Archive for the “Streaming” Category

GOOD WORK
1999

July 13, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / Italian / Russian
90 Minutes
Drama
Claire Denis [Chocolat]

Dreamy, beautiful story about the French Foreign Leigion in Djibouti. Mostly wordless, though sometimes with voiceover that doesn’t match what we see on screen. Excessive and oppressive routines for the soldiers who seem to need it for their psyches. Men from the world’s different cultures must learn to co-exist and work together through discipline. Directed by a woman, this might be the gayest straight film I’ve ever seen. The men are almost always photographed shirtless and sweaty, in tight shorts, doing manual labor or Tai Chi or cathesthenics. But how beautiful they are. On a dusty outpost far above the ocean, they seem to be training for a fight they’ll never have. Their leader, who seems to partake in every form of physical exertion his men are forced to, has them doing tasks with dubious military benefit. They break rocks and march through lava-like landscape. The plot is nearly non-existent, save for a superior who asks a grunt his name and background, which gets the leader angry (or is it jealous), which leads to a showdown between soldier and superior. Note to self: don’t talk back to guy in charge of unit.

Worth watching alone for the photography and the final ten minutes which is either symbolic or literal, but is trippy either way. If you are a homosexual man, put this on the top of your Netflix Queue. You won’t be disappointed.

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BEAU TRAVAIL is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

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Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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9.1 Metacritic
6.9 IMDB

Beau Travail @ Amazon

BEAU TRAVAIL

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THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN
2008

Netflix Roku
USA
English
105 Minutes — May 30, 2008
Documentary / Sport
Chris Bell
12 Month Movie Pace: 152

Entertaining documentary about the hypocracy of America’s relationship with steroids. The main facts can be narrowed down to two. 1) What if steroids aren’t actually bad for you; and 2) If they are bad for you, why don’t we better regulate other drugs which are much more dangerous, but used much more widely and therefore encouraged, much less tolerated?

Chris Bell is the middle of three boys born in upstate New York. They come from a big-boned family. The oldest got a nickname early of “Mad Dog” because he got in fights with schoolmates who called him fat. The younger one had a learning disability and ended up with the nickname “Smelly”. They all became obsessed with TV wrestling to the point of putting on shows in their basement and even performing in school talent shows.

Then Mad Dog went to play college football where he was all but ordered to begin taking steroids. Which he has never stopped to this day. He is now 35 or so. He also had a career in the WWF as one of the guys who lets the stars beat up on him in the ring. The director turned 18 and moved to California to attend USC and to work out at the fabled Gold’s Gym in L.A. where his hero, Arnold, used to work out. His dream of WWF glory never panned out. Smelly is also a steroid user and competes in powerlifting competitions. (We see him bench press 705 pounds–unbelievable).

Somehow the Bell boys are a perfect “normal family” example which plays off well with all the well-known examples the director finds of steroid obsession. Bonds, Maguire, Conseco, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, Hulk Hogan, as well as porn stars, Air Force pilots, Congressmen, psychiatrists, and medical doctors of all stripes. The medical doctors to a person are confident that steroids are as safe as any other treatment and can’t understand the mania around them. Congress spent more time talking about steroid use in baseball than Hurricane Katrina or health care.

Bell goes to an anti-aging clinic (really a chiropractor) where after a few rudimentary tests, which he does himself, he gets a package in the mail of injectable steroids. He visits researchers, Olympians, parents of teenage suicides, Mexico, a supplement store, and he even creates his own supplements with the help of three day laborers from the local Home Depot. For $4 worth of supplies, he can sell a bottle for $60 and there is absolutely no governmental regulation. He visits a photo shoot for a fitness magazine, he gets two pictures taken ON THE SAME DAY for a before and after mockup. Pouty bad posture before–smiling, spray tanned, shaved, and flexing after (along with some photoshop work).

What I’m saying here is he gets so many different perspectives on the need for Americans to look and perform their best (legally or illegally) that it’s a wonder he kept them all straight. Which he does. A particularly strong argument is the sheer number of prescription drug advertisements we see on TV and why those are fine, but it’s a crime to possess steroids. One lawyer says “Peanuts kill people each year–do we sue God for making them?” We then see a list of reasons for emergency room visits. Alcohol, cocaine, vitamin C, then way down in the 160s, steroids. Deaths by tobacco: 435,000, alcohol: 75,000; steroids: 3.

