Twenty-Five Great Films on Netflix UK you probably haven't seen...
This blog post will take the form of a list of really great films you can find (or not, see below) on the UK version of Netflix. For those of you who don't know, Netflix is a media streaming service whereby you pay a certain amount of money per month and in return can watch as many films and TV shows as you like. If you don't have Netflix, these are all still great films which I recommend you seek out in whatever format you can. Or just get the free Netflix subscription for the first month, watch everything you want, and then cancel it. Just don't tell them I said that...
Before you ask, no, I'm not being paid by Netflix (or anyone else) to write this list. And I'm going to prove that right now by criticizing their service. Netflix has loads of really great films (ooh scathing) but for some reason, they just don't want you to watch them... that's the conclusion I've come to after using the service for about a year. You see, Netflix makes recommendations to you based on what you've already watched. Sounds great doesn't it? Only for some reason those recommendations rarely seem to change, you're shown the same selection of films month after month and I'm buggered if I can find anything else using their search tool. Also I don't enjoy being told what I should enjoy watching by some uppity algorithm. No, like you good people, I'd much rather be told what to watch by some total stranger on a random blog I just found on Google.
So I've selflessly done the hard work of trawling through the UK Netflix catalogue so you don't have to. I've tried to get in something for everyone, but I've also tried to pick films I think the majority of people may not have seen, either because these films didn't get a nationwide theatrical release in a Vue stupidity factory or because the film's advertising campaign didn't punch people in the face enough times to get their attention. Or because the film is a piece of 'World Cinema,' according to the logic (?) that America and Britain are not part of the same world as all the other countries in the world... yes, some of these films have subtitles, but I'm guessing if you've read this far that won't be a problem for you.
Anyway, in no particular order, here goes:
1.Woochi Demon Slayer
I said in no particular order, and then I obviously deliberately started with the most obscure film on the list. And by obscure, of course I mean Korean. People should watch more obscure films, especially Korean ones. Woochi surprised the hell out of me. But of course, any piece of cinema about a magic flute is bound to be an instant classic. The visuals are stunning, the story is balls-out mental and the martial arts choreography is artistically painful throughout. Watch it when you fancy something a bit different. Unless you're Korean.
2. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
I love horror films. But I also happen to be of the opinion that most horror films are unoriginal, cliched, predictable garbage driven by cheap shock moments rather than genuine scares. That's why I like Tucker & Dale, not because it's a great horror movie but because it puts all those shitty teenage slasher movies in their place. The hillbillies don't want to kill you, they just want to drink beer and catch fish. Please leave them alone.
3. 21 Jump Street
I know, I know, I just recommended a film starring that guy from Step Up... but give me a second here and I'll explain myself. Despite starring in such shite-fests as G.I. Joe and She's the Man, Channing Tatum is actually not that bad. And I'm sure after that ringing endorsement you're desperate to watch 21 Jump Street. Seriously though, the guy doesn't take himself too seriously and I don't want to throw around generic praise like 'great comic timing' but I found myself laughing at Tatum every bit as much as I did at Jonah Hill (and he's the go-to funny fat guy of the moment). Also, your girlfriend/wife/one-night-stand will find Tatum attractive enough that she'll watch the film with you but at the same time his big ears will allow you to kid yourself into thinking you're better looking. Oh yeah, and the film's good too. And it's got a great cameo from a very popular actor that I'm willing to bet you won't spot until the end.
4. The Raid: Redemption
This is not a sequel. Now that we've got that out of the way, it's probably the best martial arts/action film since Ong Bak. If you didn't see Ong Bak I highly recommend it, but it's not on Netflix UK so... back to talking about The Raid. Don't expect to be moved to tears, although you might shed a few for the stuntmen. The story is nothing original, the acting isn't winning any Oscars, but that's not what The Raid is about. The Raid is about violence. If you want to see people damaging each other I guarantee you won't find this much pain dished out this mercilessly anywhere else. Unless you're watching Twilight, in which case it will be Kristen Stewart's acting inflicting the pain upon your soul.
