Friday, November 20, 2015
Netflix This Movie! Vol. 156
The Punisher (2004) Unfairly dismissed in it's initial release, The Punisher is a totally satisfying action movie with one of the better late-career John Travolta performances (as the movie's villain) and a kick ass turn from Thomas Jane as the title character. Call me crazy but this might be one of my favorite Marvel movies.
Somm (2012, Jason Wise) So there is an insanely hard test that you can take that if you pass you’re named a Master Sommelier. If you are anything like me, you are aware that wine is made from grapes, there are white wines, red wines, some wine bubbles, and that is pretty much the extent of your wine knowledge. After watching Somm, allow me to show off some of my newfound knowledge. The Master Sommelier exam is made up of three parts: the service portion, the history and theory portion, and the tasting portion. In the tasting portion (considered the hardest), the test-takers are given several glasses of wine and, after tasting it, are asked to identify where the wine was made and made from. Out of all the documentaries that I have ever watched (and I’ve watched a lot), I have never been more engrossed with one that I knew nothing about the subject matter. It follows four guys as they set out and endlessly study to pass their test. They jump through so many hoops and have mentors and tutors that I couldn’t help but have an immense respect for their undertaking. This didn’t make me want to go out and drink wine and be a “wine guy,” because it’s more of a movie about watching these four individuals be so passionate about their goals and work to achieve something than it is about distilled grape juice.
Happy, Texas (1999, dir. Mark Illsley) This week I wrote about Steve Zahn, an actor who I believe makes every movie that he's in better by his presence. Netflix actually has a really wide representation of Zahn's work, from the serious drama of Rescue Dawn to the safe family comedy of Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care (if you listen closely, you can hear Murphy cashing his check) . However, I'm going with 1999's Happy Texas, which really puts Steve Zahn's charisma front and center and also stars Jeremy Northam, William H. Macy, Illeana Douglas, and Ron Perlman. Some people say this movie feels a bit like a Coen brothers film, which I think is mostly thanks to Macy's presence and the weird tone. Netflix classifies the movie as "quirky," and it really is, in the best sense. Full disclosure: the subject matter of Happy, Texas lampoons small town culture and features two straight men pretending to be gay. Even writing that makes me a little uncomfortable, but I believe the movie has a very positive message, not a negative one.
Call Me Lucky (2015, dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) I first saw this at last spring’s Chicago Film Critics Festival, and it has stayed with me ever since. Barry Crimmins was Bill Hicks before Bill Hicks: a profane, informed comic who was never shy about bringing politics into his act and exploring uncomfortable truths. This documentary focuses on the fact that for decades, Crimmins hid what was probably the most uncomfortable truth about himself. This film is honest and raw, taking a look at a situation that is sadly all too common, but director Goldthwait leavens the proceedings with much human sympathy and humor. The film features interviews with fellow comedians Margaret Cho, Dana Gould, Steven Wright, David Cross, Jonathan Katz, and Patton Oswalt. My favorite subplot involves Crimmins’ decades-long quest to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church, a campaign he still wages via Twitter directly with the Pope. This is certainly not the film to watch if looking for some light entertainment or stand-up comedy, but it is a great film nevertheless.
People Places Things (2015, dir. Jim Strouse) Like JB's pick, this is a film I caught at this year's Chicago Critics Film Festival back in the spring. It is very sweet and gentle and pleasant -- never challenging, but not forgettably lightweight either. Jemaine Clement is very good in a rare leading man turn as a dad trying to negotiate life after splitting from his wife. There are strong supporting turns from Regina Hall and The Daily Show's Jessica Williams, as well as a few funny jabs at improv comedy. As I was seeing the film for the first time months ago, I was thinking to myself that it was a perfect future Netflix This Movie recommendation.