Time Out takes a look at the best movies on Netflix UAE you might have missed, including comedy, documentaries, thriller and more. See the trailers
By Time Out Dubai staff08 June 2016
We've all got that one friend who pulls a funny face and makes you feel small when you say you've not seen a particular film. And more often than not, that film is a little out of leftfield, right? But that doesn't make your friend wrong.
So we've pulled together a list of films to watch that will not only severely limit the times the above will happen, but might also allow you go give someone else that 'not angry, but disappointed' look.
And remember, Netflix is expanding its offering all the time, and we'll be updating our list as they do.
'Beasts of No Nation' is a humane and uncompromising portrait of one boy's experience as a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Tough to watch, it's violent and pulls no punches. You want it to be hard to imagine, but actually it's everything you'd imagine: civil war, family break-up, isolation, indoctrination, murder and more. It's all here.
Written and directed by Cary Fukunaga ('Sin Nombre', TV's 'True Detective'), 'Beasts' is made with verve, fragmented and nightmarish, and blessed with the poetic rhythms of a version of English ('small-small') that's mesmerising and alienating. But for all its many qualities, 'Beasts' still struggles from a lack of both tight focus and a unique perspective, and it feels a little overlong and flagging in its later scenes.
Still, we get two unforgettable performances. The first is from Abraham Attah as young Agu, a boy who retains his compassion even through the worst degradation imaginable. The other is from Idris Elba as the Commandant, the leader of a rogue rebel battallion (although they're probably all rogue) staffed almost entirely by children. Elba's creation is a monster but he wisely plays it down; his actions are monstrous enough. Not that he's quiet: he dances, he gives wild speeches, he's the loosest of cannons.
Fukunaga bases his story on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala, and there are many stand-out scenes. There's an episode when the boys take hallucinogens and all the foliage onscreen turns pink (surely inspired by the Irish artist Richard Mosse's Eastern Congo-set 2013 film installation which uses the same technique). Violence and other adult themes are wisely filtered: horrific but measured, part of these kids' warped everyday experience. The film has a sense of scale to it, judiciously used, that has eluded recent African films on the same topic, namely 'Johnny Mad Dog' and 'Ezra'.
But the overall impact is more emotional than intellectual. To its credit, it feels more soulful and instinctive than many 'issue' films – even if Agu's experience ends up feeling oddly distant considering the time we've spent up close, sharing his personal nightmare.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this instance, a few moments of jaw-dropping time-lapse footage pretty much eclipse every other environmental documentary we’ve seen before.
James Balog was doing well for himself as a leading nature photographer, until a realisation struck him: ‘The secret’s in the ice.’ If anything was definitive evidence of unarguable climate change, it was the state of the glaciers, since their history tells the story of the world’s fluctuating temperatures. Over repeated visits to northern climes, he could see for himself that these long-lived ice-sheets were shrinking, but he realised the only way to quantify their decline was to record it over a period of time.
Jeff Orlowski’s otherwise unassuming documentary takes the viewer on that journey too, as frozen cameras and Balog’s wrecked knee-joints provide modest nuggets of drama before the film’s raison d’être: staggering images of massive glaciers in Alaska and Greenland melting away before our eyes like ice-creams on a hot pavement.
Still an eco-sceptic? Clap your eyes on this lot. Awe-inspiring, terrifying, transcendently beautiful, and absolutely weighted with significance for the future of the planet. The term ‘game changer’ barely does the film justice, and the big screen is just the place to see it in all its ominous splendour.
With their tribal loyalties and unkillable grudges, the cops, hoods, and hard-eyed women of South Boston have become the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy at the movies in recent years. The neighbourhood is a hotbed of broad-vowelled agonistes in Eastwood’s ‘Mystic River’, Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ and now ‘Gone Baby Gone’, the flawed but impressive directorial debut by Boston native Ben Affleck.
Like ‘Mystic River’, Affleck’s film is adapted from a novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, it’s steeped in local colour and texture, and it hinges on a lost child, an anguished parent, and a grievous backstory that sort of explains all.
When little Amanda McCready goes missing, hopes are dim. She’s from a neighbourhood where residents aren’t disposed to talk to the cops, and her junkie mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), has incurred the wrath of a drug kingpin. Those are reasons enough for Amanda’s devoted aunt and uncle (Titus Welliver and Amy Madigan) to hire a young boyfriend-girlfriend team of private investigators, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan in an inert, thankless role), who then spend the requisite amount of time earning the trust of the cynical, squinty detective on the case (Ed Harris, naturally) and the heartbroken police captain (Morgan Freeman), who knows parental sorrow all too well.
