Netflix Instant Pick: Disney’s “New” Princesses

Every week we recommend something we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Sorry gentlemen, I had the gals in mind when I decided on today’s Netflix Instant Picks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the magic of “classic” Disney! This is especially the case with our first film based on the Rapunzel fairy tale but marketed to both girls and boys as the gender neutral Tangled (2010). Originally titled Rapunzel, filmmakers decided to change the title to Tangled after The Princess and the Frog (2009) failed to draw in crowds a year before. For whatever reason frilly dresses and the word ‘princess’ scare away young male viewers. So they beefed up the male lead role of Flynn Rider (voice, Zachary Levi) to accompany Rapunzel (voice, Mandy Moore).

The film is by all accounts a literal translation of the classic fairy tale, but I can’t remember the last time I fell in love with a non-Pixar, Disney produced animated film. Needless to say it’s been awhile. Mandy Moore is excellent as Rapunzel, a sheltered young girl attempting to break free from her stepmother’s clutches for the first time in her life. The adventure she embarks on with Flynn as her guide is nothing short of pure fun. The music is also something to be treasured, and although it was the song “I See the Light” that earned an Oscar nomination, my favorite song and performance of the film has to be “Mother Knows Best” sung by Donna Murphy as evil stepmother Gothel. Also, artists schooled in the Pre-Raphaelite style will notice its influence in the visuals and color palettes throughout the film. It’s just one of the many ways Tangled blends traditional animation styling with sleek and modern CGI effects.

The Princess and the Frog was released just a year before Tangled and while it earned critical praise, it failed to be the financial success everyone had hoped it would be. The financial failure has little to do with the quality of the film and more to do with the difficulties of marketing an animated film without the Pixar seal. And as stated before, there’s that pesky word ‘princess’ in the title. It’s actually a shame because I did enjoy the film, although I can understand why it actually may have gone over kids heads a little.

Instead of setting the story in a “fairy tale” land, The Princess and the Frog is set in Jazz-era New Orleans in the 1930s. As fascinating a time as this era was, it encompasses very complex social, economic, and societal overtones that are difficult to fully articulate in a film aimed at children, although I was impressed that they existed at all. In the end, I think parents will get more out of a film like this, but the heart behind the character of “Princess” Tiana (voice, Anika Noni Rose) is hard to ignore. The film also boasts the voice talents of Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman. Never a bad thing!

Again the tale is quite straightforward but instead of a helpless ‘princess’ character, Tiana has her sights set on opening her own restaurant. She ends up getting sidetracked when a fateful kiss with a frog prince takes her down an unexpected road. Again, it’s not so much the story that appeals to me as my love for classic animation. The Princess and the Frog possesses some very memorable jazz-infused numbers that incorporate the traditional fantasy montage sequences we know and love from Disney. The artistry is something to be admired amidst the sea of 3D and CGI animated films.

Both Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are solid entries in Disney’s “Animated Classics” line, and proof that there are other viable studios besides Pixar producing quality family entertainment.

Watch Tangled

Watch The Princess and the Frog

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.


Netflix Instant Pick: Newman and Redford

Every week we recommend something we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

One of the all-time best ( and perhaps sexiest) on screen duos is that of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While they both have illustrious and varied film careers on their own, together, their on screen charisma is undeniable which elevates Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting to near the top of their respective filmographies.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was Redford and Newman’s first collaboration, and one of the great Westerns of all time. The film shows the two title characters and their exploits with The Hole in the Wall Gang in Wyoming, and then eventually Bolivia where they flee the law close at their heels. A very lighthearted take on the traditional outlaw film, I love the mix here of action and comedy, and the audience can’t help but feel like they are following Butch and Sundance on their amazing adventure.

Redford was an almost last minute casting decision, and one that was hated by the studio (Fox), who preferred Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen. It was a decision that certainly changed Redford’s career, and he has used the moniker Sundance ever since for both his estate, and the film festival he founded in Park City, Utah.

The Sting came just four years later, becoming the second pairing of Newman and Redford, and Butch Cassidy director George Roy Hill. It’s a classic con film with Redford as the up-and-comer and Paul Newman as the retired veteran called back for one last job. The two team up to pull a long con on Doyle Lonnegan (the amazing Robert Shaw) to get revenge for the death of Redford’s original mentor. The film became one of the biggest hits of the early 1970s, and won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Adapted Score.

The film boasts both a great story and great acting, placing it near the top of my all-time best film list. I’ve watched it several times now, and each time I come away impressed by just how smart and entertaining this film is.

Both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting are among the best films ever (Butch Cassidy is #73 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list), and the chemistry between Redford and Newman is something that has yet to be duplicated by any modern acting duo. Whether you watch them for the first time or the fiftieth, make sure to go check them out on Netflix Instant!

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Sting

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Netflix Instant Pick: America’s Mountain Culture

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

There are some cities in America that lend themselves to being featured on screen, Boston and New York come to mind. Perhaps it’s because the strongest personalities in Hollywood just happen to call these places home. But I’ve always had a fascination with places a little more remote, where life is intertwined with the landscape and in some cases even dictated by it. I’m speaking of course about America’s Mountain Culture, particularly Appalachia and the Ozarks.

