Friday, February 6, 2015

Netflix and Internet Watching Picks: Documentaries, Mystery, and Dark Comedy

The "good stuff" is coming back to TV soon, Mad Men and The Walking Dead are so close, yet so far. Never fear, I have some movie recommendations for you to pass the time until zombie violence and sexy mid century modern decadence is back on your screen. I'm a huge fan of dark, quirky, visually arresting, art house films with elements of black comedy and horror. If it's a classic, kitschy, unique, animated, musical or campy in that unintentionally funny so-bad-it's-good way I'm all over it.  This time I stepped out of my comfort zone of weird and arrived at some films and shows I've thoroughly enjoyed for it. Here's what stood out for me lately and gets my recommendation:

I'm Not Scared



I'm grateful this popped up on Netflix as a "recommendation" after watching my usual horror movie fare. This is one of most beautiful films I've ever seen. Period. It's a subtitled Italian film set during a backdrop of political turmoil in a rustic Italian countryside. There are fields of wheat scorched by the merciless Mediterranean sun, a perfect color compliment to the blue sky. Both stretch on endlessly, like the languid summer days of your childhood. It looks like something that can't exist on earth, painterly like an animate Van Gogh masterpiece. Pair the sleek looks with the engaging story, the authenticity of the untrained child actors (all turn in perfect performances) with the mysterious plot and you have a winner. Its a coming-of-age drama but the setting gives it flairs of fantasy and horror.

Fascinating fact: The movie includes ample primary colors and is shot from certain vantage points to accurately replicate how children see the world according to child physiologists. It's done extremely well and gives the film a nostalgic authenticity.

Burt's Buzz



Did you know the iconic bearded figure on the Burt's Bee's line was a real?  I wasn't sure until I watched Burt's Buzz, an inspiring and fascinating documentary about the Burt Shavitz. Burt's the hippie, Henry Thoreau-type bee keeper that would help create a multi-billion natural body care industry. I watched for ideas with my boyfriend as we develop our own body care line and got an interesting character study with the package. Burt's an icon worldwide, but lives the simple life away from society. His home includes mostly the bare necessities, his brand was bought by Clorox, yet he heats his home with an antiquated cast iron stove. He hates his iconic status but is contractually obligated to make appearances. I relate to his desire to get away from society. Watch to learn the humble origins of the now national brand and meet the cantankerous man that earnestly never wanted any of it.

Mean Girls



I was a teenager working at AMC Movie Theatre when Mean Girls became the "cultural phenomenon" that put Lindsey Lohan on the map, and I've avoided it until now. The recommendations from cinephiles had me curious to see if the film measured up to the hype. It does, and doesn't. The film is brutal, honest, and hilarious at the start but morphs into a boring cliche by the final quarter. The commentary on female competitiveness and the dynamic in all-female groups is on-point, the jokes slay; then the finale morphs into a typical teen movie complete with obligatory "magical prom night kiss" on the dance floor. It was a movie with a split personality, like a studio executive got involved and forced a conventional, palatable ending. Mean Girls should have been meaner, but I sincerely recommend it for the hilarious first half. Props for having characters in-universe recognizing the pretty yet "smart and mousy" girl as being attractive without the need for an exaggerated make-over scene.

Fascinating Fact: Mean Girls is an SNL film, written by and starring Tina Fey, produced by the SNL creator and starring other SNL alumni in bit part! No wonder it has the spark of life other teen movies of the era lacked and gags that actually produce laughs.

Election



Let's look back at a 90s teen movie that can actually measure up the Heathers legacy. Election is an MTV release that deserves a bigger cult audience that it currently holds. It's incredible dark with a hilarious script and strong performances. I love how each of the main characters has their own narration so we see the election from the perspective of all the participants. Each character's an analogy for the "types" we see in all elections big and small. The irony, "unreliable" narration, and cognitive dissonance in the voice overs make this is a delightful teen flick. I'll be checking out more from this director.


Bojack Horseman


More dark comedies on the list, because I can't get enough! I usually hate flat, flash-looking animation. The copy-pasted faces make it really hard to feel the character's emotions. Bojack suffers from this constraint, yet the animation is still fresh and crisp with intriguing creative flairs. I love the inexplicable animal characters, how they paired animals with personality traits, and the animal designs. The reptile ones fill with me a nerdy glee; you don't see many animated chameleons. I feel like this decade's starting to take form a distinct identity and this show captured it. I don't like the retina-searing neons/selfie-taking/phone-obsessed/hipster-ironic/constant retro-throwback direction we're going in, but it is what it is and this show lampoons perfectly. Great writing and great character development from our fucked-up lead Bojack Horseman, former star of a cheesy 90s Full House-style sitcom:

Did anyone else actively hate these shows even when they were children? Give me Transformers!

