Friday, October 11, 2013

Weekend Stream for 10/11/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service for you to watch each weekend. Just search for the bolded titles on your preferred Netflix-watching device, and you're in business! Since content can disappear from Netflix with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, see?!

Weekend Stream for 10/11/13

No theme or connective tissue between this week's topics. Today, I'm just highlighting a few movies of note and a TV show I'm sure you all know about, but STILL.

We're pretty much all (except, oh, say, one percent of us) still suffering through the carry-on effects of the 2007/8 financial crisis. The fuse for that particular powder keg was lit in the sort of Manhattan financial firm depicted in  J. C. Chandor's 2011 thriller Margin Call. I call the film a thriller largely because it is predicated on the slow accumulation of tension, though it has no chases or scenes of violence and takes place almost entirely inside of corporate offices and board rooms. Still, with its plot closely following the same sort of shady, self-preserving behavior of firms like Lehman Bros or Bear Sterns in the days leading up to the crisis, Margin Call definitely provides thrills. The film is about who knew what risks were being taken, when they knew, what they did about it, and how that ultimately undermined the entire global economy. Chandor's Oscar-nominated script and the great ensemble cast led by Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, and Stanley Tucci do well in giving real characterization and shading to roles that could easily have played as bland corporate stooges. I can't speak to the film's accuracy, though it certainly has a feeling of verisimilitude that makes the whole enterprise even harder to stomach... or look away from.

Let's move away from strong realism to something closer to dream logic: Holy Motors, written and directed by Leos Carax, is an episodic French fantasy that turned heads at Cannes in 2012. Starring the unique, incredible Denis Lavant, Holy Motors follows Mr. Oscar (Levant), who traverses Paris in a limo from "appointment" to "appointment," where he takes on a variety of roles—from an old beggar woman to a former flame of a woman played by Kylie Minogue, to a loathsome, cartoonish monster-man called Monsieur Merde—for reasons we never quite know. The film's first scene depicts a sleeping man (Carax himself) waking up to find a door in his home that leads to a movie theater, so it's possible to read each adventure of Mr. "Oscar" as a sort of take on the history and future of film, the fluidity of acting and real life, or any of a million other self-regarding Film Studies approaches. But what makes the film shine is the combination of Lavant's brave, hugely underecognized performance and the cumulative effect of the scenes' emotional and tonal shifts. Make no mistake, this is not a movie for everyone, and it will likely frustrate and confuse anybody who comes to it looking for a traditional plot or narrative throughline. However, when approached with an open mind and allowed to wash over you, Holy Motors is by turns delightful and devastating.

Finally, let's follow up on this week's prior Joss Whedon review by talking about Firefly, his shortest-lived TV series (which also happens to be my personal favorite). Yes, most of you know the details, but bear with me. Set in the future in the aftermath of a civil war between the Alliance (roughly the marriage of the American and Chinese superpowers) and the Browncoats (interplanetary settlers who didn't appreciate the Alliance's top-down control and domineering ways), Firefly is a space-western that follows former Browncoat soldier Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, who has never been better) and his crew of noble brigands as they flout the law in an effort to live free. When Mal takes on new passengers, including a young doctor (Sean Maher) with a secret, his crew's splendid isolation is threatened even as the size of their makeshift family increases. Filled with Whedon's requisite quippy dialogue—here enhanced by the addition of folksy ruralisms and Chinese curses—and engaging, complex characters, Firefly presented not a spacey fantasyland but a gritty, believable cosmos where humanity's greed and need for control have only intensified since we left Earth-That-Was. Despite its grit, Firefly is easy to fall in love with, as characters like the cheerful mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), rugged-but-dim mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and goofy pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) all but pop off the screen and into your life. Sadly, the show was as poorly treated by Fox as it was beloved by its fans—indeed, the show was famously canceled after airing a handful of out-of-order episodes, only to be revived for a feature film, Serenity, thanks largely to DVD sales and fan campaigning. With only fourteen episodes, Firefly makes an easy weekend binge, and if that's not enough, both Serenity and Done the Impossible, a documentary about Firefly's fans and Serenity's unlikely production, are also available to stream.

Anyway, that's all for this week. It's a long weekend here in the US, so I'll see you all back here on Tuesday for more blathering about movies and TV shows.

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