Featured image from Shadow in the Cloud
This is the best Netflix crop in a while.
Bahubali: The Beginning and Bahubali: The Conclusion (Tamil language versions)
I’m no expert here, but this was filmed in both Telegu and Tamil and my understanding is that while the Telegu version may be preferable (but not currently on Netflix), there’s nothing wrong with the Tamil version. I looked at a lower quality stream of the Telegu version online and it seemed to me that some actors are dubbed worse in that version, while other actors are dubbed worse in this version, and so there are trade-offs either way. In any case: these movies SLAP. You might describe them as Cecil B. DeMille meets Zack Snyder by way of Rajamouli’s very distinct imagination (with the outstanding music of M. M. Keeravani). The two films follow one continuous story, 5.5 hours long in total (and there’s apparently still a third one coming), and when we had to break it up over a couple days because of Angela’s work schedule, every minute we weren’t watching it I was dying to get back to it. It’s hard to think of a more entertaining movie. If you aren’t convinced by the first hour or so, stick with it (I can imagine the waterfall climbing musical number maybe losing some people– not me– but after that it’s hard to imagine anyone not getting into this). Peak action, and a clinic on how to use CGI to expand cinematic possibilities rather than to substitute for doing things the hard way .
Terrific 1966 Richard Brooks men-on-a-mission western. The cast is hard to beat. Four mercenaries (Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, and Burt Lancaster!!!!) are sent to Mexico to retrieve Claudia Cardinale, the wife of oil tycoon Ralph Bellamy, who he claims has been taken against her will by Mexican revolutionary Jack Palance.
One of the last great action blockbusters shot without extensive use of green screens and CGI: this is Stallone and company up in the Dolemites for real, doing wild stunts in a hybrid Die Hard-scenario/sports movie. I went on Cinematic Underdogs podcast to talk about it not so long ago.
It’s very cool that this showed up on Netflix. It’s a Dante Lam crime movie (Hong Kong) from 2008 and I think this is the first time it’s been available to stream in North America. If you are averse to children-in-peril movies, be warned: rarely have children been in more peril. It’s about a cop (Nicholas Tse) racked with guilt about a tragic accident who puts everything on the line to save a young girl who’s been kidnapped. His double/nemesis is Nick Cheung, also bearing scars and carrying a heavy burden. This is a great example of full tilt Hong Kong male melodrama: the emotions in this movie are enormous.
Absolutely wild Tsui Hark/Van Damme/Dennis Rodman collaboration. Not for everyone, but certainly one of the most distinctive things you’re likely to find on Netflix.
Before the current multiverse craze (which I am not at all a part of), there was The One. Jet Li plays a double role, first as a rogue agent who travels between dimensions to kill his counterparts to gain their power, and then also as LAPD cop who teams up with two Multiverse special agents (Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham) to stop him from becoming the One. It’s like a martial arts Highlander.
The Guns of Navarone
One of the great afternoon movies (and also one of the great dad movies): feast upon 158 minutes of men on a mission. Directed by J. Lee Thompson.
Ghosts of Mars
I won’t even say this is unfairly maligned, because that’s too generous: it’s inexplicably maligned. A John Carpenter Hawksian sci-fi horror western should not have been a tough sell, and yet… Anyways, it’s a great film, and one you should definitely see if you let its poor reception scare you off, or see again if you missed the boat the first time around. It’s dense with cinematic ideas and multiple viewings help.
I recommend going into this knowing as little as possible, but you should know that it is a very intense slow burn horror movie that many would find upsetting. The setup is that a family living off the grid starts to suspect that there’s a predator preying on human beings in the region.
We Own the Night
I haven’t seen this in a long time myself and I plan to revisit it. James Gray is one of our greatest contemporary filmmakers and someone we should be doing everything we can to support in a time when movies for adults are in shorter and shorter supply. I recall this having a strong sense of setting (something Gray always excels at) and a successful balance between affecting drama and rich political context.
I’m not really a fan of the single-take gimmick genre, but this is a good version. It’s a straightforward Call of Duty run-and-shoot siege movie, but effectively immersive and with a typically exciting Scott Adkins performance at the center. Not to be missed for action fans.
