Mortified Nation

Country: United States

Duration: 105 min

Director: Mike Mayer

 4/5 
It is done with deep self-knowledge, and empathy for the peculiar obsessions of their youth.

Have you ever read your diary from adolescence, and squirmed with embarrassment at your younger self?

Probably the last thing you would consider doing would be to offer up such cringe-worthy content for public consumption.

Some brave souls, however, have done just that.

Mortified Nation documents a live performance evening, which first began in Los Angeles, California, where people read amusing excerpts from the diaries they kept when they were teenagers.  It’s an incredible source of comedy, and tender without becoming mawkish.

David Nadelberg created the evening after he read, to a group of friends, an excruciatingly awkward love letter he’d penned whilst in high school.

His friends found it hilarious.

Nadelberg began to contemplate this youngster that everyone found so funny.

“Who was this boy everyone was laughing at?”

That is an interesting question to pose, because though Nadelberg and that boy are one and the same, there is a significant enough difference between the two of them, for Nadelberg’s teenage self to feel like a different person.

mortified netflix

As it is with all the other performers profiled in the documentary, all of who explore, with remarkable candour and honesty, the confusion of their youth; the frustrations and longing they felt when they were teenagers, trying to figure out exactly who and what they were.

What Mortified Nation captures perfectly, is that, the performers, in reviving that long-dead version of themselves, feel no shame or scorn.

It is done with deep self-knowledge, and empathy for the peculiar obsessions of their youth.

A cheerful eulogy, for a person left behind on the long difficult journey into adulthood, but who lives on in fond memory.

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The Trip

Country: United Kingdom (2010)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Duration: 107 min

Starring: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon 

 3/5 
Though both films are suffused with the clever, punchy humour, that comes as naturally to both men as breathing, it also examines the psychology behind such intense wit.

If you’re a fan of the comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, you will enjoy The Trip (2010) and its sequel The Trip to Italy (2014), both on Netflix now.

Directed by the multi-faceted Michael Winterbottom (a friend to both men), the plot to the two films is relatively simple: Coogan and Brydon play slightly fictionalised versions of themselves, as they embark upon a gastronomic tour of Northern England in the first film and the Italian coastline in the second.

 This slightly altered reality which the two characters inhabit for the duration of the films is an interesting method by which to explore the relationship between the two men, and their own sense of identity as ageing comedic actors; competing with one another, as they alternately wrestle with uncertainties about each other, themselves and their careers.

In The Trip, Coogan is the neurotic one, contrasted to great comedic effect with a jocular, self-assured Brydon who constantly aggravates Coogan with his puerile sense of humour.

the trip

In the first film, Coogan is in a shaky phase of his life; he is in an unstable relationship with a much younger woman, prompting a lot of anxious behaviour on his part; and he is also trying to move his career in a more serious direction, plagued as he is with deep fears of artistic inconsequence.

It doesn’t take much for Brydon to wind him up, which he does – relentlessly.

In the Trip to Italy, however, Coogan seems much less fragile, and it is Brydon who appears to be undergoing a difficult time, displayed in strained scenes with his emotionally distant girlfriend.

Though he is still his antagonistic self, the film occasionally dips into private moments where he is upset and uncertain.

The Trip series is complex like that, because, though, both films are suffused with the clever, punchy humour, that comes as naturally to both men as breathing, it also examines the psychology behind such intense wit, the brooding, hyper-competitive nature of it, and how it is often used as a shield to defend against inner insecurities.

There are wonderfully tense scenes between the two men as they duel each other with sharp comedy and abrasive banter.

The beautiful food, wine and scenery in both films are an elegant side dish to this fascinating character study, but it is the whip-smart dialogue, which is the hearty main.

Also see: Four Films about Food on Netflix

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Most Visually Striking Films on Netflix

hero on netflix

Moving Art (Also on UK Netflix) (2014)

A visual musing on the wondrous beauty of the natural world, told through hypnotic time-lapse sequences. Read our review.

