The Netflix b-list
Netflix instant viewing has been both a blessing and a curse for an indecisive movie fan like me. Finally the video store has come to your living room and I, for one, am a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes, I’ll lose a whole hour of my life to aimlessly scanning the catalogue finding myself attracted to so many movies of so many genres, that I don’t know what to pick. I’ve seen some interesting things via instant viewing in the last year, some old and some new. Below is a list of the five most interesting flicks I saw via Netflix in 2010. Here’s hoping that 2011 yields some similar finds.
- The Yakuza (1975)
Michigan’s own Paul Schrader set a Hollywood record by selling the script for this neo-noir for a cool $325,000, a record at the time. Tough guy Robert Mitchum plays Harry Kilmer, a retired detective who heads to Japan to rescue the daughter of an old friend, who has gotten caught up in the Yakuza aka the Japanese Mafia. This is a tough flick that features some pretty heavy and complex themes but doesn’t skimp on the action. The finale featuring Mitchum storming a dojo full of sword-wielding henchmen with a shotgun in one hand and a revolver in the other is the stuff that pulp fiction is made of.
- The Plague Dogs (1985)
From the makers of that Watership Down cartoon that creeped you out as a kid, comes another weighty and disturbing animated film about the politics of the animal kingdom. Rowf and Snitter are two dogs who escape from an animal research facility only to find themselves not only ill-prepared and shell-shocked by the realities of nature but hunted by their former captors as well. This is a film that opens with a dog drowning during some macabre experiment so that sets the tone right there. As depressing as it is, The Plague Dogs is an emotional and fascinating movie. It’s interesting to see animation used to tell a truly adult story (and not in a Ralph Bakshi adult way). The sullen voice work by the likes of John Hurt only adds to the somber tone. Be sure to give your dog a couple of extra hugs after watching this one.
- Zardoz (1974)
Have you heard of this before? I can’t say I truly recommend this movie, but you have to see it!
John Boorman followed up his Deliverance (1972) success with this bizarre and off-putting sci-fi flick. In the post-apocalyptic future (of course), life is fairly primitive and Zardoz, a large stone head that floats through the air, preaches his own updated gospel, which goes a little something like this:
The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth . . . and kill!
Anyway, Sean Connery runs around the whole film in a red diaper and a ponytail and the film gets more and more incomprehensible as it goes along. And it’s all so damn serious! This one is seriously strange and it’s hard to believe that Connery or Boorman could have done this with a straight face. This is alcohol-required viewing.
- Bronson (2008): Two years before he was a bad-ass in Inception (2010), Tom Hardy was a bad-ass in Bronson. Hardy gives a fearless and remarkable performance as the titular character, Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Charlie Bronson has spent 35 years behind bars, at least 30 of which were in solitary confinement. Bronson is such a fascinating character and Hardy plays him with such gusto that you are liable to get as lost in the character as Hardy does. It’s a raw and harsh flick and not for the squeamish but Hardy is a revelation here.
- Centurion (2010): Neil Marshall follows up The Descent (2005) and Doomsday (2008) with another adrenaline-fueled flick that’s filled to the brim with testosterone. In Ancient Rome, the famed Ninth Legion finds itself decimated after an ambush by enemy forces, leaving only a few survivors trapped deep behind enemy lines. Think of it as The Warriors in ancient Rome as the ragtag group desperately try to make it home. There are more beheadings, slit throats, and dismemberments than Gladiator and Braveheart combined (if you’re into that sort of thing—and I know I am!) and the brisk pace and solid production values make this one exciting flick.