BINGE-R #8: Three New Netflix Movies + The Best of Ben Mendelsohn
THREE NEW NETFLIX MOVIES
The Big Short, Intern, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are three movies currently streaming on Netflix, but they’re not the ones I want to cover. Most of you have either seen them in the cinema or are perfectly capable of catching up with a major Hollywood release through your preferred service. The trio of films below, all worthy for differing reasons, are essentially making their widespread debut through Netflix.
Into the Inferno (Netflix, 2016, 107 minutes): Werner Herzog has long been drawn to volcanoes. The German filmmaker’s 1977 documentary La Soufriere unfolded on an evacuated Caribbean island expecting an imminent eruption, but back then Herzog was intrigued by the few people who stayed. With the globe-trotting Into the Inferno his fascination is with the volcanoes and their molten orange magma, which photographed at night churns with an otherworldly intensity. With their connection to the earth’s core, Herzog sees these conical giants as a fundamental part of our planet: “No permanence to art, no permanence to science,” he muses in that trademark narrator’s voice. Alongside co-director Clive Oppenheimer, an English volcanologist and friend, Herzog examines the belief systems and cargo cults that volcanoes create. A North Korean detour is too long, but as with several of his recent documentaries Herzog’s idiosyncrasies can’t obscure his soulful connection and visual insight to nature’s vast lineage.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (Netflix, 2016, 89 minutes): Dedicated to his father Anthony, the second horror feature from writer/director Osgood Perkins is less about fearful discovery than atmospheric confirmation. Much of what will happen in I Am the Pretty Thing … is detailed in the opening monologue, which creates an implacable mood through an ominously paced tracking shot and spectral narration. Her hair neatly tied back to accentuate the expressive slash of her mouth, Ruth Wilson (The Affair) plays Lily Naylor, a hospice nurse hired to live with ageing, bed-ridden horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss) in her remote New England home. Blum always claimed that her most successful book was told to her by the ghostly subject, Polly (Lucy Boynton), and the film folds together (cuts is too intrusive a term) multiple eras to create a horror film that is more about seduction than scares. Perkins’ technique is deliciously sparse, but wholly complete.
The Invitation (Netflix, 2015, 100 minutes): A psychological thriller never more violent than when the characters are trying to reassure each other, The Invitation follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his new partner Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a dinner party thrown in the Los Angeles hills by his former wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). A traumatic loss separated the former couple, but whereas Will is still suffering, Eden is transformed. “I’m free,” she says, burning unsustainably bright after two years away, “all that useless pain is gone”, and an affluent comedy of manners soon becomes unnerving as the hosts introduce unknown guests – including Zodiac’s John Carroll Lynch and his terrifying blankness – and their new philosophy. Director Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) uses menacingly suggestive framing and the house’s intrusive architecture to explore divorce’s emotional ramifications and the attractiveness of the cult mindset. This is a conscious uncoupling that makes scary sense.
THE BEST OF BEN MENDELSOHN
I was reasonably happy with last month’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, especially once it becomes a war movie, but one decision that delivered throughout was casting Ben Mendelsohn as Director Krennic, the Empire’s go-to man for Death Star construction. The Australian actor doesn’t just rock a white cape, he captures the nightmarish ambivalence of a totalitarian bureaucrat. Krennic doesn’t bare his teeth, instead he’s trying to rise above his boredom. Mendelsohn’s latest success is as good a reason as any to highlight his outstanding work in a streaming series that’s never had the profile it deserved.
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
Intricately plotted, with recurring snatches of a flash-forward that it dares you to disbelieve, the first season of Bloodline is a drama that is compelling because it captures the accumulated anguish of a fractured family and distils it into television’s most potent forms: the glance that signifies hope’s bitter dispersal, the despairing conversation that can’t bridge a divide, and the lie that both people know is being uttered. Set on the Florida Keys, so that a laidback beach milieu mocks the bleak undercurrents, it captures how uncharted the close connections from one family member to another can truly be.
The instigator, or the rock in the placid pool, is Mendelsohn’s Danny Rayburn, the black sheep of a successful clan who returns home for the 45th wedding anniversary celebration of his parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepherd). Flickering with hope, yet quick to offend, the role is a showcase for the actor’s ability to hold conflicting emotions close to the surface, so that they get painfully intertwined. The episodes reveal wrongs that stretch back to Danny’s youth, and no matter how destructive the character’s intentions are his humanity is never lost.
Danny’s siblings, played by Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, and Norbert Leo Butz, are sources of friction, and the scenes between Mendelsohn and Friday Night Lights star Chandler, who plays Danny’s older brother, police detective John Rayburn, play out with a ferocious charge that begins at love and ends with retribution. For spoiler-related reasons I’m not as keen on the second season, but you can watch the first batch as a self-contained story. Frankly, Ben Mendelsohn is remarkable in it.
>> Bonus Binge? Stan has two of Ben Mendelsohn’s finest film performances: as a terrifyingly amoral criminal in 2010’s astounding Animal Kingdom, and a sorrowful, down on his luck gambler in 2015’s underrated Mississippi Grind.
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