5. How I Spent My Summer Vacation
This film stars Mel Gibson and is therefore by definition completely insane. Apparently for the American release the film was called Get the Gringo but as 'gringo' is one of the few racial slurs we're not too familiar with here in the UK, they decided to change it to something that sounds like a children's book with more pictures than words. Anyway, all I need to say is it takes place in a Mexican prison system that's so fucked up the prisoners' families are allowed to live inside with them. Yes, including the children. Contrary to what you might expect given the setting I just described, How I Spent My Summer Vacation is still a lot of fun. And I'll reiterate, Mel Gibson.
6. To Catch a Thief
I'm hoping this is one you haven't seen because you're quite young and it's quite old. Please don't take offense if you're actually old, I have nothing against you, I just didn't figure you were in my demographic. To the youngsters, it might surprise you to learn that many old films are just as good (if not better) than new ones. To Catch a Thief is a case in point. It's a hilarious heist film in which Carey Grant plays a cat-burglar who takes it upon himself to solve a series of robberies for which he is the chief suspect. The script keeps things moving along at a great pace while still leaving a lot of room for something filmmakers used to think was important; character development.
7. El Mariachi
Before Robert Rodriguez started churning out expensive imitations of budget movies, he used to actually make budget movies. El Mariachi is famous for being his disgustingly low budget breakthrough film. The legend goes that the entire shoot cost just $7000 and that Rodriguez paid for most of it by participating in a trial for a cholesterol-lowering drug. Whether that's entirely true or not is hard to verify. But watch the film and revel in its cheapness. El Mariachi is a great example of how money isn't everything, it's a thoroughly entertaining, action-packed film without any fancy special effects or highly-paid actors. It's a lot better than Spy Kids. And Planet Terror.
8. Do the Right Thing
The first thing I need to say about Do the Right Thing is that I can't watch it. That's no reflection on the quality of the film, it's just that I had to write a three thousand word essay about a four minute scene from Do the Right Thing as part of my film studies degree. So I've never been able to bring myself to watch the film again. But trust me, it's a really insightful and powerful film about racial tensions in Brooklyn. Although the message is a bit heavy-handed at times (as with most of Spike Lee's work) it's difficult to disagree with the anger on display. Also, the cinematography is incredible... if you're into that sort of thing. Well worth watching. I'd watch it myself, if I could get those four minutes out of my head.
9. The Mist
Oops, it's a Stephen King adaptation, that rarely goes well. There's The Shining, and The Green Mile... and... of course, my personal favourite The Running Man. Aside from that there's a few alright ones and a lot of shite ones. But we're here to talk about The Mist. It's a horror film about a particularly foggy day. Are you scared yet? Of course not, you're probably English. But there's more; big bug-monster things live in the fog, and they like to eat people. Imagine if Starship Troopers took place in the town of Silent Hill but there were no space marines, and barely any weapons. I'm having a hard time selling the story as anything groundbreaking here, but trust me, The Mist is worth watching even if it's only to see the ending. The end of this film will stay with you. Possibly the least 'Hollywood' ending you'll ever see.
10. Shaolin Soccer
After watching The Mist you're going to need cheering up in a big way. Enter Shaolin Soccer, a film that's every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. Director Stephen Chow also plays the lead; a former Shaolin monk who brings his ex-monk buddies together to make a football team (or a 'soccer' team, if you know nothing about real football). Chow's quirky humour is present on every level of the film, there's a ton of great slapstick and the dialogue is hilarious (if a little bit weird at times, and downright bizarre at others). A very silly film that deserves your attention.
