I was taking a walk through Netflix's foreign films category – easily one of the strongest areas of the service – when I came across a movie called B13 (or District 13, depending on how you translate the French title).
B13 isn't really a great movie. In fact, it's kind of a crappy action flick about a futuristic slum and a bunch of drug lords and some other worn-out tropes. But the movie does have one redeeming feature: it stars David Belle, the godfather of Parkour and a guy who has made a pretty good living by running around and jumping over stuff.
B13 got me to thinking about something I'm going to call sub-recommendations. As much as I like to watch stuff on Netflix, I usually spend half the time skipping through a few minutes of one thing or another before getting bored. As such, I've built up a list of movies that aren't worth watching in their entirety, but have a couple of good moments.
B13 is a perfect example. You basically want to give the first 20 minutes of this movie a run, if only to watch the awesome (albeit somewhat artificially sped-up) action sequence that opens the film. The rest of the movie warrants, at best, a shrug.
Another example: It Might Get Loud. This is actually a pretty good documentary about three generations of master guitar players. But really, it's the opening two minutes that does it for me. I'm only a half-fan of Jack White, but watching him build a guitar out of junk parts was very, very cool.
This week's picks remain true to the somewhat foreign-film-ish theme. The highlight is an emotional, stunning documentary about a Brazilian race car driver. The lowlight is a bizarre techno-romp about a Japanese half-man, half-gun.
One of the little joys of life is watching a sublime explanation of a complex undertaking – not so much the mechanics of it, but the soul, the mastery. Senna, a beautiful 2011 documentary about one of the greatest race car drivers in history, does exactly that. It's a powerful film if you're a fan of racing, and perhaps a more powerful film if you're not.
Told through archive footage and first-hand accounts from the people closest to Ayrton Senna, the documentary traces the life and death of the Brazilian icon, from his teenage years racing go-karts to his death in a 1994 crash. To be sure, the source material – a Brazilian unknown's rise to greatness in the heavily politicized world of Formula One racing – lends itself quite easily to a compelling narrative. But Senna is also just an amazing piece of storytelling, weaving multiple threads together in a way that keeps any one part from getting stale. The documentary expertly jumps from the mechanics of racing to the state of Brazilian society to the wildly politicized, almost mafia-like business of Formula One (at about 30 minutes into the film, the head of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, racing's governing body, shows up, and he looks like something out of a Scorsese flick).
All of this is held together, at its core, by Ayrton Senna's otherworldly, almost religious genius on four wheels. One of the highlights of the documentary comes about halfway through, when Senna wins a race on home soil for the first time – with a busted gearbox stuck in sixth.
One of the best documentaries on Netflix, Senna is also one of the more recent ones, at only a year old. It is at times – and especially at the end – hard to watch. Footage of Senna's last moments on the track are presented with an affecting, immediate minimalism, and the symmetry of the documentary's opening and closing shots manages to get at the heart of who this incredible driver was. This is a brilliant and moving film, well worth watching.
Tetsuo: The Bullet Man
In my ongoing quest to anger at least a few people with every instalment of this series, I've picked a movie that apparently comes from a long line of cult hits. T:TBM is the third in a string of Japanese industrial-horror-punk thrillers (this is a category I made up), and it turns out the first couple of films actually generated a bit of a following.
I'll do my best to give you a sense of what this movie is about, based on my admittedly very limited understanding of what the hell it is I just finished watching: there's this guy, and early on his son get killed or maybe kidnapped by what seems to be a car that's having a seizure. To add to what must already be a pretty bad day, this guy later finds out that, due to some kind of medical experiment involving his scientist parents, he is now also undergoing what can best be described as a process of non-consensual android-ization. He basically starts sprouting metal bits. Eventually, and I really can't be sure about this, because of all the hysterical camera work, he turns into some kind of human gun. Also, there's lots of screaming and swearing. Also, a lot of people die.
Normally, I'm willing to give any movie with an original premise the benefit of the doubt, and guy-becomes-organic-assault-rifle is certainly an original premise (the previous Tetsuo movies also deal with this weird metal fetish thing). But what really kills T:TBM is the absolutely nausea-inducing editing. Every scene feels like it was filmed during an earthquake, and that's before the director inserts all manner of rapid-fire, "Boo!" cuts to scary alien metal guy's face. It is a safe bet that not a single tripod made it within a hundred miles of the set.
If you're looking for one of the most bizarre films on Netflix, look no further. But be warned, I had a full-on migraine by the time I was done watching this thing. As far as motion sickness goes, you're probably better off drinking a gallon of warm milk and taking a rowboat into choppy waters.
READERS: I noticed while scrolling through the foreign films section is that Netflix appears to have recently added a whole load of Hindi films. I haven't actually seen too many Hindi films since I left the Middle East, so if anybody out there can point me to some keepers on Netflix, that'd be much appreciated. And keep those Canadian content selections coming, I got some good ideas last week, but I need more.