Hidden Netflix Gems: ‘Bronson’

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a new weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bronson” (2008)

“My name’s Charles Bronson, and all my life I’ve wanted to be famous.” That’s the opening line of Nicholas Winding Refn’s fictionalized biopic “Bronson,” starring Tom Hardy as the titular character, a man who the press often refers to as the “most violent prisoner in Britain.” You may be familiar with Winding Refn’s best known work, 2011′s “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, and recognize Hardy as the guy who played identity thief Eames in “Inception” and most recently appeared as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” While those two pictures might be better films, I don’t think Hardy as ever put in a better performance than he did in “Bronson.”

Charles Bronson is not as well known stateside as he is across the pond. In the UK, the man is something of a national celebrity, both famous and infamous for spending the majority of his adult life in solitary confinement (28 of his 34 years in prison). Bronson was first incarcerated in 1974, at age 22, after being handed a seven-year sentence for armed robbery (of just  £26.18) from a suburban English post office. That seven years quickly became 14 as a result of his starting various fights and hostage situations involving guards and fellow prisoners. Bronson was released in 1988, but spent just 69 days on the outside (during which he began a “career” as a bare-knuckle boxer) before being arrested again. He’s been in prison ever since and his antics haven’t ceased.

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Blu Tuesday: Scorpion Jackets, Alien Shape-Shifters and More

There doesn’t seem to be as much thought put into when a movie is released on Blu-ray compared to when it’s released in theaters, because some weeks are a lot better than others when it comes to the number of titles to choose from. Granted, quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality, but there are several high-profile films out today that, although they’re not all winners, should still find an audience if they haven’t already.

“Drive”

Though I wasn’t that impressed by Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films, they have an undeniable visual flair and originality that you don’t see very often. “Drive” takes those qualities and applies them to a conventional Hollywood thriller, resulting in a movie that feels much more mainstream without abandoning Refn’s art house sensibilities. The film is as beautifully poetic as it is strikingly violent, while Ryan Gosling has never been better as the soft-spoken yet brutally intense protagonist. For as much attention as the film’s graphic violence has received, however, it’s the opening sequence – an edge-of-your-seat car chase packed with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife – that is undoubtedly the biggest highlight. And when a movie can start so brightly and continue to build on it like “Drive” does (thanks in part to great supporting performances from Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks), it’s no wonder why so many people love this film.

Blu-ray Highlight: The single-disc release doesn’t offer as many special features as I would have liked, but there’s an excellent 25-minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn that is definitely worth checking out. In addition to discussing the origins of the film (including a funny anecdote about his first meeting with Ryan Gosling), Refn talks in length about securing independent financing, casting the actors and more.

“The Thing”

It’s admirable of Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. to recognize that John Carpenter’s “The Thing” didn’t warrant a remake, but there are so many similarities in this mostly unnecessary prequel to the 1982 cult classic that it feels like a retread anyway. Though fans of Carpenter’s version will undoubtedly get a kick out of some of the Easter Eggs that have been planted throughout (including a potential clue to the mystery surrounding the ending of the original), the 2011 edition doesn’t deliver the same kind of suspense. For a movie that supposedly wants to honor its predecessor, it also fails to adhere to the same set of rules. Perhaps the most annoying difference is that Heijningen’s Thing doesn’t even try to assimilate its prey with any stealth, but rather makes a big scene out of every transformation, presumably to show off its flashy CGI makeover. But for as silly as some of the original film’s old-school effects look today, they’re still creepier than anything this movie throws at you.

Blu-ray Highlight: The U-Control picture-in-picture feature is probably the disc’s best asset, but the audio commentary with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and producer Eric Newman is actually pretty interesting. Along with discussing the more obvious aspects of making the film, the duo reveals some of the other ideas that were never used, including a short-lived plan to have MacReady’s brother as the main protagonist.

“In Time”

As far as science fiction movies go, Andrew Niccol’s “In Time” features one of the more intriguing premises in recent years, which only makes its poor execution that much more disappointing. Although the idea of a future where time is literally money is ripe with potential, Niccol’s heavy-handed sociopolitical message never really gives the film a chance to develop beyond the initial setup. It’s hard to imagine that the movie was greenlit based on an actual script (and not just the idea), because most of the story is spent aimlessly following Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried around a not-so-futuristic city as they get stuck in a monotonous cycle between having too much time and not enough. And for a film about making the most of every second, “In Time” is nothing but a waste of about 6,540 of your own.

