Friday, January 17, 2014

Netflix This Movie! Vol. 60

I just found out this week that my mom reads this column and uses it to get suggestions of what to watch. I hope we're all recommending stuff that's appropriate for MY MOM this week.

Adam Riske: Changing Lanes (2002, dir. Roger Michell) Changing Lanes is a bit more implausible than I remember, but I was still very impressed with this under-seen drama from 2002 starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. This was during the period where Affleck was being heavily mocked, which is too bad because his work here is really strong and understated. Samuel L. Jackson's performance in the movie serves as a reminder of what a great actor he can be when he's not on autopilot. In fact, every scene in this movie is buoyed by good acting. I love movies like this. Just look at some of the supporting cast: the late Sydney Pollack (who was the best actor ever at playing slimy men of status), Richard Jenkins, William Hurt, Dylan Baker and Amanda Peet (who has never been better in a movie). While a bit unpleasant at times (due to a premise where problems beget more problems for the two leads), Changing Lanes is still an entertaining, mid-level drama that is actually about something. I wish they made more movies like this today.
Erich: The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985; dir. Will Vinton) I watched this Will "California Raisins" Vinton claymation movie dozens of times in the late '80s, then not again until the other day. It meant a lot to me as a kid so naturally I was worried it wouldn't hold up. Even with my lingering nostalgia, it does.

The Adventures of Mark Twain is essentially a series of famous Mark Twain stories, animated and folded into a plot about Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher stowing away on an airship Twain has built for a suicide mission to intercept Halley's Comet. It's a weird movie. I don't know that it's for kids. For all its goofy characters and Twain-literate humor, there's a dark side—and I'm not even talking about the famous scene where the kids meet Satan. The film has an undercurrent of sadness. It deals honestly with themes of mortality and the loss of loved ones. I see it more as an adult than I did as a kid. I'm sure I was affected by the sequence where Adam and Even grow old together and she dies, but I wasn't married then. I had some idea of what death meant, but the power of Twain choosing the way he wants to leave the world went over my young head.

There aren't any other movies like this, clay animated or otherwise. It's clear Vinton and his team poured all their effort into every frame. Even if some of the character designs are rough, the detail and artistry in the sets and set-pieces is remarkable. It's a shame no one talks about this movie. For years I thought I'd never see it again. Now it's on Netflix. I get why some of you don't want to watch The Baby, but there's no excuse not to watch The Adventures of Mark Twain. It deserves to be seen.
Heath Holland: Sunset Strip (2012, dir. Hans Fjellestad) This documentary centers around The Sunset Strip, the famous (and often debaucherous) mile-and-a half strip of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood, California. The film regales the viewer with tales of old Hollywood from the '30s through the '50's and then shows how clubs like The Whisky A Go Go became counter-culture hubs during the '60s. Finally, it shows the importance of the Sunset Strip on the stand-up comedy scene of the late '70s and '80s. It also features nearly everyone who was ever in a thing that you watched or listened to. Seriously, it has a ton of celebrities. Witness: Keanu Reeves driving The Strip on a Harley! Thrill to Johnny Depp (seemingly dressed as one of The Village People) discussing his ownership of The Viper Room and referencing Johnny Cash by his first name! Reminisce as Mickey Rourke recounts how Schwabs Pharmacy used to have an old-fashioned soda fountain that he loved. Seriously, I love this documentary; it's currently one of my favorite things. From the bad boys of the movies to the rock stars of legend, most of my heroes were born on The Strip; I loved it long before I ever actually set foot on it, and this documentary really shows why. Also, stay tuned for the closing credits, which are an animated who's who of Sunset Strip celebrities from Clark Gable to Charlie Chaplin.
JB: Good Burger (1997, dir. Brian Robbins) Tired of all the Oscar hype? Check out this silly movie with its heart in the right place. Good Burger is simple, so you don't have to think. Good Burger features a crazy, method performance by Kel Mitchell. Good Burger has a plot that was later stolen wholesale by the makers of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Good Burger also features one of the funniest "punch lines" in the history of movies for young adults. Watch it now on Netflix Instant and "get the jump" on the upcoming Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release.

OK, I made that last one up.
Mark Ahn: A Company Man (2012, dir. Sang-yoon Lim) We mentioned this one on the Prestige podcast. Director Sang-yoon Lim also wrote this story about a quiet, polite, unassuming white collar office worker. We see him going about his day, mentoring a younger employee, drinking his coffee, and then it gets weird because he's a hitman, and the company he works for are guns for hire. He's perfectly content until an accident on a job forces him to take responsibility for his criminal actions, and makes him re-think his priorities.
Patrick: The Act of Killing (2013, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer) Just last week, I named this documentary my third favorite movie of the year. Yesterday, it was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar. But the recommendation from me is more trustworthy. You will never see another documentary like this -- upsetting, sad, absurdly funny, haunting. If the last few minutes don't leave you shaken, you are unshakable. Absolutely one of the very best movies of the year.

(*Mom - You would probably like Adam Riske's recommendation best.)

23 comments:

  1. Great suggestions everyone - a friend of mine just recommended Sunset Strip - said it really made her want to visit LA. And I don't know what I've been waiting for re The Act of Killing.

