Last week, in honor of Mother's Day, we highlighted films about the many challenging facets of motherhood. The week before, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo by focusing on movies that reflect the depth of Mexican culture and its people. This time around, we’re playing catch up and turning our eye to some recently-added movies on Netflix that we haven't been able to cover yet.
Three of the five selections are Netflix Originals: Small Crimes stars Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a crooked cop whose past sins are waiting for him when he’s released from behind bars; Mindhorn is a good natured dig at ‘80s TV cop shows; and things get down and dirty in the political documentary Get Me Roger Stone.
The other two films featured in this week’s column are small but powerful independent features that haven't gotten a lot of publicity: the spellbinding experimental art piece LoveTrue, as well as Hunter Gatherer, which features a damn good lead performance by The Wire’s Andre Royo. It would be a shame if this movie was overlooked.
Small Crimes and Hunter Gatherer are both about men coming home from prison, but the tone of both movies couldn’t be more different. If there is one thing all these films have in common, however, it’s that they show how difficult it is for people to accept change, or in the case of Get Me Roger Stone, just how easy it is for a few politicians to inflict changes that can have consequences for millions.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Small Crimes (2017)
Starring: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Molly Parker, Robert Forster, Gary Cole
Director: Evan Katz
Genre: Crime, Drama
Small Crimes is a well-acted, low-key drama that requires you to pay close attention, not only to figure out what is going on, but to really get into the mind of the main character. Disgraced cop Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known as Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister) is getting out of prison when the movie opens. As we slowly learn, Joe committed a violent crime and the repercussions are still being felt six years later. We find this out, however, not through flashbacks, but through his interactions with various people in his small town.
In director Evan Katz’s previous effort, the gruesome and engrossing Cheap Thrills, he explored how far people would go for money. In Small Crimes, he is asking how much a person can truly change. Self-absorbed Joe spends a lot of time trying to convince those around him that he’s changed, but everyone, like his concerned mother (a memorable Jacki Weaver), the lonely nurse he just started dating (Molly Parker), and the lowlife goon with a grudge against him (the reliable Pat Healy) can see right through him. And we, as viewers, can clearly see that the only conclusion to this fatalistic story will be a brutal one.
Starring: Julian Barratt, Essie Davis, Simon Farnaby
Director: Sean Foley
There’s probably some people out there expecting this spot-on spoof of '80s TV cop shows to be somewhat like the famous Naked Gun movies. And although there is some slapstick humor and a few sight gags in Mindhorn, the film is far less outrageous than the Leslie Nielsen franchise. It’s even, unexpectedly, a little bit endearing.
Julian Barratt is Richard Thorncroft, the delusional, washed-up actor who was once famous for portraying fictional hero detective Mindhorn, but who is now desperately seeking to revive his career. So when police contact him to help solve an actual murder, he sees this as a publicity opportunity. Of course, his ineptitude provides most of the film’s laughs.
The whole cast is quite good, most notably Barratt, who plays the clueless thespian as someone you can laugh at but also care about, and Simon Farnaby as Thorncroft’s derisive Dutch stuntman/romantic rival. For those who grew up watching shows like TJ Hooker and Knight Rider, Mindhorn, which impressively recreates the look and feel of those bygone programs, will be right up your alley.
Get Me Roger Stone (2017)
Starring: Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Paul Manafort
Directors: Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme
In this doc about shady political consultant and unscrupulous lobbyist Roger Stone, there are times when he looks like a third rate comic book villain walking around in a ridiculous suit and derby, gaudy sunglasses obscuring what surely are beady little eyes. It’s almost comical except for the fact the man is a behind-the-scenes power player who causes real life damage. Stone, who refers to himself as an “agent provocateur” — but who critics have called a “state-of-the-art sleazeball” — began his career under Nixon during Watergate, and was there for the rise of negative campaign advertising. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As we see in the doc, the cocky Stone, who loves playing to the camera, openly revels in his notorious reputation. A mid ‘90s sex scandal was merely a speed bump for him. He bounced back with a pivotal role in the 2000 Florida recount and was one of main architects of the Trump presidential campaign. (He had been trying to get Trump to run since the 1980s). The revelation that politics is often a dirty business is not exactly breaking news, but watching a major player like Stone discuss some of his underhanded tricks with glee makes for quite a compulsive viewing experience.
Starring: Blake Gurtler, William Hunt, Victory Boyd
Director: Alma Har'el
On the one hand, LoveTrue is a quasi-documentary about a nerdy stripper in Alaska and her boyfriend who has a degenerative bone disease, a stoner surfer who harvests coconuts in Hawaii and is angry about his baby mother cheating on him, and a talented NYC street musician from a large family who is dealing with her father’s adulterous ways. But by having non-actors interact with actors, and by staging fantasy scenes that run alongside authentic footage, filmmaker Alma Har'el turns LoveTrue into an art film that defies categorization. It’s as much a poetic dissertation on the meaning of love as it is a dream-like personal diary caught on film.
Granted, the film doesn’t make any profound observation, and each of the three main subjects reacts to their individual dilemmas much like the rest of us would, which is to say, they continue moving forward with their lives as best they can. Regardless, what’s impressive is just how visually intoxicating the film is, and how it’s enriched by the soothing music of Flying Lotus. In the end, LoveTrue’s most impressive achievement is its ability to cast a spell on its audience.
Hunter Gatherer (2016)
Starring: Andre Royo, George Sample III, Kellee Stewart, Kevin Jackson
Director: Joshua Locy
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Andre Royo (The Wire) delivers big time as an out-of-touch ex-con who is trying to get back on his feet. (He’s also trying to woo his old girlfriend, who is not exactly pleased to see him again.) George Sample III (Cronies) portrays his affable friend who makes money by partaking in medical experiments in order to care for his invalid grandfather.
The two buddies don’t go on any extraordinary adventures. This is not that kind of film. This is about hard-working people who engage in adult relationships. They communicate with each other (for the most part) in an upfront manner that not many people are brave enough to try. Quietly, they discover some important things about themselves. The film also poses a rather tough question: If you can’t be with the person you love, do you settle for second best?
As simple as the movie is on the surface, there’s something special brewing underneath, and before you know it, the film catches you off guard with moments of awe-striking realism that elevate Hunter Gatherer to a higher level.