Blu-ray Highlight: None. The sole featurette on the disc – a faux-documentary called “The Minutes” that tries to sell the idea that the characters from the movie have agreed to appear on film to discuss the anti-aging gene – is incredibly lame, while the included deleted and extended scenes are small bits that don’t really add anything to the story.

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2011 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

Looking back at this year’s slate of films, it would be easy to label it a disappointment. But while 2011 may not have been very memorable, it wasn’t exactly forgettable either. In fact, the biggest problem I came across while compiling my year-end list was that while there were a lot of movies I really enjoyed, there weren’t very many that I loved. That might not be the most encouraging statement to make before announcing one’s Top 10, but it’s the honest truth, and it doesn’t make the movies listed below any less deserving of my praise, even if there are some films missing that you believe should have made the final cut. But that’s why critics love writing year-end reviews; each one is unique to their specific taste, and mine is nothing if not unique. Well, except for maybe my worst-of list, which is filled with movies that I think we can all agree sucked big time.

Best Movies of 2011

1. “DRIVE

Though I wasn’t that impressed by Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films, they have an undeniable visual flair and originality that you don’t see very often. “Drive” took those qualities and applied them to a conventional Hollywood thriller, resulting in a movie that feels much more mainstream without abandoning Refn’s art house sensibilities. The film is as beautifully poetic as it is strikingly violent, while Ryan Gosling (who’s had a banner year between this, “The Ides of March” and “Crazy Stupid Love”) has never been better as the soft-spoken yet brutally intense protagonist. But for as much attention as the film’s graphic violence has received, it’s the opening sequence – an edge-of-your-seat car chase packed with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife – that is without a doubt the biggest highlight. And when a movie can start so brightly and continue to build on it like “Drive” does (thanks in part to fine supporting turns from Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks), it’s no wonder why so many people love this film.

2. “ATTACK THE BLOCK

It’s not every day that you get to see a film before the rest of the world, so I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that being among the lucky few in attendance at the SXSW premiere of Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block” played a part in my overall enjoyment of the movie. A genre hybrid film with influences ranging from “The Warriors” to “Critters,” Cornish’s directorial debut is a lean, mean sci-fi action thriller that, although it boasts a mostly unknown cast and was made for a fraction of the cost of the average Hollywood movie, is the most fun I’ve had at a theater all year. The young actors are great, the creature effects are even better, and the film is fueled by a relentless, infectious energy that keeps the action moving at a rapid clip. There might have been several alien invasion movies in theaters this year, but “Attack the Block” was the best of the bunch – a fun slice of nostalgic geek cinema that blended action, comedy, horror and sci-fi to create an instant cult classic.

3. “YOUNG ADULT

It’s no secret that Diablo Cody has her share of critics, but “Young Adult” proves that she’s more than just a vending machine for the kind of quirky one-liners that initially earned her notice back in 2008 with “Juno.” Thematically darker and more mature than her first feature, the film also feels more personal in its examination of what it means to grow up, providing the perfect platform for Cody’s voice to shine. Blisteringly funny and surprisingly poignant at times, “Young Adult” is so daringly original that its somewhat contentious ending has even divided audiences. But while Cody deserves a lot of credit for taking these risks, it’s Charlize Theron’s performance that brings out the comedy and emotion of the situation, delivering some of her best work as the beautiful but bitchy Mavis. It’s not very easy to make a character like that sympathetic, but Theron pulls it off so effortlessly that it would be criminal to see her name absent from any award ballot.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

September is typically a pretty laidback month for movies. After being bombarded with big budget tentpole films over the summer, it’s the calm before the storm that is awards season. But this year, Hollywood is kicking off the fall movie season in style with big names like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt all starring in films that could make an appearance at the Oscars next year. Throw in a couple of cool genre flicks and you’re looking at one of the most promising Septembers in recent memory.

“A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY”

Who: Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb, Tyler Labine, Lake Bell and Nick Kroll
What: A group of 30-year-olds who have been friends since high school attempt to throw an end-of-summer orgy.
When: September 2nd (limited)
Why: Though I’m still not convinced that Jason Sudeikis is the star that Hollywood seems to think he is, this raunchy sex comedy could finally be the film that changes my mind. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by such a funny ensemble cast, including actors like Tyler Labine and Lake Bell, who are always good for a laugh The real test, however, will be whether the film has the balls to go all the way or if it will chicken out at the last minute, because you shouldn’t joke around about an orgy unless you mean it.

