This week we have some overlooked or underrated gems, movies that slipped under the radar or were somehow misunderstood the first time around. There are movies based on classic literature, movies that sing and dance, and movies that blow stuff up. There are stories about real life, stories that just
feel like real life, and stories that feel like nightmares.
Then we have some earlier performances by some of the current Oscar-nominees, notably a very good forgotten Michael Keaton movie, as well as Rosamund Pike and Robert Duvall together in a thriller. Stream away!
What's best on Netflix
Stonehearst Asylum (3/5 stars)
Director Brad Anderson may not be as celebrated as his fellow Andersons Wes and Paul Thomas (none of whom are related to me), but he's a very good, dependable genre director, capable of sturdy horror and suspense films. His latest, Stonehearst Asylum (2014), is based on an Edgar Allan Poe story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." In 1899, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the remote Stonehearst Asylum, hoping to become a resident doctor there.
Newgate meets superintendent Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) and the beautiful inmate Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), who has the "hysteria." In a creepy dungeon, a prisoner (Michael Caine) claims to be the real superintendent. Anderson creates a great, atmospheric space for his asylum, and it becomes a grim, expressive character all its own, much like the abandoned asylum in his earlier Session 9 (2001). Some viewers may be able to detect the story's twists early, but even so, Anderson appears to be having a delightful time with them.
(Note: There may be a glitch in Netflix's system. If you have combined DVD rental/streaming package, you might need to search for the name "Eliza Graves" to find the streaming version of the movie. I called Netflix and was assured that this would not be a problem for most customers.)
The Machinist (3/5 stars)
One of Anderson's earlier films is also available streaming, The Machinist (2004), which is notable for star Christian Bale dropping 64 pounds to play the lead role. Trevor Reznik works in a machine shop and has chronic insomnia; he hasn't slept in a year, and he keeps losing weight. A prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he frequents tells him that he's going to disappear. A new worker appears on the job, and he begins seeing strange things, experiencing weird memories. A "hangman" drawing appears in his home. Again, the twisty plot may not be well-hidden, but it is well told. Anderson decorates the film in machine metal blue-gray, dreary and ominous, with a creepy Theremin score whistling throughout. Strangely enough, Paramount Classics released this for the Thanksgiving holiday! Bale probably needed a huge feast to bulk back up for his next role, Batman.
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