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howardfrierman
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Quickie Reviews of (Mostly) Indie Netflix Movies
My new blog will give Netflix movie watchers a chance to get  a feel for independent movies before they rent one. But you must realize that passing judgment on a movie is pretty subjective. It's like food; you can just love olives, yet your best friend can't stomach them. That's not to say olives are good or bad; it's just that we all have very different tastes....and this applies to movies, too. I think after a few weeks you will realize that my blog is either right for you, or very wrong for you. And that's ok. I love olives, by the way.

This list will only feature movies that are worth renting, getting a score of 6 or above (why waste your time with the others?)

Mary and Max. This film is clearly a 10. This claymation movie of 90 minutes is pure brilliance from the time you start it to the surprise ending. Conceived and directed by Adam Elliott (academy award winner for another claymation short of a few years ago), it is the unnerving  story of Mary, a young girl who lives in Australia, and Max, a single middle aged man living in NYC. They correspond for years, becoming very dear friends, yet never meeting in person. The viewer, however, gets to see how their separate lives unfold during the many years they write to each other. Poignant, funny, sad, quirky..... this movie is magical, plain and simple. Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman are the respective voices of our stars. I can't even think of this movie without getting all choked up.....I found it just a beautiful tale about two loners who find each other. Look for  the scene towards the end of the movie when Pink Martini sings Que Sera Sera.....words cannot express how moving this scene is.

Perrier's Bounty. This film is an 8. From Ireland (you may want to watch this movie with the sub-titles on just in case you can't make out some of the language), this is a dark and funny movie about a small time hoodlum (Cillian Murphy) for owes  money to some bad guys who want it NOW. The movie is pretty much a chase scene, with the bad guys running down Cillian, and Cillian doing everything he can to avoid them. But there is lots more to this cute thriller.....Cillian's father joins up with him, as does his girlfriend....both adding lots of fun to the chase. This flick is wonderfully directed; the script is sharp and funny, and the performances are top notch. I have watched this movie twice now and got quite a lot more out of it the second time around. It's fun, and you should try it!

500 Days of Summer. This film is an 8.5. Some might call this movie a chick flick, but I don't like or accept that phrase. What does that mean, anyway? Does a chick flick deal only with  love, infatuation, romance? If it is, why can't a man find these topics just as involving as a woman? I am not embarrassed to say that I will give any film a chance, regardless of how it is 'categorized' , and that includes these so-called chick flicks. Let's just call them, then, a rom-com....romantic comedy. That being said,  this film is a joy, plain and simple. It is about a guy who writes greeting cards and falls for a new woman who joins the company. But this movie does not follow the prescribed formula of boy meets girl, then chases girl, and finally they fall in love.....no, not at all. This movie breaks the rules and jumps around, showing the highs and lows of their developing relationship. Summer is the woman's name, and is beautifully played by Zooey Deshanel. Michael Gordon Leavitt plays the guy, and is simply adorable as the one who is interested in Summer. If you decide to rent this fun movie, look for the Hall and Oates dance  scene.....you won't believe it... and your face will hurt from smiling when it finally ends....it is THAT precious.  This is a feel good movie that will cheer you up regardless of your mood, guaranteed. For MEN and women, of course.

Japanese Story. This film is a 6. Having just watched Mary and Max, I wanted to see a movie with Toni Collette (the voice of Mary), so I chose this one. Not a bad choice, either. It is the story of an Australian woman who is involved in geological software as a profession, and entertains a Japanese buyer who is interested in her product. He comes to Australia to check it out, and they eventually take a road trip to a mine, in the Australian desert. Without giving away the plot, the movie is about their love/hate relationship as things happen to them during their trip. Toni Collette carries the movie; the Japanese guy is just ok. The movie is involving....I don't think you will be bored, but you won't, having seen it, tell everyone you know to go rent it, either. You will experience a variety of emotions as you watch it, however, and for that it may be worth your while to rent it. The scenery is wonderful, by the way, giving the viewer a great chance to experience the western Australia desert.

Irina Palm. This movie is a 7. From Britain, this is one strange, yet interesting movie. If you are into watching movies with an open mind and want something different, check this one out. The star's young grandson has a disease, and is told the only way he can survive is if his parents take him to Australia for medical help. The parent's don't have the money, so the grandmother decides to get a job to raise the funds so the trip can occur. She ends up working in a field you won't believe, and it is actually quite comical for most of the movie. I can't tell you what that is as it will spoil it for you, but take my word, you will be surprised at what she does to earn some cash. I wasn't crazy about the music in this film, but the acting was good and the story was truly unique. If you want to take a chance, I would rent Irina Palm. 