“CONTAGION”

Who: Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne
What: An action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak.
When: September 9th
Why: When Steven Soderbergh puts together a cast this good, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. But even with four Oscar winners, three nominees, and a three-time Emmy winner at his disposal, the real star of “Contagion” may end up being the story itself, which has the potential to scare the living shit out of audiences in ways that most horror films could only dream of. How Soderbergh manages to tap into our inherent fear of disease will be key to its success, but if the movie is anywhere near as good as 1995’s “Outbreak” (which also had an amazing cast), we’re in for a pleasant surprise.

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11 Movies to Look Forward to in 2011

As a film critic, you learn to keep your expectations to a minimum, because more often than not, the movie in question is never as good as you hoped. That doesn’t change the fact that there are still some movies that you want to see more than others, and as long as you don’t mind the possibility of disappointment, it’s okay to let your inner fanboy out every once in a while. This year certainly has plenty of movies to get excited about – at least, that’s what Hollywood is banking on with an upcoming slate that includes “Pirates of the Caribbean 4,” “Cars 2,” “Green Lantern,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” – but there’s a lot more great stuff out there than just the usual summer tentpole films. To give you a better idea of what’s coming to theaters this year, I’ve assembled my 11 most anticipated movies of 2011 with the hope that you might discover one or two titles to add to your own must-see list.

“PAUL”

Who: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman
What: Two British sci-fi geeks on a cross-country road trip through the U.S. encounter a real-life alien named Paul who needs help getting back to his home planet.
When: March 18th
Why: The trailer may not instill a whole lot of confidence with its heavy dose of juvenile humor, but as a fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who also co-wrote the film), it’s hard to imagine them disappointing their fanbase. I wouldn’t necessarily expect anything as great as “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz,” but between all the geeky sci-fi references and the awesome supporting cast (including Jason Bateman as the FBI agent on their trail and Seth Rogen as the voice of the titular alien), it’s safe to say that “Paul” will be every bit as funny as it sounds.

“HANNA”

Who: Saorsie Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett and Olivia Williams
What: A girl raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is sent on a mission across Europe while eluding operatives under the command of a ruthless CIA agent.
When: April 8th
Why: Director Joe Wright may be best known for sappy period dramas like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement,” but I can’t wait to see what he can do in a completely different genre – especially one that provides him with a bigger playground to work within. The trailer seems to suggest that “Hanna” will be more than just your average action-thriller, with Wright aiming for something a little more thought provoking. And with a cast that includes Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, and one of the best young actresses in the business in Saorsie Ronan, this could be the surprise hit of the season.

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”

Who: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till and Jason Flemyng
What: The story of Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) as young men learning to control their powers, and how they worked together with a band of mutants to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known.
When: June 3rd
Why: Apart from the fact that it takes place in the 1960s and serves as a prequel to the original trilogy, details on “X-Men: First Class” are pretty scarce. But after walking away from the directing gig on the last “X-Men” film, I think that most fans are curious to see what Matthew Vaughn can do with the franchise. The retro setting definitely has my interest piqued, and using the relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr as a parallel to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is brilliant. That hasn’t stopped Internet forums from stirring up bad buzz in response to the recently leaked photos and rumors that Vaughn is feeling pressed for time, but he doesn’t have a bad movie to his name yet, so it’s probably better to just let the film speak for itself.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART TWO

Who: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes
What: Harry returns to Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione to find and destroy Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes, leading to the inevitable battle between the Boy Who Lived and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
When: July 15th
Why: The real question is, who isn’t looking forward to this movie? The previous seven films have grossed over $6 billion worldwide, and where most franchises tend to lose steam around the third installment, this series has only gotten better over time. They’ve also gotten progressively darker, and “Deathly Hallows: Part Two” promises to be the darkest yet, with the massive Battle of Hogwarts resulting in the death of several major players – some good, some bad, and some whose allegiance remains a secret. I’m still holding out hope that the movie will dive a little further into Dumbledore’s past, because “Part One” covered so much of the book that the only thing left is the battle.

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