Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movies You Have To Read

We don't have cable because we are cheap poor, and so we watch a lot of Netflix. A LOT. We're watching it right now! One of the great things about Netflix is the wide variety of documentaries and foreign films that are otherwise very difficult to find.

And just because no one asked... here's a list of my top 18 favorite foreign films that can be in your home instantaneously via the power of the internet. Maybe I'll do documentaries later if anyone's interested. (By the way, I have other posts I'd like to do about what we've been up to with pictures and stuff, so hopefully those will come soon.)

1. The Man From Nowhere

Bin Won stars in this Korean action movie about a mysterious pawnshop owner who goes on an EPIC RAMPAGE to rescue the little girl who lives next door from the drug lords/ organ thieves who have kidnapped her. Stick with it through the first half hour, which you will spend largely being confused and trying to keep track of the dozens of characters. Because: EPIC RAMPAGE.

2. Mother

Bin Won again, but this time he plays a mentally retarded man who is accused of a brutal murder in a small South Korean town. Hye-ja Kim, who is amazing, plays the mother who goes to incredible lengths to clear her son's name. As the plot progresses and more and more details are revealed about the night the murder occurred, your allegiances to all the characters will shift and twist until you aren't even sure who you're rooting for.
3. Trollhunter

A Norwegian movie which relies on the "found footage" style (for which I am a total sucker) to tell the story of a group of student filmmakers who discover a bizarre secret: trolls are real, and the government pays a select group of individuals to track and, if necessary, kill them. All of the troll behavior is based on Norwegian folklore.

4. Lake Mungo

This Australian movie is presented like a documentary about a family going through the grieving process after their eldest daughter drowns. It's quickly revealed that the daughter seems to be haunting the family's home. This isn't a scary movie for people who like gore or CG monsters. It's a slow, haunting meditation about grief and death that still manages to get in a couple good jump scares. Stick with it through the midpoint twist, and watch the credits.

5. Downfall

This one was pretty popular when it came out, so all I'll say is that it's a German movie about the last few days of Hitler's life in a bunker under Berlin. It's as good as you've heard.

6. Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition

The books were all right, the American movie was pretty good, but the Swedish originals are better, in my opinion. Particularly since Netflix has the extended version which was originally a six-part miniseries. Six hours of Lisbeth kicking ass and far less of Mikael sleeping with random women than this Mary Sue character got away with in the books. Even the last installment, which is largely about the Swedish justice system, manages to be interesting.

7. Valhalla Rising

This is one of Leland's suggestions, I haven't seen it. When I asked him, "Is this Swedish or what?" he said, "It's crazy. It only has like five words and they don't make any sense. It's pretty much just a crazy Viking acid trip with lots of punching."

8. Powwow Highway

Not a foreign movie, but if you want to step outside American culture, there's nothing better than this road trip buddy movie about and by Native Americans. The buddies here are a demoralized, angry activist and an even-tempered sacred clown* who act as excellent foils for each other while they undertake a crazy quest to rescue the activist's sister from jail. This movie is goofier than I normally go for, but by the end I was grinning and sobbing at the same time.

And if you like this one, watch Smoke Signals next, which is based on the incredible book 'Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven' by Sherman Alexie.

*Heyoka is a Lakota concept but the description fits the Cheyenne character perfectly

9. Sabah: A Love Story

Sabah is a forty-something Muslim woman from a conservative family who falls for a white man in this Canadian movie. It's a pretty standard deviation on the cultural clash romantic comedy sub-genre, but a sweet and satisfying one. Plus - older non-conventionally attractive female main character!

10. Strictly Ballroom

If you loved Moulin Rouge but haven't seen this Australian movie by the same director, Baz Luhrmann, then get on it. Especially if you are a dancer, ballroom or otherwise. A talented male ballroom dancer must partner with a clumsy newbie - will they have enough time to prepare for the upcoming competition?? Quirky and stylized, though not quite as visually arresting as later Luhrmann movies.