Longford. This movie is a 7. Another one from Britain, this is an engaging movie about a man in the British Parliament who, because of his religious beliefs, visits criminals in prison to offer them help and friendship.But one day he visits a woman who has committed a horrific crime involving children, and the public is outraged that he would meet with her. What follows is an interesting tale about their relationship that lasts for quite some time.  This movie is based on a true story. Jim Broadbent is wonderful in this flick, as is Samantha Morton as the convict. Again, I would suggest watching this movie with the sub-titles on just to avoid missing some of the dialog due to the British accents.If you think this movie is for you, then try it out. 

Down To The Bone. This movie is an 8. We (my wife and I) just watched Winter's Bone, so we wanted to see another film by the same woman director, and we came up with this one. And it is a good movie, starring Vera Farmiga. In this flick she plays a regular happy housewife and mother of two, working at Price Chopper supermarket, going about her business..... except that she does drugs. It finally bothers her enough that she enrolls herself in a clinic to get clean, and there she meets a male nurse who befriends her. And that's where her troubles begin. Hugh Dillon is very good as her friend/enabler, and the movie is about their relationship and the role drugs play within it. However, the movie is not your typical drug-infested downer, where there are shots of people sharing needles, dripping drewel from their mouths as they hold up innocents for wanting money for more drugs. It is not like that at all. In fact, this movie could be about someone you know.....that's how innocent Vera is, despite her problem. And that's what makes this movie quite special. If you are interested in the topic, then you should rent Down To The Bone. Vera is wonderful in it, too, of course.

Provoked. This movie is a 6.5. This is a true to life British movie that features an Indian cast. It is about a woman who, while living in Britain,  enters into an arranged marriage and then suffers severe physical and verbal abuse for ten years from her husband. The stunning Indian actress Aishwarya Rai adquately carries the movie while she is charged with subsequently seeking revenge on her husband and ultimately spending time in jail. Her lawyer ultimately loses the case, only for it to be picked up again by an activist group who makes an appeal for her. The story actually changed the laws in England in the 90's, making the battering and abuse of women more easy to defend in the courts. The film is interesting, the screenplay had its share of problems, and the supporting cast got  by.....but that's it. For readers interested in the topic, however, I would say rent it....you could very easily do worse.

Lars And The Real Girl. This movie is a 10. Want something really different? You get it in Lars, the story of a troubled man who wants to just go to work, come home and be left alone (Ryan Gossling). He lives in the converted garage behind his brother and sister in law's home (who are always intruding on his life as they love him and are concerned about his well being), until one day he comes over to their house with his 'date'.....a blow up doll he calls Bianca. And he loves her. Naturally, his brother and sister in law freak out and trick him into getting help by seeing a doctor/psychologist (Patricia Clarkson), who reports that he can only grow out of this 'episode' on his own.Well, the rest of the movie is charming, as the small Minnesota town gets behind Lars and welcomes Bianca into the community, asking her to do charity work, running for school council, and so on. Eventually, however, Lars gets tired of her and all the stuff she has to do, and the movie takes a change in direction. This movie is a complete and total joy to watch, celebrating family, friends, and the love of a small community as one member in it suffers. Until I saw Mary and Max, this was my favorite movie for several years. Now it is tied as my favorite flick.  If it sounds fascinating, then you probably will adore this movie as I do. If it sounds kinda silly and dumb, then I suggest you skip it.....its not for you.

How About You. This movie is a 9. Another uplifting and truly moving  flick from Britain. This is the story of a retirement home in the English countryside that is struggling financially to make ends meet. Then, around Christmas, the owner/operator's mom has a heart attack, and she asks her younger sister ( the absolutely wonderful Hayley Atwell) to watch the remaining four residents who will be staying there while she returns to London to tend to her mother. Hayley agrees, hesitantly, and then the movie really takes off. Imelda Staunton, Joss Ackland and Vanessa Redgrave play three of the four residents who stay behind, and Hayley has her hands full keeping  them under control, as none of them really need to be there! This movie has it all......heartfelt drama, comedy, some sorrow and sadness, and complete joy...not to mention lots and lots of fun. This movie works in every regard, and you should definitely rent it. It is just another piece of wonderful film-making from the British film board.

