With the growing popularity of Netflix instant streaming in the U.S. and its most recent arrival into Canada, we at Row Three would like to highlight some of the great choices available at the press of a button.
Summertime (David Lean)
Director David Lean is perhaps best known for his epic films such as Doctor Zhivago, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Lawrence of Arabia, to name a few, but for me one of his greatest works remains one of his lesser known ones, his 1955 love letter to Venice, Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn. Summertime is a refreshingly honest depiction of Anglophone abroad storytelling that consecrates onscreen the multifaceted nature of traveling with its strange mix of the mundane and the glorious. Where a lesser film would editorialize the experience and keep only salient moments to document, this journey into Venice takes in the complete panorama including the quiet moments like leisurely walking to the hotel, or basking in the first morning before all the possibilities. Filmed entirely on site, Summertime seems every bit as rich and sensuous as I imagined Venice would be, which is an incredible feat considering that this was made in 1955 Technicolor and yet this deficiency works in a histrionic way to sheath the visuals in a nostalgic light. As a closer, in a single take Lean establishes one of the best endings to a picture I have ever seen, one that compliments as a perfect book-end everything established in the beginning. Highly, highly Recommended.
Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg)
In my favorite mumblecore film, Nights and Weekends, Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg star as Mattie and James, an amorous couple that must confront the challenges of a long distance relationship. Nights and Weekends is not afraid to show sex explicitly and use the body language as a means of getting to the emotional distance of the characters. In the case of Mattie and James, a relationship fueled strongly by libido, the question arises whether they can cope on affection alone over the long weeks they spend apart. Beginning and ending with fairly explicit sex scenes, the intimacy or lack thereof between the two tell us volumes of where this relationship is heading. Highly observational and candid, Nights and Weekends is a bounty of body language and character tics that ring so damn true to me, though slight in story it pays off in the fine details. Ultimately, there is a forlorn nostalgia to the film that some may identify with (“the one that got away”).
it! (USA & Canada)
Ghidorah (Ishiro Honda)
You have to love a movie that features two giant monsters (one a lizard, the other a pterodactyl) fighting it out by bouncing huge boulders off each other’s heads. Or one that features a massive caterpillar latching on to the tail of a fire breathing three-headed space monster. Or one that includes miniature twin fairies who can break up assassination attempts, star on TV and sing distress calls to farflung creatures. So what if one movie had all those things? You’d have Ishiro Honda’s “Ghidorah” – a goofy, fun-filled romp of a movie that moves from one odd scene to the next. The giant monsters don’t even come into the picture until the second half of the film, yet there’s still enough strangeness before they do to fill several movies. From an ancient Martian taking over the body of a young princess and forcing her to jump out of a plane before it explodes to insane “scientific” theories about warps in space that can enable a person to safely land on the ground after jumping out of said plane, this is a movie that knows where it stands. So by calling it “goofy”, I’m not trying to denigrate it as a bad movie that doesn’t know what it’s doing. Honda knows exactly what he’s doing – this is pure Saturday afternoon movie house entertainment. The plot is absolutely contrived to lead to a final perfect storm of monster carnage – Ghidorah must battle Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra if it plans to decimate planet Earth in the same manner as it did Mars so many millennia ago. While Honda’s earlier efforts had a strong focus on the consequences of humanity playing with atomic weapons, “Ghidorah” doesn’t seem to care so much about making any kind of wider statement. This seems to free up the movie to be what it really wants to be – a good old fashioned “give the people what they want” picture.
American Grindhouse (Elijah Drenner)
Narrated by Robert Forster, this straightforward look at the history of grindhouse cinema in the U.S. is short, but constantly entertaining – even for those who know pretty much all the history the film covers. It’s by no means exhaustive (how could it be after all?) and skips over certain sections and films far too quick, but before you can bemoan what they could have done, the film is already pulling you into another part of the long backstory – from Edison’s films (to paraphrase Eddie Muller: 5 seconds after film was invented, someone was asking a woman to take her clothes off for the camera) through the Hayes Code, film noir, “cuties”, “roughies”, blaxploitation, porn, gore and a myriad of other exploitation, the film may not teach much to fans of the genres, but it’ll likely entertain them. There’s not much new to the style of the documentary, but it chooses good clips and has informative, interesting interviews (along with Muller, Eric Schaeffer and Kim Morgan fill in some of the historical notes, while Joe Dante and Jon Landis provide their typical enthusiastic personal perspective and many filmmakers also join the fray). It’s occasionally frustrating that some topics and eras are glossed over so quickly (a 2 hour run time could have easily been sustainable), but it doesn’t detract from what’s there.
Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro (Hayao Miyazaki)
An often neglected addition to Miyazaki’s impressive oeuvre, his directorial feature-debut is not his greatest film, but it is certainly worthy of your attention. The Castle of Cagliostro is based on a popular Manga series which had already spawned a couple of films and TV shows so doesn’t have the fresh sense of wonder apparent in films like My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away, but what it lacks in imagination and originality it more than makes up for in shear entertainment value. It’s the set pieces that impress the most, especially a frenetically paced car chase early on in the film – it’s no wonder that Steven Spielberg is known to be a massive fan of the film (or so it’s marketing would lead us to believe). The excitement is also cemented together by an immensely likeable lead and some amusing side-kicks who keep the audience entertained in between all the fireworks. Unpretentious, old-fashioned and a hell of a lot of fun (if a tad too long), The Castle of Cagliostro is more than just a film for Miyazaki completists, it’s a family friendly, action packed treat that should be in everyone’s Netflix list for that rainy Sunday afternoon.
Very Bad Things (Peter Berg)
One of the most outlandish and fucked up [fairly] mainstream movies I’ve ever watched. Through a series of increasingly terrible choices made by increasingly insane individuals, you get a full week of absolute, “I can’t believe they went there” moments of shock and awe that are so outlandish and sick they actually become pretty funny. Not a movie I’d take a first date on and not the most subversive of films ever made, but as for one that should surprise you around every corner with laughable, OMG! moments, I can’t think of many more titles more insane than Very Bad Things.
Ondine (Neil Jordan)
Colin Farrell takes a more subdued approach in this beautiful mood piece from Neil Jordan. Shot entirely on location off the gorgeous coast of Ireland, it’s somewhat of a homecoming for Farrell who plays his everyman role with in top form with an understated yet captivating performance. If it’s action or fantasy you’re looking for this ain’t your bag. Though there is an element of the fantastic possibly at play here – the story weaved is quite the illusory web of fantasy meets reality. We’re never sure what to believe as the story progresses. Like Finding Neverland, we want to believe, but as adults we know if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. Jordan seems to understand this and teases us with “what-ifs” and comforting possibilities and impossibilities. Definitely a slow burn of a film and not without flaws, but in the end leaves a pleasant feeling and general appreciation for the technical craft and a caring for all the main characters involved.