Tag Archives: what to watch on Netflix

The Tiger Hunter

Sami’s dad, the tiger hunter, was a hero in his village, the most respected and venerated man around. He also made lots of sacrifices so that Sami could get a good education. Now that his father is dead and tiger hunting is done by the poachers, Sami (Danny Pudi) feels the only way to really honour his father’s memory is to move to America.

Unfortunately, the job he was originally offered has evaporated, and Chicago in 1979 is full of people just like him. In fact, the apartment in which he lives has 11, maybe 13 men with advanced degrees and no real jobs. That makes his plans for impressing Ruby’s The_Tiger_Hunter_2-e1486337559708-1540x811father much, much harder. Ruby is the dream girl he left back home in India. Her father is tough to impress and insists she marry someone successful in America. Sami takes a lowly position but needs to ascend quickly; he makes a friend in Alex (Jon Heder), who may not be the best person to attach his star to at work, but who offers insight on how to be a “professional American.”

The immigrant experience has so many stories to tell, and though we’ve got no shortage of immigrant movies, we’re still only scratching the surface. There’s a lot to admire in anyone willing to work so hard and dream so big just to have what most of us were born with, but few of these movies are also as funny as The Tiger Hunter is.

Director Lena Kahn makes her directorial debut with this film, which she’s also co-written. This being light-hearted fare, it doesn’t dwell too much on the difficulties of Sami’s coming to America, but it deals in enough cultural specificity and colourful detail that it feels both homey and true. And it’s also sort of fun to re-experience American culture, 1970s style, through a distinctly Indian lens. Tika masala and bell bottoms like you’ve never seen them before, all serving as a backdrop to a bunch of unemployed but brilliant engineers working together on the quintessential 1970s invention: the microwave. Who but a tiger hunter’s son would have the stripes?

 

Advertisements

Roxanne Roxanne

Imagine your surprise when you issue a challenge to (rap) battle the Queensbridge Project’s champ, and she turns out to be a little girl. She has to ask her mom permission in order to curse and stand on a milk crate just to look you in the eye.

In 1982, at the age of 14, Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden is smart, fierce, and is still the most feared (if not respected) battle MC in Queens. She won’t get out of bed for less than $250, but those winnings are going to support her family. Her mother (Nia Long) is raising a family of sweet young girls all by herself, teaching them hard lessons because her own life is nothing but disappointment.

Watching Shanté (Chanté Adams) navigate the world is tough. She may spit rhymes to MV5BOTM0MzhmMjUtY2UxMy00MTQyLWJhMzItN2EzYWRjYmZjMThhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODY2NTE3MTM@._V1_destroy her competition, but she’s a kid, one who engages the audience’s protective instinct. You may or may not know Roxanne Shanté, but she was well on her way to becoming a hip hop legend before she finished high school (not that she ever went). This film doesn’t feel like a typical musical biopic. Instead it’s more of a character portrait, quite intimate, and quite focused on the day to day details, which is a nice window into her little-known private life, but not much of a door to the bigger picture. Luckily, director Michael Larnell’s emphasis favours the excellence of his cast.

Roxanne Roxanne is a testimony to all the people who wanted to take advantage of a rising star. And to the dark, gritty, violent experiences lived by women of colour, in and outside of the rap game. Some of the shittiest, most shocking things are mentioned so casually that you can hardly believe what you’re seeing. And with every beating and robbery Roxanne Shanté suffers, we know what she really bleeds is her creativity, the real theft is of her talent.

When this film debuted at Sundance, Chanté Adams was its breakout star. Now it’s available on Netflix, for you to relive the golden days of hip hop (which are actually quite black) and to pay tribute to one of its founding but forgotten stars.

 

SXSW: First Match

Monique is not your average high school student. She acts tough and gets into a lot of fights. But it’s easy to judge someone when we don’t know anything about them. I’d say her home life isn’t good, but Monique doesn’t have a home. She has had a series of foster situations since her mother died that all end badly. Her father’s in prison, and she can’t help but daydream about the day he gets out and she can live with him and have some sort of regular life again. Until she runs into him on the street. The daydreams come to a crashing halt right about then. He’s out and hasn’t told her, hasn’t contacted her, and now that she knows – well, he’s not really amenable to her vision of their shared future (to be fair, he’s eating at soup kitchens and engaging in at least semi-criminal behaviour, so he’s not exactly capable of providing a “stable home life.”)

Anyway, poor Mo decides the only way she attract her dad’s attention, and maybe neutralize some of her school’s ire, is to join the wrestling team. There is no girls team so she joins the boys team, despite the protestations of nearly all of the boys.

