao of Steve - Before lovably schlumpy Seth Rogen got hottie Katie Heigl Knocked Up, there was Donal Logue as Dex--an overweight, underachieving Lothario whose adherence to the principles of WWSD? (What would Steve--as in McQueen--do?) allow him to have quite an active sex life--despite the fact that he is lacking in charm, looks or money. What Dex does have is smarts and a philosophy of relationships based on the easy cool of Steve McQueen. This could have been a smart and funny movie. But it's not. It's too talky, too choppy, too sloppy. Skip it and rent Knocked Up instead.

2. Papillon - Speaking of Steve McQueen, I rented this movie based on the story of Henri Charriere's escape from a South American penal colony to continue my research of what exactly is the tao of Steve? Thus far, I haven't been impressed by Mr. McQueen--but I actually enjoyed his performance in this film. Perhaps because he was actually giving one, instead doing his usual King of Cool shtick. Dustin Hoffman is awesome as always as well. The movie is LOOOONNNG and authentically depicts excruciating conditions. It drags a bit--especially during a period of time where Charriere does manage to escape and lives among some island natives (although that sequence will most likely not diminish the viewing pleasure of most male viewers due to its extended nudity), but there is an spectacular chase sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat. Rent it.

3. Baadasssss - Mario Van Peebles tribute to his father Melvin, who made the original blaxploitation film--Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. What it sometimes lacks in finesse and artistry, it more that makes up in the historical insights into the time period and the unimaginable challenges in making an independent film. Particularly humorous was Melvin shooting a fairly explicit sex scene the first day of filming--so that the unions would be convinced that he was making a porno movie and therefore would not have to operate under their regulations. Rent it.

4. L.I.E. - How Brian Cox manages to make the manipulative predator Big John Harrigan not just sympathetic, but even likable and compassionate is beyond amazing. The coming of age film about a troubled teen who finds an unlikely surrogate father in the form of a pedophile is an amazing story. No matter how you feel about people who exploit children, this movie is a sensitive and complex character study. Paul Dano--later of Little Miss Sunshine fame--is terrific as the young boy who comes into his own through his relationship with Big John. Rent it!

5. This is Spinal Tap - I had never seen the classic mockumentary and finally set that oversight straight. A look at the silliness of both heavy metal and the self-important documentary, Spinal Tap is at its best in the small details--like the miniature sized Stonehenge that must serve as the band's backdrop due to a miscommunication between inches and feet. The songs especially are hysterical--in all their overwrought and inane glory. Two thoughts: Who knew Christopher Guest (aka Nigel Tufnel) could rock a mullet so well? And how hilarious was Michael McKean's riff on his character's last name claiming that "Saint Hubbins" was the patron saint of quality footwear. Rent it.

6. Shaun of the Dead - Like The Lost Boys, Shaun of the Dead manages to fuse humor and horror with a bit of self-referential fun thrown into the mix. There's a scene with Shaun (Simon Pegg) riding home from work with passengers with that familiar zoned out lifeless look to their faces. Zombies or just your average white collar worker at the end of a soul-sucking day in the corporate U.K. Mostly funny, albeit with a few graphic zombie evisceration scenes. If you don't have a stomach for gore, just use that time to check your e-mail. It's over quickly enough...Rent it!

7. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - I realized that my knowledge of Marilyn Monroe was sorely lacking, so I rented this iconic performance which was based on a popular musical. That being said, the musical numbers where a character (usually Jane Russell whose amazonian proportions make Marilyn look positively petite!) just happens to break out in song feel stagy and fake. The title number performed by Monroe is worth watching--as is Marilyn in all her pulchritudinous glory--but otherwise the movie is a bit of a dud. Skip it.

8. The Lady Eve - Both Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda are so young and pretty in this classic Preston Sturges flick that it hurts. So did watching this talky snoozefest. I know I'll get crap from some people, but even at a brisk 97 minutes this film dragged. After ale heir Charles Pike (Fonda) finds out that his love interest Jean Harrington (Stanwyck) is a gold-digging scam artist, he dumps her. So she goes to his parents home pretending to be the "Lady Eve"--with no disguise other than the fakest British accent EVER!--and the dolt doesn't recognize her. Seriously? Skip it. For much better Barbara Stanwyck, try Double Indemnity. For better Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath.