Worth a watch for the animation dark comedy lovers. I enjoyed it and will eagerly devour the upcoming second season. It has the look of a typical cheap raunchy comedy but I got a lot more out of this than I expected. Unlike most western animation its narrative is linear and gets better with each episode.

Louie


Critically acclaimed for a reason, this show is genius. Louis C.K. writes and plays an exaggerated version of himself loosely based on real life. He's an awkward, bumbling, pathetic father of two navigating life in NYC, trying to land dates (or just get laid) and perpetually failing miserably. There's random gore, Catholic Guilt, hilarious (yes, it can be) rape scenes, dozens of massively cringe-inducing moments (my favorite, an elderly southern sheriff asks for a kiss on the lips in exchange for saving his life; he delivers) and I LOVE it. I love the non-sequitur and often surreal narrative style and how you never know what to expect yet. A deliciously dark (so dark!) and wonderfully weird departure from your typical sitcom. I hate 'em all, I say!


Random Internet Pick: This True Facts about Animals series is amazing. Love the classical music background with deadpan narrator saying funny shit. Earnestly educational, too. Watch 'em all! My favorite is of course, The Fruit Bat.

Been watching anything interesting lately? Got any recommendations for me? Do leave 'em in the comments.
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16 comments:

  1. interesting list. I too hate sit coms, except arrested development which I don't think counts, so maybe Ill have to check out Louie and Icertainly want to see im not scared

    retro rover

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    1. I keep hearing that's amazing, I must watch it. That and "Breaking Bad," which I'm a miserable person for not watching. All the heaped praise can't be wrong, I've never met a person who didn't recommend it.

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  2. I'm saving this post for later, always looking for new to me documentaries to watch. You guys are so lucky with netflix, we don't have such thing in portugal and i think it's way cooler than having cable tv.

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    1. I think so too, we actually have cable because it just comes with the internet package and we don't plug in the box. Nothing on there I want to watch, I prefer Netflix.

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  3. Did you ever watch the Veronica Mars series? I didn't and watched the whole thing on Netflix this spring then paid to watch the movie last year. Another great teen series but with intelligence and just enough dark humor. The Killing was a good series too but dark mystery. I watched a documentary on poverty called Living on One Dollar which was great. Easy A was a movie I had avoided and now love.

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    1. "Easy A" actually looked good to me, loved the Hester Prynne reference. I'll have to check out all your other recommendations. Living on One Dollar looked interesting and reminded me of a teacher couple in the US who kept their food budget at $1.00 a day for a month.

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  4. I love simple movies like Mean Girls or Election when I'm working. They don't require your full attention, but still keep you entertained.
    I've recently watched the documentary/based on real life movies about Amanda Knox and Jodi Arias. I love movies like that.

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    1. Same here, those are the perfect "in the background" flicks. Love the "talky" films for some background noise while making stuff. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  5. I've been meaning to watch the Burt's Bees documentary! I also want to see the one about the guy behind Dr. Bronner's Soap. I think it's called "Dr Bronner's Magic Soapbox".

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    1. I finished half of that one, it was interesting. I think I liked Burt's Bees better, but the creators of both businesses had their quirky similarities. Dr. Bronner's is an awesome soap, even knowing how to make my own castile soap now, I still like their product.

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  6. I stopped watching Bojack Horseman I think on the first episode when he was getting humped by a human chick. I don't remember if they showed it or not, but I can't handle that kind of stuff. Blech!

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  7. If you're thinking of it as beastiality and it's skeezing you out, I wouldn't. Animals as stand-ins for humans is an animation staple used for ease of animation, pairing with personality traits, distinction, gags. Bojack is basically a human. If it's about raunchy cartoons upsetting you, yep, definitely not one for the faint of heart, but I'm all about the darkest and weirdest of gallows humor. Episode 1 ended on a low note with a vomit gag, I didn't dislike it because it was "gross", but because it was juvenile. Luckily it got significantly more sophisticated with each outing.

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  8. great picks.. election was a great movie.. the characters so intense they make you cringe.
    mean girls also so good..
    currently I am most looking forwards to game of thrones returning and the final season of Mad Men

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    1. Haha, that's the perfect way to describe Election.

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