We see George C Scott in Patton, Stallone in all kinds of things, Arnold in Conan and Predator. What’s a boy in America to do? Even GI Joe has completely changed from a normal looking guy in the 70s to a buffed beast today.

A documentary like this takes a taboo topic and asks “what’s the big deal?” In many ways RELIGULOUS did the same thing.

Very well done.

8.0 Metacritic
7.8 IMDB

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* @ Amazon

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER

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A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER
2008

May 27, 2009
Download
USA
English
95 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
Kurt Kuenne [Drive-In Movie Memories; Validation]

By some reports, the most powerful documentary ever viewed by human eyes. Entire theaters full of people sobbing, unable to leave the theater after it was over until composing themselves. I can’t really dispute that claim, though I wonder if the story itself is powerful or the film-making execution. Kurt Kuenne, a local guy, set out to film the story of his friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby so that his unborn son could learn about him. Allegedly, Dr. Bagby was murdered by his off-kilter (duh) substantially older than he girlfriend. The film alleges that she drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania without stopping, all the while calling him from a cell phone. For thirteen hundred miles she drove and called, but he never answered. She shows up, they meet, she shoots him with a gun she didn’t deny owning. Then she drives all the way home again without stopping where she gets on her home phone and calls the man she just killed in order to leave a message on his voicemail thereby establishing an alibi. At first she denies seeing him, then she changes her story to say that she handed him the gun and then drove away, claiming that he shot himself. Five times. In the back. Then she flies to her hometown in Nova Scotia where she announces that she’s pregnant with her murder victim’s baby.

Here’s the thing about this film. Murders happen all the time. This guy was nice enough, sure, and there’s ample footage of him acting in the films of his buddy Kurt when they were boys. And there are groups of people ready to speak to the camera about how warm he was. But what’s different about this story is that almost to a person, man, woman, old, young–when they begin speaking about him, they inevitably begin crying. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. And that’s because there’s much more to this story than we are let in on, but the interview subjects are privy to. In deference to spoilers, I won’t say what it is, but it’s revealed as if it were THE SIXTH SENSE or something.

This is where the controversy arises. This film makes Michael Moore’s work seem positively objective. This film is exactly the opposite of the Maysles Brothers or Barbara Kopple or even Errol Morris. The days of a documentarian simply turning on his or her camera and letting the story tell itself appear to be over. Kuenne has scary music and closeups of words in court documents like “murder” and he does the voiceover and he often sobs while speaking and there are flashes of red and he ridicules governmental officials and the murder suspect with language and footage and attitude. Like Moore does with Bush 43.

So what we end up with is a documentary, about a compelling subject, which is every bit as manipulative as a Ron Howard sweeping-score-telling-us-what-to-think fictional drama.

Make no mistake. I was absolutely riveted. My mouth was agape during several portions. I talked back to the screen. I cried. I yelled. I actually paused the film and walked around for 15 minutes because I didn’t want to learn any more about the story. I can’t remember a documentary making me feel that way. There are hundreds of docs which cause outrage or sadness. But this one sort of grabs the outrage and sadness and anger right out of you while you’re watching. How much of that was due to technical know-how and editing brilliance and how much of it was due to the story itself, I can’t really say.

I can say that you won’t soon forget it and as soon as its over you can argue with yourself about the film-making style that Kuenne employs in the service of his story.

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DEAR ZACHARY is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 74. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 PUBLIC ENEMIES Discussion
• Break
• 17:39 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 19:27 DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER Discussion
• Break
• 31:06 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 31:41 The Last Five®
• Break
• 55:11 Listener Last Fives (Scott in Florida and Cynthia in California)
• 1:04:02 Credits and Outtake

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8.2 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB

Dear Zachary @ Amazon

DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER

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BREATHLESS
1960

May 10, 2009
Netflix Roku
France
French / English
90 Minutes — February 7, 1961
Crime / Drama / Romance / Thriller
Jean-Luc Godard
#33 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

BREATHLESS will be the subject of Cinebanter Number 71, which will be posted shortly.

8.0 IMDB

Breathless – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

BREATHLESS

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2008

April 28, 2009
Download
France
English / French / Albanian / Arabic
91 Minutes — January 30, 2009
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Pierre Morel
Liam Neeson [Excalibur; The Bounty; The Mission; The Dead Pool; The Good Mother; Next of Kin; Darkman; Husbands and Wives; Schindler’s List; Nell; Rob Roy; Michael Collins; Les Miserables; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; Gangs Of New York; Love Actually; Kinsey; Batman Begins]

His Daughter Was Taken. He Has 96 Hours To Get Her Back.