11. 3:10 to Yuma
Yes, the title is inspired by a train timetable but I promise you the film is a lot more exciting than that might suggest. I love a good Western but I know not everyone likes them so I'm recommending this over some of the others available on Netflix because I think it has more widespread appeal. People tend to think of Westerns as either John Wayne walking with his legs too far apart and talking shit, or Clint Eastwood wearing a poncho and not talking at all. While both of those things do often happen in Westerns, there's other stuff too. For example, in 3:10 to Yuma there's acting. That's right, both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale act quite a lot, in a very impressive fashion. There's also a coherent script full of nuanced characters. There's also Peter Fonda... and yes, there are also plenty of gunfights and horseback chases if that's what you want to see.
12. Hard Boiled
Hard Boiled has an enormous bodycount. For some people that's probably justification enough to watch it. However, this film has so much more than just a gratuitously monolithic bodycount. It has possibly the most intricate one-shot action sequence ever committed to film; a shootout through a hospital corridor that lasts over two and a half minutes. It has Tony Leung and Anthony Wong, long before they starred together in Infernal Affairs. It has doves, nurses, fire, jazz and tea. And last but by no means least, it has Chow Yun Fat getting pissed on by a baby.
13. Jo Nesbo's Headhunters
I read one of Jo Nesbo's books and it didn't do anything for me so I didn't read any more of them. So my expectations as I approached this film were not all that high, and the Netflix blurb for it wasn't exactly inspiring; "A corporate recruiter steals artwork to maintain his lavish lifestyle. But one painting he targets belongs to a headhunter of a different kind." Let's be honest, would you watch that film? It sounds boring. And "a headhunter of a different kind" is way too ambiguous, it could either be a hitman or a man desperately seeking a blowjob. Don't ask me why, but I watched Headhunters anyway. Obviously I just have too much spare time. However, it turned out to be pretty fucking brilliant. So I win. I can only think of one character in all the films I've watched who takes more punishment than Roger the recruitment guy, and that character is the all-but-indestructible Kim Sun-Woo from A Bittersweet Life, watch out for a future blog post about it. One final note, for all you Game of Thrones fans, this film has Jaime Lannister.
A lot of people don't like Jason Statham very much. Those people might claim he's a bad actor, his American accent is terrible, his films aren't particularly intelligent and he's got a funny walk. Those are all points I agree with. But he's still a badass. There are few people who can get away with a receding hairline like Jason Statham. It's like his thousand-yard stare is so mean it scared the hair away from his face. As Crank is not on Netflix UK we'll have to make do with the equally monosyllabic Safe. Watch Statham do his funny walk all over New York as he tries to protect a small, female, Chinese Rain Man from a bunch of big ugly dudes from every type of criminal enterprise you can imagine, and the NYPD (unless you already imagined them after I said that last part). I'm going out on a limb here to say that Safe is a lot less straight-to-video than most of Statham's other films. But it still has such beautifully penned one-liners as; "I've been in restaurants all night. All I got served was lead."
15. The Cabin in the Woods
A group of friends go on a retreat to a cabin. The cabin is in the woods. I hate it when they give everything away in the title... well, not quite everything. The Cabin in the Woods may start out like every stereotypical teen slasher movie you've ever seen; a group of the most generic young white people you can imagine - oh no, wait, there's one black guy, just to keep it original - make a series of dumb choices that push them ever deeper into a horrific situation where a serial killer/family of inbred cannibals/evil ghost/alien monster-thing picks them off one by one in a series of well-deserved bloody deaths... but then it gets interesting. Turns out the entire film is a post-modern critique of all those other predictable horror films and all kinds of crazy shit starts happening as writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard turn the genre on its head. When was the last time you saw a horror film that made you think? Alright, you probably won't think that much as most of what they're saying with this is pretty obvious to anyone that's seen I Know what You did Last Summer, Candyman, Final Destination, Halloween, A Nightmare on - you get the point. Even if what Whedon and co. are saying isn't that revolutionary, it's still a riot watching them work. And it has Thor jumping a canyon on a motorbike.
