As our biggest pre-summer TV series have begun to wind down (au revoir, Mad Men; see you soon, Game of Thrones), our attention can now be consumed by some new narratives. Here are some of our picks for the best and most interesting new offerings from Netflix streaming this month.
I’m hardly what you would call a John Wayne devotee, but William Wellman’s high-altitude thriller is sharp, and well-constructed. Wayne plays a burned-out co-pilot of a trans-Pacific flight who suddenly has to take over the plane and land it safely when his pilot loses it. If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, you have to imagine it was one of the many inspirations for the ZAZ boys when they made the ribald Airplane! a couple decades later.
Chris Pratt in Jurassic World, hitting theaters June 12th.
Sure, technically the 2015 Summer Blockbuster season started May 1st, but we figured we’d wait for the dust to clear somewhat before choosing the films being released over the next three months we’re actually interested to see. As always, there’s an enormous amount of glop to wade through, but if you can make your way through the swampland of crappy action movies, burnt buddy pictures, and relentlessly puerile comedies, there could be some real glories standing there on the slightly higher ground.
We’d love to rhapsodize something sweet and meaningful about spring, one of the all-time best seasons, but frankly, we’re sneezing and coughing so much from the pollen, we simply don’t have the strength. In any event, here are some of our picks for the best and most interesting offerings from Netflix streaming this month—all of which are delightfully allergy free.
The Last Waltz (1978) Martin Scorsese’s indelible concert film about The Band, performing their last ever show in 1976 is both an engrossing portrait of a group of musicians who worked together for 16 years, and a perfect time capsule of the era of Big Rock. Scorsese’s camera captures the magic of their on-stage performance—one that includes guest spots including everyone from Eric Clapton and Neil Young to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris—but also gathers a sense of the off-stage interaction of the band and what made them tick. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of their music, the film is a fascinating take on the delicate psyche of an artistic group collective—and its inevitable dissolution.
When approaching one of these glitzy PR gimmicks, best to go with an open mind. They are there to create synergistic buzz for their product, of course, offering you a list of preferred hashtags (#insidious, unsurprisingly, for one) should you find yourself wanting to, you know, engage your social media engines in the wake of the experience. But, as such, they are also there to blow your mind a little bit, just enough so that you’ll be sure to breathlessly tweet about the horrifying ordeal and make other folks in your network curious enough to check it out for themselves.
As a screenwriter, Alex Garland has achieved his greatest success working alongside director Danny Boyle in such notable sci-fi works as The Beach, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine. For his directorial feature debut, the 45-year-old native of London chose to make another one of his scripts, the complex and riveting sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, which has earned him high-praise and fawning early reviews. The film concerns a half-mad billionaire tech genius (played by Oscar Isaac), who brings one of his star programmer employees (Domhnall Gleeson) out to his massive, remote laboratory somewhere in the Pacific NW in order to test his latest creation: a stunning, robotic AI (Alicia Vikander), as beautiful as she is intelligent. As the trio spend time with one another it becomes clear the tension between the creator and his invention is far more serious — and dangerous — than either lets on at first.
In town to promote the film, the director generously held forth about his body of work, the first film he ever adored, and his fixation with Formula 1 cars.
We’re still a good two weeks and change away from The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the official start of the summer blockbuster season, if you can believe that. You might therefore want to take a deep breath and watch some solid programming in the comfort of your own home before we all descend into the cinematic chaos of the summer time. Here are our picks for some the best recently added films you can watch on Amazon Prime right now.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean’s timeless epic about a young British intelligence officer, who is assigned to the Sahara desert in order to gather intel on the Turks in WWI, is actually intended for the big screen—and we mean BIG, it was famously shot in 70mm—but is still a marvel even watching it on your flatscreen. It made a star out of Peter O’Toole and his piercing eyes, while establishing benchmarks for Alec Guiness and Anthony Quinn. In a field of would-be spectacles of the era, each claiming to be the biggest and best ever made (see: Cleopatra, Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments), Lawrence towers above the pack.
