Netflix Movie of the Week #14: Submarine

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This week, I’d like to discuss a film that’s particularly close to me as it sort of represents the beginning of my critical career: Submarine. I remember watching Submarine a number of years ago and thinking for the first time that film is an astounding medium. In short, Submarine was the movie that made me realize that movies are cool.

Submarine is the directorial debut for British comedic talent Richard Ayoade, also responsible for The Watch, as well as this year’s highly anticipated film, The Double. Ayoade’s strength lies in his ability to be funny and insightful without feeling to the need to drench his work in cynicism- a lesson which many coming-of-age dramas baldy need to learn. Though Submarine doesn’t reinvent the genre by any means, it delivers an honest and profoundly believable story revolving around a sympathetic, incorrigible protagonist.

Ayoade’s directorial style is a little reminiscent of a more sober sort of Wes Anderson production, complete with bright colors and childlike set pieces and situations. The key, however, is that the style never eclipses the substance and Ayoade pulls it off remarkably well. The story follows black sheep Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) as he navigates the treacherous waters of love and familial relationships. Though seemingly distant, Oliver has a big heart and puts it upon himself to hold his precious little world together in any way he can. Though Oliver’s exploits sometimes seem fantastical, the action and plot are eminently relatable thanks to Ayoade’s expertly crafted dialogue. It’s likely that many members of the audience might see glimpses of themselves in Oliver’s angst and gradual maturation, facilitating a moving yet witty and energetic story.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Netflix Movie of the Week #13: The American

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It’s been a good, long while since we’ve done a Netflix movie of the week here at Simply Film- and since there’s certainly no time like the present, let’s get back into the swing of things with this week’s selection, The American. Unbeknownst to many, The American is actually an adaptation of a novel entitled A Very Private Gentleman, written in 1990 by Martin Booth. The film comes to us from Dutch director Anton Corbijn, who is also slated to direct the upcoming thriller A Most Wanted Man, which, coincidentally, featured Philip Seymour Hoffman in a lead role- though, in light of recent and extremely regrettable events, the future of that particular production remains uncertain.

Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, and Thekla Reuten, the film tells the story of a gruff, professional assassin, Jack (Clooney), as he leads an exceedingly dangerous double life while laying low in Italy. The ensuing drama is an consummate example of atmospheric storytelling and a narrative that’s just dripping with tension and innuendo. The beauty of The American really lies in its subtlety and restraint, and you’d be amazing how much Corbijn is able to communicate to the audience through implication alone.

While George Clooney perhaps stoops a little to play the role of the stoic protagonist, he does it so well that I don’t really mind it. Likewise, if you can get past a bit of cliché towards the first half of the film, including the stereotypical, obnoxiously philosophical priest, there’s certainly a lot to love here. Featuring some absolutely jaw-dropping cinematography from Martin Ruhe, The American balances beautiful emotional intensity with austere, almost minimalist dialogue to produce a hugely engaging film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #12: Grave Encounters

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As a self proclaimed film critic, I feel that it’s my obligation to force my favorite genres on the masses whenever I get the opportunity. With James DeMonaco’s The Purge hitting theaters this weekend, I thought I’d share with you a horror film that isn’t awful, in order to compensate for The Purge inevitably sucking like a vacuum-powered prostitute. With that in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to a film almost no one has watched, despite it’s being one of the better horror properties of 2011. Grave Encounters is a mockumentary style film directed by Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, who are together known as ‘The Vicious Brothers’. The story follows a team of paranormal investigators as they shoot an episode for their reality TV show. Naturally, the mental hospital that the team is investigating turns out to be legitimately haunted and mayhem ensues.

Granted, the premise sounds like the quintessential cliched horror flick, and that’s because it is, but where Grave Encounters really shines is in it’s writing and it’s almost Blair Which-like suspense and tension. The film features a mostly ensemble cast starring people that you’ve never heard of, but performances are serviceable in as much as the actors know exactly what this film is supposed to be- a fun, scary, over the top stab at the horror genre. The dialogue is engaging and the banter between characters provides some welcome comic relief amid the teeth-gritting terror.

