Welcome back to “It’s New to You!,” the column devoted to hidden gems on services like Netflix. Because you’ve likely never seen them before, they are, thus, “new” to you. It’s a good mentality to have, as opposed to being a slave to marketers who always want you to buy the latest, trendiest items out there. And picking movies (and books and music) based on this philosophy is a lot cheaper, too! Especially if you have someone like me giving you good selections.
One bit of advice I have, in this day and age of chatter and distraction, is to at least once a month watch a foreign language film. Besides the obvious reason — that such movies will expose you to different world perspectives — an equally good reason is that such films require you to put down the iPad and the smart phone. Because you have to read subtitles to know what is happening in the film, you can’t look away from the screen. This will force you to focus, and see the cinematic nuances. You can appreciate the art of the film without buzzes and beeps pulling you away. It’s good for you.
“Aftershock” (2010) is one such movie on Netflix. Search for it there, as it is no longer a new release and may not show up by just browsing. It is based on the true story of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that killed 240,000 people in China. The scene with that earthquake is excellent, as buildings crumble everywhere. It was shot for IMAX, after all, and was the company’s first big film not aimed at Americans. It grossed $100M in China.
And this movie packs a lot of emotion. Without giving too much away, a family of four is split up, as the father is crushed and the daughter is assumed dead. A mother goes on with her son, who lost an arm. But, in fact, the daughter is alive and gets adopted by a military couple who found her at the scene.
While this movie is only a bit over two hours, it feels much longer — in a positive way. We get a deep understanding of what happened to the three main survivors over the course of what would be 30 years. You won’t easily forget this film in the days following having watched it.
Another documentary that has caught my eye is American — but the main protagonist pretends he is an Indian guru. In “Kumaré,” filmmaker Vikram Gandhi, even though he was born and raised in New Jersey, learns some yoga basics, grows a long beard and takes on an Indian accent to verify his agnosticism. With some simple marketing, he quickly builds a following in the American Southwest, calling himself Kumaré. People flock to him and take everything he says as magic, even though Gandhi himself knows it’s nonsense.
The goal is to show us viewers — and eventually his followers — the power of suggestion. In a “reveal” at the end of the film, Gandhi comes out in street clothes, his beard shaven, and speaks in an American accent to his stunned audience. How will they react?
Interestingly, most of his followers seemed to improve their lives, even though the Kumaré persona itself was a goof a la “Borat” and his teachings usually made little rational sense. Perhaps the lesson is, if people want to believe something, they can find their solutions from within.
No harm, no foul, as Gandhi was not out to take his followers’ money — but a less scrupulous “guru” easily could have.
Another movie worth looking at on Netflix: Try the old Burt Reynolds film “Heat.” It really went nowhere back in 1987. Reynolds kept warring with the various directors of this film (he allegedly assaulted one), and they would quit. It seemed the movie, in the end, was quickly thrown together to go straight to video and lost a lot of money. There is talk that this movie might be remade, though, for next year. That’s because, even though this movie failed, it has an excellent main character — Reynolds plays Nick Escalante, a Vegas-based super PI/bodyguard/mercenary with a gambling addiction and nothing to lose.
This could have been a franchise character, like Dirty Harry, as Escalante is heroic and exciting and flawed. Interestingly, the movie only made $3M, but had cost $17M to make. I guess the studios were sick of Reynolds by that point and let it die, along with his career for a good while.