Your Netflix Instant Weekend: LIGHTNING BUG, ELECTRIC SHADOWS, and more
This week's column actually stretches two weeks back as things have been a little slow on Netflix's streaming service. A slew of quality additions was immediately followed by a dry patch. Now that it seems most of the country is suffering from a monstrous heat wave (it was 103 degrees here in Texas yesterday!), I imagine you guys are looking for something to do inside where it's cool.
Should you choose to skip the cineplex this weekend, there are plenty of options for you. Let's take a look at a semi-autobiographical tale of a makeup effects artist in the making and a Chinese melodrama centered around the shared love of movies.
Green is a young, self-taught, and talented up-and-coming makeup effects artist stuck in a small Southern town, oppressed by his alcoholic father and the religious zealots that populate it. Even when he finds comfort in a relationship with a young lady (played by That '70s Show's Laura Prepon), the girl's mother proves to be yet another nightmare in his life. Green's struggles to become his own man with his own passions despite being trapped in a living Hell are chronicled in LIGHTNING BUG. The film is a semi-autobiographical story about makeup effects artist Robert Hall (who has worked on projects ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the remake of THE CRAZIES and also directed LAID TO REST) and because it's bred of true experience rather than just an understanding of the beats necessary for a coming-of-age story, it rings far more true than most films of its kind. The fact that I couldn't even find a decent screenshot from the movie shows just how asininely under-seen it is. Get on it.
Another personal film (with stamps constructed less from real life experiences than from the emotional residue left by them), ELECTRIC SHADOWS is about a minor accident that brings two film lovers, Mao Dabing and the deaf Ling Ling, together unexpectedly. While Ling Ling is being held by police for assaulting him, Dabing goes to her apartment to feed her fish and it is there he discovers her passion for cinema. The walls are covered with images from Chinese films that look like storyboards for Ling Ling's life. Dabing then finds her diary and proceeds to uncover the story of Ling Ling, from a little future film-loving girl to the deaf woman of present. The debut (and only) film of Jiang Xiao, ELECTRIC SHADOWS is as heartfelt a story as you will find about the passion of film shaping one's life experience. It comes from a place of pure passion and anyone with an appreciation of the art form will immediately find a deep connection with the characters. (Note: Netflix' presentation of ELECTRIC SHADOWS matches the readily available English friendly DVD which is sub-par to say the least. However, I still recommend watching the film, its message and characters so rich they transcend the less-than-ideal picture quality.)
The Wildcard - SWEET KARMA
Lord knows I love a good revenge film. The problem is many of the modern ones lean far too closely towards empty exploitation and don't quite work in a way that lets the viewer champion the bloodshed (see my review of the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake). SWEET KARMA, a film I missed at my favorite festival, Fantastic Fest, is about a Russian girl who enters Toronto's underground sex trade to give her sister's murderers what for. Careful, the trailer is NSFW.
If you're looking for more...
Speaking of revenge films, HARRY BROWN sees a kick-ass Michael Caine taking back his neighborhood from the hoodlums that killed his friend. I rarely recommend anime but check out DEAD LEAVES, GHOST IN THE SHELL, and BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE - all are excellent. A few kaiju classics were also added, I recommend both GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Kim Ki-duk's understated horror THE ISLE is Korean cinema at its best. Speaking of Korean cinema at its best, queue Kim Ji-woon's hyper-violent revenge saga I SAW THE DEVIL now. The bizarre post-apocalyptic comedy A BOY AND HIS DOG has returned to the lineup. Michael Rooker's performance in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER will chill you to the bone. PHANTASM should fill your need for fun and inventive horror this weekend and THE EVIL DEAD is obviously a classic of the genre. RUNNING ON EMPTY is Sidney Lumet's brilliant crime drama starring the late River Phoenix. You can never go wrong with Claude Chabrol so check out THE BRIDESMAID. In the documentary THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM, filmmaker Peter Cohen explores the aesthetic motives of Third Reich.