If ever one were to want to showcase the immensely divergent tastes Netflix is capable of catering to, now would be the week to do so. Among the titles added to the catalogue since our last instalment are included films of both Nicolas Cage and Béla Tarr: one a man known for his undiminished commitment to presenting boldly bleak visions of the world and humanity no matter how infinitesimal the commercial prospects; the other Béla Tarr… just kidding. Big-name recent releases, indie horror, intimate documentaries, and an immortal ‘90s classic all follow too, as ever offering plenty of choice no matter what your fancy. Enjoy.
Offering perhaps the finest ensemble to ever grace a cinema screen, James Foley’s film of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play boasts a host of unforgettable performances from legends the like of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, and Ed Harris. Set over the course of a night and the next morning in a real estate office where only the top two salesmen will get to keep their jobs, Glengarry Glen Ross ranks among the most vividly quotable movies of all time, its furiously vulgar language best expressed in Baldwin’s iconic monologue and Pacino’s infamous meltdown. Foley’s direction brings a sense of claustrophobia, low-lighting seeming to trap his characters within this world. The true star of the film, though, is Lemmon, who brings a tragic gravitas to proceedings with his increasing desperation, embodying in one fantastic performance everything the film has to say about the emasculating effects of ruthless commercialism. MUST SEE.
Off-putting as its title is, there’s an easy charm to Seth Packard’s HottieBoombaLottie, a knowingly silly teen comedy about a social misfit whose efforts to win the girl of his dreams are thwarted by his older brother’s determinacy to get there first. Packard’s central performance is certainly his film’s strongest suit, mixing pitch-perfect deliveries of his often ingenious lines with a sharp appreciation of physical comedy. He’s one high point among few, however, and save for four or five moments of genius HottieBoombaLottie struggles to be anything more than a standard outing, the majority of its gags making little in the way of comic impact. The loose structure of the plot reveals immediately that it really isn’t much of one, leaving it to the relatively unimpressive supporting cast to make this anything more than a glorified audition tape for Packard, a task they sadly fail to complete. SO-SO.
Set on the steppes of Mongolia, Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth’s narrative debut explores the dwindling life of a nomadic community as an epidemic sees the government commandeer their cattle and move them into the city. The rural-urban juxtaposition forms the backbone of this beautifully directed story, centred on young epileptic Bagi and the increasingly surreal visions his affliction brings him. Structurally comparable to 2001, Khadak’s final act is a startling ascent into higher planes of expression, an obtuse odyssey through strikingly symbolic imagery infused with meaning. For all the innovation of its finale, Khadak is tethered by adherence to convention, its disposable love story the greatest offender of all. Brosens and Woodworth have constructed something magnificent here, but their unwillingness to fully embrace the possibilities of their atypical style does their creative inclinations a disservice. Impressive an experience as it is, Khadak could have been so much more. RECOMMENDED.
A typically dull, loud, and just plain stupid Nicolas Cage vehicle, Seeking Justice is absolutely everything you’d expect it to be, only in more boring ways. Roger Donaldson directs without perceptible intent as Robert Tannen’s script rushes through logical inconsistencies, never bothering to make any sense as it takes poor old Nic from set piece to set piece. He plays amiable high school teacher Will, shabbily characterised as a nice guy before his wife is raped and vengeance offered him by the shady Simon, head of a secretive organisation of vigilantes. Guy Pearce phones in his performance—often quite literally—plainly discussing the intimate details of murder despite his earlier insistence on innocence-protecting codewords. Admittedly not the sort of film one watches for its writing, Seeking Justice also plainly fails in offering any decent action, taking every opportunity to employ an overused genre cliché in its contemptibly avaricious intent to steal your money. Don’t give it the satisfaction. AVOID IT.
J.J. Abram’s spectacular throwback to the Spielbergian sci-fi films of yesteryear brims with fun nostalgia, but often struggles to establish its own identity as something more than a dependant tribute. Top-notch special effects and a talented child cast are the most immediately impressive aspects of the production, which tells of a group of kids who become caught up in strange events after they witness a train crash while filming a zombie movie late at night. Consistently entertaining though it is, Super 8 spends such a great deal of time tipping its hat toward The Goonies, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind that it makes itself seem inferior by comparison, and those films a far more appealing expenditure of one’s time. Even with this disadvantage, Abrams’ film does amount to an exciting blockbuster, the unrelenting charms of leads Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning helping a great deal in making it a thrilling exemplar of movie magic. WORTH WATCHING.
