CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Streaming Feature: Best of New to Netflix October 2013
CHICAGO – We’re back. Last month’s list of ten interesting new additions to the Netflix library was a huge success and it’s time for your October edition. Every one of the ten films/shows listed below has been added in the last 30 days, and the emphasis this time is on things you may not have seen. So, don’t consider these the “best” movies when compared to one another but the best choices for your time. I mean, who hasn’t seen “Evil Dead 2,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Fargo,” all new to Netflix? You should totally watch those masterpieces again and then check out something new…
The Central Park Five
Netflix Description: This piercing documentary examines the case of five teenagers, all African-American or Latino, who were convicted of the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Years later, the confession of the real rapist set the jailed men free.
Why: This award-winning documentary about the infamous case was one of the best documentaries of 2012 (and there’s another top ten doc from last year later down this list) and is such an essential piece of work to understanding how different elements have to come together for a true injustice like this one to occur. Race relations in New York City in 1989 were at a boiling point and corrupt men and women used this case to try to control their city and keep their positions of power. It was a Chicago Film Critics Association nominee for Best Documentary and it’s a must-see.
King of New York
Netflix Description: Fresh out of a long stint in prison, New York drug lord Frank White is determined to gather his crew and get back to the top of the empire. White aims to give back charitably to the city, but his release angers the cops, who are intent to stop him.
Why: Speaking of New York, this has always been one of my favorite Chris Walken performances and it’s something that I hope younger readers will check out, those who may now only see Walken as a product of his impersonations. The once-great actor has become something of a caricature in recent years but his turn here is mesmerizing in its malevolence. It’s one of the best crime flicks of its era.
The Last Days of Disco
Netflix Description: Writer-director Whit Stillman captures the end of an era, chronicling love and heartbreak in a mirror-balled world of exclusive nightclubs packed with young singles who dispense wit drier than their martinis. A smart script and spot-on performances from an ensemble cast (including Robert Sean Leonard, Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) distinguish Stillman’s satire, the final installment in his so-called “yuppie trilogy.”
Why: The poster, description, and presence of Kate Beckinsale may mislead some viewers into thinking Whit Stillman’s clever dramedy is more for mainstream audiences but this is true arthouse fare. If you’re looking for clever dialogue, fun performances, and the kind of smart storytelling that’s all-too-rarely-found on Netflix, here’s a great choice. You should see Stillman’s “Metropolitan” too when you get a chance and his recent “Damsels in Distress”.
Lilo and Stitch
Netflix Description: A lonely Hawaiian girl named Lilo — who’s being raised by her older sister after their parents die — adopts a funny-looking dog and names him “Stitch,” not realizing her new best friend is, in fact, a wacky alien created by a mad scientist.
Why: I’m going to try and include one family/kids movie every month for those of you with kids who have watched the same episodes of “Phineas & Ferb” to death. That’s just my kids? Ah well. My boys are fond of this lesser-beloved Disney flick that plays with a fun fish-out-of-water story with an alien twist. Maybe every month I’ll just let Luke & Miles pick one entry. This is their new choice for October.
Louder Than a Bomb
Netflix Description: Capturing the combined creative spirit of more than 600 Chicago-area teenagers who are participating in what’s billed as the world’s largest youth poetry slam, this documentary highlights the joy of language and the power of collaboration.
Why: One of my favorite documentaries of the last ten years happens to have a Chicago connection. This piece of work about the undeniable power of creative expression is such a powerful motion picture. The kids featured in it are talented, inspirational, and unforgettable. If you only watch ONE film in this month’s New to Netflix, make it “Louder Than a Bomb.” Then tell your friends.
Netflix Description: A poetry-writing class inspires serenely self-possessed grandmother Mija (Jeong-hie Yun) to open her senses to her suburban surroundings, but in rushes an array of unsettling discoveries in this lyrical South Korean melodrama. Along with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease comes information that Mija’s teenage grandson was party to a horrific incident, and it is left to Mija to compose order from the untidy emotional consequences.
Why: This month’s most-interesting foreign film is a beautiful piece of work about age, memory, and regret. “Poetry” describes the film’s visual approach as what could have been a melodramatic story becomes something poetic in the hands of a masterful storyteller. In particular, Jeong-hie Yun’s performance devastates with its honesty. Not easy, but worthwhile.
Netflix Description: Jane Tennison, a London homicide detective, finds her perps in the highest echelons of power while combating entrenched sexism on the job, trying to manage a rocky personal life and overcome her own self-doubts.
Why: Looking for a great mystery? A fan of one of the best actresses of her generation? Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison has to be on the list of the best performances in the history of TV. And with this one, you get hours of entertainment. Before “Sherlock,” before “Luther,” there was “Prime Suspect.”
Netflix Description: Exploring various theories about hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film The Shining, this fascinating documentary presents fans’ and conspiracy theorists’ ideas about messages regarding genocide, government conspiracy and history.
Why: Mesmerizing in its trip down the rabbit hole, one of the best docs of 2012 doesn’t just present its theories, it puts you in the mindset of obsession through its brilliant structure. Alternating facts about the film with obviously crazy theories allows them to mix together to the point where you start to wonder if “The Shining” isn’t actually deeper than you first thought. And then the film becomes about cinematic dissection of any movie. We can all drive ourselves a little crazy dissecting what we love.
Netflix Description: When 13-year-old Sinikka goes missing from the same spot where another girl was murdered 23 years earlier, a retired investigator teams up with a younger colleague to unravel the parallel mysteries.
Why: Another foreign film that played theaters earlier this year, this one is more reminiscent of “Zodiac” or “Memories of Murder” in that its a dark tale that is more about the people impacted by crime more than the the actual case itself. Stylish, visually striking, and consistently well-performed by a large ensemble, it’s a film that you won’t soon forget.
The Up Series
Netflix Description: A group of 7-year-old British children spanning the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds are interviewed about an array of topics.
Why: In 1964, Michael Apted interviewed a select group of British children from very different backgrounds in a landmark doc called “7 Up.” Every 7 years since then, he’s revisited those kids, leading up to this year’s “56 Up,” and they’re all available now on Netflix. Clear your schedule.