16. The Men Who Stare at Goats
Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and a whole bunch of goats. Seriously, what are you people waiting for?! This is a film about a top secret US Army regiment who are being trained to use their minds to achieve the impossible. Unfortunately it seems the impossible for these guys includes any kind of rational thought. Although The Men Who Stare at Goats is ostensibly a comedy, at its heart is a pretty truthful commentary on the nature of war and the men who wage it. Jeff Bridges plays the born-again-hippy Bill Django who sells the brass his vision of an army of Jedi warriors who will use their mental powers to wage war without violence. Of course, Django's ideology begins to unravel in the grasp of the American war machine as things are taken out of his hands. Clooney is hilarious as psychic poster-boy Lyn Cassady, and it's his relationship with McGregor that brings about many of the film's more poignant moments. Much of the humour comes from the characters' inability to see the absurdity of their situation, but it's McGregor's character, who isn't sure whether he's following an utter loon or a telepathic genius, that provides the most fun.
17. Punisher: Warzone
This film is absolutely terrible, but it has a few moments of the most gratuitous, spontaneous and downright unnecessary ultra-violence that just about make it worth watching. Again, I don't want to give anything away so just watch it and you'll see what I mean. This is what a movie about Marvel's most jaded hero, The Punisher, should be like; dark, bloody and uncompromising. There is one hurdle you'll have to get over before you can enjoy it though; Dominic West's portrayal of the villain, Jigsaw. When I watched West as McNulty in The Wire I had no idea he wasn't a native of Baltimore, but here his accent is terrible. He also overacts horribly, I know he's playing a comic book villain but there are limits. For most of the film he comes across as an amateur imitation of Nicholson's Joker. Ray Stevenson is passable as The Punisher, he's about the right size and his general demeanour feels about right for a man sinking deep into the pits of hell to avenge his wife and kids. Watch this one if you're looking for a bit of unbelievably mindless violence. I imagine it would also be a winner if you're drunk.
18. Pineapple Express
I was put off watching this for a long time as so many people told me it was rubbish. Just goes to show, never listen to anyone else's opinion when it comes to film (except mine). Pineapple Express is an incredibly rare film; a stoner comedy that's actually well made. The script is hilarious but the film itself is also quite artfully directed and shot. Of course, most people setting out to watch a comedy about a bunch of stoners probably aren't seeking out well-crafted cinematography. So is it funny? No. It's fucking hilarious. Seth Rogen always gets a laugh or two, but it's James Franco that steals the show here as drug dealer Saul, whose product gets him and his friends into a pretty sticky situation. Watch out for the ruck between Franco, Rogen and Danny McBride, it's the closest cinema imitation of how people fight in real life that I've ever seen.
Oldboy is the reason I've watched so many Korean movies in recent years. It's the story of Oh Dae-su, a man abducted and held prisoner for fifteen years without being told why. When Dae-su is released he's given just three days to find his tormentor and figure out the bastard's motive. There are few films that manage to build as much suspense as this one. The story is completely implausible in a number of ways but it's just so beautifully made that you won't care. As I've found with a lot of Korean films, Oldboyis highly stylised, it really uses every aspect of filmmaking to full effect. The haunting classical soundtrack fits the mood of the narrative perfectly without being pretentious. The fight scenes are obviously choreographed without ever becoming boring. Even the lengthy scenes in Dae-su's cell, as he slowly goes mad, are compelling. Watch it, and I guarantee you'll soon be seeking out other South Korean offerings.
I set out to have something for everyone on this list and we've made it to number twenty without a single kid-friendly film, so here it is. There's actually a ton of stuff for children available on Netflix, but I don't generally tend to watch much of it. I can't remember how I ended up watching Rango, but I was immediately hooked. This is the tale of a hapless chameleon in the Old West who stumbles into the town of Dirt and finds himself drawn into a local conflict. The animation on display here is spectacular, even today there aren't many animated films that look this good. It's got everything you'd want in a kids' movie; lovable characters, physical and verbal comedy and plenty of action, with a bit of satire and a few edgier jokes for the adults. And it's got Johnny Depp. If you're looking for a bit of family fun you can't go wrong with Rango.
