NETFLIX HIDDEN GEMS: Issue #6

Another month has arrived. Yippee! It seems like every week Netflix is unleashing an onslaught of new titles available for Instant Streaming, which is making it very hard to keep up. But that’s a good thing. Just a daunting one. Along those lines, we have a proposition for you:

In the future, we would love for you devoted readers to contribute to the Hidden Gems fun. If you’ve got some time on your hands and want your voice to be heard, please submit your own picks to the following address—clink AT hammertonail DOT com—in a format similar to below. Also, feel free to contribute as many as you’d like, so we can ensure that the Hidden Gems party keeps on grooving. Thanks!

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***ISSUE #6: FEBRUARY ‘10***

Let It Ride (1989) — One of the most underrated comedies of the ‘80s, now slowly gaining a cult following. Teri Garr, David Johansen, Robbie Coltrane, Jennifer Tilly, and Allen Garfield are all at the top of their game. Richard Dreyfuss at his most irksome, repugnant, and wonderful. (Noah Buschel)

Ushpizin (2005) — This wonderful and warm film marks the first feature made by members of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community in collaboration with secular filmmakers. Sensitively directed by Giddi Dar, Ushpizin (“the guests”) provides an extremely touching look at the daily lives of ultra-Orthodox Jews as they question and explore their faith in this humorous tale of deeply religious people trying to live in a modern world. Shuli Rand, playing “Moshe” (he also penned the excellent script) gives a powerful performance alongside his real-life wife, Mechal Bat Sheva Rand (“Malli”). Their love is tested, their deep faith challenged, when a secret from Moshe’s past reveals itself during the harvest holiday of Succoth (think Jewish Thanksgiving) when two unannounced guests, who have just sprung themselves from prison, show up and turn their lives upside down. Absolutely beautiful. (Pamela Cohn) ***STREAM IT***

Ishtar (1987) — After weeks spent chasing down a copy of Elaine May’s famous 1987 fiasco finally landed me an unopened VHS via Ebay, I was a proud cultural spelunker. Vanity Fair recently excerpted a section from Peter Biskind’s Warren Beatty bio that left me desperate to watch the famous flop. After all, if Elaine May is given Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, and the desert as tools, how bad could is really be? And tales of backstage drama only increase my curiosity. So this Wednesday I am having a small Ishtar party, replete with thematically appropriate middle-Eastern food. And then, this morning, I found out the movie can be streamed on Netflix instant view. Buzz. Kill. (Lena Dunham) ***STREAM IT***

Trigger Man (2007) – Before making the masterful The House of the Devil (#11 on our Top 25 of the Decade list), Ti West created Trigger Man, a film as minimalist as The House of the Devil is opulent, and every bit as tense. The story follows as three friends leave New York City for a day of hunting, beer, and male bonding in the woods. Soon, however, they discover that they aren’t the only hunters in the woods, and someone has their targets set on them. Think of it as Old Joy meets Deliverance. Special mention must be given to Sound Designer Graham Reznick, whose expert manipulation of the soundscape is as integral to the film’s sustained suspense as West’s skillful command of atmosphere. (Cullen Gallagher)

John And Mary (1969) — Directed by Peter Yates and starring Dustin Hoffman (hot on the heels of his great performance in Midnight Cowboy) and Mia Farrow (just after her star-making turn in Rosemary’s Baby), John and Mary is the story of two Manhattan singles awaking after a one night stand. Told as a series of conversations, flashbacks and complicated gestures, the film unfolds the nature of attraction between two people who, living in the moment, did not take the time to discover one another’s name before getting down to business. Considered racy (and even “amoral”) by some in 1969, the film today feels light, charming and, given the concerns of so many low-budget independent films of our own time, strangely prescient. (Tom Hall) ***STREAM IT***

Starting Out in the Evening (2007) – The last gasp for Gary Winick’s InDigEnt label, which in its 2000-2007 lifespan specialized in heartfelt and unadorned NYC indies, ones usually shot on digital with a movie star or two for somewhere south of a million dollars, was Andrew Wagner’s Starting Out In The Evening. It also happens to be the best of an impressive if uneven group of films, a meticulously acted kammerspiel marvel, deftly avoiding the clichés that latch onto films about secluded, ambitious writers, young and old alike. Never much of a Frank Langella fan, this one sold me on his bona fides. (Brandon Harris) ***STREAM IT***

Blind Shaft (2003) — A gripping thriller set in China’s semi-illegal, unregulated, and highly dangerous network of coal mines, where thousands of workers are reported to die each year. Two migrant workers have come up with the perfect scam: they recruit other men to join them on mining jobs, kill them, then claim there was an accident and collect hush money from the mine owners. The film’s combination of punch-you-in-the-face pulp vigor and muckraking political anger recalls Sam Fuller at his best. Writer/director/producer Li Yang, whose background was in documentary, shot Blind Shaft independently, without the permission of the central authorities; the film was subsequently banned in China but went on to play several major international festivals, winning the Silver Bear award at Berlin. (Nelson Kim)

Lawn Dogs (1997) — Some may mistake Tom DiCillo’s Box of Moonlight from the same mid-‘90s boom to be Sammy “the Rock” Rockwell’s breakout role, and that’s a damn shame when this little gem (directed by John Duigan) is considered. With a beautiful lead performance by Mischa Barton (at 11, both striking and sincere, despite how most consider her as of late), this story of a gated community with a talented, frustrated lower-class groundsman who develops a strong and eventually dangerous bond with one wealthy family’s precocious, pubescent daughter, manages to unfold and enwrap its audience before unraveling in a disarming, thoughtful way. Pretty much perfect, don’t let the triteness of the title deceive you, it is what the picture wants you to think. There is more here than in most others of this genre, breed, and period. (Evan Louison)

God Told Me To (1976) — This low budget ‘horror’ film, written and directed by genre master Larry Cohen, stars Tony Lo Bianco as religious cop whose faith is is challenged by a series of strange murders in which the killers claim that “God told them to kill.” As Tony pursues similarities between the seemingly unrelated murders he starts to fall apart as he realizes that his belief in a benevolent and all knowing creator may be wrong. God Told Me To is a pulpy classic that is set in a gritty long gone New York City and demonstrates how flexible the horror genre can be when realistic character development is used in pursuit of sincerely argued thematic issues. (Mike S. Ryan) ***STREAM IT***

Dallas 362 (2005) — Scott Caan’s directorial debut is a jacked up affair that shows Caan’s reverence for the testosterone-heavy character pieces of the 1970s. Caan and Shawn Hatosy star as best friends in LA who can’t buy a drink in a bar without getting into a brawl. Caan shows great instincts along the way, and his assembled players—Jeff Goldblum, Kelly Lynch, Val Lauren, Isla Fisher—clearly revel in the opportunity to get loose. It ain’t perfect, but it should have received way more attention than it did. (Michael Tully) ***STREAM IT***

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