Neeson on phone: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Bad Guy after long pause: Good luck.

Greatest trailer in history? Maybe. It got me to watch to see if this movie could possibly be as bad as it sounded. It was.

Take a look at the difference between the critical response and the user response scores below.

5.0 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Taken @ Amazon

TAKEN

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ZERO WOMAN: A DANGEROUS GAME
1998

April 15, 2009
Netflix Roku Player
Japan
Japanese
80 Minutes
Drama / Thriller / Crime
Hidekazu Takahara
Rei: Chieko Shiratori

Sometimes the DVD cover is enough. I mean, just look at it. Couple that picture with the previously listed job of actress Chieko Shiratori (nude model), and really, what harm could 80 minutes spent with this movie cause?

If Jason Bourne was a hot chick, took long baths, walked around topless while feeding her fish, and then dressed in boots to assassinate bad guys, you’d know what this movie was about. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Criterion Collection version any time soon.

5.4 IMDB

Zero Woman: Dangerous Game @ Amazon

ZERO WOMAN: DANGEROUS GAME

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2008

April 8, 2009
Download
USA / Germany
English
121 Minutes — November 7, 2008
Comedy
David Wain [The Daily Show; Keeping The Faith; The Ten]
Paul Rudd [Clueless; Romeo + Juliet; The Cider House Rules; Friends; Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy; The 40 Year Old Virgin; The Ten; Knocked Up; Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; Forgetting Sarah Marshall]

Danny and Wheeler were just sentenced to 150 hours mentoring kids. Worst idea ever.

This one can be filed in the “could have been much worse” category. Man-crush Paul Rudd makes this story bearable. We get a ten year old obsessed with boobs, a medieval role-playing dork, and a guy who responds to a woman’s “I’m kinda engaged” with “I’ve kinda got a boner.” I laughed a lot, and I only feel moderately embarrassed about that.

6.0 Metacritic
7.3 IMBD

Role Models @ Amazon

ROLE MODELS

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2008

February 7, 2009
DVD
UK / USA
English / French
94 Minutes
Documentary / Crime
James Marsh

1974. 1350 Feet Up. The Artistic Crime Of The Century.

Unbelievably compelling.

The story of a Frenchman–one of those juggler, unicycle, magician, street performer types who felt it was his duty to walk between the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope. He had previously walked on the Sydney Harbor Bridge and between the two towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

But the WTC walk required incredible planning, inside men, a bow and arrow, perfect timing, a team for each building, sleeping guards, fake id badges, and a lot of luck. And that was before the guy began his walk. One might ask how a film about a tightrope walk can be made exciting. I would have asked the same thing before seeing it. To make matters (on paper) worse, there is no moving footage of the walk. There are handful of stills only. And yet.

One of the many talking heads in the film is the man himself, Philippe Petit. So we know he survives. And he doesn’t appear to be speaking from prison, so he probably didn’t get a life sentence. And yet. We are riveted as he plans, argues, draws up designs, gathers helpers, and walks between the frickin World Trade Center towers.

Mr. Petit is a show-off. He is a loudmouth, he treats women poorly, he has no respect for the law. Because he feels he has a higher calling. How a walk on a rope can be called art, I didn’t know before watching this movie. But now I do. Petit tells the story of learning of the building of the WTC and believing that it had actually been built so that he could walk between it. It was designed and built so a man from France could come over and perform in between its towers. And as goofy as that sounds, you will believe it once you see it. It is somehow art. There is a beauty and a sense of awe. He appears to be dancing–1350 feet up.

As a story, it needs no extra bells and whistles from the filmmakers. But luckily, the style of the film is also superb. There are a few re-creations, there is enough original footage of training sessions and prior stunts for us to get an idea what it might look like in NYC. There are talking heads who are still angry at each other. And there is Mr. Petit to guide us in his hyper-poetic manner.

I have this thing about jumping off high places into water. A bridge in California, a cliff in Greece, every waterfall in Hawaii. I am afraid of heights but find the challenge of overcoming that fear a pretty cool thing. I’m also one of those people who looks down from a great height and isn’t sure that his legs will walk themselves over the edge against his brain’s instructions. But I was absolutely not prepared for how scared shitless I was when I simply saw photographs of the men planning their caper. They lied their way to the top several times and pretended to take photos of workmen, but were really taking photos of anchor points and such which they’d use later to string the wire. And some of these photos, with Petit at the edge of the building, caused me to shake. I can’t explain it. Photos from the early 70s cause a physical reaction.