The Oscar-nominated Ryan is fantastic, creating a character who’s at once fearsome and pathetic. Casey Affleck’s wry, soft-spoken poise is the movie’s backbone, and as Kenzie’s investigation twists and deepens, the character enters uncharted and hopelessly blurred moral territory, where sacred bloodlines seem to lose their resolution and doing the right thing starts to look all wrong (and vice versa).
The rub, though, is that the film’s compelling ambiguities come to a head in a final, puzzle-solving final-reel development that is so mawkishly convoluted and screamingly absurd that it threatens to upend all the fine work that went before it.
One of comedy mogul Judd Apatow’s most creditable achievements has been allowing underappreciated directors a shot at mainstream success. Take Greg Mottola: despite making a promising debut – 1996 indie charmer ‘The Daytrippers’ – this filmmaker was languishing in TV purgatory until Apatow hired him in 2007 to direct pottymouthed-teen two-hander ‘Superbad’. That film’s success led to a production deal for ‘Adventureland’, a more restrained but equally insightful study of the high-school comedown.
It’s summer 1987, and James (Jesse Eisenberg) is all set for a character-building European adventure, until the shock revelation that his parents’ financial blunders have hoovered up all his travelling money. Strapped for cash and trapped in his Pennsylvania hometown, James signs on at the local amusement park, uncovering a world of emotional intrigue, indiscretion and frustrated ambition.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in ‘Adventureland’ – the plot amounts to little more than the usual round of infatuation and heartbreak, betrayal and self-discovery – but it’s Mottola’s approach that makes it special. His technique is to treat his teenagers not as overgrown kids but as unformed adults, awkwardly testing the limits of their emotional, moral and intellectual identities. It’s as much about trial and error as adolescent romance, as James and pals try out different personas and partners until they find a style that fits.
It doesn’t always work: some characters get short shrift, while the collision between soul-searching and slapstick jars. But as a sweet-natured character comedy – and a subtle exercise in generic boundary-pushing – this is a real charmer.
There was talk of Joaquin Phoenix going off the rails – behaving oddly in interviews, checking into rehab – long before news broke that this intimate doc by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, charting a whacked-out, hairy and fat Phoenix’s withdrawal from acting during 2008 and subsequent laughable attempt to become a rapper, might be a hoax.
What’s clear from watching the film, which is presented as an up-close, fly-on-the-wall doc, following Phoenix at home in New York and Los Angeles, is that while its motivations might have been genuine, its execution is wobbly: some scenes, especially those involving Phoenix’s antagonistic relationships with his assistants, feel staged, and encounters with the likes of Ben Stiller (offering him a part in ‘Greenberg’) and P Diddy (suffering his ambition to make a record) don’t feel very real at all. Which means that you spend a lot of time trying to unpick the question of fakery and less time thinking about the issue in hand, which, we imagine, is Phoenix’s desire to say something about fame and his role in that game.
The ‘hoax’ issue is a bit of red herring: Phoenix is known for being unable to separate acting and life, and with that in mind ‘I’m Still Here’ is best viewed as a fictional self-portrait. He is giving us a version of himself, ‘real’ or not, and Affleck is merely a collaborator.
The problem is that the portrait that emerges is of a vain man-child, ill at ease with the world and his place in it. It might be honest, but it’s not pretty. As playful reflections on your own persona go, Banksy’s ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ trumps this effort by a long way, but it’s mostly a compelling, teasing watch.
Céline (Julie Delpy), an easy-going Parisian, is on her way back from Budapest to study at the Sorbonne. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American, is at the end of a Eurorail tour. They meet on a train just outside Vienna; by the time they reach the station, they’ve hit it off well enough for Jesse to propose that Céline spend the next 14 hours wandering the city with him, until his flight leaves for the States. Intrigued, she accepts. And so begins an unexpected and profound adventure of the heart.
Released late last year, this 14-minute short film finds narrator Robert De Niro in the abandoned Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital in the shadow of New York’s Statue of Liberty. While operational, more than 100 years ago, the centre saw 1.2 million people pass through it, images of whom now adorn the walls, floors and more, and act as a powerful backdrop to the beautiful Eric Roth script.
The first UAE film to appear on Netflix, this edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller is a home-grown movie to be absolutely proud of; a classic game of confined-space cat and mouse. The dialogue is in Arabic and it’s produced by Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation, but in terms of concept, style and influences, its torn straight from the Hollywood genre-flick rule book.