Every week at Movie Mezzanine, we pick some of the best films currently on Netflix Instant in the United States and Canada. Whether they are big releases or hidden gems, these movies make your subscription worth the price. From each library we select one Newly Added film, one Catalog Title and one Expiring Title for your viewing pleasure. Read on for this week’s picks.
New: Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Fritz Lang, 1922)
Combining social commentary, psychological drama and narrative suspense into one serial-length feature, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is one of the finest films of the silent age even as it is often overshadowed by Lang’s later silent epics like Die Nibelungen and Metropolis. This author, though, prefers the sweeping pulp portrait Lang paints of Weimar Germany here, a wasteland of nominal order in fact ruled by vice and crime, with money so worthless it is casually bet in the hundreds of thousands. The introduction of a criminal mastermind with psychic powers throws this sketch into vivid disarray, and the results continue to set a high bar for action and suspense cinema that is rarely matched. — Jake Cole
Catalogue Title: Election (Johnnie To, 2005)
A handful of Johnnie To films grace Netflix’s instant service, including his recent economic collapse thriller/farce Life Without Principle (which Netflix does not carry on DVD yet). Consider Election, then, to be something of a catch-all recommendation for his available work. Election did not grab me at first glance like To’s other Instant gem, Exiled, but its termitic view of Triad politics and barbarism slowly eats into the deep recesses of the brain. Its caustic view of warlord democracy, of thugs campaigning for underground office and resorting to violence and deceit in lieu of baby-kissing and buttons, extends far beyond its Triad milieu. Consequences are typically left out of political films: one side wins or loses, and a future is implied through that outcome. Election actually carries out its campaigns, and its brutal finale is less a bleak projection of what is to come than the sadly logical endpoint of all the actions that led to it. Like so many of To’s films, it’s so wildly funny and unsettling at the same time that its horror only hits in retrospect, after the laughter has gradually died out. — Jake Cole
Expiring Feb. 23: Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
Lee Chang-dong’s background as a novelist can be seen in the firm structure of his work even as he deftly avoids reducing cinema to the literary. He does not make the mistakes a writer might make with images, refusing to play the beauty surrounding the tragedy of his narrative for facile irony. Rather, it is the agony he draws out of his characters’ plight that makes the beauty that much more meaningful. The mentally slipping woman at the heart of Poetry is doomed but not piteous, and her attempts to keep communicating when direct words fail her bring her to true poetry. Less wrenching than his previous Secret Sunshine, Poetry can therefore bask more in the ways that misfortune can enhance one’s life even as it takes so much away. — Jake Cole
New: Side by Side (Christopher Kenneally, 2012)
Not so much an eye-opening documentary as it is a fascinating one. Director Christopher Kenneally lets Keanu Reeves (yes, that Keanu Reeves, who also produced this film) interview a ton of directors, cinematographers and colorists about their feelings on the film industry’s switch to digital cameras. The documentary fairly effectively describes the development of film, as well as the emergence of digital. Best of all, it takes no side in the argument. While acknowledging that digital is where cinema is essentially headed, the film explores both what is gained and what is lost by the change, and it comes down on the side of the artist’s choice. – Corey Atad
Catalogue Title: Vertical Limit (Martin Campbell, 2000)
This is a terrible film. No, really. It’s amazingly bad. The opening sequence is one of the most poorly conceived action sequences ever made. It’s incredible that this film was made by the same guy who did Goldeneye and Casino Royale. So why am I recommending it? Well, sometimes you just have to watch a terrible movie, you know, to appreciate the good stuff. Plus, sometimes it’s fun to laugh. Get a bunch of friends together. Some beers. Put on Vertical Limit. Enjoy. – Corey Atad
Expiring Mar. 1: The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola)
I’m not a big fan of Sofia Coppola’s films, but The Virgin Suicides is based on one of my favourite books, and while Coppola misses some of what makes the book so special, she does bring it to life quite effectively. It also helps that the film is distinctly suburban, getting away from the depictions of high privilege we would see in her later work. The way Coppola puts us in the world of the characters while always keeping them at a distances allows us to project onto them, which is kind of the whole point. It’s a story about infatuation with an idea of love and the unknowability of other people, and it’s done quite beautifully. Corey Atad
One thought on “Netflix Instant Picks 2/22/13—2/28/13”
Poetry broke my heart. If it’s LESS wrenching than Secret Sunshine, then I’m gonna have to check that one out. Been meaning to for a while too.
Moral: You should all see Poetry.