Defendor just edged it onto the list ahead of a few other contenders. It's a very quiet, slow burner starring Woody Harrelson as a low-key Kick-Ass with hints of a mental health issue. Harrelson's character, Arthur Poppington (admit it, you like him already), is a dangerously naive road-worker who suits up to fight crime at night despite the advice of his best friend and a local prostitute. If you're looking for a superhero film that's a bit more grounded than any of Marvel's latest, Defendor is well worth checking out, if only for Harrelson's performance. The man who has played characters as diverse as a serial killer, a basketball hustler, a gay sports journalist and a blind call-centre phone-jockey, to name a few, still has some range left in him. This is another example of how a low budget plus a lot of passion can often produce a more memorable experience than millions of dollars plus Michael Bay. Hollywood, please take note.
22. Curse of the Golden Flower
It's stunning. That's all I can really say about this one. Every shot is a work of art. Of course, you already knew that because you saw Zhang Yimou's previous works of art; Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Right? What? You didn't? You've got some catching up to do then. When it comes to historical epics, no one does it better than this guy. Curse of the Golden Flower has court intrigue, a love story, familial rivalry, and ninjas on zipwires. The drama is Shakespearian and so are the murders. The first half builds up pretty slowly as the subtle relationships of the Tang royal family are drawn out, but this only adds to the tension in the latter part of the film as it all goes to shit and people start dying all over the shop. Even the deaths are glorious. And it stars Chow Yun Fat as the emperor. And Gong Li's cleavage. When my death eventually happens, I want Zhang Yimou to direct it.
23. Seven Psychopaths
An ingenious script from playwright Martin McDonagh is the first in a long list of reasons to watch Seven Psychopaths. The next three or four reasons are Christopher Walken. Then there's Sam Rockwell. And Woody Harrelson. The only negative I can think of is Colin Farrell, who I know a lot of people seem to like but have never understood why. Farrell seems to be perpetually confused, and he's either scared or angry about it. Every time I see his name on the credits of a film my first thought is "why does Colin Farrell get the credit when his eyebrows clearly did all the work?" Anyway now that's out of the way, back to the film. Seven Psychopaths is a mercilessly witty film about a group of guys who steal dogs and hold them hostage. Of course, it's a lucrative enterprise until they steal the wrong guy's dog and everything goes tits up. Walken and Harrelson deliver the performances you can expect of two such class acts, but Sam Rockwell is definitely man of the match here. Farrell's eyebrows put in a watchable performance. This film definitely delivers on the promise of McDonagh's previous film, In Bruges.
Another breathtakingly beautiful film, Apocalypto is an unfathomable gem from the deeply disturbing depths of Mel Gibson's twisted psyche. The guy might be madder than a bag of spanners but he works wonders behind a camera. It may not be historically accurate but Mel never claimed it was a documentary so I don't give a shit. This is an unflinching portrayal of the decline of a civilisation. It's the death of a people, the destruction of a world. It's epic. And in terms of its vision, this film is flawless. From beginning to end there isn't a single detail that feels out of place, Apocalypto is obsessive in the minutiae of its own universe. This is not to say the film is bogged down in detail though, far from it. The story moves us through the jungle with relentless purpose, never pausing to catch its breath. If you're into analogies and shit like that, it's easy to see the parallels between Mel's Mayan civilisation which is pursuing power at great cost to its own people, and the policies of the United States in recent history. Of course, it took an Australian and a cast of native Mayans to make an honest film about the dangers of American political power. And if you're not really into all that symbolism stuff, just watch it for the guy who gets his face graphically chewed off by a Jaguar.
25. End of Days
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