American Horror Story (Also on UK Netflix)

The highly stylised horror series is exquisitely grotesque. Though it is a thoroughly engrossing watch, I do wonder if the macabre blend of gore and glamour will stand the test of time.

 Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

A visual poem from legendary auteur Werner Herzog, which explores the nature of time and existence with Herzog’s keen sense of visual wonder (read our review of Cave of Forgotten Dreams).

Hero (2002)

Strong colours are used to dazzling effect throughout this film’s surreal exploration of ancient China, lingering long afterwards in the memory.

 

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Featured Image Credit: Still from Hero (2002). Design by On Netflix Now

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

tinker tailor soldier spy

Country: United Kingdom

Duration: 127 min

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy 

 4/5 
Using his keen powers of observation to identify weaknesses and contradiction, the taciturn Smiley is able to pierce through falsehood and reveal truth.

(Don’t worry. No spoilers.)

In the world of international espionage where ulterior motives abound, your deepest desires are your greatest weaknesses. To love is to expose oneself to exploitation. To trust is to be vulnerable to betrayal.

As such a heavy atmosphere of unhappiness pervades Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The elite spies of MI6 are very lonely indeed.

The 2011 film, starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, a British MI6 operative, is based on the highly successful series of novels, devised by author John Le Carre.

Alfredson’s direction accurately recreates the cynicism of Le Carre’s stories, where, the English spies, in contrast to the glamorous antics of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, lead unfulfilled somewhat solitary lives. Often wracked with feelings of disillusion and self-doubt, uncertain as to the relevance of their work and acutely aware of Britain’s declining international influence

These bleak emotions are especially enhanced in the film by the dreary urban architecture of 1970’s London, these and the grey, cloudy skies of the British isles, form a strong cinematic backdrop to the unfolding narrative.

It is 1972 and the British government along with her American allies are engaged in the Cold War. The current head of MI6, “Control”, suspects there to be an informer on the British side passing information to the Soviets.

To investigate this further he sends an agent, Jim Prideaux, to Czechoslovakia to meet with a Czech general who is apparently willing to sell information about the traitor.

Prideaux’s mission turns out to be a trap, he is shot and in the ensuing scandal Control is ousted from his position by four members of his inner circle: Haydon, Esterhase, Bland and Alleline.

Along with Control, his right-hand man, George Smiley is forced into retirement, and their positions are usurped by the other four men.

However, quite soon after, Control dies, and Smiley is recruited back into MI6 by government minister Oliver Lacon, to investigate Control’s suspicions about the mole.

It is here that the deep distrust and fractured friendships of MI6 are revealed in their grim totality: Smiley discovers that Control suspected not only his inner circle, but even the person who was closest to him: Smiley.

Smiley appoints “scalper” Peter Guillam (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) as his assistant in the investigation, which uncovers a complex network of deceit and treachery.

Smiley undertakes his task not in a series of daring action sequences, but through psychological analysis and clever trickery.

Using his keen powers of observation to identify weaknesses and contradiction, the taciturn Smiley is able to pierce through falsehood and reveal truth.

Director Tomas Alfredson’s muted style is perfectly suited to a story and characters of this kind. His previous film Let the Right One In (2008) beautifully blended the wintry landscapes of Sweden with sparse dialogue; intimate moments of mutual understanding where not a word is spoken, but much feeling is shared between the characters.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does have more dialogue, but it is subtle and not overly verbose. There are no moments of long exposition, as viewers we are encouraged, like Smiley, to make sense of silence.

Though it explores the effectiveness of Smiley’s methods, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, does not valorise him nor shy away from exploring the melancholy nature of his life.

This meta-narrative underscores the more straightforward mystery plot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which ultimately lifts it above the usual banal offerings of the genre, reaching the level of fine art.