Here are some of our picks for the best and most interesting offerings from Netflix streaming this month.
Last year’s critical darling (and one much-appreciated by Ticket) is many things: an unconventional spook story, an examination of suppressed parental grief and rage, and an art-house treatment of the standard boogey-man myth. But mostly, Jennifer Kent’s film is straight-up scary as hell. Served best at night, long after the kid(s) have been put safely to bed.
“We totally just hacked the shit out of this, and it’s amazing!”
Last week, the good folks at theweek.com gave us a smorgasbord of what they called Netflix hacks to help improve your overall Netflix experience. While we technically wouldn’t call any of these “hacks” exactly, they do work as enhancers, broadening and strengthening your experience on the site. Here’s what they came up with:
1. Netflix Internacional: Perhaps you are a cultured, multi-cultural sort who would enjoy shows and movies from other countries not being shown in the States. This here browser extension, Hola, should have your bases covered. Essentially, it fools Netflix into thinking you’re based in another country, allowing you access to shows and films otherwise unavailable to you. As it’s technically not exactly on the up-and-up (and apparently Netflix doesn’t give this practice any kind of smiley face emoji), you are assuming a bit of a risk, but it’s your call to make.
2. Netflix Personalized: This is one for heavy users who would like more control over their Netflix experience. Brought to us by Lifehacker, the Chrome extension Flix Plus gives you all sorts of say on how the site runs for you: Check the IMDB/Rotten Tomatoes score, rate things by half-star (for extra precision), hide potential spoilers, and, most importantly, it allows you to filter recommendations so you don’t keep getting the same damn ones over and over.
The lo-fi indie horror genre has gotten a tremendous boost from the festival circuit over the last couple years. In 2014, we had the spooky, unleashed id of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, which premiered at Sundance a year ago; now we have David Robert Mitchell’s psycho-sexual predatory nightmare It Follows to savor after commanding runs at TIFF, Sundance, and Cannes (and the upcoming The Witch from this year’s Sundance lineup).
It Follows revolves around a simple yet terrifying idea: One night a young woman has sex with a relative stranger in his car and in the process, like a form of particularly virulent VD, a horrific phantom gets transmitted to her from her apologetic partner. This phantom can take any form—a friend, a family member, a complete stranger—and it moves very slowly and deliberately, but there is no escaping it. Once attached, it will track you down and kill you most gruesomely, unless you can pass it on by having sex with someone else. The phantom goes in order, so as long as enough other people end up between you and it, you can survive.
Very often if you see one film you really enjoy, you can find other films that echo some of the things you really loved about the original. Here, we round up five movies you should dig if you like It Follows.
Ils (Them) (2006)
If you like: Psychologically deft horror films that scare you silly.
Then you should like: The unfettered genius of David Moreau and Xavier Palud's film, which revolves around an equally simple premise: A young couple spend a weekend at a country retreat and are terrorized by a mostly unseen group of assailants.
Comparison: This skillfully rendered horror opus, a French-Romanian collaboration, works largely because of its incredible restraint. In other hands, it could just have easily been turned into some kind of super-graphic, sadistic gore-porn vehicle, but that's not at all what the filmmakers are after. Instead, they use every cinematic trick in the book to induce unending dread and anxiety from the audience. Every scene is honed, every movement of the camera is precise and exacting, and the result is a truly terrifying film that uses precious little in the way of gore to get its point across.
If you like: An indefatigable villain in constant pursuit of our protagonists.
Then you should like: James Cameron's hugely popular followup to The Terminator ups the action ante in almost every possible way.
Comparison: Instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the villain, he becomes the reprogrammed cyborg trying to protect young John Connor (Edward Furlong) from the new evil robot-from-the-future, the liquid-metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Slick, sleek, self-repairing, and utterly relentless, the T-1000 has all the qualities of the Follows phantom, but it's also inhumanly fast. How one defeats such an unstoppable opponent is the crux of the film's drama, and one not fully satisfied until every possible erg of thrilling action has been wrung out of the script.