While the writing is very well done and the scares are fun and effective, what really stuck with me about this movie was the ending. I suppose it wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to reveal that the vast majority of the cast ends up dead by the end, but the film ends with the host of the ‘Grave Encounters’ TV program, played by Sean Rogerson, trapped in a pitch-black tunnel with a crawling blackness closing in around him on all sides. By this time, he’s gone through so much that he’s started to become increasingly unhinged. In the final scene, his madness really comes through and the audience is left to question whether or not the protagonist has become delusional under the influence of the very mental institution that he’s been trying to investigate.

Surprisingly, the film has gotten fairly poor ratings across the board, presumably because horror films, by definition, cater to a niche audience. It’s my advice, however, to ignore the ratings, as people in general are not to be trusted. If you decide to give Grave Encounters a watch, be aware that there’s also a sequel, Grave Encounters 2, which takes a much more tongue-in-cheek take on the property, in much the same spirit as Evil Dead 2.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #11: Coriolanus

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The Bard may not have spent much time playing Call of Duty, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the 2011 film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known-but-still-better-than-I-could-do works, Coriolanus. Coriolanus follows the rise and ultimate fall of Roman general Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he is betrayed and banished from his homeland. In anger, he turns to his sworn enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to help him avenge his punishment. The film, which has been adapted to modern times and is set in modern-day Rome, is director and star Ralph Fiennes’ first time in the director’s chair. Fiennes obviously set out to bring the story’s ever-present violence and betrayal to an audience that perhaps doesn’t connect with the more subtle elements of the Bard’s works.

And this film is certainly anything but subtle. The performances, production, and cinematography all work to heighten the tension, and I can safely say that it’s one of the more intensely-acted films I’ve seen in recent years. Though, from a pair of leading men best known as Lord Voldemort and Leonidas, what else could I expect? It’s been said that no actor could ever play Shakespeare’s words as well as they are written, but Fiennes and Butler certainly come pretty close. The cinematography looks great, and really lends itself to the intensity of the plot.

The film’s being set in the present-day definitely makes the incredibly complex Shakespearian verse clear and relatable. The only real fault I could find with this movie had to do with some plot points that seemed pretty out of place in the modern adaptation. It’s a little far-fetched to see soldiers dressed in full modern military gear running from room to room gunning down tactical targets like something out of a video game while calling each other “knaves.” In one scene, Coriolanus and Aufidius drop their weapons, have their men step back, and have themselves a good-old-fashioned knife fight, mono-a-mono.  Nitpicky hangups aside, Fiennes makes the plot flow smoothly and keeps things easy to follow.

Adapting a Shakespeare play to the modern era may seem, at this point, a tired cliché. Over the years, Hollywood has thrown at us dozens of less than phenomenal adaptations, perhaps most notably director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo & Juliet, starring a (shockingly) baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. But, although many of the problems that have plagued other modern-day adaptations can be found in Coriolanus, this particular adaptation manages to stand out for its intense cast and generally top-notch direction. It’s certainly worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #10: Black Snake Moan

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Well, it’s finally Friday, which means that it’s time, once again, to delve into that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Netflix online selection. This week, we’ll take a look at a film that I’d always heard good things about, but had never actually seen until recently. Black Snake Moan, directed by Craig Brewer, is arguably the best example of his work to date. Highly sexualized and intentionally provocative at times, Black Snake Moan explores the relationship between two individuals from opposite worlds as they share their suffering after being thrust together by a twist of fate.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci and including a cameo appearance by Justin Timberlake, the film follows the story of deeply religious Lazarus (Jackson) who finds sex addict Rae (Ricci) badly beaten and near death on the side of the road. Believing that it is his moral obligation to cure Rae of her sinful ways, Lazarus chains her to his radiator until she can prove to him that she has overcome her promiscuousness. What follows is a descent into the pent-up and suppressed suffering of both individuals and ultimately, they deliverance that they didn’t know they needed.

