Netflix Picks #2

Kevin:  Gregg Araki’s mesmerizing White Bird in a Blizzard has all the initial trappings of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) longs to leave her idyllic hometown life, while her mother, Eva (Eva Green), feels overburdened by her role as a doting housewife. When Eva mysteriously disappears, Kat is haunted by persistent dreams of her, and reassesses their tumultuous relationship through therapy and an affair with a cop assigned to her missing person’s case. The premise is familiar, but the film draws upon the melodramas of Douglas Sirk to convey how Eva feels shackled by the hardships of marriage and motherhood. Aided by cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen and composer Robin Guthrie, Araki abstains from the histrionic tendencies of his earlier work, opting for an understated color scheme and score that firmly establishes the themes of alienation in 1980s suburban life. Following her widely praised turn in The Spectacular Now, Woodley demonstrates assertiveness in the lead role, but it’s Eva Green who leaves the greatest impression. Green’s steely flourishes invite comparisons to Joan Crawford, but feel closer to Barbara Stanwyck in their unrelenting swagger. Other notable performances include those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato, whose lively exchanges with Woodley provide a needed respite from the drama, and Shiloh Fernandez, who complements his character’s fetching looks with a charming half-witted persona as Kat’s boyfriend Phil. In a standout sequence that takes place in a local underground club, Kat and Phil seductively dance to Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Behind The Wheel”. Through a breathlessly shot and edited montage, Araki injects this scene with infectious spontaneity and groove. White Bird in a Blizzard is Gregg Araki’s most restrained directorial effort since Mysterious Skin, but is punctuated with many spirited moments that reaffirm his reputation as a genre-defying, risk-taking filmmaker.

Trekkies (1997)

Jorge: There’s no question that Leonard Nimoy’s passing last month shook sci-fi lovers around the world. But just try to imagine the Klingon pyres lit and Vulcan dirges played in Nimoy’s honor by his greatest fans. For a better idea of that kind of devotion, look no further than the 1997 documentary, Trekkies. Focusing on the fandom of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, director Roger Nygard interviews self-proclaimed trekkies (or, as Nimoy preferred to call them, trekkers) across the United States. Your knee-jerk reaction might be to laugh at the various characters and their obsessive forms of worship. Indeed, it’s a funny movie and the characters themselves are (usually) self-aware enough to laugh, too. And yet, their idiosyncrasies (laughable and possibly creepy to some) are offset by their sincere interviews with Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She stifles her visible hesitation about being idolized to get at the human being hidden under the Trek cosplay. The results are moving testimonies from societal outcasts who found refuge in a show about peace, progress, and tolerance and the community that sprang up around it. To have been a part of that was a legacy that Leonard Nimoy proudly wore on his sleeve. But don’t take it from me. He says as much in Trekkies.

Zodiac (2007)
Zodiac (2007)

PatrickDavid Fincher is, rightfully, one of the most acclaimed American directors of the past couple decades. When people talk about Fincher, it’s movies like Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, and even his most recent work Gone Girl that dominate the conversation. Fortunately, few people bring up Alien³, but, unfortunately, at the same time, not many mention Zodiac, either. While it certainly is not as fantastic a movie as Fight Club or Se7en, it is still very good in its own right. The real-life story of the Zodiac killer is fascinating, and Fincher is as at ease with real-life source material as he is with straight fiction. The core cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo carry the story well and keep it entertaining even during slower sequences of the movie. While the film depicts the Zodiac killings themselves, it also deals a lot with the obsession of Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) in finding the Zodiac, even long after the killings have stopped. This, too, adds a whole new wrinkle to the story. The end of the story in real life is somewhat open-ended and unexciting, as the Zodiac killer was never arrested and no one can know for sure who he even was. Despite this and despite the nearly three hour runtime, Zodiac is still well worth the watch as the kind of movie that simultaneously informs and entertains.

Clerks (1994)
Clerks (1994)

John: One of the funniest cult-classics of all-time, Clerks is a remarkably low-budgeted film that makes up for the literal lack of color with its incredibly vibrant dialogue. If you watch closely, you can actually notice particular lines being botched and cover-up attempts being made by Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson alike. That’s not a blow to them, or even to the film overall. In fact, I love that about Clerks. No one, especially not Kevin Smith (writer and director), really seems to give a flying f@#k about the finer details of cinema. The film’s humor is mostly vulgar and right up in your face. It’s written almost as if the whole thing was originally meant to be a duo stand-up routine, another thing about it that I totally dig. Jeff Anderson, in particular, shines brightly in this film. His level of dryness and sarcasm is taken to an extreme that most would be quite uncomfortable with. In a sense, though, Clerks is a rather daring film. I say that, firstly, because the technical aspects are of such a dreadful quality that it feels as though Smith made it that way just to piss people off. Secondly, the script contains some simultaneously hilarious and somewhat unnerving lines. Anderson portrays a crumb who couldn’t give two shits about anything, clearly hiding behind an enormous cloud of judgement. At the same time, he shows that he is aware of this and still doesn’t really care. Clerks is a comical joyride that is a rite of passage for any serious movie watcher. Have a good day, sir.

The Honourable Woman (2014)
The Honourable Woman (2014)

Matt: Watch the opening three minutes of the BBC miniseries The Honourable Woman and you’ll probably be hooked. The first of eight hourlong episodes sets up a brilliant political thriller filled with international spies and potential terrorists, led by Maggie Gyllenhaal (we’re really pushing the Gyllenhaals in this article!) in a Golden Globe-winning performance as Nessa Stein. The rest of the cast is phenomenal, too, but the real star here is writer/director Hugo Blick. Weirdly enough, Blick played Young Jack Napier in the very first Batman film; sadly, he’s only just begun to make a name for himself as a series scribe to be reckoned with. His previous series, The Shadow Line with Chiwetel Ejiofor, is great too — but for a more urgently relevant drama, The Honourable Woman is his best work yet. The intricate level of plotting and characterization requires fairly strict attention, so it’s perhaps not fit for a casual background viewing (Blick’s not one for hand-holding, which is a good thing). And though you can certainly call it a “spy drama”, this isn’t at all a sleek and sexy Bond jaunt. This is dark, dense, heavy stuff, but it’s a hell of an entertaining ride.

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