Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Netflix Quick Picks - Round 7

I've been really busy since Round 6 so let's get right to the movies I think you should add to your queue:

1. Wonder Boys - I haven't read the Michael Chabon novel, but I have to say the Curtis Hanson adaptation is aces. Wonderful performances by Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey Maguire. And a special shout out to Tobey's hair which was mesmerizingly perfect. Rent it!

2. Disturbia - This teen version of Rear Window jump-started Shia LaBoeuf's career. Shia makes his next big appearance in the new Indiana Jones movie but his sidekick played by Aaron Yoo hit the jackpot as well with a supporting role in the soon to be released 21. The flick plods along in the beginning--not good for a thriller. But it certainly picks up speed at the end. Genuinely anxiety-inducing if you're up for that. Worth a look. Rent it.

3. Dirty Pretty Things - Other than the somewhat miscast Audrey Tautou as a virginal Turkish Muslim girl (uh, yeah right...), this is a compelling piece of work about people trying to get by and living under the radar. Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen) and also featuring the consistently amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo and another charmingly chilling turn by Sergi Lopez (he played the evil stepfather in Pan's Labyrinth), there's a lot of talent here and it all shows on screen. Rent it.

4. Immortal Beloved - Again you've got a film filled with talent: Gary Oldman, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino and the music of Ludwig von Beethoven. This period piece fails as a narrative but where it excels, in addition to making the classical music enchant and enthrall, is the depiction of Beethoven's deafness and the miracle that was his genius in the face of his disability. If you like period pieces and classical music, rent it.

5. Dangerous Beauty - Oh god, this is the Harlequin romance version of a period piece. Catherine McCormack, while undeniably lovely, looks more suited for a stint on Melrose Place than as a 16th century Venetian courtesan. Cheesy soft-core masquerading as feminist art. Skip it.

6. Transamerica - Despite the edgy subject matter of gender reassignment, this is at its core a road trip bonding buddy movie. Felicity Huffman, an attractive actress, get kudos for her convincing portrayal of a man in the process of becoming a woman who finds an unlikely obstacle in the form of a son he/she never knew she/he had. The masculine appearance and lower register voice work is astoundingly good and Huffman's efforts elevate a fairly pedestrian story to new heights. Still, there are better films out there...Soldier Girl comes to mind. Skip it.

7. An American Werewolf in London - I don't know what I was expecting with this. Possibly more humor, more satire. A biting (excuse the pun) story about celebrity or the ugly American tourist? Unfortunately, except for the groundbreaking special effects--at the time anyway, although they pretty much hold up today--there's not much to recommend about this banal and bland werewolf movie. I was expecting more from John Landis. Skip it.

8. Blue Velvet - You either love David Lynch or you hate him. I'm in the former category. Some of his recurring cast members make an appearance here: Laura Dern playing the ingenue, Kyle MacLachlan also playing an ingenue and a courageous tour-de-force performance from Isabella Rosselini. Set in a small town that appears to be caught in a time warp of the 1950s (but then, don't all Lynch's movies have that 1950s retro look to them?), it's weird and violent and visceral and strange and mystifying and the strains of the kitschy Bobby Vinton hit weaves it all together. If you love Lynch, rent it.

9. The Shining - This classic Kubrick horror flick based on the Stephen King novel is way too long and spends much too much time on the scenery. Jack Nicholson perfects his over-the-top shtick, but the creepiest character is actually the little boy who talks to his finger. He's a creepy cutie, but not surprisingly doesn't have much in the way of credits other than this film. I guess it's hard to find cute little kid roles after you've been typecast as the creepy kid who talks to his finger. Still, it's worth it just for Scatman Crothers. Rent it.

10. My Life Without Me - Sarah Polley indie flick about a young woman who finds out she has only a few months to live. So she keeps the news from her family and makes a list of things she wants to accomplish before she dies: recording birthday messages to her two young daughters, finding a replacement wife for her husband, visiting her estranged father in prison and having an affair with Mark Ruffalo to boot. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't very good either. This is more Lifetime melodrama than insightful indie filmmaking. Skip it.

