Your Netflix Instant Weekend: BLOOD CREEK, A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN, and more
It's that time once again. Every month, Netflix dumps a whole slew of movies onto their streaming service on the first and May is no exception. I had a hard time narrowing down titles and several great films didn't make the cut in any way. However, I think we've covered all the taste bases this week, there's truly something for everyone.
Because I feel like the last couple of weeks have been a bit "heavy", I wanted this week's highlights to be well-balanced and fun. They are all modern films (check out the "If you're looking for more..." section for plenty of classics), but ones that will definitely add some flavor to your weekend. So let's take a look a Nazi occult horror film from the director of BATMAN & ROBIN, a darkly comedic Norwegian character study, and an action film free of cheap shaky cam and bad editing.
The Wollners, a German family living in West Virginia, are asked to host a Nazi professor, Richard Wirth (Michael Fassbender), in their home. Little do they know they will become trapped by the evil he unleashes. Fast forward to modern day where Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill) refuses to give up on his brother Victor (Dominic Purcell), who disappeared several years earlier near Town Creek. On a routine evening, Victor reappears and immediately asks Evan to arm himself and come with him to take revenge on those who had been holding him captive. They arrive at the Wollners', farm weapons in hand and ready for bloodshed, but it may not be enough to keep them alive through the night.
Joel Schumacher takes a lot of shit and rightly so, he's a wildly inconsistent director with some absolutely unbearable clunkers in his filmography which spans almost 30 years. Yet with BLOOD CREEK (a movie that was dumped unceremoniously and unfairly into second run dollar theaters), he proves that no matter how far south a director's career appears to have gone, he may still have something interesting up his sleeve. Working with a script that could have easily translated into groan-worthy screen schlock, Schumacher directs the everliving fuck out of a nutso concept and ends up making one of the more darkly fun horror films of the past couple of years.
As Victor and Evan uncover more about the mystery of the Wollner farm and Professor Wirth reappears with the force of dark Nazi magic behind him, things spiral out of control, passing the viewer through an insane vortex of truly inspired set pieces, camera angles, and (mostly) practical gore effects. Entertaining as hell, if not all that clever or overly concerned with keeping plot holes plugged, your decision making on whether or not you should watch BLOOD CREEK boils down to this simple question: Do you want to see flaming Nazi horses or not? (Available in HD)
After serving 12 years in prison for murder, Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård) is released into a world that is both frustratingly strange and painfully familiar. His boss, Bjørn Floberg, sets him up in a small, prison cell-like room where he can both start to rebuild what little life he has left and fulfill his basic sexual needs with his landlord. His family wants nothing to do with him, his son has spent his life telling others his father is dead. Ulrik begins working for a mechanic and is given a job by Floberg - kill the rat who put him in jail.
Driven by a truly command performance by Stellan Skarsgård, A SOMEWHAT GENTLE MAN is a darkly comedic Norwegian character study. People surrounding Ulrik each have their quirks but he remains straight-faced as he tackles the obstacles of a man on the outside, the prospect of reverting back to his criminal ways looming over him. His attempts at reconnecting with his son bring the most realistic depth to the piece as it's the only thing that appears to bring Ulrik out of his autopilot funk. While not the strongest work by director Hans Peter Molland (ABERDEEN, THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY), it is a consistently pleasurable, funny, and touching drama that hinges on the superb acting chops of the lead. (Available in HD)
An American child, Casey (Scott Adkins), is taken into a dojo where he trained in the ninja arts. While growing up, an intense rivalry develops between fellow student Masazuka and him that results in Masazuka's expulsion. Some time later, Casey and the dojo master's daughter are sent to transport the Yoroi Bitsu, a chest containing the weapons of the last true ninja in their clan, to New York. Here, Masuzaka sees a chance to strike out against Casey and take the Yoroi Bitsu for his own evil plans.
First and foremost, the plot is as ridiculous as it sounds. It strings along scenes tossing around fancy ninja words in a desperate attempt to put together a three-act story. However, the script is not the reason to watch NINJA. Where NINJA ASSASSIN (released the same year) failed on almost every level, NINJA succeeds in excess due in large part to director Isaac Florentine (UNDISPUTED III) who proves once again he understands how to film exciting action. The biggest guns in his arsenal are his leads Scott Adkins and Tsuyoshi Ihara, both trained and highly athletic martial arts professionals capable of performing the crazy stunts required of them in full view of the camera. Utilizing their skills, Florentine crafts some pretty spectacular actions scenes with an '80s style disregard for common plausibility. It works to make NINJA a highly re-watchable action orgy despite a low budget.
Just as leads are the film's best strength, they can also be the biggest weakness. Florentine has yet to completely reconcile the need for actors who have the action skills with the need to have actors who can, you know, act. Adkins has shown he has the ability, he pulls off his Yuri Boyka character quite well in UNDISPUTED II and III, but the inherently goofy material here presents him with a bit of a challenge at times. Still, it's the best ninja film made in over a decade and it consistently looks and sounds spectacular. One day Isaac Florentine is going to be given a truly Hollywood-sized budget and have a film on 3,000 screens. The world won't know what knocked it the fuck out.
The Wildcard - BEING MICHAEL MADSEN
This appears to combine two things I enjoy in moderation - mockumentaries and Michael Madsen. In it, a shady paparazzo named Billy Dant writes a report stating that Madsen killed an extra on a movie set. In retaliation, Madsen hires a film crew to follow Dant around, invading every aspect of his personal life. Whether this has the intelligence to make a clever statement on celebrity and invasion of privacy is the biggest question. At the very least, we should get a good bit of Michael Madsen being all badass.
If you're looking for more...
De Palma's psychic horror thriller, THE FURY, ends with one of the best sequences ever committed to film and is available to stream now. In other horror additions, MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE loses director William Lustig who walked off the set during production, and, therefore, isn't up to par with the previous installments but is still quite entertaining. If you don't like clowns, stay away from Tobe Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE. Franka Potente stars in Christopher Smith's feature debut about horrors deep in London's Underground, CREEP. The late Dan O'Bannon reinvigorates the zombie sub-genre in the horror comedy THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. The film is notable as the first instance of zombies actively seeking out human brains as well as for scream queen Linnea Quiqley's trademark nudity on display in copious amounts. Another unfairly under-marketed horror flick, Kevin Costner's THE NEW DAUGHTER, is absolutely worth a watch. For solid sci-fi check out CONTACT. I recently watched the behind the pro-wrestling scenes documentary BEYOND THE MAT for the first time and loved it. A FILM UNFINISHED is a powerful documentary about Nazi propaganda that extends to how we view all historical images. Billy Wilder's THE FRONT PAGE has been added as has Hal Ashby's HAROLD AND MAUDE. The controversial film THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR is a racially charged thriller and a movie that absolutely could not be made today. If you still don't know that Super Mario Bros 3 cheat, check out THE WIZARD. Love in the drug-filled gutters is explored in THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK. Another film dealing with drugs and self destruction, SID & NANCY, should be queued. Ellen Burstyn dazzles in the fantasty-drama RESURRECTION. For laughs check out the Sam Rockwell/Steve Zahn crime comedy SAFE MEN as well as the irreverent '80s camp movie tribute WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER. It's better than it looks, is purely mindless entertainment, and has lots of exciting and colorful magic moments so add THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE now. Finally, gather your kids and check out BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. Directed by MAD MAX mastermind George Miller, it's a dark kids movie like we don't see anymore, one with the balls to tackle issues such as discrimination, isolation, and death. It's a truly wonderful film for the whole family.