9. Seven Year Itch - Another classic Monroe vehicle--this one even contains an ironic reference to the iconic pin-up girl. Marilyn is gorgeous and yeah, there's the famous skirt blowing up scene. But unfortunately there's way too little Marilyn and way too much Tom Ewell as the middle-aged midlife crisis, Richard Sherman. Richard spends an inordinate amount of time talking to himself throughout the movie. It's meant to convey his inner thoughts (what--they didn't have voiceover in the 50s?), but his inner thought are inane and mundane. Snore. For a better midlife crisis movie, rent American Beauty. Skip it and buy the Marilyn poster instead.

10. Escape from Alcatraz - The first thing that came to mind when I saw this movie was, "Geez, Stephen King--plagiarize much?" Now, the Frank Darabont adapted and directed Shawshank Redemption has far more emotional depth and resonance, but let's count the similarities: prisoner with a secret pet? Check. Wise but bitter black guy? Check. Sadistic prison guards? Check. Prison rape references? Check. Digging your way out of prison? Check. Dumping the diggings on prison grounds via pant leg? Check. Whereas Shawshank is about the emotional journey of Andy Dufresne, Escape from Alcatraz is purely a caper flick. It's the how-did-they-do-it? part of the story that we only saw after the fact in Shawshank. Rent it.

11. The Man Who Knew Too Much - Not my favorite Hitchcock film by a long shot. It features the famous Que Sera, Sera song by Doris Day and some nifty and natural chemistry between her and co-star Jimmy Stewart, but it was too plodding and improbable for my tastes. Skip it.

12. Marty - Written by Paddy Chayefsky, this movie starring a tubby, homely Ernest Borgnine as a tubby, homely bachelor named Marty won four Oscars. Must not have been any competition that year...The plotline says that it's the "touching story about two lonely people who have almost resigned themselves to never being truly loved." Well, it's about two lonely people all right. But it's more BORING than TOUCHING. Although Borgnine and co-star Betsy Blair give nice solid performances, it's just a bland, talky melodrama. Skip it.

13. A Fistful of Dollars - I tell you, Sergio Leone and the spaghetti western have done more for my estimation of Clint Eastwood than four Oscars. It drags in some places, there's some really bad dubbing--specifically the dialogue of the bratty little kid--and the piccolo punctuating Clint's entrances on the music score got irritating, but I really enjoyed watching Clint do what he does best. Squint and look tough. Rent it.

14. The Mechanic - This movie about a hired assassin who mentors a flippant rich kid as his successor--a bit too successfully--stars a grumpy Charles Bronson and pretty boy Jan-Michael Vincent. Examples of inanities--in the opening sequence, Arthur Bishop (Bronson) is scoping out his target. The target leaves his apartment; Bishop breaks in. He puts some explosive material under the stove top, switches out the tea and puts more explosive material in a book on the bookshelf. I assume the optimum outcome for most hired killings is that they look accidental. And that only the intended victim is killed. You would think, maybe when the target makes a cup of tea, the stove explodes killing him? Nope. Maybe Bishop had poisoned the tea bags and it looks like a heart attack or something. No, the tea contains a sedative to make the target sleepy. So what does Bishop do? When the target falls asleep, he uses a rifle to shoot at the BOOK, which causes an explosion and at the same time the explosive material in the stove ignites, blowing out the windows of the apartment in an inferno that probably decimated the entire building. Like that's not going to look suspicious! Skip it.

15. The Agony and the Ecstasy - Based on the Irving Wallace novel about Renaissance artist Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) the movie focuses on his painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, as commissioned by Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison). The film starts with a 10-12 minute long art tour of Michelangelo's famous sculptures. No doubt to hammer home the point that Michelangelo was primarily a SCULPTOR not a PAINTER. And yet he painted one of the finest works of art known to man. Cheesy and looking remarkably low-budget at times for a historical epic, rent only if you're a big fan of Renaissance art and Michelangelo. Actually, you'd be better off reading the book. Skip it.

16. Mysterious Skin - This is the film role that transitioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt out of his Third Rock kid persona into the gritty world of indie films with his portrayal of a teenage hustler. Graphic and difficult subject matter aside, he does a superb job with the role. Rent it.


  1. I need to rent "Shaun of the Dead." "Hot Fuzz" was one of my favorite films of last year so I'm sure I'd like SotD. I gotta catch up on my film watching!

  2. I saw Hot Fuzz--and enjoyed it for the most part. The "Children of the Corn" plotline was a bit much for me. I actually liked SotD better.