Netflix Instant Queue–My List


My last blog on the pleasure of curling up to watch past episodes of favorite TV programs or programs and movies you missed while they were being released for the first time was on February 6, 2012 (“Netflix Instant Queue”–BBC’s Your Best Bet).

Netflix is now a juggernaut.  For me the pleasures of Netflix downloading has tripled just like their stock. And just as Amazon is challenging the distribution of bricks-and-mortar publishing by promoting e-books, so Netflix is challenging the entertainment world of cinema and television with instant streaming.

A few recommendations in the movie category including some oldies as well as original content produced exclusively for Netflix viewers:

1) Blackfish (2013) (see last week’s review of April 19): A searing documentary about how SeaWorld treats the orcas in captivity for the Shamu show.

2) Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011):  A reporter’s perspective on “dead tree” newsprint and the demise of the newspaper world as we know it.

3) House of Cards , seasons 1 and 2 (see my reviews February 11, 2013 and March 12, 2014.  One of the best political thrillers ever.  Not just a remake of the 1990’s British series, but an original drama of the corruption of politics in the US created expressly for Netflix.

4) Orange is the New Black (see my reviews of August 7 and  August 15, 2013) A breathtaking example of narrative writing at its finest.  Loosely based on  true events, this Netflix original raises the question:  How does one survive in a penal institution that can kill your soul?

5) Fargo (1996)  This classic Coen brothers eccentric crime thriller is the basis for the riveting new television series by the same name that has just broadcast two episodes on HBO.  There are very few similarities in story but the TV version of the quirky characters and personalities channel the cinema upon which the HBO series is based.  Watch both!

6) Side Effects (2012) (see my review July 31, 2013)  This limited-distribution Steven Soderbergh drama should have had considerably more traction!  The crime revealed is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible?

7) The World Before Her (2012)  This haunting Indian documentary focuses on two young women, both believing themselves independent and feminist.  Ironically (from an American’s point of view), one yearns to be  Miss India while the other trains to become a militant nationalist.  Riveting!

Try some of these  on my list, let me know ones you would recommend, and continue to discover the more obscure but worthwhile cinematic treasures we have to choose from–more than ever before!  At the click or swipe of a finger!

“Blackfish”–A Whale of a Tale


Even if you are not a PETA member, you will be moved by  “Blackfish“, in which SeaWorld captures and trains killer whales, also known as orcas, in captivity.  The SeaWorld parks in Florida (with a brief filming in San Diego) are the center of this compelling film.  An unflinching portrayal of the brutal misconduct of the SeaWorld corporation towards the orcas, “Blackfish”   also reveals the betrayal felt by the young, enthusiastic whale-loving trainers.  Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s use of interviews and  archival footage presents almost irrefutable evidence against the company , resulting in several lawsuits.

images “Blackfish” belongs in the same category as “Project Nim”, a 2011 documentary about a 1970’s experiment on a chimpanzee for US academic research and “The Cove”, a film about the slaughter of dolphins in Japanese waters.  All three documentaries deliver  gruesome and horrific details of  the blatant human torture of animals.  While “The Cove” features boats trapping dolphins to slaughter them for market, “Blackfish” and “Project Nim” both feature animals used for human entertainment or purported research.

Cowperthwaite began work on the film after the death of  an experienced trainer by an orca while performing in the popular Shamu show.   Documentaries can still create change — and for SeaWorld the perception of  theme parks is forever changed by this film. Overall attendance at SeaWorld parks and Busch Gardens declined by 5% in the first nine months of 2013.   In response to the film, Senator  Greg Ball proposed legislation in New York to ban keeping orcas in captivity.  In March assemblyman Richard Bloom also introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, a bill in California that would ban entertainment-driven killer whale captivity and retire all current whales, but now the legislation is in jeopardy due, in part,  to the SeaWorld lawsuit against this controversial film.  (

Note: This film is available through Netflix and on CNN’s website.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” –Hungary for Humor


The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-PosterThis British-German co-production directed by Wes Anderson is  the adventure of Gustave, (a comedic turn for Ralph Fiennes) a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (the astonishing 17-year old Tony Revolori) , the “lobby boy” who becomes his confident and essential companion.  Together they are determined to prove Gustave’s innocence after being framed for both theft and murder. The story centers on  the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for a family fortune — all against the back-drop of a  dramatically changing Europe.