First Match distinguishes itself from other similarly-themed sports movies because the team is not really Mo’s problem. If a little MV5BNWI5ZTc1MGEtZTU2Ny00M2QxLWEwNmItZDEwMzI0NDVlNjIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_adversity from the boys were Mo’s only problem, she’s probably feel blessed. Instead, Monique excels at the sport and it becomes a source of pride and power for her. Even if doesn’t win her father back, it’s earning her some self-respect, which she needs and deserves. Monique is obviously supposed to be some problem child, but it’s impossible not to sympathize with her.

There are no easy fixes, and the script is bold enough not to offer any. Life is stacked against this kid, and even if the viewer is the only one rooting for her, at least there’s that. I’d like to give her a hug if I wasn’t totally positive she’d roll her eyes at me for even trying.

This movie is grounded in realism that bites. The team becomes her de-facto family, but First Match still retains a sense that Monique is, if not lucky, at least relatively unique in her community because she knows her father and has him in her life. It’s tragic and depressing the lengths she’ll go to in order to keep him there; she’s got daddy issues, but at least she’s got a daddy. The premise seems to imply that this will be a movie about a lone girl in a male-dominated sport, but this turns out be an afterthought. But there’s a lot else to contemplate, and Elvire Emanuelle’s performance is not to be missed. Coming soon to a Netflix near you.

SXSW: Take Your Pills

Oh lord – I can’t decide what I’m more relieved about: not being a kid today, or not being a parent today.

Every era gets the drug it deserves, so says the movie’s clever blurb. This generation? This generation takes Adderall. Amphetamines have been around for a long time, but it’s never been more eagerly prescribed to kids than it is today, in the form of ADHD meds, or more abused by students who just like the feeling of being “zoned in” – hence its nickname, college crack.

I’ve never heard of a drug that made me feel old. But back in my day, we took drugs to turn off and check out, but kids today are taking it to check in. And that’s a pretty MV5BNWQ5NDYxNjYtODc4Ni00NmIyLWEyMGYtNGM0N2ZmYjgzYTliXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTg0MzU3NjM@._V1_damning comment on today’s hyper competitive culture in which young adults liken abusing prescribed drugs to drinking a cup of coffee. Like I said, amphetamines aren’t new: The Beatles took them, Andy Warhol took them, Vietnam soldiers took them in order to go, go, go. And then they became horribly addicted, and the drugs became controlled. Except now students are seeking them out as performance-enhancers, faking ADHD to gain an edge while taking the SATs, and getting their hands on drugs whether prescribed or not.

It’s not like this phenomenon was news to me, but being confronted by the statistics in this movie had me uttering “oh shit” with alarming frequency. And that’s what you want in a documentary: facts to open your eyes, and anecdotes to give them colour. Director Alison Klayman looks at the drug’s history, its effects, its draw, its efficacy, the truth and the lies behind it. This documentary takes an issue that may have been niggling at you for a while and makes it not just a headline but an easily digestible information bomb. There are ethics at play here, so ultimately Klayman provides the context but the judgements and decisions are still yours to make – but information is power, and if you’re willing to dose yourself a stimulant, the LEAST you can do is dose prescribe yourself a little reality to go along with it.

 

SXSW: 6 Balloons

Katie is having a busy day. She’s throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend and she’s got stuff to do: food, cake, balloons, the usual. Plus picking up her brother, Seth. Is this a good day for Seth to have relapsed on heroin? No it is not. Is there any right time to do that? Likely not. But it’s an especially bad day, seeing how Katie’s got a houseful of people waiting on her, and Seth’s 3 year old daughter Ella is along for the ride.

Yeah, I REALLY wish that last part wasn’t true. The thing is, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been down this road with her brother before. And she’d displaying the classic 6balloonsheadersymptoms of the caring sister who’s also sort of an enabler. Because instead of leaving him to get his shit together, she’s prepared to miss the party and spend the night driving around the dirtiest, sleaziest parts of L.A. to find her brother (Dave Franco) a detox facility, and barring that – well, something far worse.

This film accurately depicts the enormous toll that addictions take on the whole family – it truly is a family disease. Everybody plays their part. Heroin is no joke and someone withdrawing from it is in very sick, and possibly very dangerous territory. Any movie that has realistic portraying of drug use is of course going to be hard to watch, and for a lot of us, having such a young child along as a witness is just heartbreaking.

Sean left this movie quite mad at Katie, for her choices and her failures, but that’s what makes this movie interesting. Director Marja-Lewis Ryan allows us the space to sympathize with both characters and to come away with our own judgments – and it will be very hard not to judge. Addiction is a powerful disease and the truth is that most people will relapse. And it’s also true that drug addicts are judged far more harshly than, say, someone who has had a second or third heart attack – even though both diseases have genetic components, and involve some willpower over lifestyle. Nobody wants to be hooked on heroin, and no one wants to die coming off it. And Katie loves her brother but doesn’t know which choices will ultimately serve him better. Or when to say no. Or how to set boundaries. And of course drug addicts are infamous for pushing boundaries anyway.

