Welcome to our regular post which sifts through the cinematic grit on Netflix UK to bring you the veritable bucketload of diamonds available on the streaming service.
We’re dividing our picks into different categories designed to accommodate the diverse choices available, old and new. Happy streaming.
Pick of the new releases
The Motel Life
The hard-drinking, hobo-like existence of Frank Flannigan and older brother Jerry Lee (played by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff) recalls the kind of blighted figures and transient lives found in the pages of those classic State-side literary works which trawl the American underbelly.
The drab wood-panelled watering holes and charmless cut-rate casinos the duo inhabit feel like they’ve been ripped straight out of a Bukowski novel, but the film has a surprisingly strong personality of its own, offering up a low-key, yet consistently absorbing character study of life on the fringes of contemporary society.
Featuring a superlative turn by the long underappreciated Dorff, The Motel Life is a downbeat affair packed with pathos, with the protagonists’ plight playing out like a stuttered road movie in search of an (seemingly) impossible end destination and cathartic resolution.
The repercussions of the past are felt in more ways than one in The Rocket – an elegantly-told and spirited yarn which hints at a magical realism while keeping its feet firmly on the ground. In the dilapidated, war-scarred country of Laos a young boy and his family are forced to embark on a treacherous relocation from their soon-to-be-flooded village.
Australian director Kim Mordaunt makes excellent use of the real locations and creates a sense of urgency and disorder within the stunning, yet incredibly dangerous backdrop (unexploded incendiary bombs from the country’s past are sprinkled around like discarded pieces of litter). This is a charming coming of age tale, and like its young protagonist, it has a lot of heart and an abundance of energy.
Netflix Top Five: Horror
Halloween is almost upon us once again and here are some alternative picks to the more recognisable shockers available to stream.
Fright Night (1985 version)
Forget the anaemic Colin Farrell-headlining remake, this is the original and vastly superior offering. Featuring perhaps the greatest horror premise ever devised, a horny, b-movie obsessed teenager finds the debonair dweller next door is luring females back for a little late night snacking. Crackling with a darkly homoerotic undercurrent and featuring a wonderfully larger-than-life turn by the late great Roddy McDowall, if you haven’t seen this since those halcyon VHS days, now is the time to reintroduce yourself.
Best bit: The first reveal of the vamp next door, which starts out as your typical 80s-looking voyeuristic T&A tease before turning really sinister.
Maniac (2012 version)
This is how you update a grindhouse classic. While Maniac does veer a little towards ‘slasher chic’ on occasion, it’s still a supremely unsettling ride. The film’s POV device proves to be a stunning achievement, both creatively and technically, and the creeping tension and discomfort is palpable as the effete-like Elijah Wood (as you’ve never seen him before) sets out of his scalping escapades. A truly stomach-turning horror.
Best bit: The shocking opening title credit shot, which masterfully lays out what’s in store for the viewer.
An intriguing if flawed mix of teen angst/dislocation and unsettling body horror, Excision is worth checking out largely for the impressive lead performance from ex-90210 alumni AnnaLynne McCord.
She goes full-on Charlize Theron Monster mode here, completely shedding her usual glitzy exterior and disappearing into something else entirely. Watch out for transgression king John Waters who makes a brief appearance as McCord’s exasperated therapist.
Best bit: McCord’s character’s first excessively gory daydream.
The Lords of Salem
It’s fair to say director Rob Zombie’s real-life wife Sheri Moon won’t be worrying Meryl Streep when it comes to any upcoming roles in prestigious Hollywood fare, but she’s by far the weakest link in this messy but memorable psychedelic slow-burn chiller.
Zombie manages to pull off some truly stunning visual moments and conjures up a deeply unsettling sense of dread and unease as the viewer embarks on an enjoyable game of ‘spot the 70s horror screen icon’.
Best bit: A concert in an abandoned theatre with a truly jaw-dropping, otherworldly performance on stage.
Currently riding on the crest of a wave thanks to his 80s homage-stuffed action/horror hybrid The Guest, cinematic bright young thing Adam Wingard crafts a neat little slasher, successfully subverting the home invasion sub-genre even if he doesn’t do anything new or innovative with the shocks and blood-letting. That being said, some strategically-placed piano wire offers a particularly inspired burst of gore.
Best bit: The Carpenter-esque score going into overdrive towards the end.
Further Halloween treats:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – Tobe Hopper’s deliciously schlocky and OTT follow-up to his classic. V/H/S – Unnerving horror portmanteau which features a contribution from the aforementioned You’re Next director Adam Wingard. Re-Animator – Stuart Gordon’s undisputed video shop classic should be standard issue for all horror fans. Stake Land – Interesting apocalyptic take on the vampire mythos from Cold in July director Jim Mickle.
Binge on….Bojack Horseman
The jaded Hollywood celebrity lifestyle is given a surrealist twist with this new Netflix original animated comedy, which is a strange beast in both senses of the word. Set in an alternative universe which man and talking animal co-habit, there’s more than a whiff of a deadpan Mike Judge-like vibe we follow the titular figure, a former 90s sitcom star (Horsin’ Around) who have fallen on hard times, but is attempting to claw (hoof?) his way back to the top via a tell-all biography. A second season has already been announced.
Best bit: Anytime BoJack’s agent and on/off girlfriend Princess Carolyn, a demented pink cat, enters a scene.
Venture back to a time when Hollywood action producer Joel Silver was at the top of his game producing preposterous yet hugely entertaining testosterone dripping fare like this. The late Patrick Swayze plays a zen-like bouncer hired to turn around the fortunes of a spit and sawdust watering hole, whilst also having to contend with an evil property magnate. Sam Elliot is his comrade in arms. Absolutely magic.
Best bit: The film’s most infamous moment, where Swayze performs a deadly DIY tracheotomy on the main henchman with his bare hands.
Discovery….Full Tilt Boogie
Ostensibly a behind-the-scenes look at the making of vampire Tex-Mex cult favourite From Dusk till Dawn, the film delves deeper than your regular, insipid DVD supplementary content. Watch star George Clooney on the cusp of A-list stardom dealing with early press intrusions, and a potentially disruptive wrangle with non-union members of the crew. A must see for anyone interested in the inner politics involved on a film production.
Best bit: Clooney and Tarantino’s comical Saturday Night Fever strut at the beginning of the documentary as they jokingly abuse the PA and wardrobe department.
Wildcard….The Battered Bastards of Baseball
A Netflix original, this immensely enjoyable documentary focusing on the efforts of TV bit-part actor and baseball fanatic Bing (father of Kurt) Russell, owner of legendary Minor League Baseball team The Portland Mavericks. No prior baseball knowledge is needed in this story of the sport’s ultimate underdogs and Russell’s heroic efforts which changed the face of the game in the 70s.
Best bit: Team member (and future award-winning filmmaker) Todd Field passionately recalling his experiences as a young batboy.