A sweet, simple, ultimately standard 30 minute short, The Book and the Rose suffers for a visual aesthetic that would not be out of place as a segment on an old anthology TV programme. A love story between a man who buys an old copy of Anna Karenina and the woman whose notes are written all over its margins, it offers little excellence in the way of writing or directing to particularly set it aside as a fine exemplar of short film. The unease on the eye is the biggest problem to speak of, each of the performances perfectly confident in their abilities and capable of selling their characters adequately, the eventual resolution a fine conclusion to the story. Like Jeff Bemiss’ direction, The Book and the Rose is all just a little dull, the kind of tale that’s nice but forgettable. Here so blandly rendered, there’s little discernible reason to bother investing the time. SO-SO.
An eerie, curious Canadian horror that earns immediate points for spending so long in setting up its characters, The Corridor is far from the ideal delivery on its intriguing premise, but stands nonetheless a mild success, its moments of creepy oddity rooted in the filmmakers’ commitment to developing real people for whom we can feel scared. The cast help a good deal, faltering only briefly in delivering certain lines, offering primarily convincing performances as a group of old friends spending a weekend together in a snowy forest. The mystery of the eponymous corridor—a passage of light where the laws of physics seem more suggestions than iron-cast rules—is an engaging one, and the strange evils it leads to are shocking in their suddenness, not least of all because we feel we know these characters by the time they happen. The Corridor is not great horror, but it’s earnest and effective, a solid delivery on a smart idea. WORTH WATCHING.
Among the very last of the American infantrymen still unaccounted for in Vietnam, McKinley Nolan was thought spotted by a retired lieutenant in 2006 who, recognising the strangeness of encountering a black American soldier, tracks down Nolan’s family in Texas and leads one of them on a journey to discover what really became of their son and brother. A hugely engrossing mystery story, The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan strikes a fine balance between the personal and the universal, using this one family’s grief as a springboard to explore the lingering scars of war. Overly emotionally suggestive music and a certain sense of constructed reality about some of the scenes hurts the film, leading us to question whether or not we are being made privy to the whole truth, but the wider questions raised remain. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan is a fascinating, contemplative, and often bitterly pained documentary, a reminder that no time can undo the pain of loss. RECOMMENDED.
Maybe the most metaphorical of genres, a good road movie is never about the physical journey, but the philosophical, the moral, the personal. Walter Salles’ adaptation of Ernesto Guevara’s memoir recalls his journey at the age of 23 around Latin America, an initial adventure that grew to be awakening, cementing the political philosophies that would go on to make him Che. Salles makes the most of gorgeous landscapes, capturing in long shots the natural beauty surrounding the ugliness of poverty and injustice. Yet for all its visual flair, The Motorcycle Diaries is a disappointing experience, neither entirely managing to shoulder the considerable burden of representing the origins of an icon nor simply telling a believable story of a boy becoming a man. Gael Garcia Bernal’s charisma adds immense likeability to his character even for all his story’s issues, and makes The Motorcycle Diaries a film that can overcome, if only partially, its unfortunate limitations. WORTH WATCHING.
Since cementing his signature style of minimal cuts, languid pacing, and monochrome photography with 1988’s Damnation, Béla Tarr has given us some of the greatest cinematic achievements of the last 25 years. He claims The Turin Horse to be his last film, his thoughts on the world now apparently all spoken. The howling winds of the film’s soundscape are as unrelenting as Tarr’s bleakness, his story that of a poor farmer and his daughter whose livelihood is threatened when their horse refuses to work or eat. Unfolding over just thirty shots set to the tune of Mihály Víg’s soul-shattering leitmotif, The Turin Horse is a cruelly frank depiction of life, stripped of all its frills and exposed for the recurrent procession of mindless routines that it is. Such bare, brutal, brilliant honesty is rarely captured on film; Tarr’s camera boggles the mind with its artful grace, rendering all poetic with its unflinching gaze. This is not just the best film of 2012, but among the greatest ever made. MUST SEE.