You Don't Know Jack. This movie is an 8. An HBO movie starring Al Pacino as Kervorkian, and Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as his comrades, this compelling two hour movie tells us the story of the Dr. Death saga before he went to jail in the late 90s. Fascinating, involving and well written, the movie moves right along, from his first assisted suicide to his final court scene in Michigan where he finally was convicted and sentenced to 10 years to life (he was released in less  than 9). The movie spares us most of the graphic scenes, but not the emotional pain of those who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease or Alzheimer's, or any number of other awful diseases from which there is no cure. Thought-provoking for sure, this movie was capably directed  by Barry Levinson, a feature length movie director, and you should probably rent it.....and soon.

Ballet Shoes. This movie is an 8.5. It is a wonderfully small and personal film about three orphans who come to live with an archaeologist (and his niece and her mother) and grow up in the 30's, trying to keep their head above water and not lose their home (the archaeologist goes on a trip when they are young and doesn't return for 12 years, leaving the family pretty much high and dry). The three sisters form a very close bond while the surrogate mom (Emily Fox) takes in borders to help pay the rent. Soon, however, the sisters discover they can help with the finances when one of them gets a job acting in local plays (Emma Watson from Harry Potter). There is turmoil in the household, despite a modicum of success financially, and the movie  beautifully lets it all unfold in a very sincere and real way, making this film very moving and heartfelt. I would rent it. And you should like it.

Opal Dreams. This movie is an 8. In cooperation with the British Film Board and the Southern Australian film board, here is another small and strange movie about a family in Coober Pedy, Australia, caught up in the opal mining rush. The clincher, however, is the young daughter who has two imaginary friends, who one day disappear when the dad takes them to his mine and forgets to bring them home. The daughter is mortified, and goes  back to the mine with her dad and brother looking for them, without success. The movie moves on, then, with troubles coming from all directions, for a variety of reasons....all seeming very real. This movie reminded me of Lars And The Real Girl, also about a made-up person who affects a community, but in Opal Dreams, the towns-folk are a lot less accepting. This is a lovely and interesting movie that features fine performances, a very nice sound track, and is quite engaging.

Legendary. This movie is a 7.5, maybe an 8. Its the story about a family who has had their share of problems; a father who died in a car accident; an older son who has abandoned the family for ten years, feeling responsible for the father's death, a working mom (Patricia Clarkson) trying her best to raise her youngest son, and an ensemble of supporting actors who come together to make this movie pretty interesting. The film is about the youngest son, Cal, a bright and congenial kid, who suddenly wants to try out for the wrestling team in high school (following in his older brother's footsteps). The mom is against it. But Cal won't be dissuaded, and seeks out his older brother whom he hasn't seen in years to seek some coaching help. At first the older brother refuses (John Cena, who is a bit stiff in the movie), but circumstances change and he eventually agrees. What makes this movie quite acceptable is the script, which rings true and is very believable. And for most of the actors, they rise to the occasion and pull this movie off. If the topic sounds interesting to you, then clearly you should rent it. It is similar to other films about high school sports, but probably a tiche better. I liked it.

Mother and Child. This movie is an 8. A very real and compelling story about a woman who gives up her child at the age of 14 to an adoption agency, then regrets it for most of her life. Now at the age of 50, she wants to see how the child has evolved, and through a variety of circumstances, makes an effort to learn more about her. Naomi Watts plays the child (now grown up and a professional), and Annette Benning plays the mother who is torn over her decision 37 years ago. This movie is well written, wonderfully acted....the script is as real as it gets, and it is quite moving and draws you in from the get-go. If you are up for a serious drama that does not disappoint, rent it. It is a good solid flick.

The Kids Are All Right. This movie is an 8. A comedy (kinda) that deals with a contemporary premise of having two moms. Annette Benning and Julianne Moore are the two moms who each used a sperm donor to get pregnant and have two kids, a boy and a girl. When the girl turns 18, at the prompting of her brother, she seeks out the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) and ultimately this turns into a friendship that involves her brother and the two moms. At first their relationship is just cordial, but eventually it evolves into something more. Although I am not a Julianne Moore fan, she holds her own, as does Annette Benning, but the relationship with the kids and Ruffalo is what shines in this flick. It is cute, contemporary, and worth two hours. Rent it for something different.



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