Category Archives: Staff Picks

Netflix Picks #6

Shayna: I’ve been in a David Cronenberg frame of mind lately, and after watching Crash — a brutal, totally visceral film experience that you can somehow find on YouTube — I felt like slipping further down the rabbit hole with eXistenZ. While this 1999 film didn’t leave me curled up in the fetal position and near tears like Crash did, it does provide plenty of bleak takeaways about the state of human existence. Plus it stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, who pretty much owns in everything.

Set in a not-so-distant future where people can enter virtual realities and video-game designers are fawned over like rock stars (so perhaps not so unlike today), eXistenZ also stars a young Jude Law and features appearances from Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley. Leigh is frosty and vaguely menacing here as Allegra, the designer of the not-yet-released game eXistenZ. After someone tries to kill her during a focus group session, Allegra is forced to go on the run with Ted (Law), a security guard/would-be “PR nerd” tasked with protecting her and helping ensure the survival of the game itself.

Admittedly, the plot gets Gordian-knot levels of convoluted very quickly, making it difficult to keep track of characters, corporate espionage subplots and even what reality the characters happen to be in most of the time. But the real attraction in eXistenZ is the atmosphere and the props that go along with it. There’s a gun made of bones, which fires teeth and is dripping with slimy viscera. The “bio-pods” used by players to access the game look like squishy embryos and mew contentedly when rubbed the right way. Once inside the game, Ted and Allegra are compelled by its power to follow game script, which at one point leads to an all-you-can-eat feast on mutated frog parts.

It’s wild. While the film feels very much like a product of its time, more aged and less visionary than earlier Cronenberg works like Videodrome and The Fly, eXistenZ is necessary viewing for body horror and sci-fi aficionados alike.

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Netflix Picks #5

Patrick: This past August, I lived in Pamplona, Spain which is directly on the route of “El camino de Santiago”, a famous 800 kilometer pilgrimage route through the Pyrenees to the shrine of Saint James in Northwestern Spain. Every day, I would see “pilgrims” with backpacks as big as they were walking by. Being an ignorant American, I asked a Spanish friend about all of the pilgrims, and he told me to watch the Martin “Seen” movie. After a puzzled look and a few Que?s I realized he was talking about Martin Sheen and the movie The Way.

Recently, I finally watched the Emilio Estevez movie starring his own father which, not coincidentally, is about a father who has lost his son on the camino and decides to do the walk himself to scatter his son’s ashes on the pilgrimage he could never finish. I started to watch the movie out of nostalgia for my short-lived home and to see all the sites again, but continued watching because I genuinely liked it. The movie has somewhat of an Into the Wild feel to it, with a personal journey and the bonds formed and lessons learned on it. Martin Sheen’s Tom relearns the importance of travel, feels more connected to his now-deceased son, and meets some interesting people along the way: Sarah takes the journey to quit smoking; Joost walks the 800 kilometers to lose weight; Jack needs the pilgrimage to beat his writer’s block. Together, they take the journey. And together, they make the journey that is The Way a fun but profound movie, certainly worth the watch whether you’ve lived in Navarra or never heard of it before.

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Netflix Picks #4

Matt: Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin got his start with Fresh, a 1994 film about a 12-year-old drug dealer caught in a bad cycle with bad people. Young Fresh is a quiet kid living in a loud world. The housing project where his family lives is packed with people, and out on the street it seems sex and violence won’t leave him alone either. There’s a realness to Fresh that you don’t often see in coming-of-age tales, an earnestness that makes the movie seem less like the idealistic Titans and more like a David Gordon Green film. Fresh’s escape from the prostitutes, dealers and gangster-wannabes comes in the form of his estranged father (Samuel L. Jackson), who plays chess with Fresh every week. Sean Nelson, the 13-year-old kid who plays Fresh, turns in some amazing scenes with the veteran Jackson; their relationship is the core of the film, though the rest of that noise keeps encroaching on their meditative matches. As a whole, the blend of real-world urgency and sincere emotion makes Fresh compelling, distinctive and — sorry — refreshing.

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Netflix Picks #3

JohnIn Bruges is the debut effort of far-too-unknown writer and director Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, this is the kind of film that makes you feel guilty about bursting out into gut-wrenching laughter. Farrell plays the young, impatient thrill-seeker and Gleeson portrays the classic oldie who only wants to take in the beautiful architecture of Bruges, Belgium, where the whole film takes place. This might seem like a familiar dynamic, but there’s a twist: they’re a pair of assassins-in-hiding after a job gone wrong.

The brilliance to the film really starts with its basic premise. Bruges, one of the most aesthetically beautiful and quaint little towns in the entire world, has become the hideout and eventual battleground of the hitmen and, ultimately, the mob boss they work for. There’s a vague element of mystique, as well, an almost dream-like quality to the film that fits so well because of how easily Bruges might compare to one’s idea of heaven. I suppose it’s possible that is what allows the layer of absurdity the film also possesses to work as well as it does. At no point does it feel like some of the more ridiculous occurrences are too much, or that they do anything but add to the awesomeness of the film. It is a true shame that Mr. McDonagh has, as of yet, only made two films (the second being 2012’s Seven Psychopaths). The Oscar-nominated writing, fun performances and harsh themes all make the film immensely enjoyable for anyone with even a slight taste for the darker comedy. If that’s you, then In Bruges is fun as hell.

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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.

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Netflix Picks #1

Jorge: Full disclosure, The Hunt is an unfair pick for a Netflix recommendation. If you’re settling down with a glass of wine and a partner to cuddle with this Valentine’s Day, you will be more than disappointed. You will be devastated. But if you’re in the mood to distrust your fellow man and sympathize with a poor soul, then where better to turn than Danish cinema? (Of course, if I were really mean it would be a Lars von Trier film.) In his best, most heartbreaking role, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) plays a family man wrongfully accused of molesting a child at his day care. Off to a rough start, I know, but follow him for a few minutes and you won’t be able to look away from the handsome, lovable man who somehow played a Bond villain. The Hunt‘s pace is slow and thoughtful, like most movies from anywhere other than the US and India, and it serves to convince us that this story is nothing but true and harrowing. It’s a tough two hours, yet worth it for a different perspective at a time when the media is quick to point the finger. This is a story about innocence in the face of blame and hatred.

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