As you may have guessed by the title I have been scouring Netflix more than usual recently. I don’t need to rave on about how good Netflix is but what I do want to rave on about are the hidden gems on there. Some of these films are not necessarily unknown, but you may have just scrolled past them in a recommended or genre list. So here is a small breakdown of some films you should give a try….
1. Short Term 12
Director – Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring – Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Stephanie Beatriz
Anybody who follows the independent film scene then the chances are you’ve came across this film. It follows the workers & residents of a Residential Treatment Facility, primarily for young people, as they negotiate the many challenges of life. Based on a short film by the same name, and director.
I’d had my eye on this film for a while, and afterwards I was kicking myself for not watching it sooner. Though it is most certainly a Drama overall, it blends moments of happiness, joy and sadness seamlessly together. The challenges that are faced by the characters in the film are things that you can relate to. They also do not unnecessarily over dramatise any of it, which I feel has more of an impact then the sloppy Romantic Dramas that litter Hollywood. From a relatively little known cast and Director on his second outing, they have achieved a brilliant film which has a bigger heart than most films that hit the multiplex.
2. Fruitvale Station
Director – Ryan Coogler
Starring – Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz
Another smaller production I got round to watching was Fruitvale Station, a film that was nominated, and won, a plethora of awards at numerous film festivals. As a result, the impact of the performances and direction for this film have lead to positive steps for the cast & crew. Michael B. Jordan has finally made the transition from small screen to big screen after ‘Chronicle’ and this. The director Ryan Coogler is lined up, along with Jordan for the film ‘Creed’, a sequel/spin off from the ‘Rocky’ films.
Fruitvale Station is based the the tragic real life event that saw Oscar Grant III shot and killed going into 2009. The film follows his last day on the 31st December 2008 as Grant attempts to get his life on track by being better to the loved ones around him, throughout the day he comes across family, friends & strangers until his unfortunate passing.
Knowing the events going into this I knew what I was going to ultimately get from watching it, regardless of that the emotions still hit hard and heavy when the credits rolled. That I believe was down to the performances in the film, Octavia Spencer & Michael B. Jordan were phenomenal throughout and it is hard to believe they were not recognised by the bigger awards ceremonies. Fruitvale Station is a steady journey through the day of one man, and rather than be a film that focuses on a tragedy, it skilfully spends its time talking about many other social & moral points.
3. The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Director(s) – Chaplin Way, Maclain Way
Starring – Todd Field, Kurt Russell, Rob Nelson
Admittedly this documentary may not be for everybody, though even if you only have a slight knowledge of sport this makes for a very interesting watch. (For the record I do not enjoy Baseball as a sport but loved thisdocumentary).
This Netflix Original follows the true story of the Portland Mavericks, the only independent baseball team around between 1973-1977. Bing Russell (dad of Kurt), the former sheriff Clem from TV show ‘Bonanza’ created the team after Portland’s last baseball team moved. Despite critics across the country talking down the idea and declaring it would not work, the Mavericks became a resounding unconventional success in the sport and with the fans. Unfortunately the waves they were causing were not in the best interests of the big hitters or the MLB.
I watched this on the back of another sports documentary (We Could Be King) and had no idea what to expect, just checking it out on the name alone. Within minutes my mind was blown by the fact that Bing Russell was Kurt Russell’s dad, and he owned a baseball team and was on ‘Bonanza’. After my initial surprise I was immediately sucked into this true story, which incredibly has not been made into a film…yet. As a documentary it doesn’t do anything that deviates from your standard docs but the talking heads and footage throughout, a lot of footage from the time itself, keeps things moving nicely. Next to ‘House of Cards’ this is the best Netflix Original I have got round to watching.
4. The Sacrament
Director – Ti West
Starring – Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Gene Jones
‘The Sacrament’ is a documentary/found footage style horror film that follows a news team who go to a reclusive, hidden camp called Eden Parish. A member of the news team has a sister who invites him to visit her out of the blue, and as a result the team look to make a story out of there visit. Eden Parish however may not be as peace loving or calm as it seems.
I was conflicted going into this film, on the one hand we have Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers), a director who is carving a name for himself on the indie horror scene like few people have done before. On the other hand it’s found footage style film, something I have grown cold on for a while now. Despite my reservations I gave it a whirl, and I’m glad I did.
As far as found footage goes this is one of the best. It has a premise that makes sense (unlike most others) & good reason for the camera to be around for the most part. Things start out slowly as the news team visit Eden Parish for the first time but there is enough mystery and intrigue to push this along without becoming bored. As the team begin to scratch the surface of the camp they begin to hear unsettling stories from some of the people who live there. Discussions & interviews with the leader of the camp, a man who goes by the name ‘Father’ only bring up more questions and uncertainty about the goings on at Eden Parish.
In terms of Horror, it is not your conventional scare or gorefest. Instead it relies on a very true fear of something seemingly normal that is much more than what it appears. What helps the film in it’s effect are the scenes involving the news team & The Father character which verge on scintillating. Horror films can be over reliant on visual effects and frights for success. ‘The Sacrament’ however opts for what few horrors do and use solid acting, dialogue and setting to create fear. Stanley Kubricks ‘The Shining’ did not become the classic that it is by throwing blood all over the walls, it carefully crafted fear through amazing scenes with Jack Nicholson. Though ‘The Sacrament’ is a long way off ‘The Shining’ it follows a similar path in creating tension throughout. If you have one last Found Footage film in you, then make it ‘The Sacrament’.