Your Netflix Instant Weekend: ACTION JACKSON, FEMME FATALE, and more
Netflix held out on us. They didn't deliver our Christmas presents until January 1st, which is when dozens upon dozens of new titles were added to their streaming service. The plethora of new choices is downright intimidating. I come to your rescue, offering up a few recommendations of what you can add to your queue for the coming weekend.
Being the conscientious suggestion machine I am, I have looked ahead to the coming week and it seems a bit dry. Fear not, though, as there was so much stuff added for the new year we can take two weeks to go through it. This week, let's take a look at a Carl Weathers action romp (see, I promised you some Carl Weathers action last week), Brian De Palma's brief return to glory, a violent Schwarzenegger/Milano father/daughter classic, a blaxploitation film with female leads and one of my favorite actresses, and a surprisingly classy film for this column.
Considering the talent involved, I find it difficult to understand why ACTION JACKSON isn't a favorite amongst '80s action fans. Coming off of 2nd unit direction duties on films such as PREDATOR and REDS as well as The A-Team, Craig R. Baxley (whose 2nd film, I COME IN PEACE, is equally fun and under-seen) went into his first feature as director knowing a thing or two about creating exciting action sequences. His star, Carl Weathers, who had a successful run in the ROCKY series and had just finished PREDATOR as well, seemed poised to become an action star of epic proportions. Instead, he made the hop to TV (his stint in Arrested Development is priceless) with the occasional movie or video game cameo. Craig T. Nelson plays a bad guy, a young Sharon Stone was still a few years from playing second fiddle to her own crotch, and Vanity is Vanity. If you're wondering why I've made no mention of a plot, that's intentional, it really doesn't matter. While I love this movie through and through, from Carl Weathers' wise-cracks to every delicious explosion, I recommend it almost solely based on the "car chase" that has Carl Weathers running down and wrecking a taxi...on foot. (Available in HD)
You would not be blamed for having given up on De Palma after the one-two punch-in-nuts of SNAKE EYES and MISSION TO MARS. He is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers and even I was contemplating quitting him for a while. Fortunately, I gave in to curiosity (and the allure of Rebecca Romijn) when FEMME FATALE was released and came out rewarded in countless ways. It is the story of Laure (Romijn), a woman with the gall to double-cross her jewel stealing partners, assume the identity of a woman who commits suicide and go into hiding, escaping France for the US. When she returns, though, now the wife of the US Ambassador to France, she is caught by a photographer's (Antonio Banderas) camera which tips off her old crime-mates that she is still alive. This movie is De Palma's love-letter to the language of cinema and it turns out to be one of the most sexy and structurally assured pictures of his career. The film follows its own internal logic to the most obvious conclusion - obvious once you've seen it and understand the clues that were there all along. It will work your brain and make sweet love to your eyeballs. (Available in HD)
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix (!), a former elite commando who is minding his own business when someone kidnaps his daughter (Alyssa Milano) and forces him to go on a mission to assassinate the leader of a Latin American country so a dictator can stage a military coup. Matrix has other plans. This is Schwarzenegger's movie through and through, without him the film wouldn't work. With him, though, it's a masterpiece of badass cinema. Not only does it contain an obscenely high count of insanely awesome one-liners ("I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now, I'm very hungry!") but it is every bit as violent as a hardcore action flick should be. Director Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1984, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO) understands what he has to work with and what his limitations are and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable action flick you will want to return to again and again. (Availble in HD)
I knew it would happen at some point, but I'm very glad to be able to, in just the 3rd week of this feature, recommend a film starring one of the most adorably crazy women in the history of cinema. Yes, CLEOPATRA JONES features Shelley Winters. Not only does she star in it, she plays the main villain, named Mommy. In the film, Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) works as US Special Agent who is tasked with putting an end to drug trafficking operations. In the course of her work, she destroys a poppy field owned by Mommy who promises to put an end to Jones. It is not a particularly original blaxploitation setup but it is notable in that, coming out just after COFFY, it was one of the early female-led blaxploitation films. It is completely harmless fun from beginning to end and the standout scene pits Jones face-to-face with a leather clad Mommy.
If it seems like this column is a little genre heavy, it's simply because that is how I roll. I want to pick movies that will entertain you, make your weekend fun and filled with excitement. However, I'm not immune to classy dramas and AN EDUCATION is about as elegant as they come. Despite having been nominated for Best Picture, Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Best Actress (Carey Mulligan) at the Academy Awards, it still seems many have chosen to pass this one by and that is a huge mistake. The story is of 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan), who lives in 1960s London and is being forced to pursue continued education by her loving but oppressive father (Alfred Molina). Her desire to experience the world in a way that cannot be found in books leads her to fall for a smooth playboy named David (Peter Sarsgaard) who is more than willing to bring her along to taste the finer things in life. It is a simple story that is (refreshingly) presented in a completely straightforward manner and flawlessly performed by its cast. It will leave you charmed.
The Wildcard - DARK PORTAL: THE CHRONICLES OF VIDOCQ
Each week I look for something that I have not seen in the new additions and make a blind recommendation. If you have seen it or end up watching it, please feel free to warn or encourage others in the comments section.
Before unleashing Halle Berry as CATWOMAN, Pitof (who had worked in the special effects department on several Jean-Pierre Jeunet productions) made this film based (loosely it would appear) on the real life criminal turned police chief turned investigator, Eugene Francois Vidocq. In this film, Vidocq (Gérard Depardieu) tracks down a mysterious figured called The Alchemist. However, when Vidocq is killed by The Alchemist, his biographer begins to retrace the steps of his investigation. I'm not one to ever defend CATWOMAN but it did have a few interesting visual touches that make me interested enough to see what Pitof was able to accomplish in his native French language. Also, this movie holds the distinction of being the first film shot entirely in digital video to be released. For that, it holds some historical value.
If you're looking for more...
Michael Dougherty's modern Halloween anthology horror classic TRICK 'R TREAT is ready to beam into your living room. Are you ready for it? The legendary Hal Ashby directs Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern in the Vietnam-era romance COMING HOME. For another wartime romance classic, fire up DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Barry Levinson's theatrical debut about friendship and growing up (and refusing to grow up) in Baltimore, DINER, is now available. GOODFELLAS, Scorsese's gangster epic nigh perfection, should be in your queue if you don't already own it. Aronofsky's indescribably beautiful love story, THE FOUNTAIN, is available in HD. Speaking of indescribable, the combination of William S. Burroughs' book and David Cronenberg's direction is as wild as you imagine in NAKED LUNCH. For my money, THE LOST BOYS is not only the best vampire movie of the '80s, it's one of the best movies of that entire decade. Finally, one of the definitive kid killer thrillers, THE BAD SEED, will chill you to the core!
Next week we'll cover some more films from the New Year's batch. Not only we will be trapped on a ski lift, we'll get hot and heavy with Raquel Welch!
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