Jackson shines as the outwardly friendly but internally shaken Lazarus and performances can generally be commended all around. The surprising thing about Black Snake Moan, however, is that while the sexualization becomes almost fetishistic to a degree, it’s always done tastefully and adds weight to the story, rather than being a crass gimmick. Likewise, there is a gratifying amount of thematic subtlety to be found beneath the intentionally superficial sex. The soundtrack, likewise, is phenomenal, and plays heavily off of the bluesy influence of the deep south. If you’re looking for something a little different, yet still supremely satisfying, you could certainly do worse than Black Snake Moan.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #9: Y Tu Mamá También


 
This week’s Netflix Movie of the Week is Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También, A film which a few of us here at Simply Film consider to be one of our favorite movies.  Most famous for directing the third installment to the Harry Potter franchise, as well as his American film Children of Men, Cuaron started out making Mexican movies which he co-wrote with his brother, including Y Tu Mamá También.  While the film is highly sexual, and borderline crass at times, it’s a truly incredible film as it ties in themes of social commentary, friendship, morality and consequence, as well as one of the most interesting and well executed on screen love triangles I have ever seen.

After their girlfriends leave for the summer, a pair of rich teenagers, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), are enjoying a summer full of drugs, drinking, and debauchery when they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu).  Luisa is a beautiful woman in her late twenties, and the wife of Tenoch’s cousin.  After her marriage falls into turmoil, she takes the boys up on their offer to escort her to Heaven’s Mouth, a beautiful beach that the pair has fabricated in order to get Luisa to come with them on a road trip.

While it is very hard to explain the appeal of this movie, for one reason or another it is absolutely brilliant.  It works as many different films at the same time, be it a deconstruction of the obnoxious rich kid comedy or a pseudo-coming of age story all the while weaving in elements of socio-political criticism of Latin American.  Though at time the film does seem to hide behind a veneer of sex appeal, and even vulgarity, there is a lot of to get out of this movie.  I have seen the film a few times at this point, and I am impressed with it more and more on each viewing, if it doesn’t seem like the kind of film that would offend your sensibilities, it is absolutely worth checking out. This movie absolutely floored me. It’s a far more interesting film than I expected it to be with this premise, and is something I would highly recommend to all those interested.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Netflix Movie of the Week #8: In the Loop

As an avid movie goer, it always seems difficult to find a balance between intelligence and laugh out loud humor in comedies.  With that in mind, this week’s Netflix Movie of the Week is In the Loop, a British political satire from the people who are currently making the HBO show Veep. Poking fun of all the political nonsense that has been going on in recent year regarding involvement in the Middle East, In the Loop is a hilarious and over the top portrayal of what is wrong with modern government, or specifically the people who run it.

In the Loop is about a run of the mill government bureaucrat, Simon Foster, a minister of international development, who without thinking says he believes “war is unforeseeable” to a news reporter.  After scrambling to recover from the fallout of his gaff, Foster, the easily angered Malcom Tucker (Peter Capaldi), and a handful of interns travel to Washington D.C. to discuss the idea of British Military support for conflict in the Middle East.  While this all may sound incredibly dry, this movie is simply hilarious, lampooning the failings of modern politics while providing some of the wittiest, characteristically British dialogue I have seen in a good while.

The cast of this film is also pretty brilliant, and through a combination of strong comedic actors and writing, they are able to keep the movie moving at a decent pace, where this movie goes beyond simply being clever yet not actually funny, a problem that many satires suffer from.  This is not just a movie that you will smirk through, it is a legitimate comedy and not just a movie made for the purpose of making a statement.  If anything, the movie just breeds the feeling that most of the bureaucratic government system is completely absurd.  If you like this movie or think it is something you’d like, I would also recommend Veep, it is pretty similar and also a very solid comedy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5