What to Watch on Netflix Watch Instantly: January 6th, 2011
The central theme to four of these five selections is that they’re about people at a point in their lives where the only certainty is that they are not willing to remain as they are. Their objectives differ, as do their methods, but anyone who has ever stared at a crossroads should easily identify with these movies. Most of these selections — though not all — were streamed in the middle of the night, where the only ambient noise was the space heater and the occasional snoring from one of our cats. I can’t, of course, attest to how I may have responded to any of these movies amidst the hustle and bustle of the daytime hours and I can’t guarantee that if you wait until everyone else is asleep that they’ll resonate with you, but I thought it pertinent to establish the context in which I came to view these films.
Confessions of a Superhero (2007)
Matthew Ogens’s documentary spotlights a few of the folks who parade around Hollywood in costumes, posing for photographs with tourists. Early in the film, when we see Christopher Dennis’s Superman shrine we become fearful that this is another Trekkies meant to bask in the absurdity of fan obsessions. Rest assured, though, that Ogens has instead elected to explore the humanity behind these costume-wearing street hustlers. Maxwell Allen isn’t particularly likable, but you know this guy already. He’s the loudest talker in the room, spinning tall tales to impress that leave you wondering who could possibly believe a word he’s spoken. Jennifer Gehrt and Joseph McQueen are each trying to break into acting, and are the most sympathetic of the four. Ogens visits Gehrt’s hometown in Tennessee and it becomes apparent that this charming young woman was never going to fit into such a small town. McQueen gives a guided tour of the places he slept during three years of homelessness.
Think Swingers, but with less glamour.
Blue State (2007)
Outspoken liberal John (Breckin Meyer) is held to his promise to move to Canada after President George W. Bush was re-elected. He recruits Chloe (Anna Paquin, who also co-produced) as a traveling companion though it’s painfully obvious that she has a different agenda. The movie threatens to devolve into clichés and sermons about tolerance, but Meyer and Paquin give us characters that are recognizable and well developed, and ultimately Blue State is not about politics. It’s about two young people not content with their lives who come to learn the difference between railing against life and actively working to change it.
The lone exception to the “in search of answers” theme, Anjelah Johnson’s first TV special took me by surprise. I love stand-up comedy, but I find most current era comics tiresome, mistaking vulgarity for edginess. Johnson (a former Raiderette) brings the funny about life as a young woman with Mexican and Native American heritage. Critics complain that she gets away with racism, though I would argue that her humor reflects a woman who has actually spent time around people from various backgrounds. I leave it to you to decide. A final note: the version streaming from Netflix runs 59 minutes; the DVD release has an additional half hour of material.
Seth Gordon’s documentary follows Steve Wiebe’s chase of Billy Mitchell’s world record “Donkey Kong” score. Like Confessions of a Superhero, the movie introduces us to a sub-culture ripe for mockery but quickly shows us the humanity of these video game enthusiasts. Mitchell is one of the most conniving, smarmy screen villains I’ve seen in ages, and I found myself emotionally invested in Wiebe’s quest. I know that the premise sounds ridiculous, but Gordon’s documentary is genuinely compelling.
The Ramen Girl (2008)
Abby (Brittany Murphy) resolves to remain in Tokyo after her boyfriend leaves her, and insists on learning the culinary craft of making ramen from chef Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). Think The Karate Kid, plus Lost in Translation, but with a plot fit for the Food Network. A subplot about Abby’s ongoing relationship woes is admittedly generic and uninteresting, but the chemistry between Murphy and Nishida is why we go to movies. At times, it’s too familiar to anyone with an abusive employer. When Abby makes a breakthrough (either through the dense language barrier or her frustrated sensei) it’s as rewarding as the destruction of the Death Star.