11. Bliss

When a young woman is raped, her family in rural Turkey decides that she must be killed for the sake of the family's honor. To carry out the deed they enlist a male cousin who has recently returned an emotionally-scarred veteran from the endless Turkish civil wars. Except the cousin can't do it, and the odd couple flee from the family's vengeance, ending up as crew on the small yacht of a sophisticated professor who represents the urban, modernized yin to the couple's rural, traditional yang.

I liked the movie so much I read the book it was based on, "Bliss" by Zulfu Livaneli. The book is a challenging metaphor for the fundamental urban/rural cultural divide in Turkish culture, and so I suppose I'd say that it's actually "better" than the simplistic movie - but I liked the movie better anyway.

12. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Detective Dee is in jail for leading a rebellion against the Empress - who springs him loose when she needs him to solve the mysterious deaths of several court officials in this Chinese movie set in the Tang Dynasty. Beautiful sets and martial arts in the Crouching Tiger style. Detective Dee (or Di) is based on China's version of Sherlock Holmes, Judge Dee, who in turn is based on the actual real historical figure Di Renjie. 

13. Battle Royale

A class of high school students wakes up on an island and is instructed that they must kill each other or risk death themselves, with the last student standing crowned the winner. AKA: the Japanese book/movie that Suzanne Collins has been accused of plagiarizing with The Hunger Games. The movie is kind of nonsensical and not that great, with numerous plot holes (the book is much better), but don't tell me you're not curious about the controversy.

So... I know some of the slasher purists will get annoyed about this, but even if she copied the essential concept, who cares? They're like variations on a theme, a perfect example of how two authors with the same idea will create very different stories. The authorial intents and purposes are totally different. Battle Royale is an almost satirical exploration of teenage identity and utilizes extreme violence as a juxtaposition against the petty interests of the teenage characters. Hunger Games is a dystopian commentary on authoritarian control and the extremes of reality tv that at times takes itself too seriously.

14. Shall We Dance?

In Japan, ballroom dancing is a taboo activity for men. So when a businessman starts lessons, he hides his growing talent and passion from his wife, further deepening the divide between them. When the truth comes out, it will either restore their marriage or finally destroy it. A movie about finding joy in life.

15. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (documentary)

Normally I hate "sound bite" documentaries that feature an endless arrangement of people not saying much about a particular subject. But somehow in this documentary about legendary sushi master Jiro Ono, it really works. The camera work is luscious, lingering over every gleaming piece of glorious fish. And the man himself is amazing with his incredible life story and epically Japanese dedication to work.

16. Waste Land (documentary)

Hundreds of scavengers pick through each load delivered to Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio De Janeiro, gathering materials that can be sold. For his latest project, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz photographs some of the workers and then enlists them to help create enormous versions of the photos from the garbage itself. The stories of the workers - and how many of them find new self-worth as they see themselves transformed into art - will make you first hate humanity and then love it again.

17. Burma VJ (documentary)

Burma, AKA Myanmar, AKA the Happiest Place on Earth, was at the time of filming a brutally restrictive military dictatorship that controlled all media sources. In order to document the truth of life in their country, both for the Burmese and for the rest of the world, independent journalists Burma VJ risked their lives to gather footage of the government's abuses. As riveting as any drama, except this is really happening to real people.

(Today Burma is technically under civilian control, though the military still retains a large amount of power.)

18. Unmistaken Child (documentary)

When Buddhist teacher Geshe Lama Konchog dies, his dedicated disciple Tenzin Zopa is dispatched to find the child who houses the lama's reincarnation. Tenzin Zopa is incredible - disarming, open, sweet, personable - I basically fell in love with him. And after Tenzin finds a child who may be the reincarnation of his master, I was enthralled by the implications, for Tenzin, for the child, and for the child's family.

So that's my list! What foreign movies on Netflix have you enjoyed?

1 comment:

  1. There should be more discussion of Valhalla Rising. Perhaps even a post entirely dedicated to the awesome ridiculousness that this movie is.