About a year ago, I wrote a blog called First World Problems: “There’s Nothing Good on Netflix!” In it I addressed the common complaint that the most popular site in the world with which to stream movies indeed has no good movies. This claim is of course nonsense and I offered plenty of options for the curious reader to check out. Well, that blog entry is exponentially my most popular. It’s not even close. At least once or twice a day someone will google ‘there’s nothing good on Netflix’ and stumble upon the entry (it pops up usually as the second or third option, try it yourself.) Hopefully, it gives them some ideas.
So, to honor the first anniversary of that entry and to provide more ideas, I’ve decided to choose all my home viewing in the month of May from Netflix Instant. At the beginning of the month, the service dropped over a 1000 movies. The streaming rights had expired. A huge deal was made of this. It was referred to as ‘Streamageddon.’ But the site added several hundred more titles over the next several days. No one talked about this. No one talked about the fact that they’re continuously adding titles. Well, I’ve got no skin in the game. But hopefully if you follow along with this entry as I update it over the next month, you might find a few titles worth checking out. You’ll almost certainly find some turds as well. But you’ll never know unless you try.
1) All movies must be chosen from available Netflix Instant titles.
2) I can not presently own the selected titles.
3) I have to watch Fast & Furious and Fast Five to prepare for Six Fast Six Furious and since they’re not available on the service, I will ignore rules 1 & 2 for those films and those films alone.
May 1 Grave Encounters 2 C+
The first movie in the franchise is also available on Instant. It, like this film, is a ‘found footage’ tale and in it the crew of a basic cable ghost hunting show enters a purportedly haunted abandoned mental asylum. I actually thought it was a superior example of the genre. In this sequel, an aspiring collegiate filmmaker, making a documentary for a school project, is given information via an anonymous e-mail that the purported fictional first movie is in fact actual footage of the terrible fate of the original’s cast. He sets out on an obsessive quest that leads him and a group of friends to the hospital and the dark truth he’s been seeking. Worth a spin if you enjoyed part one.
May 2 Shakma C
Wow. What an odd little film. A bunch of actors more famous for other roles gather together a in the science building of a college campus to play some live action D & D. Their nerd fest coincides with the escape of a baboon who has been the subject of experiments in controlling aggression. The mad beast goes on a murderous rampage. The animal attacks become a bit repetitive as half the cast is wiped out in about a 10 minute sequence leaving the ‘big’ names to attempt to escape the building without drawing the attention of the crazy primate. It’s a pleasant enough diversion with a couple of chilling scenes. I was especially creeped out whenever the baboon ran on two legs.
May 3 Sleepwalk With Me B
Comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and stars in this comedy based on his Broadway show. It’s an autobiographical tale of his early years of struggling on the stand up comic scene while dealing with a failing relationship and a sleep disorder. I don’t recall seeing much of his stand up but I loved what I did see here and he’s very effective as an actor. The film does a great job of portraying the hardships for a touring comedian willing to take any gig and always working to improve their set. There’s a great supporting cast of familiar actors and fellow comics. While there’s nothing too deep going on, it is an honest portrayal of a rough patch in the creator’s life and that’s to be applauded.
May 6 Amber Alert C-
Another ‘found footage’ flick notable this time for it’s grounded and somewhat realistic approach. A man and woman, would be reality competition contestants filming audition tape while driving, spy a car that matches the description on the roadway amber alert they just passed. They follow the car so they can help the police save the little girl the driver has abducted. The pair, lifelong friends, begin to crack under the pressure of the responsibility, all under the watchful eye of her little brother, manning the camera in the back seat. The acting is nothing to write home about but it is a fun, at times chilling, exercise in ‘what would you do’ speculation.
May 8 The American Scream A
Halloween is quickly approaching in a Massachusetts seaside town in this documentary as three groups of people busily attempt to turn their homes into the ultimate scare factories. To their own kind, they are known as ‘home haunters.’ To a stranger, they might seem obsessive or odd. To the hundreds of kids who are delightfully scared by their displays, they are local heroes. One family strives for perfection. One family, inspired by the first, is just looking to have fun. And a father and son, attached at the hip, squabble while building a train wreck of a display. There isn’t an unlikable person to be found in the thoroughly enjoyable film.
May 12 FDR: American Badass C
A thin premise is stretched too far in this bit of throwaway comedy. Barry Bostwick plays the titular character, the famous four-term president who guided America through The Great Depression and the second World War. Turns out the reason he was in that wheelchair was because he was infected with polio from a werewolf bite while he was the governor of New York. Later he becomes President and fights the Axis Powers led by a lupine Mussolini, Hitler, and Hirohito, played to the stereotypical hilt by a trio of game actors. There’s some funny bits here but the humor is pretty wrung out by the final act.
May 14 Bachelorette B-
Women, as it turns out, are really quite terrible to each other. Or so this comedic endeavor would have you believe. Me and my guy friends like to bust each other’s balls but the women who comprise a bride and her bachelorettes are beyond the pale. Rebel Wilson plays the bride, the token ‘fat girl’ in a group of old high school friends who deride her mercilessly to her face and behind her back. The bridal party is hideous when together and their stories don’t really become interesting until they are separated by the crazy events of the night preceding the wedding. Bonus points for fun performances from Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott in a mini-Party Down reunion.
