Your Netflix Instant Weekend: MARWENCOL, PROMISED LANDS, and more

by: Brian Kelley
April 21st, 2011

Hello everyone! It's been a slow week at Netflix with only a small handful of titles worth watching added. It is fitting, though, as Easter fast approaches and I'm told that that is a time for family, chocolate, eating, and hiding things from children and laughing at them as they search for eggs. Aside from that, you may be able to squeeze in a few movies (especially if you're lucky like some of us and have Good Friday scheduled as a day to sit around sans pants and watch '70s films and play Portal 2). As always I've gone through all the new additions and picked out a couple for you to move to the top of your queues.

This week I've chosen to highlight two documentaries - one about a man who invents a world to escape the one that left him brain damaged and another about the real consequences of war (kind of). You know, light stuff.

MARWENCOL

After being beaten into a coma by a group of men outside of a bar, Mark Hogancamp, now brain damaged, lives his life in relative isolation, kept company by the residents of a fictional town of his own creation, Marwencol. This World War II era village, meticulously crafted down to the tiniest detail by Mark, is populated by representations of his friends and family. Staging elaborate stories in the world of Marwencol, Mark produces hundreds of photographs- each one strikingly beautiful- as a form of therapy.

It is easy to get an eccentric character documentary wrong. When you attend several festivals a year, you see an annoying number of them- films that seek to excite the audience by exploiting some oddball person regardless of the real problems in that individual's life. MARWENCOL, which premiered at SXSW 2010, is not one of those. Director Jeff Malmberg treats his subject very delicately yet remains candid. The film also opens up into a larger discussion when the outside world expresses interest in Mark's work. Is this therapeutic work of a mentally damaged man art that others deserve to see? It is heavy stuff but because of Malmberg's straightforwardness when dealing with the challenges of presenting Mark as a documentary subject, MARWENCOL becomes one of the best documentaries of recent memory. It is a chilling, captivating, moving, intelligent, heartbreaking, life-affirming and hilarious film that I could not possibly recommend more highly. (Available in HD)

PROMISED LANDS

Intellectual Susan Sontag, known for her literary works and political activism, also made a handful of films between 1969 and 1983. PROMISED LANDS began when Susan put together a small camera crew immediately after the 1973 Yom Kipur War (which sparked when coalition forces launched a surprise attack on the most sacred of all Judaic holidays) and filmed the aftermath in Israel. Featuring just two interviewees, the flow of the documentary is free-form and poetic, relying on imagery to tell the stories of the cost of war.

The biggest detriment to the film is Sontag's atypical desire to remain neutral on the underlying conflict- the message is (for the most part) politically agnostic, the particular fight in this case merely an opportunistic moment in time for Sontag to wax philosophical on human tendency to resort to violence. As such, the film becomes muddled in its own vagueness and it becomes clear that the filmmaking as an art form is not one of Sontag's many strengths. Still, as a timepiece in the life of one of the great modern minds and the issues in which she was interested, PROMISED LANDS is fascinating and manages to pack a few emotional punches despite its flaws.

The Wildcard - FEAR ME NOT

A middle-aged family man signs up for a clinical trial of a new anti-depressant. When the trial is called off due to some dangerous side-effects, he continues to take the drug, addicted to the feeling it gives him. This has various scary and violent consequences. With a few shades of BIGGER THAN LIFE, this film looks to be an appropriately dark and engaging thriller. Furthermore, FEAR ME NOT has a great strength in beautiful Swedish actress Paprika Steen (ADAM'S APPLES, THE SUBSTITUTE). (Available in HD)

If you're looking for more...

I'll admit I was not a big fan of it when I saw it a few years ago at Fantastic Fest, but enough people speaking highly of Jake West's DOGHOUSE that I figured I should let you know it's now available to stream. Angelina Jolie stars in spy thriller SALT written by Kurt Wimmer who I suspect will never be allowed to direct again after ULTRAVIOLET. Following Woody Allen with his jazz band and his soon-to-be-wife Soon-Yi, WILD MAN BLUES (directed by multiple-Oscar winner Barbara Kopple) is a fly-on-the-wall portrait of the director and his hobbies outside of film. The Billy Crystal/Debra Winger romantic comedy FORGET PARIS should make for fine watching with your significant other. Finally, Emma Stone shines in the hilarious and witty comedy EASY A.

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