It’s Showtime! (At Home)

Wife-approved Netflix snacks.

I didn’t venture out of the house much since the April 7th lockdown. I’ve been binging on books, music, cigars, pipe tobacco and movies. (And not one drop of alcohol. Pat me on the back!) Netflix is always a rich source of movies but the more cerebral, artsy movies I enjoy – movies that make me think – can never be found on Netflix, so I order lots of blu-rays. My collection easily runs into hundreds. But during the lockdown, I switched on the TV and tune to Netflix. Guilty pleasure! Here are some Netflix movies I’ve watched recently that are still in my memory. Don’t worry, no spoilers here:

Doc Martin series – filmed in Cornwall, a cranky but very talented English doctor, a great diagnostic clinician, in a picturesque seaside village, nine surprisingly easy seasons – 70 episodes in all – full of interesting, endearing characters, portrayed by some real talented actors, including Dame Eileen Atkins, no less. I won’t consider it a comedy series but in 2004, Doc Martin won the British Comedy Award for “Best TV Comedy Drama.” It was also nominated for “Best New TV Comedy.” In the same year, the star of the series Martin Clunes won the “Best TV Comedy Actor” award, primarily for his portrayal of Doc Martin. Seven countries – including Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Russia – liked the series so much, they copied and made their own versions. (No, Dr Zhivago is not one of them, you idiot!) The series started televising back in 2004 and season nine ended in 2019; a season ten is said to be in the works. I watched about three episodes a night and marveled at how Martin Clunes aged from 2004 to 2019. The series was so well received, that the royal parasite Prince Charles actually visited the set with his horse, er, I mean Camilla Parker.

La Grande Chaumière Violette – a Netflix original and for once, a quality Taiwanese serial that is highly watchable. It gives a glimpse of historical Taiwan in the turbulent 20’s. Definitely a world of a difference from the typical Taiwanese trash with hundreds of draggy episodes they still show on Singapore’s Channel 8. The Hokkien, or Taiwanese Minnan, spoken in each episode of La Grande Chaumière Violette is my dialect, and I recognized those Hokkien phrases used by my grandparents, making the serial rather fun to watch. Also, it’s refreshing to see the enthusiasm, and gung-ho spirit of the community of young artists in Taiwan in a by-gone era of innocence. The serial, filmed in several countries including Japan and the US, makes references to real life personalities including the famous Taiwanese artist Lee Shih-chiao, plus several others. Some sceneries and paintings featured are breathtaking! I try not to get sucked into multi-episode serials as they eat into my reading time. I remember watching the 54-episode Dae Jang Geum and the 70-episode Yanxi Palace and somewhat regretted all those hours spent in front of the idiot box, although they were extremely well-produced serials, with outstanding acting and superlative cinematography. However, I was happy to swap some of my Kindle time with La Grande Chaumière Violette and its 22 episodes. For the linguistically-challenged, English, Japanese as well as Mandarin is spoken in the serial, plus, there’s always subtitles.

A Perfect Day – about aid workers in Bosnia and what staff at NGOs had to deal with. Benicio del Toro and Tim Robbins star, some funny dialogs and magnificent sceneries make this movie exceptional.

Leave No Trace – dad, suffering from PTSD, living in the woods with teenage daughter. Talk about social distancing! The second-most reviewed movie to hold an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster put up some engaging acting here. McKenzie is the same actress in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, unfortunately not yet on Netflix.

Chinese movie Finding Mr Right – starring Tang Wei, who’s real bitchy in the beginning and a pain to stomach, but the understated, low profile male lead is really an extraordinary actor. It’s a pleasure watching him. This movie is about mainland Chinese women trying to deliver their babies in the US, in the hope of acquiring residence status.

Chinese movie Coming Home – a Zhang Yimou masterpiece, starring Gong Li; China during cultural revolution, it will tug your heartstrings. On Rotten Tomatoes, this gritty movie has a rating of 92% based on 63 reviews. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 81 out of 100.

Extraction – mercenary hired to rescue hostage in Bangladesh, very rare to have a movie set in Bangladesh, probably the only one of its kind I have watched. That alone makes this a “must” in addition to spectacular stunt work and an electric performance from Chris Hemsworth (Thor).

Damascus Cover – Israeli spy in Syria, totally farfetched and incredulous story, plus the emotionless and deadpan star (Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers) doesn’t do the movie any good. A block of wood has a wider range of emotions. Still, if you have a bit of time to kill, go for it. John Hurt is in the movie. To some, that’s good enough reason to tune in.

Operation Finale – the tedious hunt for Adolf Eichmann, Hitler’s henchman, “the banality of evil” well portrayed; Ben Kingsley looks like shit here. He looks like superglue was poured on his face, and then blow-dried with a hairdryer, and voilà, Eichmann emerges! Guatemalan American actor Oscar Isaac stars.

The Half of It – Chinese American teenage lesbian girl helping to write love letters for male schoolmate, but basically, it’s another American coming-of-age comedy-drama. This one, directed by a Taiwanese female director though, also a lesbian. The movie starts slowly at first, but picks up soon enough. It’s a delight to watch. The girl’s father is a hilarious character. Plus, I get a kick out of watching ethnic Chinese girls speaking English with an American accent, though I’m surprised that the teenage star in this movie has such an alto voice for someone so young.

Spanish movie Invisible Guardian – featuring a female detective. The first instalment in The Baztan Trilogy, which has sold over 1,200,000 copies in Spain only and one of the most – if not the most – successful crime series in the Spanish language.

Spanish movie The Legacy of Bones – features the same heroine in Invisible Guardian; this the second movie in The Baztan Trilogy. The third movie’s release is on hold due to COVID-19.