11. Me Without You - An interesting look at a co-dependent friendship over the years featuring Michelle Williams and Anna Friel. There are some contrived moments, but the dynamic between the two leads is fascinating. Rent it.

12. The Long, Hot Summer - Was a long, slow movie. Although based on a Faulkner story, it felt like a rehash of Tennesse Williams characters: there's Orson Welles playing Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Joanne Woodward doing Laura from The Glass Menagerie--maybe a bit of Blanche DuBois as well, Anthony Franciosa and Lee Remick give a "Stanley and Stella" Streetcar impression and Richard Anderson seems a riff off Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer (although he doesn't get eaten by cannibals...which is too bad 'cuz it might have livened the whole thing up a bit...) It feels stiff and stagy and surprisingly lacking in sparks from the two leads. Paul Newman is the essence of cool and completely engrossing as usual. But he's been in better movies...Skip it.

13. Superbad - Frequently funny, but sometimes pushing the envelope just a little too far. My favorite scene was the cops, with McLovin in tow, turning on the siren so they could get through traffic. I KNEW it!!! Great for some bellylaughs--and a couple of sweet moments as well. Rent it!

14. Stalag 17 - Like The Great Escape, you can see the genesis of the classic TV show, Hogan's Heroes. There's a jovial Sergeant Schultz, an ambitious Colonel Klink-type running the camp, tunnels and radios and escape plans. But this POW camp also has a spy. I had to watch this twice in order to appreciate it. It's a bit slow, stagy (it's based on a play) and claustrophobic (what'd ya expect--it's set in a POW camp!), but all in all it's an intriguing story. William Holden won an Oscar for his role. Rent it.

15. Brokedown Palace - It's Midnight Express set in Thailand instead of Turkey and with chicks (Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale) instead of guys. And it's boring instead of compelling. Except for one dramatic scene where Claire Danes begs for her friend's freedom, it's a snooze. Not even Bill Pullman as a shark lawyer can save it. Skip it.

16. Training Day - Oh the awesomeness that is Denzel in this move! He most definitely deserved that Oscar. And Ethan Hawke stands his ground as well. Really intriguing morality play. Rent it!

17. Year of the Dog - Mike White writes very quirky and weird stuff (The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck, School of Rock). This is no exception. Molly Shannon plays Peggy, an introverted woman whose main relationship is with her dog, Pencil. When Pencil dies unexpectedly, Peggy's world is shattered and weirdness ensues. I think the story would have been better served with a tighter script and a sense of direction. The best thing about the film was the dog who played Pencil--what a cutie! Laura Dern is also magnificent as the self-centered control freak sister-in-law. But all in all--skip it.

18. The Painted Veil - A period piece about a married couple (Edward Norton and Naomi Watts) who find themselves getting to know one another and falling in love while in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. Oddly affecting performances by both leads. Rent it.


  1. Year of the Dog is in my queue. Is it really that bad?

  2. It's not THAT bad. It's more Chuck and Buck than School of Rock if you know what I mean. It's dark. Not all that funny. It's a bit unfocused and lacks a sense of direction--much like its leading character. It's just not a movie I would say, "You MUST see this."

  3. Wow! that's a lot of movie watchin!

    I'll agree to disagree with you on the Sarah Polley movie. I found it very moving. Or maybe its just my infatuation with Mark Ruffalo. I also think Sarah Polley is a great actress. But I also may be a bit more sentimental than you.

    But I too enjoyed The Painted Veil even with its slow pacing. A beautiful movie.

  4. I like Sarah Polley. Go and Guinevere are better examples of her work. I love Mark Ruffalo. Try Zodiac and You Can Count on Me. I'm very sentimental. This didn't make me cry.