Most films on the lower rungs of Netflix occupy that position for a single reason: they’re downright terrible. The acting is at best laughable and at worst cringe-worthy, whilst the script seems to be the product of baboons who possess a slightly above average intelligence. Elsewhere, the special effects are seemingly artefacts from design software that became obsolete once Windows 98 was released and the goofs and continuity errors come thick and fast. But amongst the schlock, the horribly ill-conceived box office flops and throwaway Chuck Norris vehicles are a selection of films hardly deserving of their placement amongst the vast expanse of Hollywood detritus. We’ve all sifted through the lower echelons of the vast Netflix database, ambivalently scrolling past Beverly Hills Ninja and Death Wish 4 and laughing at the hilarity of shoe-string budget horror C-movies such as Return Of The Killer Tomatoes and Strippers Vs Werewolves. Hiding amongst the most forgettable and artistically hollow filmic endeavours are some criminally overlooked works of cinematic art. Here is a selection of filmic diamonds who have unfairly found themselves confined to the Netflix motion picture ghetto:
Rebellion (2011), Director: Matheiu Kossovitz
From the director of the stunning trawl through urban grit in the acclaimed feature La Haine, the French auteur returns with this equally violent hostage thriller which centres on an uprising within a French colony full of resentful inhabitants. Kossovitz, who writes, directs and stars as the film’s protagonist, draws from real historical events in which French policemen were taken hostage by dissidents on the French-controlled island of New Caledonia in the South-West Pacific Ocean. As a negotiator, Kossovitz is trapped between the motives of both sides- native inhabitants vying for their freedom and a trigger-happy French Army under direction from the political elite who are using the event to further their aim for re-election. Full to the hilt with explosive action sequences, the film packs two punches in its intelligent visual exuberance as well as its political statement towards the last vestiges of French colonialism amidst a fug of political motives. Its plot and action scenes are equally compelling but Rebellion has managed to fly right under the radar and landed amongst Netflix trash.
The Replacement Killers (1996), Director: Antoine Fuqua
Despite tanking commercially, The Replacement Killers is an intriguing and oftentimes high-octane action film that posits Chow Yun-Fat and Miro Sorvino in a fight for survival against the hands of assassins sent to eliminate the pair at the behest of an enraged drug-lord. A hitman himself, Chow Yun-Fat’s character succumbs to his conscience and is unable to follow his bosses’ orders and assassinate a seven year-old boy. With his family now in mortal jeopardy, he must return to Shanghai to reach his mother and sister before the drug-lord’s cronies can exact merciless retribution.
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In un-typical Hollywood fashion, Chow and Miro’s characters never kiss, but the sexual tension between them is positively electric. It is a wild and menacing thriller awash with shoot-outs delivered in a John Woo inspired “Hong-Kong” style which includes gun battles in unorthodox and mundane settings such as a car wash to a beat-heavy soundtrack courtesy of The Chemical Brothers. The director, Antoine Fuqua, lays the foundations for a career that would result in such male-centric Hollywood blockbusters as Training Day and Olympus Has Fallen.
Zaytoun (2013), Director: Eran Riklis
1982: an Israeli fighter pilot crashes in war-torn Beirut and is taken prisoner by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, deemed a terrorist sect by most of the Western world. The pilot, played with humility by Stephen Dorff, is soon confronted by a young Palestinian boy whose father has been recently killed in an Israeli airstrike. A masterful insight into the complexities of human nature and conflicting emotions, Zaytoun is a deeply moving tale of friendship against the odds. United, at first reluctantly so, by the goal of returning to Israel, the pair soon reach a mutual understanding amidst a backdrop of unceasing warfare and religious hatred. The picture is a studious example of how differences can be set aside for the benefit of common goals yet it is far from preachy in its demeanour. Similarly, its story carries enough weight and emotional depth that it can be enjoyed without the tangible politically symbolic ramifications.
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980), Director: Jamie Uys
This South Africa/Botswana comedy has attained cult status as a supremely amusing allegorical tale of a Bushmen’s puzzled interactions with a modern white society, operating as both an unbridled comedy and a gentle social critique of skewed Western values. In the Kalahari Desert, a tribesman encounters an empty bottle of Coca Cola, which he and his villagers believe came directly from the heavens as a gift from God. In a series of beautifully shot vignettes, the Coke bottle brings misery to the villagers and in an attempt to return it to the Gods, the protagonist encounters western society in the form of a group of revolutionaries and a disconcerted doctor.
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The story itself is told with tongue placed firmly in cheek whilst the director, Jamie Uys, operates in an idiosyncratic style that brings together a variety of disparate stylistic attributes into a single thread whilst remaining constantly humorous. Universal comedic elements of slapstick and subtlety are utilized in equal measure in a picture sure to leave a smile, even after additional viewings.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Y Tu Mama Tambien, which translates as “And Your Mama Too”, is part road-movie and part coming of age tale which is also the first directorial outing from multi-award winning Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón. Left by their girlfriends, two Mexican teenagers named Tenoch and Julio- played by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal respectively- embark on a road trip with a highly attractive older woman to a fabled beach known as “Heavens Mouth”. Along the way, the boys learn some sharp lessons in friendship, maturity and sexuality. Told in unflinching, matter-of-fact terms by Cuarón, the boys think they’re in for one last fling of hedonism before they head to university, but the trip holds a lot more in store for the boys and their friendship will never be the same again. Funny, candid and heart-wrenchingly poignant, Y Tu Mama Tambien is as likely to leave you in tears as it is to evoke fits of laughter.
Saved! (2004), Director: Brian Dannelly
The American high school film has been enacted to death and is now a genre in itself, but Saved! offers a rather unique spin on an overly familiar concept. Featuring a strong comedic turn by child star Macaulay Culkin, the film is a viciously funny satire of fundamental Christianity- not a particularly hard feat in itself, but one enacted with sharp observation by director Brian Dannelly. The hypocrisy within the ultra-religious Christian students is laid bare through several scenes which reveal the true outlandishness of the pupil’s behaviour including a memorable moment of attempted “de-gayification”. Far from an outright attack on Christianity itself, the film shows how the true message of Christ is distorted to suit the ends of people’s selfish motives. A thoroughly punchy, amusing and edifying ninety minutes.
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