6 Balloons is a mercifully quick ride at 74 minutes but it doesn’t let you off easily; it will pack enough horror into its short run time for 20 normal movies. But it’s not just horror, it’s also love. So much love. But is love what Seth needs right now?

You can decide for yourself: this movie will hit Netflix April 6.

 

A Futile and Stupid Gesture

A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a Netflix original film that takes some chances. Netflix knows it has some leeway for experimenting in film, and this one was a particularly obvious choice for a little outside-the-boxing. It’s a biopic of sorts for Doug Kenney, the founder of National Lampoon. He was a funny guy who coloured outside the lines and this movie is a fitting tribute to him; it keeps you guessing.

Told in retrospect and narrated by an older, wiser, omniscient Doug Kenney (played by Martin Mull) who watches the events of his life unfold with a little disdain and a huge grain of salt. This device allows for a fair amount of editorializing and joke making at his own expense.

Will Forte plays Kenney, ages 18-33, and despite the fact that he’s 46 in real life, he’s a A-Futile-and-Stupid-Gesture-trailer-700x300great choice. He can pull off the sadness and the savage humour, playing it straight, breaking the fourth wall, talking directly to us, talking to himself. Doug Kenney was the Harvard editor of the Lampoon, and he had such an epically good time just fucking around with his good buddy Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) he decided to just keep it going and took their little humour magazine national. And as if the phenomenal success of the National Lampoon wasn’t enough, they expanded into radio shows, during which they enlisted the talents of Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Christopher Guest, and Gilda Radner. And then they started writing movies like Animal House and Caddyshack.  And while some might feel content with having their dreams come true and writing the most successful comedy movie EVER, Kenney never can be. He tries to fill the hole in his heart by shooting stuff up his nose. It’s a circuitous route that doesn’t work very well, but  not for lack of trying.

Director David Wain assembles an incredible ensemble to help him out, and by incredible I mean, lots of recognizable faces, but not necessarily well-suited for the parts. Joel McHale gets to play Chevy Chase, and even though the two were on a TV show together for many years, it’s like McHale doesn’t realize he’s a real person with tonnes of footage on which he could base his performance. Instead he does Joel McHale in a bad wig and unless someone is loudly calling him Chevy, I forget which one he’s supposed to be.

I admire this movie more than I like it. I think it’s okay, and at times quite funny, and probably worth a watch if you don’t mind weird stuff. But the thing is, the writers and director are a complete mismatch. The writing is unconventional and wacky and striving for something extra but the director is a little more conservative and a little less inspired so the whole thing just sort of clashes awkwardly. Forte and Gleeson are kind of wonderful though – maybe a little futile, but definitely not stupid.

The Polka King

Jan Lewan, Polish immigrant, is a hard-working polka enthusiast. He works 18 day time jobs just so he can afford to keep touring the Pennsylvania polka circuit. His band, however, isn’t content to work for peanuts. In a bid to fatten their paycheques, he recruits some of his elderly fans to become “investors”, and he writes promissory notes guaranteeing a 12% return on investment. His investors are quite happy: Jan always finds new investors, so he can always cover generous quarterly payments. But then the FBI finds out.

polka-kingThe FBI gets one whiff of this and feel it must be some sort of Ponzi scheme. They shut Jan down, but since he promises it was an honest mistake, and to pay back his investors, problem solved. Except, in order to pay back his investors, he ends up creating a second, bigger scheme.

The thing about our Polka King is that he’s very, very charming. Jack Black is perfect to play him: guileless, open-faced, enthusiastic. Even when he’s dirty, his heart is squeaky-clean. Jenny Slate appears as his beauty queen wife, Jacki Weaver as his scowling mother-in-law,  and Jason Schwartzman as his best friend and bandmate, Mickey Pizzazz. The film bubbles with energy thanks to its cast, and Jack Black’s eyes are never not dancing. Black’s been honing his indie acting chops these past few years, and it shows. But it never hurts that this wacky guy is exactly in his wheelhouse. It just so happens that this wacky guy is a real person, and if you were a polka fan in the 1990s, especially around Scranton, you may have caught a performance. But even if you didn’t, now all you need is a Netflix subscription. The screwball energy is infectious…although it must be said: directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky seem to love their protagonist a little too much. But heck, I love him a little too much too. The Polka King is endearing and entertaining.  He may be conning his way into our hearts, but he’s there.

Band Aid

Once in a blue moon, Netflix offers up a rare gem. Band Aid is a Netflix diamond.