    Oh, and Patrick if you could drop by some time and pick up all of the sex toys and drug paraphernalia you left at my brothel, I'd appreciate it.

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  2. I saw The Adventures of Mark Twain many years ago and it very much freaked me out. In a good way, though. Will Vinton's animation is wonderful, and I still watch that Claymation Christmas special every single year. This year I may watch the Easter one, too. His animation was completely unique. Kind of haunting, if that makes sense.

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    1. I love that special's intermittently solemn and jazzy rendition of "We Three Kings"! :)

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    2. It's still freaky, but that off-kilter feeling matches the tone of the film. It's hard to call the art design "beautiful" but it really is.

      Am I crazy to think this movie is under the radar? I don't hear people talking about it.

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    3. I think it's under the radar. I've only heard one person mention it in the last decade or so, and I had forgotten all about its existence until this. Now I really want to watch it again.

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    4. Ive never heard of this one. Sounds intriguing. Are the Christmas specials you are talking about the ones with Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost and Rudolph i.e. the one Mr freeze sings along to in Batman and Robin.....(look at me go with my sophisticated cultural references)

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    5. Brad, we're talking about this Christmas special done by Will Vinton in the mid-'80s:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0j1QxVM9ww

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  3. Oh, and hey to Patrick's very cool mom! My mom would have asked me to rename the site "hey, this movie."

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    1. Oh yeah, and Patrick, I never said thank you for holding onto those cigarettes/alcohol/drugs and/or porn for me back in high school

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  4. It is exchanges like this which is why I agree that Good Burger is kind of awesome.

    Dexter: I don't even remember what my dad looks like.

    Ed: I don't remember what my dad looks like either, but at least I get to see him everyday.

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  5. For the first 95% of its running time, Changing Lanes is a powerful and at times brutal look at how ego, pride, and especially anger can lead relatively sane men down the road to destruction. The film's depiction of Samuel Jackson's "dry drunk" is especially perceptive. Unfortunately, the movie completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) sells out in the last few minutes to give us a happy ending. The whole damn point of the movie was that for these guys there can BE no happy ending because of their actions. Ah, studio notes...

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    1. SPOILER for Changing Lanes

      I agree. I'm not as bothered by the Samuel L. Jackson arc (because Affleck goes to Jackson's wife and tells her what he did) but the Ben Affleck one is more problematic for me. Can you imagine what his work environment would be like from that point on? It would be horrible and his marriage is pretty much wrecked too. I don't get why he wouldn't just want out of it all completely.

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    2. Because he's going to be a GOOD evil executive, Adam! I'm sure he'll only use his power for good things, right? I mean, he's shown such stellar judgment up until now.

      Endings like this remind me of those old Greek plays where a god would just show up at the end and fix everything, Deux ex machina? This is Studio ex machina.

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    3. My biggest issue with CHANGING LANES (and it's been over a decade since I've seen it) is that one of the characters lights a piece of paper on fire to set off a sprinkler head, which, in turn, sets off the entire building's sprinkler system. Um, THAT'S NOT HOW FIRE SUPPRESSION SPRINKLERS WORK!

      I am the only one bothered by this.

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    4. Stop complaining about my pick this week! I know what I'm doing :-)

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  6. I wanted to see The Act of Killing when it was playing at the music box, but I didn't. I will definitely be watching it tonight.

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    1. Try not to throw anything at the screen.

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  7. After listening to the Prestige podcast I meant to post and back up Mark Ahn's appreciation of A Company Man. Sure, not as good as The Man From Nowhere, but that's a high bar. I could watch any movie from this genre (and have) so my perspective is skewed, but if you like these Korean thrillers with a mysterious and badass lead, then see it.

    Do I need to recommend something on this post? Seems likely. Headhunters is a fantastic thriller out of Norway. Much different than the Koreans, but no less thrilling.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I did have a fleeting thought that it did seem a little too similar to other Korean gangster movies I'd been watching, but 1) I've been watching a lot of them and 2) I decided that I didn't care because I like them.

      HEADHUNTERS has been on my queue for a long time; I'm going to move it up a bit.

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  8. I started to watch Act of Killing the other day. I got distracted with some stuff that came up, missed too much so didnt continue at the time, but I liked what I saw. i felt really uncomfortable for the guy who tells the story of his stepdad to the group at the first shoot. There is a moment he realises that he probably shouldn't be telling that story but he's gone to far to stop, then with the simulated killing immediately afterwards, i swore I was about to see a snuff film. very realistic. very intense and  uncomfortable.

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  9. I actually went with Mark Ahn suggestion this week and gave A Company Man a whirl and man what a fun time. Its a simple story but at a brisk 95 minutes that's all you need and the action scenes are really well shot. I am starting to believe that all the best straight up action movies are coming from Asia, the last straight up non superhero/comic action movie I can remember seeing and enjoy was Arnold's The Last Stand (which is directed by Kim Jee Woon so I'm not sure if that counts). Come on America I want some good action movies, I can't watch Burn Notice reruns forever.

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    1. The Koreans are a little bit crazy, man. For whatever reason, there are certain inhibitions missing (mostly about intensity), although I can't quite put a finger on which.
      Just re-watched DREDD the other day, and that was a good time. While the Fast & Furious franchise is on hold, Jason Statham is still alive and kicking ass

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