Sense and Sensibility
You know, as literary adaptation period pieces go, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility is really good, thanks in no small part to Alan Rickman.
That’s My Boy
Not for everyone. One of the more extreme Sandler films and it’s probably over the limit for a lot of people, but I fully agree with B.A. Radetski’s contentious letterboxd review: a better film about class than Parasite.
Shadow in the Cloud
Paul from Cinematic Underdogs podcast was reading my book in a hotel lobby and ended up explaining the main ideas to the receptionist, who recommended this movie in response. He passed the recommendation on to me, and that’s of course a recommendation I’m going to take! Glad I did. This thing is bonkers! There’s no irony here and no winking self-awareness. It’s like five movies at once, and it’s fully committed to being all of them. The mystery luggage bit is amazing.
This is probably a bridge too far for most people, but for the boldest bad movie adventurers, this is some avant-garde shit. I mean, the premise is that Alicia Silverstone and her husband end up on a floating hotel room lost at sea. The CGI is extremely cheap, and the combination of ambitious high concept premise and painfully limited means is thrilling for me. You can absolutely tell at all times that she is standing on a soundstage, not a floating hotel room, and this just adds to the complete madness of her performance. If you have an upper-limit on Alicia Silverstone, this movie will exceed that limit. Despite the shark on the poster, there is not much shark. This is not a movie for shark horror fans so much as it is for the small niche of people who share the thought, “I want to see Alicia Silverstone go absolutely berserk for the full duration of a feature film.”
This is not the first time I’ve recommended John Frankenheimer’s The Train, and it won’t be the last. A great action movie about French resistance fighters (including Burt Lancaster and Michel Simon) trying to stop a Nazi train carrying off the great masterpieces of French art at the end of the war. It powerfully engages the question of whether the preservation of culture can justify a loss of life.
A Quiet Passion
Terence Davies’ exquisite Emily Dickinson film is not a biopic of the usual (terrible) sort. It takes a creative approach and it’s funny and beautiful and thoroughly devastating.
I’ve recommended this before, but it was only on Shudder at the time. Not for everyone, but I love this. Don’t even think about watching it while the sun is out. You want to watch this late at night and as loud as possible. This is a drug-addled LA vampire fever dream in grimy 16mm. The sound design is out of control. The music is great across the board but the use of sludgy doom metal during the most intense scenes is especially inspired. People who didn’t watch the later seasons of Friday Night Lights are missing out, as one of the many joys this has to offer is that the edgy protagonist is played by the actress who played Becky Sproles. She just rules in this. And the practical effects!
In honor of the late, great Ray Liotta, this is one of his many wonderful villain performances. It came out during the glut of 90’s airplane hijack movies, and the plot is pretty stripped down, but the Liotta performance is plenty to carry this. I thought while rewatching it recently that he understood as well as any actor how charisma and vileness can be two sides of the same coin. His performance is disturbing precisely because he’s so charismatic that you want to like him.
The Siege of Firebase Gloria
Premium ‘Namsploitation from cult hero Brian Trenchard-Smith. I had this on my list as one of the most significant Wings Hauser movies I hadn’t seen, but thanks to Daniel Gorman for spreading the word that it showed up on streaming. It’s terrific for what it is. Wings and R. Lee Ermy are a supreme war movie duo, with Ermy playing it about like you’d expect (that is, a lot like Full Metal Jacket— though I like this movie better) and Wings at an intense dramatic pitch.
Evil Dead Trap
Happy to see this movie readily availabile in good quality in North America. Jam-packed 1988 Japanese industrial-complex-of-horrors slasher mayhem from Ikeda.
My favorite Guy Ritchie movie (alongside Wrath of Man) and a truly gonzo genre experiment. I’m bringing it up because it contains one of my favorite Ray Liotta performances.
At a trim 96 minutes, with Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle, this is an incisive adaptation of Shaw’s play. It’s better than My Fair Lady, in my opinion.
Sweet Bird of Youth
Richard Brooks does Tennessee Williams. A neglected movie that I’m very fond of. The hysterical desperation is overwhelming. The character of Heavenly gets almost no dialogue, but her series of self-contradictions and reversals is the emotional core that plays out quietly while Page and Newman burn up the screen with their tragic fallen egos.