Written, directed, and starring Zoe Lister-Jones (who you may already love from Life In Pieces!), Band Aid is a little piece of indie cinema genius. It’s about a married couple, Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (king of indies Adam Pally, who you may already love from The Mindy Project), who on their last legs, relationship-wise. Even their therapist claims she’s moved to Canada just to avoid them. The fights are vicious, and cyclical. But while high as a couple of kites at a child’s birthday party, they discover the one thing that can still bring them joy: music. And so they start a band where they sing their fights back and forth in front of their sex addict neighbour (Fred Armisen), who conveniently is a drummer.

band-aid-2017-adam-pally-zoe-lister-jonesIn fact, music alone is not enough to save them. Turns out they’ve suffered a tragedy that neither has fully grieved, and singing about it is going to be very difficult since talking about it has been impossible for years. They’re still a broken couple, now they’re just putting all their dirty laundry on the stage for the consumption of others. A particularly ambitious dream of them getting a record deal never seems all that impossible because actually, their music is good, and fun (so long as you are currently in a good space with your loved one). Sean and I found ourselves communicating in that subtle hand squeezy way that some couples have when they are relating a little too well to the awkwardness on screen.

Now brace yourselves for a cool fact: for her first movie, Zoe Lister-Jones insisted on an all-female crew. Like, Adam Pally was the only man for miles and miles. Truly all female. And the thing is, the movie is so good that I buried the lead. It doesn’t need any gimmicks. Because when a normal film would just throw out the old male-female sick couple cliches, Lister-Jones keep asking why. Why do couples drive each other crazy over time? Band Aid might not have all the answers but it confronts the questions honestly, while still being an entirely entertaining movie.

 

Noel

This movie’s got more Oscar winners and nominees than most, so I can’t quite figure out how I’ve never heard of this movie before. Alan Arkin plays a creepy cashier who’s obsessed with Paul Walker, who plays a cop who’s crazy-jealous over his super hot girlfriend, played by Penelope Cruz, who thinks she may be pregnant with her crazy-jealous boyfriend’s baby and she’s feeling so insecure she confides in a lonely woman played by Susan Sarandon, who’s completely alone for the holidays other than her comatose mother and a complete stranger she meets while visiting another patient, played by Robin Williams, who’s an ex-priest having a crisis of faith.

penelope_cruz_noel_still_2004_OGXxLss.sizedThis holiday movie has something for everyone: spirituality, homophobia, reincarnation, crippling depression, dead babies, and more. But in its heart of hearts it’s really just about a bunch of people who don’t want to end up alone – on Christmas, on their deathbeds, in the world just generally. Some of us feel encumbered by all our obligations to friends and family over the holidays but others are completely bankrupt when it comes to people who care, and for them, the holidays can be really, really hard.

If you’re one of those people, maybe opt for something a little more cheerful. And if you’re already feeling cheerful, why bring a good mood down? This is possibly just too depressing for Christmas fare, and that’s not even counting the fact that it stars two men now dead in real life, one of whom also expires on camera. It’s a real corker! Contrived doesn’t begin to cover it; Noel is a stocking full of sadness hung by the chimney with despair. But it does have Penelope Cruz dancing around in lingerie, so.

 

Wakefield

Howard Wakefield is a cruel man possibly in the throes of a nervous breakdown – but let’s not let that excuse him. In a fit of selfish pique, he one day decides to leave his wife and kids – only not leave them in the traditional sense, but rather he decides to disappear without telling a soul. Which leaves his wife and daughters devastated, but not devastated enough, according to Howard, who in fact has not actually left but is hiding out in the garage so he can more effectively spy on his grieving family.

It’s not as creepy as it sounds – it’s way, way creepier. Wakefield is a difficult movie to watch because Harold is a nasty soul impossible to forgive. He talks to us, the audience, as if we can relate, but no Harold, we can’t. He has everything he ever wanted – ever Wakefield_Mingasson_2060.CR2cheated in order to get, but when he finds that it’s not enough, he doesn’t just abandon it, he makes it into a game, one that his family can never win because they don’t even know they’re playing, but even if they did, the deck isn’t just stacked against them, the rules are impossible. It’s not really his family that’s the problem – it’s Harold’s own dark, empty soul. And it’s terrifying to get glimpses of it as he spends months becoming a feral creature up in the attic of his detached garage. He risks starvation and exposure just to carry out this cruel little experiment. Is he missed enough? Grieved enough? His absence respected enough? No one can ever measure up – but Harold himself conveniently escapes his judgement.

Harold is brilliantly played by Bryan Cranston, which makes him riveting, but all the more loathsome to watch. But really it’s his wife who’s the most compelling – we see and experience her only through Harold’s narrow focus. Jennifer Garner has the difficult task of animating her, a woman who can never truly be real to us, even if we do project our own anguish and frustration on to her. I can’t say I enjoyed this film; it’s a bit dull and uneventful, but more than that, it’s just detestable. Harold is an anti-hero incapable of redemption. But there are two fine performances and ideas about marriage and identity that will challenge the least of us. Who are we really – are we fully knowable to our partners? And do we all have secret garage moments?