The television has always been my friend (I remember the arrival of Channel 4 like the birth of a new sibling) but never more so than in the past few months. Whether it is sitting down with the kids after a hard day home-schooling, or relaxing with Niki after the exhausting bedtime routine is completed, or just kicking back for some escapism / nostalgia on my own away from the harsh realities of the outside world, the TV and in particular Netflix has been my lifeboat in the icy waters of the real world as the Titanic heads towards the depths. So without further ado here are the 5 Netflix movies that have kept my head above water over the past three months.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A triumphant celebration of the possibilities of youth, particularly when you have access to a high powered automobile! John Hughes’ masterpiece has its own particular resonance for yours truly. More years ago than I care to remember, I was brought to see Ferris as my special confirmation day treat. There was only one problem, for some reason the Irish film censor (a notoriously contrary fellow who previously denied us Irish folk “The Life of Brian”) had categorised the movie as 15 rather than PG 12 (from a quick bit of research I see that it has been re-categorised as PG 12 in the past 35 years which makes my sense of injustice even stronger). This meant that despite the fact that my parents had already seen the movie and were quite happy for me to enjoy its delights, the staff at the Adelphi Dublin were not so obliging. I had to wait until it came out on VHS before getting a glimpse of that red Ferrari. Boy was it worth the wait. I watched it again with the kids when it came out on Netflix and I remain baffled by the original rating but hey, the Adelphi is long gone so who is laughing now!! Anyway the movie about a charismatic teenager playing truant hits all the right notes (i) a super musical number involving a parade and the Beatles, (ii) a truly excellent villain in dean of students Ed Rooney (with special mention to the maitre d’ at the snooty restaurant) (iii) a life affirming themes which although a bit schmaltzy at times still leaves a warm glow all these years later and (iv) a great soundtrack which is well worth a listen. The movie is also a great advert for Chicago which remains on my list of places to visit, not sure I’ll ever get to drive that Ferrari though!
Groundhog Day. First of all let me state that I’m a big Bill Murray fan and this list could very easily have turned into a Top 5 of his movies. In the end I had to settle for just two, with this tale of a man having to re-live the same day over and over again getting the nod as one of my choices due to Murray’s immaculate comedic performance, even by his standards. For me Murray’s ability to perfectly blend blatant selfishness with charm is what sets him apart, well that and his comic timing. Frequently you hear of stories where he rips up the script and will ask the director (in this case his Ghostbusters’ co-star Harold Ramis) how he wants the scene to work and then takes it from there. In this tale, set in rural Pennsylvania, we are introduced to the groundhog (a type of squirrel who doesn’t climb) which can predict the weather and the annual ceremony associated with this (always reminds me of Dorothy meeting the elders in Munchkinland). Although the reasons why Phil (BM’s charachter) is stuck in this time-loop are never made explicit, it is clear that he is going through some type of purgatory where he initially uses this knowledge for self-advancement before coming to the realisation that this ego-centric behaviour is ultimately unfulfilling. What makes the movie stand out for me is the number of wonderful set-piece sequences, in particular the progression with old college friend Ned Ryerson, the restaurant scene where he recites French poetry (actually a song by Jacques Brel, as someone who studied Jacques Brel and French poetry in college, I appreciated this) to impress Andie McDowell and not forgetting the slightly darker but still hilarious multiple suicide attempts! Even the ending which does have a saccharine sweet element to it manages to hold the tone of the rest of the movie thanks to Murray’s delivery. I could watch this one again and again and again and again!
Lost in Translation. Again this one has some personal relevance for me. I watched Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece in San Francisco while I was travelling home from a year in Australia. Like the protagonist in this movie, I was thousand of miles from friends and family and while San Fran isn’t exactly Tokyo in terms of a clash of eastern and western cultures, it is definitely not leafy Clontarf on a drizzly day. The movie tells the story of Bob Harris (a toned down Bill Murray giving a career best performance) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson before she became mega famous) while they are both staying at the same hotel in Tokyo. The whirling music and the sweeping cinematography perfectly capture the dream-like quality of being all alone in a strange land. There are enough pieces of comedy from Murray to keep his die hard fans happy, such as the scene where he gets trapped on a runaway cross-fit machine and the interactions with the whisky advert director (on the rare occasions where I drink whisky I still feel obliged to say “for relaxing times make it suntory time”). However it is ultimately a love story with some beautifully tender moments between the main protagonists, particularly in the karaoke bar where both Johansson and Murray excel using their varying vocal talents. Interestingly, when I first watched the movie I had more in common with Charlotte whereas when I watched it recently, I was definitely more aligned with Murray’s character (obviously without the marital infidelity). A great movie to watch when you want to drift away to somewhere different.
Marriage Story. So what happens when Kylo Ren and Black Widow decide to get married!? Well you get a bittersweet story of how even seemingly good relationships can go wrong! Seriously though, it did take a bit of time for me to get used to Adam Driver in his non-Star Wars role but once I got over the fact that he couldn’t move things with his mind, I really enjoyed his performance. In fact this movie is full of strong acting performances with Laura Dern well deserving of her Oscar as the street-smart divorce lawyer. There is also Julie Hegarty (of Airplane fame) adding comic relief as Scarlett Johansson’s mother. The plot is not an unfamiliar one with the successful male being gradually eclipsed by his aspiring actress female partner and how this shift in power exposes cracks in the relationship. There are also echoes of Annie Hall with the shift in focus from New York to Los Angeles and how Driver struggles in the new environment. The movie is also a study of the conflict between getting the best deal for yourself while also being able to live with how this can negatively affect those who are or were close to you. In the end Marriage Story finds a balanced and humane way to deal with this. Bring a box of tissues when you set back with this one (Niki had to hand plenty to me).
El Camino. If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad then this one probably isn’t for you but if you are like me and think that the story of Walter White’s descent into hell is the greatest piece of modern television, then this one is essential viewing. El Camino deals with what happens to Jesse after the events in the finale of Breaking Bad. It is filled with the same gut-wrenching tension that made the series so watchable and has plenty of flashback moments so that we get to see some of our favourite characters for the last time (assuming they don’t all make an appearance in Better Call Saul at some point). Aaron Paul is excellent in the familiar role as Jesse but for me it is Jessie Plemons as gang member Todd who is the standout performer with his casual and under-stated menace. The movie is a breathless journey with Jesse moving from one crisis to the next while seeking a way to extricate himself from the mess that Walter White entangled him in when he chose him as his partner in crime all those years ago. The movie is an ultimately satisfying end to a great journey.
So there you have my 5 picks. The first two I watched with my boys (7, 9 and 11) and they thoroughly enjoyed them, the second two are great for curling up on the sofa with a partner and well, the last was just a treat for yours truly. And remember, life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you might miss it!