What's in Your Queue
For your viewing pleasure: a comedy, a drama, and a documentary -- all available for instant streaming on Netflix and instant reviewing here at Erie Reader.
The Darwin Awards (Comedy, Independent Film)
Somehow in all my years of random Internet browsing, www.darwinawards.com slipped under my radar. And even as I watched this dark comedy loosely inspired by the website – which prides itself on commemorating individuals who protect our gene pool by killing themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby "improving our species' chances of long-term survival" – I had no idea it was a legit site until after the closing credits rolled. The film follows a disgraced forensics detective (the criminally seldom-seen Joseph Fiennes) who takes on a new job for a life insurance company assessing the validity of claims. Winona Ryder plays the claims adjustor he is on the road with, and unfortunately the film takes the path often traveled and spends a great deal of time focusing on the relationship between the two of them, but not without interspersing some hilarious death scenes seemingly taken straight from the site (watch for some great cameos in these stories). The one fatal flaw to this film is its use of presenting itself as faux-footage captured for a documentary – a technique that adds nothing to this film (especially when Fiennes narrates the first few minutes ala "Thank You for Smoking" in a more effective approach that is sadly missed once we change gears). Still, anyone who has ever reveled in a little Schadenfreude will enjoy the wicked nature of this film.
Grade 4 Stars
The Saddest Music in the World (Drama, Independent Film)
The official description reads as such: "When a Depression-era beer baroness bankrolls a contest to find the world's most melancholy music, the $25,000 prize sparks cutthroat competition." But I wasn't fully prepared for this film as I walked into it expecting something regarding music and its effects on mood, not an homage to '20s and '30s era silent films – right down to the grainy editing techniques and expressionism set designs. The contest itself even takes a backseat to the sordid, bizarre, intertwining relationships of the film's five main characters. My disappointment aside, there is something mesmerizing about this film – from its extreme visualization to the absurdity of its story to the wonderful performances (including Isabella Rossellini and a surprising excellent turn from former "Kids in the Hall" and "Saturday Night Live" cast member Mark McKinney) to its fitting coda – that does warrant a viewing, whether it lives up to its premise or not.
Grade 3 Stars
The People vs. George Lucas (Documentary)
I cannot attest to being a fan of "Star Wars." I definitely get the appeal, but they just aren't for me. That being said, I understand the pain fans of the series have undergone in the past two or so decades as they continuously witnessed the bastardization of their beloved series at the very hands of the man who created this universe. The fans finally get their day in court in "The People vs. George Lucas," a documentary that aspires to be a sort of courtroom style debate over Lucas' continuing degradation (depending on your opinion) of the beloved franchise. Testimony from fanboys (and girls) and industry professionals are used to present both sides of the argument as well as to create a look inside the unique fandom of that galaxy far, far away via fan-made homages and recreations that occupy a good deal of this doc. A lot of the lashing out seems wholly cathartic, but the main problem with this documentary is that it never really accomplishes anything regarding what it set out to. Some amazing hypocritical revelations are made about Lucas, but a lot of what is said is nothing any Star Wars fan hasn't heard (or argued) before. However, I would kill to see a DVD filled with the fan films as they are the real reason to tune in here.
Grade 3.5 Stars
All titles are currently available for instant streaming on Netflix.