The narrative takes place in three time periods (each indicated by a different cinematic technique):  1) the present in which a teenage girl stands before a stature of “The Author” and begins learning about his story of the Grand Budapest Hotel; 2) 1968, a flashback to the elderly owner Zero Moustafa and “The Author” (Jude Law):  Zero’s remembrance of his youth under the tutelage of Gustave, concierge extraordinaire.   3)  pre- Second World War, circa 1932-33 when Zero is a young “lobby boy” and Gustave is the darling of the wealthy doyennes who patronize the hotel.  One especially wealthy eccentric upon whom he dotes, Madame D  (Tilda Swinton), dies mysteriously and bequeaths everything to Gustave.  Then the wild journey and story really take off  with Gustave and Zero partners in crime.

I am a huge fan of Wes Anderson (ever since “Bottle Rocket”). His films have always been quirky, idiosyncratic and goofy originals. All of Anderson’s trademarks combine to produce the ultimate wackiness in his humor. The absurdity that defines his style makes “The Grand Budapest Hotel” crazy and hilarious!


Top Ten Movies of 2013

f19bff75-9126-48a6-a2f0-2cb623dc91e1Every year I have taken a look back at the movie reviews I have written.  When I counted the reviews I have written this year (=18 plus 3 this year about movies released in 2013), I wanted to see what would be my top ten (actually twelve)  favorites.  It wasn’t easy, as both television and cinema have upped the ante on story-telling.

This list is not ranked in order of quality –only my top ten for 2013, grouped by genre, and one additional because I couldn’t help myself.

Independent Studios (Quirky themes):

1)Dallas Buyers Club (February 24, 2014  review): character-driven as well as plot-driven, focusing on the relationship between Woodroof and Rayon, polar opposites who need and want each other.  The performances are remarkable, perhaps as much  for the costumes and physical transformation as for the acting.

2) August:  Osage County  (Jan 29, 2014 review): a disquieting look at an American family with secrets and lies that keep coming and coming, when the viewer least expects them. Some critics disagree, but for me, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the shattering performance by Meryl Streep as a mother from hell.

3) Her  January 19, 2014  review):  part romantic comedy, part sci-fi, “Her” plays with the future and the interface between humans and their computers as well as the problems and pitfalls of communicating feelings in any relationship.

4) Amour (February 18, 2013 review): An epitaph of mourning, of having to face the certitude of death. It is painful to watch: to gaze at ageing and loss.  It will overwhelm; it will be heartbreaking.   Although “Amour” is the story of love and life’s end, the originality and the directness will surprise all who see this haunting film.

5) Page Turner (July 18, 2013 review): A French cinematic sleeper (2006),  this  thriller is subtle as a sonata, fine-tuned and intricately composed.

Political/Sociological Thrillers:

6) American Hustle (December 31, 2013 review) : How far are people willing to go to grasp the golden ring, to try to capture the American Dream? This cinematic marvel digs deep into how much we lie to ourselves, in order to believe what we want to believe.

7) Prisoners  (October 27, 2013 review):  A powerful tale of human nature gone awry.  What are parents capable of in their darkest moment, when their worst nightmare happens?

8) Side Effects (July 31, 2013) By releasing only one detail at a time, we are kept wading through interviews, court hearings, false turns, and psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together. The entire film is very subdued, impeccably structured, and intricate in plot.

9) Shattered   (July 23, 2013 review): Paced to perfection, a cat-and-mouse game in which the clues and menace are only hinted at, but always cleverly hidden.  There are so many curves along the way, with a plot peppered with red herrings, most viewers will be thrown off track.

10) Argo (January 21, 2013 review):  I still keep thinking of this big-studio movie over a year after seeing it.  “Argo”  captures the mood of our country. Affleck plays the quintessential American hero, confident to a fault, who will do anything to protect those he is responsible for–and  it is our fear for him that drives the emotional content of the film.

Young Adult:

11) Hunger Games II:  Catching Fire (December 20, 2013 review): Sequels are notorious for being a disappointment but this series with the heroine Katniss belongs in the same category as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”.  It just seems to get better and better!


12) Silver Linings Playbook (Mar 11, 2013 review): Although  billed as a comedy, this is more a romance between two young adults with bipolar disorder whose families and friends have to deal with the turmoil that mental illness creates.