Also see: Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial, and Nazi Hunters

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Moving Art Series

moving art netflix

Oceans:

Duration: 25 min

Director: Louie Schwartberg

Flowers:

Duration: 25 min

Director: Louie Schwartberg

Deserts:

Duration: 25 min

Director: Louis Schwartzberg

 4/5 
Schwartzberg makes splendid use of optics. Throughout the film, one is keenly aware of the interplay between light and dark.

There is no particular narrative to the Moving Art (2014) series, other than the grand narrative that sustains all life in the known Universe.

Moving Art serenely observes these phenomena in six exquisite short films entitled: Oceans, Deserts, Forests, Flowers, Waterfalls and Underwater.

The concept is simple, but deeply moving. Each film contains spectacular footage of the natural world set to instrumental music, shot in various locations, all over America.

It truly is a Zen experience, and I highly recommend watching this if you are in an anxious or stressful mood. The pure, sumptuous beauty of Moving Art will soothe those troubled feelings.

Oceans: Director Louie Schwartzberg captures the fury and turbulence of the sea and its waves, contrasting it with the deep calm of interior lakes and ponds. One cannot help but be reminded of the tumult of human emotions, which so closely resemble the fluidity of water.

Forests: There is truly an abundance of colour and texture in this film, comprising a collection of woodland scenes. There is something mystical about Forests, particularly the shots of dense thickets under bright, starry skies.

Flowers: Schwartzberg uses time-lapse (he is an expert in the field) to show the full life cycle of the flora featured in the film. Flowers is evocative and full of colour and life; indeed, the images in this film provoke deep contemplation about time and creation.

Deserts: Schwartzberg makes splendid use of optics. Throughout the film, one is keenly aware of the interplay between light and dark. The stark subject matter makes Deserts more minimalistic than the other two films, and perhaps a little more subtle too.

Waterfalls are incredibly beautiful yet terrifying forces of nature. Waterfalls, the short Moving Art film, captures the force and power they generate.

Underwater travels to the depths of the sea to record the plethora of plant, fish and mammalian life that exists there. Some of the most magnificent scenes are those that show the size and grace of humpback whales, the ocean’s giants.

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Also see: Samsara

Neurons to Nirvana

Neurons to Nirvana

Country: United States

Director: Oliver Hockenhull

Duration: 85 min

 4/5

We suddenly found a way to explore a continent [through psychedelics] that we didn’t know existed and not many other people knew existed either. Ralph Metzner

Whether or not you agree that psychedelic experiences can be useful, there is a growing consensus that the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a catastrophic failure. This is not a difficult case to make and constitutes more an illustrative side-note to this really quite beautiful film. Instead, the focus is on the nature and utility of the experiences themselves and the substances that induce them. The background around their illegality and the establishment crusade against them, acts only as further evidence for their revolutionary potential. Read More…

Films About Philosophy

Philosophy Films Netflix

Philosophy of mind, free will and existence  are well represented in this collection of films on Netflix now. Though the films do not deal in the complex semantics of philosophy, as it is studied in academia, they are nonetheless meaningful meditations on the essence of truth, being and existence.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) and Into the Abyss (2011) Director: Werner Herzog

Two documentaries from the magnificent Mr Herzog which vary wildly in tone, with Cave of Forgotten Dreams exulting in the very finest aspects of human nature and Into the Abyss doing exactly as its title intimates.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams examines the elaborate Paleolithic cave paintings recently discovered in the Ardèche Valley. It is an inspiring exploration of the origins of creativity and human curiosity.

Into the Abyss, however, explores the converse of those impulses: murder and destruction. It features two death row inmates who have received the ultimate sentence for a gruesome crime. In a very detached way, Herzog muses on the nature of death and vengeance.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010)  Director: Mitch Schultz

DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a fascinating meditation on the  mystery of human consciousness. It specifically focuses on the research of Dr Rick Strassman an American psychiatrist who undertook groundbreaking research into the effects of the psychedelic drug DMT on the human brain. The result of his experiments were incredible and raised profound questions about our perception of time, space and indeed the entire Universe.

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