Your Netflix Instant Weekend: LAST TRAIN HOME, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, and more

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
February 24th, 2011

I hope all of you had fun with JASON X last weekend! You all watched it, right? Yeah, last week was a little dry, but this week's new Instant titles are a bit stronger with several documentaries to choose from, some high-brow films, and a couple of easy-to-digest Hollywood flicks. So, when you're not busy watching the new-to-video BIRDEMIC, I have a few suggestions to make your weekend better than it should be.

Today we look at a magnificent documentary about migrant works in China, the first (and most likely last) short film to be featured in this column, and a mysteriously overlooked film about the theater.

LAST TRAIN HOME

It's almost impossible to image a mass of 130 million people migrating at the same time. That's exactly what happens in China every year right around the Chinese New Year. These people are migrant workers, men and woman who leave their villages for the city, live onsite, work long hours, and return home only once annually for a brief visit. Through the course of LAST TRAIN HOME, filmed over three years, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin (a married couple) are followed as they fight to get home and then fight their family at home. Their daughter, Zhang Qin, is resentful of their leaving her and her brother with their grandmother, stopping by once a year to chide them about their marks in school.

We, the audience, realize the sacrifice Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin are making for their children to have a better future, but like a microcosm of a generation-sized cultural shift in China, a great deal of friction develops. In a heartbreaking turn, Zhang Qin makes a decision that will anger and sadden anyone invested in this family (something that happens very quickly while watching LAST TRAIN HOME). Director Lixin Fan only films the events as they unfold, there are no talking heads, no forced interviews. It is at times beautiful, unsettling and strangely uplifting. LAST TRAIN HOME is never anything less than compelling, though, and coming out of it one will never look at a "Made in China" label quite the same again. (Available in HD)

UN CHIEN ANDALOU

Normally I wouldn't consider a short for top-billing in this column (I'm trying to fill your whole weekend with cinematic treasures) but UN CHIEN ANDALOU isn't just a short film, it's a decoder ring for the filmography of one of the most influential filmmakers ever. A collaboration between Salvador Dali and first-time director Luis Buñuel, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, which shocked audiences in 1929, still has a few jarring moments while maintaining a hypnotic watchability. There is the famous eyeball slicing scene, but over the course of the film's 16 minutes there are plenty more compelling images to be discovered.

I call this film a decoder ring because Buñuel, a pioneer in surrealist cinema, packs the diminutive runtime with the sort of dream logic that would go on to dominate many of his films. If one can jive and flow with UN CHIEN ANDALOU, one is ready to immerse himself in Buñuel's world. And that's a very, very good thing. Give it a try, even if just for historical curiosity's sake. I think you'll end up liking it without knowing exactly why.

ME AND ORSON WELLES

Directed by Richard Linklater, starring Zac Efron and carrying a title bearing the name of one of cinema's largest (no pun intended) figures, it's hard to decipher the reasoning of every single distributor passing on ME AND ORSON WELLES. After predictions of its success were proved false, the production company eventually gave this film a small theatrical run on its own dime. No matter now, the story of 17-year-old Richard (Efron), who meets Orson Welles (a fabulous Christian McKay) and is cast as Lucius in a Broadway presentation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater, is available right now for your viewing pleasure.

ME AND ORSON WELLES is not necessarily about Welles himself, it's more of a coming-of-age story as Richard traverses the obstacle course that is major theater production and dabbles in love. Welles is merely a springboard. All the backstage stuff is truly fascinating, the inner workings of a theater crew laid bare, and Efron manages to create an endearing character in Richard (even if his final arc falls a little flat). There's always room for a classic, good-natured film like this- full of drama, comedy and mushy love- and based on pedigree this film has everything going for it. It is appropriately slight and well worth your time. (Available in HD)

The Wildcard - GRIZZLY PARK

A killer bear movie not made by William Girdler (DAY OF THE ANIMALS, GRIZZLY) automatically fills me with apprehension, but I'm willing to give anything a shot. So apparently 8 inexplicably attractive people have committed sins great enough to be assigned community service. Once in the woods, they are stalked by not just wildlife, but a serial killer too. Sounds fine by me. Frankly, if you don't want to see a group of hot youth get mauled by a bear and stalked by a killer in the woods then I think there's something wrong with you. Plus, just look at that poster!

If you're looking for more...

First off, if you're looking for more documentaries, start off with FAT HEAD, a rebuttal to Spurlock's SUPER SIZE ME that contains actual information. Speaking of Spurlock, he's one of the filmmakers involved in mostly-entertaining FREAKONOMICS, an adaptation of the book of the same name that explains, in layman's terms, some rather strange economic theories. Speaking of strange, FETISHES spends some time in an S&M club in New York to (very superficially I'm afraid) examine particular sexual desires. In the fiction world, Katie Jarvis puts in a masterful performance in the excellent FISH TANK, a portrait of a young girl spiraling out of control. The film also stars the always reliable Michael Fassbender. MESRINE: PART 1: KILLER INSTINCT is the first in a 2 part biopic series about French gangster Jacques Mesrine as played by Vincent Cassel. If the release timing of Part 1 is any indication, the even better Part 2: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 should be available sometime around the end of March. Another biopic, THE LAST STATION, is a classic melodrama centered around Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Regardless of what you believe about the film being apartheid propaganda, it's a fascinating film. ROAD, MOVIE is exactly what the title suggests, but filtered through a fantastical sensibility that can only come from a film made in India. I haven't seen it, but word is THE KARATE KID (2010) isn't the complete disaster people were expecting (it's worth noting the original is available too). Remember when Adam Sandler was funny? Well, HAPPY GILMORE has been added to remind you. Alternatively, you can check out the amusing if uneven ANGER MANAGEMENT.

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