After last year’s Oscar season, I was so sick of biopics I wanted to puke. But for every Unbroken
, and American Sniper
, there’s a film like Frida
waiting just around the corner, or in this case, just around the Netflix instant streaming side-scrolling thing. Frida
—as in Frida Kahlo—manages to hit that biographical sweet spot by being both surprisingly informative and hugely entertaining in its own right.
After having sat through too many disappointing major Hollywood this year already, I delved into the Netflix instant streaming catalogue to find solace and to cleanse my palate, as it were. I had heard before of The Triplets of Belleville, but I initially dismissed it as the type of ponderous European animation that you’d need to be nostalgic about to properly appreciate. But, being the wild and free-spirited soul that I am, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a watch anyway. So imagine my surprise when I found Triplets to be one of the most weirdly absorbing and imaginative films that I’ve seen in a very long time.
The first film from writer, director, producer, and actress Lake Bell, In a World… is a near perfect indie comedy. With an all-star cast of B-list celebrities, many of whom co-star along side Bell in the hit web series Children’s Hospital, and Bell’s heartfelt and unique comedic voice shining through in every beat, In a World… is a supremely entertaining film that sets a high standard for the quality of Bell’s directorial work in the future.
Following in the footsteps of her father, Carol Soloman (Lake Bell) has high hopes of becoming the first female voice to break into the sexist and male dominated world of voice over. Though I do find the subject material particularly interesting after recently watching a great documentary about voice acting, I Know that Voice, the thing that really makes this film stand out are the dysfunctional, and seemingly genuine relationships between characters throughout the film. It’s rare for a film to exist without any stock characters, and yet even the secondary characters have their own little quirks to set them apart.
While demonstrates that she has some serious acting and writing chops, Bell is certainly not the only star of this film. Demetri Martin and Rob Corddry were bright spots of this film, offering both strong comedic notes and also giving a very organic and believable soul to this movie.
Rating 4.5 out of 5
This week, I’d like to delve into the work of one of Hollywood’s most polarizing filmmakers, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn’s filmography consists of a number of heavily stylized action/thriller films, including the Pusher
, and the relatively recent Only God Forgives
. This week’s Netflix feature, Bronson, is one of my personal Refn films and is a perfect example of how a little imagination can elevate a simple concept from simply ‘good’ to decidedly outstanding.
British actor Tom Hardy gives perhaps the best performance of his career as the titular inmate, Charles Bronson. The film focuses on the sensationalized, though still mostly accurate, life and subsequent incarceration of Charles Bronson as he copes with his brief stints of freedom, institutionalization, and turbulent love life. Bronson’s desire for notoriety is the impetus for his violent behavior, and his real-life brutality and savagery is offset in the film by some truly ingenious narration and surreal, dark humor.
At once a crime thriller, biopic, and dark comedy, Bronson is a film that is best seen for oneself. Endlessly imaginative and expertly written by Brock Norman Brock and co-written by Refn himself, the story is broken up between plot points and hugely entertaining asides in the form of Hardy’s minstrel-esque soliloquies. Bronson’s character really gives the impression that he lives solely for the sake of making a name for himself; it give him a purpose, without which he would be completely lost. The key is that Hardy’s portrayal is eminently believable and infectiously charismatic, even at his most brutal and sadistic, culminating in one of the most compelling anti-heroes around. As with many Refn film, the reason some may love Bronson is that same reason that some may despise it. Stylized in the the typical Refn fashion, the film is nothing if not a visual treat, and Hardy’s flawless performance is guaranteed to captivate.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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
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
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