The Platform – disturbing Spanish movie set in a large, tower-style “Vertical Self-Management Center” which is a fancy name for a prison. Its residents, who are switched every 30 days between its many floors, are fed via a platform which, initially filled with food at the top floor, gradually descends through the tower’s levels, each level getting only the leftovers from the previous ones. Premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Movie Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award for Midnight Madness. Lots of buzz among critics about this movie, especially over how to interpret and relate it to the world today.

Argentine movie Intuition (La Corazonada) – another female detective. This movie is the prequel to the movie Perdida. A good change to see cops and villains who are not American or English. Man, how many times do they want to remake Charlie’s Angels or Sherlock Holmes?!

Argentine movie Perdida – features the same heroine in Intuition. It’s based on Argentinian journalist Florence Etcheves’s novel Cornelia. Refreshing!

Da 5 Bloods – action-packed movie by Spike Lee, about five black ex-GIs revisiting Vietnam, highly appropriate for our times but very political. Interspersed with real footages from past events, including that famous and extremely gory footage of Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting dead a Vietcong point blank. I’ve seen photos of that killing countless times but this is the first time I’ve seen the video. Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) is in it, as well as a very bloated Jean Reno.

Love Story – for a bit of nostalgia, this very simple, straightforward movie came out when I was about 13 I think, and we young teenage boys those days enjoyed going around saying that famous line from the movie: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” like a mantra, which is not true of course, because for the last 30-over years, I’ve been apologizing to my wife for things I did not do wrong.

Last Flight to Abuja – there’s Hollywood, and there’s Bollywood, but have you heard of Nollywood? It refers to the Nigerian film industry and Last Flight to Abuja is a Nigerian movie in English language, and has received five nominations at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards. A most gripping movie, based on a true story. Highly watchable.

Silverado – good, old-fashioned cowboy flick. I really miss cowboy movies! Nominated for Best Sound and Best Original Score at the 58th Academy Awards. Nothing much can do wrong with Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner in a movie, although in this one, Costner acts like an irritating clown.

Highway Men – starring two seasoned actors: Woody Harrison and Kevin Costner. This time, Costner is older – more than 30 years older – and more melancholic, and thicker round the waist. This is a grisly movie about the hunt for the notorious couple Bonnie & Clyde who went on a killing spree. For those who like bullet holes and for those who are enthralled by watching Woody Harrison, whom I think is the better actor of the two in this wonderful slug fest.

Marriage Story – A 2019 movie starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern. Superb acting; makes me wonder how actors in one continuous take can memorize all that dialog and go through several emotional transformations and facial expressions, complete with tears and all. It reminded me of the quarrel scene between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road, which to my mind, is one of the best “fight” scenes ever filmed. Marriage Story was chosen by the American Movie Institute, the National Board of Review, and Time magazine as one of the ten best movies of the year. The movie received a leading six nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, winning one award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture. It received eight nominations at the 25th Critics’ Choice Awards, three nominations at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards for the performances of Driver, Johansson, and Dern, five nominations at the 73rd British Academy Movie Awards, one nomination by Cinema for Peace for the most Valuable Movie of 2020 and six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards. Time magazine’s annual best performances of the year listed Driver as the third best movie acting performance of 2019. Dern won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 92nd Academy Awards.

The Irishman – three-hour long epic by Martin Scorsese, I actually grew older watching famous old actors in this movie, namely stars like Robert De Niro (old), Joe Pesci (older) Al Pacino (very old), etc. At the 92nd Academy Awards, the movie received 10 nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Pacino and Pesci, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Movie Editing, and Best Visual Effects, but it was snubbed by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the movie failed to win any Oscar. It was also nominated for five awards at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama. In this movie, old guys were digitally altered to look they way they were supposed to look in their younger days; interesting, as I saw a documentary on how they had to change their gait, etc to inject some authenticity in those flashback scenes when they appeared as younger men.

The President’s Barber – Korean historical show, starring Song Kang-ho, the same Korean flat-face actor who starred in the Oscar-winning Parasite. Jo Yeong-jin’s portrayal of president Park Chung-hee is amazing; looks like the real guy. Korean flat-face as well. Excellent acting, all round.

Breaking In – what a mother would do to protect her kids. On Rotten Tomatoes, an approval rating of only 26% (based on 103 reviews), but it helped with my digestion after a heavy Indian curry meal and all those accompanying rich butter naans.

A Quiet Place – post-apocalyptic science fiction horror movie about a world inhabited by blind extraterrestrial creatures with an acute sense of hearing. This movie received several award nominations, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture, Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Emily Blunt, which she later won. It was also nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Sound – how ironic! – at the 72nd BAFTA Awards as well for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing at the 91st Academy Awards. A movie about quietness winning sound awards, yup!

World War Z – Brad Pitt stars in this apocalyptic action horror movie. Perfect for this day and age.

Don’t Breathe – three teenagers broke into a visually-impaired man’s house to rob him, but the blind old man was a veteran who served in Afghanistan, or one of those shit holes, and things went pear-shaped very quickly. Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why) and Stephen Lang (the badass in Avatar) are the stars. Keep your eyes peeled for the turkey baster.

Hush – this time it’s about a writer who is deaf. Kate Siegel puts up some impressive acting in this slasher flick. She moved to a remote location to concentrate on her writing but, predictably, all hell broke loose, but it ended unpredictably, predictably.

Cuba and the Cameraman – this is not a movie but a documentary detailing a cameraman’s 45-year coverage of three families in Cuba. Eye-opening!

Many other movies I’ve watched previously – some good, some bad, and some excellent ones, especially the Indian ones, like 3 Idiots  – are also now on Netflix, so, not mentioning them here.

Our tastes in movies may not be the same, all the same, I hope you’ll check out some of those I mentioned above.

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