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Netflix Reviews by/for the Bleary-Eyed

September 5, 2009

No time for real blogging in the foreseeable future.  Too busy with teaching two classes, dissertation drafting, conferences, and the job market.  But here’s a quick run-down of what I do with the two hours between leaving the office and falling asleep, usually while eating leftovers out of tupperware. (Sorry folks, no time to cook means no time to embed links to the movies–you’ll have to google things for yourselves.)

Gran Torino: Lizzie thought it would be about Italian cars, or maybe a heist (based on the title and cover), but soon figured it out. “So it’s like a role-reversed Karate Kid?” Right down to the classic car hand-off at the end.

The Class: As someone who used to have to do classroom observations in a public high school, all I could do was count the missed teachable moments and squirm at the awful relationship between instructor and students.  In this regard, this French flick is far more accurate, if far less watchable, than the typical American dreamy dramatizations of urban schools, from Stand and Deliver to Freedom Writers.

Odds Against Tomorrow: Unless you are into the backstory of “red” Hollywood, there is only one reason to watch this: Harry Belafonte.  The scene when he gets drunk and goes wild on the xylophone is priceless.

Street Thief: Made-for-TV cinema verite on the life of a working thief.  After 12 hours of staring at documents and trying to squeeze out academic prose, it was welcome mindless bliss.

Elevator to the Gallows: I was suckered by the scenery and the music.  If I were less inclined to suspend my disbelief, I think I would have found some holes in the plot.  But the cars, the clothes, the architecture, Miles Davis… my disbelief was distracted.

Pollock: I could watch Marcia Gay Harden all day long.  (I endured every episode of “The Education of Max Bickford” to see her.)  Otherwise, Ed Harris’s depiction of creative genius and drunkenness was overwrought, and the score sorta slaps you in the face over and over.

The Last House on the Left (2009): OK, I thought this remake of Wes Craven’s horror classic might be good either for a scare or for some comic relief.  About 30 minutes in, I started reading Rick Bayless’s interview in Chef’s Story and an article from Gastronomica on class identities and the rise of the American celebrity chef.  From what I could tell, the movie had no unexpected turns or noteworthy performances.

Felon: Yeah, we needed another movie about how scary American prisons are for white dudes.  Especially because of cruel black corrections officers.  Steven Dorff as rough and tumble working class dude?  Val Kilmer as wise prison “veterano?” (His word, not mine.) I amused myself by imagining that this was a sequel to White Man’s Burden.

The State Within: In this UK-made TV series, America can only be saved from evil corporate barons and corrupt political underlings by the crusading British ambassador, played by Jason Isaacs.  Vaguely interesting for insight into how roast-beef-eaters see the US–the Canadian series Intelligence is also revealing in this regard–but the plot and dialogue are pretty weak.  Ben Daniels, however, is highly watchable as boy-kissing intelligence officer Nicholas Brocklehurst (what a brilliant name!).

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Feel free to post recommendations for compelling, but not-too-engaging movies and TV series that can fill the slot between my car pulling into the driveway and my head hitting the pillow.

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3 comments

  1. You mean there are people who aren’t into the backstory of red Hollywood? Actually I think there’s an allusion to the nationalism vs. class debate, in the Belafonte character’s scorn for his wife’s “school committee” meeting–if that’s not a Party club in disguise, I’m Max Schachtman.


  2. Check out anything by Johnnie To; if you feel like paying attention, they’re incredibly well put together films. If you don’t, they’re just ridiculously beautiful and awesome movies.


  3. ZZ, thanks for the recommendation. I will start exploring those this week, thanks to Netflix streaming.

    Rootless/Max, I see that reading. I also imagined that it could well have been a swipe at the “uplift through respectability” approach. This is just great. Now I feel like I have to rent it again.



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