If you like: A shape-shifting creature who can come at you anytime, from anywhere, with anyone's body.
Then you should like: John Carpenter's delectably demented remake of The Thing From Another World, which takes the basic premise of the original—a group of scientists in a remote Arctic outpost are forced to combat a terrible alien who can take the form of any creature it kills—and turns all the dials and knobs to 11.
Comparison: Hailed now as a horror classic, the super-gory and mind-splintering film was initially derided by critics and virtually ignored by audiences. But it has earned a surprisingly robust outpouring of devotion amongst horror fans in the more than three decades after its release. The scientists—led by Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley—never know whom they can trust and where the next incredibly horrific, gory slaughter will hit next, which, in turn leaves the film's audience in equal peril. Legend has it that even Russell and Carpenter weren't totally aware of whose body the creature was inhabiting at a given time, which lends the film an edge of real unpredictability, the horror genre piece de résistance.
If you like: Being inspired to extreme paranoia for an extended period of time.
Then you should like: David Fincher's dark thriller, which posits Michael Douglas as a rich, miserable businessman who suddenly gets thrown into a macabre and deadly seeming intricately plotted scenario hatched by a company who specializes in breaking down its participants hired by his younger brother (Sean Penn), who soon vanishes.
Comparison: The enjoyment of Fincher's film—in addition to seeing the Michael Douglas-rich-snob character he's so perfected over the years get broken into little pieces by the brilliant malevolence of the game-makers—is the wash of pure paranoia it waves over you. Before too long, you're trying to second-guess every detail of the plot, and every person Douglas's character encounters on his journey. In Mitchell's film, he often places the phantom deep in the background of a given scene, and has them gradually and inexorably move towards their victim in a way that the audience sees long before the protagonist. It's a genius idea, and forces you to scan the background of every frame, searching for the phantom.
If you like: Low-budget spookiness jump-started by young, psycho-sexual angst.
Then you should like: One of the seminal examples of the modern horror flick, another John Carpenter creation, and one of the more imitated and referenced horror films of all time.
Comparison: This was one of the films that established the new rules of the genre so gleefully sent-up by the Scream franchise back in the '90s. Carpenter's high-school kids, who are terrorized one Halloween night by the return of the twisted Michael Myers to his hometown after escaping an asylum, follow what would become several of the standard characters of the slasher flick: The cute nympho (P.J. Soles) who, along with a doltish boyfriend, are among the first to get killed; the bookish prude (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose sense of responsibility and practicality help keep her alive long enough for help to come; and the anxious doctor (Donald Pleasence), whose main job to reiterate just how dangerous and deranged the killer is. The strong implication—long held by Hollywood's bizarre rules of teen sexuality—is that sexually active youth are always the first to die, punished, if you will, for their hedonism, an idea plucked out and toyed with in Mitchell's film, who follows the ensuing perils of its heroine after her brief sexual tryst, but only after her lover turns out to be a spineless cad, who drugs her, warns her what's in store for her and furtively takes off, leaving the phantom inexorably on her trail.
It Follows opens March 27th at the PFS at the Roxy Theater (2023 Sansom Street).
Piers Marchant is a film critic and writer based in Philly. Find more confounding amusements and diversions at his blog, Sweet Smell of Success, or read his further 142-character rants and ravings at @kafkaesque83.
As reported by Amy Kaufman in the L.A. Times, Kevin Hart’s newest comedy, Get Hard, co-starring Will Farrell, made its world-premiere Monday night at Austin’s Paramount Theater for SXSW. Despite the goodwill the actors built up before the screening (both were on stage, making yuk-yuks with the crowd), the reaction to the film, which posits Farrell as a rich, white dude busted for a bunch of financial crimes and sentenced to hard time. He hires Hart’s character—whom he naturally assumes has spent time in the joint—to prepare him for his oncoming ordeal.
Apparently, even though it got major laughs throughout the screening, the post-screening Q&A with first-time director Etan Cohen started to go seriously downhill after one patron called the film “offensive.”