Thursday, December 20, 2007

Netflix Quick Picks - Round Five

My friend Jodi at work told me the Netflix's stock has risen by over 9% recently. Doesn't surprise me at all. With TV on hiatus for the foreseeable future, what else is there to watch? Hence, my latest installment of Netflix Quick Picks--where I view the clunkers so you don't have to...

1. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - This documentary about the golden company that became shorthand for unbridled greed and failure of magnificent proportions is mind-boggling. Aided and abetted by ponzi-schemed accounting, avaricious bankers and deluded analysts, this company was no more than a house of cards. Rent it.

2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston - Another doc about a guy who is either a creative genius, or just mentally ill. Maybe both. Some people think his music's awesome--some, awful. Either way, it makes for an intriguing story. Rent it.

3. The Believer - Ryan Gosling plays a self-loathing Jew turned Nazi. It has its moments, but is rather jumbled. Still, Gosling's performance and the subtle way his character finds the love for his cultural heritage by the film's end is engrossing. Rent it.

4. Thirteen - Girls gone wild as puberty hits, but this movie made me want to bitch-slap the do-nothing "best friend" parents rather than the out-of-control kids. Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeremy Sisto all star--but the knockout performance is by newcomer Nikki Reed who also co-wrote the script. Rent it.

5. Layer Cake - Daniel Craig in the role that made him Bond-able. I'm still not quite sure what the "layer cake" was in reference to--unless it was Craig's yumminess. I was quite confused much of the time, but overall I was fascinated for every single minute. Rent it.

6. American History X - Although the theme of how hate and racism are taught and passed down within families, this story of a skinhead (Edward Norton) who leaves jail a changed man (due to the wise and wisecracking black dude that befriends him in jail--cue the cliches, please...) and tries to set his idolizing younger brother on the right path is melodramatic and facile. Skip it.

7. Double Happiness - I have no idea how this ended up in my queue--but I did watch it when it showed up in my mailbox. If you take the east meets west conflict of The Joy Luck Club, distill it down to just one Chinese girl and her family, you have The Joy Luck Club-lite that is Double Happiness. Other than the curiosity factor of seeing the young and pre-Grey's Anatomy Sandra Oh, it's a painful waste of time. Skip it and rent The Joy Luck Club instead. Or read an Amy Tan book.

8. Zero Effect - I'd heard that this Bill Pullman/Ben Stiller comedy was pretty good, despite the dismal reviews it got when it was released. The reviews were right. This is awful. Pullman plays an eccentric detective named Darryl Zero who never meets with his clients--that's what he has Ben Stiller for. Despite his aversion to dealing with people, Zero manages to assume other identities and go out and solve the case, so the point is? Skip it--rent season one of Monk instead...

9. The Game - This is another selection that I'm not sure how it ended up in my queue. But it's a pretty decent thriller. Starring Michael Douglas and an under-utilized Sean Penn, The Game kept me engrossed. Rent it.

10. House of Games - This David Mamet film feels more like a play with its lack of action, visual impact and talkiness. I've heard raves about Mamet's dialogue--but seriously, why was every line read with less inflection or emotion than a first time table reading? Flat, dry, boring--although Joe Mantegna did a fairly decent job as the con-man who indoctrinates a bored psychologist into one of his schemes. Semi-interesting concept--but a snooze-fest in execution. Skip it.

11. The Big Kahuna - This was adapted from a stage play and boy can you ever tell. Basically three characters in one location. Snore. Sure Kevin Spacey has his moments and Peter Facinelli does a fine job of holding his own, but the standout performance is Danny DeVito as a tired but wise salesman. Still, it doesn't offer anything new. Skip it.

12. Big Fish - I loved the thematic message of this movie more than the movie itself. Although Albert Finney is excellent as always and there are some lovely moments between him and the ever luminous Jessica Lange as his wife and Billy Crudup as his estranged son. I'm glad I got a chance to see it just to experience John August's work. If you like fantastical fairy tales, then rent it.

13. Fateless - Hungarian film about a young Jewish boy's experience with the Holocaust. It's a hard movie to watch--although the design and cinematography are exquisite. For my money, Schindler's List still ranks as the best Holocaust movie--as weird as it sounds to say "Best Holocaust Movie." It's a good film on an important subject--but it's difficult to view. So rent it or skip it.

14. Perfume - Elegant period piece by a perfumer journeyman so obsessed with capturing scent he becomes a ruthless killer of beautiful young women. It has a fantastic quality that completely lapses into fairy tale by the end, an under-utilized Dustin Hoffman and even more wasted Alan Rickman, the lead character speaks with what sounds like a Cockney accent despite being French, there's an annoying amount of narration--but it's still fascinating to watch. Not for the squeamish though--that's for sure! Rent it.

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