May 15 Truth or Die B
This Brit import (known over the pond by the more appropriate Truth or Dare) is a step up from the usual direct-to-video horror fare that can otherwise be found. The film centers on a group of university students who embarrass a classmate during an after semester party. The group rejoin after some months to attend the birthday celebration of the offended party. Don’t dig too deep into their questionable decision to do so. Just roll with the action and the tension as their host is revealed to not be who they though it was and they recognize the error of their ways. There are no real good guys here. Just bad people doing bad things to other bad people.
May 19 The Shrine B-
I watch a lot of straight-to-video horror flicks. I tend to give them a bit more leash than I do movies of other genres. This little flick was well on its way to a pedestrian distinction before taking a third act detour that elevated it and truly surprised me. So when a movie like this surprises me, I have to give it credit. The log line is pretty basic. A couple of journalists along with a boyfriend photographer travel to Poland to investigate the disappearance of an American tourist. The locals are not particularly thrilled with their presence. Turns out it’s a great place to live but you wouldn’t want to visit.
May 20 Hit & Run C+
Oh man. I wanted to like this a hell of a lot more than I did. It stars Kristen Bell, the once and future Veronica Mars, and her baby daddy, Dax Shepard. She’s teaching at a small California community college and he’s a former wheelman for a gang of bank robbers who turned state’s evidence and entered witness protection. Their romance is threatened by a job offer at a major LA university and by her jealous ex-boyfriend who discovers Dax’s true identity and tips off his old criminal cohorts who are led by an oddly dreadlocked Bradley Cooper. The film is at it’s best when focusing on the real couple’s on-screen romance.
May 23 Shotgun Stories B+
The first collaboration between director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon (Take Shelter and the excellent Mud comprising the latter two) centers around the feud between two sets of half-brothers after the death of the father they shared. Nichols is one of the best young filmmakers today and Shannon is quickly developing a reputation as an excellent performer. The film, shot in Arkansas, is a ‘slow burn’ that threatens to build to a violent, inevitable climax as the war between the clans escalates but I personally found the ending to be a bit too tidy and abrupt. Nevertheless, this study of how the sins of the father passes down to those he leaves behinds is well worth a visit.
May 25 The Thieves A-
Part revenge flick, part caper film and all kinds of fun, this South Korean import distills all the best bits of the Ocean’s movies into a tidy, surprisingly fast 2 1/2 hour delight. Popie and his gang decide to clear town after pulling off their latest heist and take a job in Macau set up by an old friend and rival. He’s enlisted an equally adept gang of Chinese criminals to work with the Koreans to abscond with a valuable diamond under tight security in a hotel casino. As so often happens with a good heist, things go bad and those who are still free or alive set out on a course of revenge that drives the film to its twisty, double-crossing conclusion.
May 26 End of Watch A
I’m not generally a fan of cop movies or at least uniformed cop flicks but, despite an unnecessary ‘found footage’ aspect to the film, this is the exception that proves the rule. Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal are LA beat cops working a tough neighborhood. Their star is on the rise as they make a string of daring arrests and heroic rescues. Their actions draw the notice of unsavory elements and they soon find themselves and their loved ones square in the cross-hairs of a vicious drug cartel. The interaction between the partners is spot on and genuine. You become invested in the characters and fearful for their future. Great flick.
May 29 Deadheads C-
A pair of the not-so-freshly dead awaken into a full-fledged zombie outbreak. The two men become acquainted and realize that they are much more coherent than their shambling brain eating kin. They don’t pause too long to consider this though because one of them has a mission: reunite with the girl he was going to ask to marry him, a proposal that was prevented by his murder. This buddy zombie road trip love story is occasionally clever with some decent gore for a low-budget independent flick but it never really clicks, or at least it didn’t for me. The acting is rough at times and the story feels a bit stretched. It might have worked better as a short film.
May 30 Jiro Dreams of Sushi A+
Jiro Ono is the master shokunin (craftsman) of a small 10-seat sushi bar located in the basement of a Tokyo office building. He is widely regarded as a master of his field and seats for lunch or dinner must be reserved months in advance. To judge from the beautiful, artistic sushi he offers his customers, he has achieved perfection. And yet, he always strives to improve his skill and to cement a legacy for himself and his sons who have followed him into this profession. His work ethic is beyond reproach. Some might see him as obsessed. I found him inspiring. This is a remarkable documentary about a remarkable man. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.
So…there you go. I watched fifteen movies on Netflix Instant over the month of May. I caught some direct-to-video horror, a few comedies, a nice rural drama, a killer monkey flick, one major release I missed in the theaters, a foreign flick, and a couple of great documentaries. And all of that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There’s plenty more fun stuff on my queue I haven’t gotten to and in fact it’s bigger than when I started this little project. So, I hope you’ll excuse me if I have to go.
I’ve got movies to watch.