At one point in his walk, Petit lies down on the wire. All alone. Silently. At 1350 feet, he lies down suspended between the tallest building in the world. A plane flies overhead.

And strangely, the first word that came to my head was, “beautiful.” I may have been tearing up a bit while saying it.

Just an incredible experience.

My Number 10 for 2008.

Oscar Nomination: Best Documentary of 2008.

8.9 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

Man on Wire @ Amazon

MAN ON WIRE

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2006

December 31, 2008
Netflix Roku
USA
English
100 Minutes — February 8, 2008
Documentary / Comedy
Ari Sandel

Vince Vaughn, who will forever be remembered for making fratboys across the nation say “you’re so money” in SWINGERS, got some of his buddies together for a tour of 30 cities in 30 days. He talks up a lot about taking his show to the heartland, but five dates are in California, and St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta are hardly strangers to stand-up comedy.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of his OCD-inspired fast-talking and the comics he brings along are pretty funny. One of them is Ahmed Ahmed who became something of a poster-boy of an Arab-American trying to make it big in a post-9/11 world. He’s been profiled in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He already has a career. The other three guys are at various levels of struggling. If you thin a 30 day tour into a ten minute act, of course these guys are going to look like comedic geniuses. Vaughn acted as the MC, and did some skits with famous friends (Favreau, Long, Yoakim), but most of the stuff is about the four comics.

Your like or dislike of this movie will be dependent on your interest in stand-up comedy as an artform or a catharsis-in-public for the performers. If you’ve ever wondered if you would have made it on a stage in front of a brick wall (as I often do), it will probably hold your interest. Each of them is shown after a disasterous set where they had a completely different impression of their show than the audience did. One guy yells out “F**k Yeah!” but the comic hears it as “F**k You!”, which completely takes him out of his rhythm. Stuff like that I enjoy–you may not.

Another worthwhile portion is that we meet the parents of several performers and see where they get their sense of humor or lack thereof. Ahmed’s parents are especially interesting as they’re Egyptian immigrants who expect their children (especially sons) to be doctors or lawyers–certainly not a guy who tells swear word jokes for a living. The stuff on the road isn’t new in any way. The boys (minus Vaughn–who has his own back bed) sleep in bunks on the bus. They share single hotel rooms. They get on each other’s nerves. We’ve seen that stuff before. We also only glimpse the towns in which they perform. They visit Graceland and Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, and the Grand Ole Opry, but I defy you to differentiate between the audiences at these different places.

Doesn’t say very much about the life of an entertainer or the “heartland of America”, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

5.1 Metacritic
5.9 IMDB

Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show @ Amazon

VINCE VAUGHN’S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW

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2000

September 6, 2008
Netflix Roku Download
USA
English
75 Minutes
Documentary
Vicky Funari & Julia Query

A bit long, even at a brisk 75 minutes. Story of strip club and their efforts to unionize against the wishes of the pretty-progressive-thinking female management. Only in San Francisco. Basically a labor struggle with boobs as an added attraction.

6.2 Metacritic
6.5 IMDB

LIVE NUDE GIRLS UNITE!

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2007

Netflix Streaming
USA
English
86 Minutes
Documentary
David Stenn [Hill Street Blues]

Compelling untold story about a chorus girl who was sent to what she thought was a casting call with hundreds of other girls and ends up being raped by an MGM executive in town for the hedonistic convention in 1937. The studio owned the property, the doctor who examined her, the newspapers, and even the one eyewitness who was parking cars that day. She was 16 years old and a virgin. She never recovered. We see her now very old having lost none of her anger towards what happened to her.

Unfortunately, this great 45-minute story is padded with some of the worst documentary filmmaking I’ve ever seen. The filmmaker films himself waiting for a meeting with the woman in question, Patricia Douglas, in a hotel room in Las Vegas. He films her daughter and incredibly gay grandson. He films himself going to the grave of the MGM executive. He interviews a Fox News legal analyst and a Hollywood District attorney about what went wrong with the prosecution.

It could have been a shorter PBS-level film. It shouldn’t have been stretched out to nearly 90 minutes. It was unsuccessful in its attempt to explain the morals of the 1930s in Hollywood.

6.3 IMDB

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Written by Michael W. Cummins