02 November 2014

Gems of Netflix Instant

For now, this is a short list, but I'm putting up this post as a place to keep short reviews of surprisingly-good obscure films available on Netflix Instant View.


I hesitate to say too much, because I saw it on Max Landis' advice ...

go in knowing nothing. no trailer. not even genre.
... which proved to be wise. But my mission here is to provide a review which tells you whether you want to see the movie. It's not for everyone, but it's a terrific little film in its way.

It's sort of a psychological horror film. That is a somewhat misleading genre description, but serves well enough to tell you if you don't want to see the film.

There are no jump scares. No frightening or disturbing images. There isn't even spooky music. Just some scary ideas that the film admirably takes its time setting up for us.

A big part of the charm is its zero-budget cleverness. It was obviously made on a shoestring, very simply shot and assembled using the simple tricks of post-production that a filmmaker on a budget can achieve with cheap software on their laptop. It asks very little of its actors other than being not-awkward on screen, though it gets quietly good performances out of all of its major players. Being able to achieve so much with so little makes it a treat for a cinephile.


A perfect mid-budget science fiction action movie. I've been meaning to write a long post about it for years, but a short review will suffice for my purposes here.

The film is a weird cocktail. Like a good pop song, it revisits a bunch of familiar moves but makes that familiarity not tired but part of its satisfactions. There's dystopian imagery lifted from 1984 and Ira Levin's This Perfect Day, including some great use of location shooting in ugly concrete Eastern European buildings. There's preposterous fight scenes featuring a martial art called “gun-kata” which is exactly what it sounds like, but they work in the context of the film.

Fun to watch, and just smart enough.

The Trip

Part food-porn travel movie, part windy comic actor's showcase, this movie mostly exists to give the wonderful Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon an opportunity to banter, though there's also an affecting core of character drama that sneaks up on you. The bit where they argue over who does the best Michael Caine impression is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

The Believer

This scary, compelling little film emerged from the director reading about an American neo-Nazi who was Jewish. What could possibly motivate such a person? The film offers a plausible-feeling answer in its protagonist, played by a magnetic and not-yet-famous Ryan Gosling.

The Station Agent

A charming, odd little character study that is the kind of thing one hopes for when going to see a “quirky” independent film. It's full of funny, human performances, low-key humor and drama, and inventive little bits of cinematic storytelling. Seeing it made me smug about knowing what a terrific actor Peter Dinklage is before Game of Thrones made him into a celebrity.

Punch-Drunk Love

Director Paul Thomas Anderson describes this film as his own entry into the genre of “Adam Sandler movies”. And it does star Sandler and it does hit all the notes of Sandler's personal mini-genre ... only it's shot as if by David Lynch, surreal and disjointed and horrifying. Small wonder that few people have seen it.

It's not entertaining, and I'm not sure I even could claim to have liked it, but it surprised and amazed me at every turn, so that I sure am glad I saw it.

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