New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, so naturally the whole world is getting ready to party, which sounds like a great idea, considering 2016 was a year that a lot of people would prefer to forget.
The death of music icons Prince and David Bowie were two events that were particularly hard to take. Sadly, they were far from the only deaths to make major headlines. (R.I.P. also to Ricky Harris, a.k.a. DJ EZ Dicc from the Snoop and Dogg Pound records.)
While some of our favorite people made their way to paradise, back here on Earth, some folks continued on their journey to make life unpleasant for everybody around them. It definitely feels like 2016 was the year that the bad guys won.
So, if you’re eager for the new year to get here, we can’t blame you. Our last Netflix streaming recommendations of ’16 are the perfect way to hide out until 2017 in the hopes that this year will stop punching you in the face.
Warning: May contain spoilers.
The Wailing (2016)
Starring: Do-won Kwak, Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun, Jun Kunimura
Director: Hong-jin Na
Genre: Supernatural, Thriller, Mystery
Summary: A stranger’s appearance in a small village coincides with a string of grisly deaths.
There’s something terribly wrong going on in the Korean village where The Wailing takes place. That becomes obvious early on as police investigate a grisly murder scene involving a few mutilated bodies and the handcuffed, blood-soaked suspect, who appears to have the early stages of some hideous disease. Just as our stomachs begin to settle from such a ghastly sight, comedic relief arrives in the form of a couple of bumbling cops, who appear to be way in over their heads trying to solve the strange case that will only get worse from here.
What makes The Wailing intriguing is that we don’t know what the full scope of the horror is right away. It’s not clear whether this is the beginning of a zombie outbreak, an incoming wave of ghosts, or some other incarnation of evil. Whatever it is, the inept cops suspect that a Japanese stranger is connected to everything. Are their suspicions xenophobia run amok—one can see how some might find the film’s treatment of the stranger offensive, even though Kunimura does the most he can with the menacing role—or are there far more sinister forces at work here? Slowly, the film sheds the humor and you realize you’ve been lulled into its terrifying trap.
The Witness (2015)
Starring: William Genovese
Director: James D. Solomon
Genre: Crime, Documentary
Summary: A brother tries to find closure decades after his sister was brutally murdered.
The Witness is a rather personal look into the killing of Queens, N.Y., resident Kitty Genovese in 1964. Her stabbing shocked the nation when it was reported that approximately 38 neighbors witnessed the murder, but nobody called the police.
Kitty’s brother, William Genovese, was deeply affected by the murder. He was 16 at the time, and when he learned that no one helped his sister, it motivated him to become a Marine because, as he explains it, he didn’t want to be an apathetic bystander. A few years later, he returned from the Vietnam War with his legs blown off.
Understandably, Mr. Genovese has never been able to get past his sister’s death, so he decided to investigate the case for himself 40 years later. In his quest to make sense of the senseless killing, he uncovered some things that the original articles got wrong. This pushes him to go further, but what started off as some sort of therapy starts resembling an obsession. In a rather riveting scene, Mr. Genovese meets with the son of the killer, making for an awkwardly tense moment.
This absorbing documentary makes up for its limited budget by providing compelling proof (whether it means to or not) of the importance of moving on after the death of a loved one.
Medicine for Melancholy (2008)
Starring: Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins
Director: Barry Jenkins
Summary: A man and woman try to get to know each other after a one-night stand.
With all the critical acclaim writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight has received this year, some might find it interesting to check out his debut feature, which is just as much about a budding relationship between a young black man and woman as it is about the gentrification of San Francisco.
The film begins the morning after a one-night stand and continues until the next morning. Most of the “action” occurs during what is essentially a first date. Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) go to the museum, share meals, and dance at a bar, but like all dates, what they are actually doing is trying to figure out if they’re right for each other. The way the hint of color slips into the black-and-white cinematography seems to suggest the potential for love is there. But what their hearts might be telling them may not be in line with their minds.
The plot is small-scale, but what the movie is saying isn’t. There’s a heated discussion about interracial dating and the audience is confronted with its own preconceived notions about what kind of music black people are expected to listen to.
For anybody trying to recover from a late night of New Year’s partying, Medicine for Melancholy is just the right speed for a slow afternoon in bed.
Full Circle (2013)
Starring: Solvan Naim, Thomas Watts, Rob Morgan
Directors: Olli Koivula, Solvan Naim
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Summary: A pizza delivery guy finds a duffel bag of drug money.
Here’s an under-appreciated comedy that on the surface looks like just another straight-to-VOD/DVD hood film. The plot—dude takes cash that doesn’t belong to him, bad guys come after him—is nothing new, but the movie rises to the next level due to the wide range of funny characters living in the Bushwick, Brooklyn, neighborhood that our hero, Anthoni (Naim), comes in contact with. There’s the sheepish friend who used to be a thug (Eden Marryshow) but has been domesticated to the point of ridiculousness by his domineering girlfriend (Carolyn Usanis), two hit men (Kelvin Hale and Gordon Rizza) who can’t seem to stop arguing, and the main villain, a ruthless boss named Lomatic (Morgan), who is so obsessed with living in comfort that he kills henchmen who buy bedsheets with too low of a thread count.
Directors Naim (a.k.a. “Slick”) and Koivula impressively control the action, segueing from funny bits to chase scenes to moments where Anthoni breaks into rapping. There’s even a little romance thrown in. And while it might sound like they’re trying to do too much, the filmmakers pull off the shifts of tone nicely. Full Circle is a low-budget movie, but they were thinking big when they made it.
Starring: Milo Cawthorne, James Blake, Kimberley Crossman
Director: Jason Lei Howden
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Action
Summary: A heavy metal band plays song backwards and unleashes evil spirits.
In what is a stupendous melting pot of metal, witchcraft, and stoner humor, Deathgasm is sort of like a blood-splattered Bill & Ted adventure with longer hair, more insanity, and just as much excellence. Guitars and chainsaws are the weapons of choice in a showdown between a band of high school losers and an evil force—probably the same magical wicked power that put satanic messages in Led Zeppelin records and made Ozzy bite the head off that bat back in the day.
As you can probably guess, the badass special effects are what elevate this hellaciously fun flick. Whether it’s awesome daydreams of laser beams, bodacious babes, and reaching metal god status atop a mountain, or finding inventive ways to decapitate zombie-like creatures, there’s hardly a dull moment. But the real beauty of Deathgasm is that you don’t even have to like heavy metal music to dig it. Sure, it’s got plenty of chunky, kick-ass metal tunes, but they fit so perfectly with the visual mayhem exploding on screen, no other music would be as fitting. So, heat up some nachos, crack open a few beers, and spark up a bowl, because Deathgasm is a good way to take a load off.