This weekly blog series, published each Friday evening, features five films from streaming services which you can access for free using your library card. The five selections this week follow magnetic leads with highly specific goals outside the norm.
Some people really enjoy movies that follow characters who are really good at what they do - pilots, drivers, bank robbers, and the like. These movies do that too, but the leads are breaking new ground in unexpected ways, leading the viewer to challenge whether the characters or their surroundings are truly strange. Even if viewers see these protagonists as a little misguided, their determination, honesty, and willingness to stand for their beliefs will have viewers cheering for them anyway.
The Last Black Man In San Francisco (2019)
The Last Black Man In San Francisco is about a man, Jimmy Fails, holding on to his family history in a city that seems all too ready to leave history behind. People in hazmat suits are cleaning up the latest environmental disaster while a preacher shouts about people’s souls. Jimmy just wants to restore his family’s old house, even while another family lives in it. Jimmy and his playwright friend Mont cling to the ideals of a community that doesn’t seem to exist anymore while the boys on the block agitate each other into acting tough. Based on the true story of and starring Fails, this film is a brilliant and achingly personal look at San Francisco, gentrification, and masculinity.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter loved the 1996 movie Fargo - in fact, she’s convinced that a satchel of money buried during a scene in the movie is still buried there in real life, and she has a treasure map to guide her there. Only issue is, she lives a lonely life in Tokyo and doesn’t always communicate well. Even if she gets all the way to Minnesota, will anyone care enough in her naive dream to help her, or will someone burst her bubble? Starring Rinko Kikuchi (Westworld, Pacific Rim, Babel), this film focuses on the sort of innocent, personal faith that drives people to imagine a better life against all odds.
Captain Fantastic, played by Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises, Green Book), takes homeschooling to the Nth degree. He and his six children live in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest where he instills a love of self-reliance, physical activity, and intellectual rigor. His children are all whip-smart and highly capable, but they are woefully behind on getting along in regular society. Add pressure from the mother’s side of the family to get the kids back to “normal” and viewers will have a lot to judge for themselves. When does eccentricity and personal vision cross over into irresponsibility? What does sanity look like in a crazy world?
Oldboy is the 2003 original starring Choi Min-sik (I Saw The Devil, Lucy), not the 2013 remake. Dae-su is kidnapped and held captive for 15 years for no apparent reason. Upon unexpected release, he pursues his mysterious captors for the time they stole and falls for a sushi chef along the way. This movie is largely known for a hallway fight scene as well as a unique dining scene in a sushi restaurant. The movie’s enduring question of "Even though I am no better than a beast, don't I have the right to live?" rattles against the seemingly arbitrary nature of Dae-su’s suffering at the hands of his captors. If you enjoy this neo-noir tale, definitely check out the other movies in director Park Chan-wook’s thematically linked “Vengeance Trilogy,” Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance, each excellent in their own right.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, played to intense perfection by Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows), is from the 2009 original based on the novels, not the 2011 remake (that was quick). Journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired to investigate a cold case dripping in family intrigue along with hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander and her dragon tattoo. The central mystery takes a back seat to Salander, who outright steals the movie and following sequels, whether she’s targeting serial killers, rapists, financial corruption, or Nazis. While Blomqkvist hires her to help his ineffectual investigation, she crashes through on her own terms to wreak a mission for justice. The beautifully shot rural Sweden is worth a look, too.