Jesco White, "The Dancing Outlaw"

I watched The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) a few months ago purely on a whim. It’s a documentary that chronicles a year in the life of the notorious White family of Boone County, West Virginia, a family made “famous” by its patriarch D. Ray White, the king of mountain dancing. We see his widow Bertie Mae throughout the film, a woman so selfless it makes the rest of the brood downright despicable. Touted as America’s last outlaw family, the Whites are an amalgamation of thieves, drug dealers,  and addicts, with a reputation for destruction in Boone. But the most intriguing personality in this family is Bertie and D. Ray’s son Jesco White, the only other member of the family to master the art of mountain dancing. Jesco is a man tortured by many demons, but the second he performs, the years of heavy drinking, smoking, and drugging melt away and we are met with a man who missed his calling as a national entertainer.

This documentary is about the Whites, but it is also about West Virginia, and the people who live there. Coal mining is still a way of life for many, and poverty runs rampant. But despite the hard times, the mountains call to these people, and together a unique relationship is formed. A bond with the land that makes it difficult to leave. We see that these people feel left behind by the rest of the country, and a once vibrant piece of the American tapestry is left to fray under the pressure of a rapidly declining mining economy.

But the resolve of the people of Boone County is unmistakable. In fact, they wish more attention was payed to the good that can come from tucked away corners of the world, and not families like the Whites. A county official is interviewed for the film and tells the story about a local kid getting a full-ride scholarship to MIT. “Why aren’t they following him around with a camera,” he asks. The answer of course is simple. Why is Jersey Shore watched by millions. I understand the frustration of the good citizens of Boone, who pay their taxes and wish that the stereotypes associated with the “backwoods” of Appalachia would stop being reenforced by probing documentarists. But I also think that at the very least The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia aims to capture a moment in time about a group of people that are slowly disappearing under the weight of their own fame and self-destruction. Like it or not, the Whites represent a unique portrait of Appalachian life, and I think they deserve a place in film memory.

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone

For another excellent film featuring America’s mountain culture (this time in the Ozarks) I recommend the painful yet beautiful Winter’s Bone. Jennifer Lawrence portrays a quiet yet fierce young woman determined to save her family’s house and find out the truth about her father’s disappearance. Similar to The Wild Whites, Winter’s Bone examines the oftentimes complicated relationship between family loyalty, and fending for yourself. It shows a lawless land governed by alliances and swift retribution for defectors.

Watch Winter’s Bone here and The Wild Whites here.

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.


Netflix Instant Pick: Mel Brooks Parodies

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights are movies that may be on your List of Shame, but with both on Netflix Instant, that’s easily rectified. Mel Brooks is a singular name in parody and these are among his most celebrated, and most recent parody films. Brooks only made four films in the 80s and 90s in this genre, but with little quantity comes great quality.

Spaceballs (1987) is a landmark in a peculiar subgenre: the Star Wars parody. While the film also features many other cultural references, Star Wars was Brooks’ main target. It’s a fertile ground for parody, as we have seen in subsequent years (where shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken have done multiple entire episodes dedicated to it). What’s funny to me is that this film came out just 10 years after the release of the first Star Wars film, and critics were complaining that they were already over saturated with it. Ebert wrote in his original review, “The strangest thing about Spaceballs is that it should have been made several years ago, before our appetite for Star Wars satires had been completely exhausted…this movie already has been made over the last 10 years by countless other satirists.”

However, don’t let that deter you. After all, If you haven’t seen Spaceballs, then you’ll never know why “Pizza [the Hutt] is going to send out…for you!

Watch Spaceballs here.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) is the parody film Brooks made after Spaceballs, and is his last good film to date. Like its predecessor, the film is a direct parody, and luckily it adheres as close to the Robin Hood mythos as Young Frankenstein is to its source material. However, like Brooks’ other historical parodies, it includes a lot of anachronisms as humor, aided by the great Dave Chapelle as Achoo.

Brooks particular target this time, the Kevin Costner film Prince of Thieves, is probably a less popular film now that Men in Tights has become a cult classic. By broadening this film to encompass the whole Robin Hood legend, and not just one specific portrayal, it bolsters the parody to stand in its own right. Lead Cary Elwes elevates the film to new heights with his now famous line, “Unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent!”

Watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights here.

Netflix Instant Pick runs every Thursday on Filmhash. Past picks are here.

Netflix Instant Pick: Big

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

We’ll have to wait until the weekend to see how Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds fare in their body-swap wish fulfillment, but I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit Big, where a young boy wished he could skip most of his adolescence and advance right to adulthood.

I am a huge fan of Tom Hanks, as he is one of the few actors I will see in anything (waiting for the DVD for Larry Crowne, though). My love of Hanks extends far back into my childhood, and I remember Big as one of the first times I noticed him (second only to Joe vs. the Volcano).

When I was younger I really only knew this film as the one with ‘the giant piano’ and that Zoltar freaked me out a little. Revisiting this film as an adult though, allows me to experience just what about Big enabled Penny Marshall to become the first female director to rake in $100 million at the box office for a single film. While I had thought this was just a goofy 80s comedy, there’s a little bit more going on here.

Something that really struck me this time was Hanks’ performance. Watching him, it’s easy to see him just as Tom Hanks, of course, but he does a fantastic job of emulating the speech patterns and mannerisms of David Moscow’s younger Josh. It’s prominent enought to be noticeable, but not over the top to the point of cartoonishness. And that’s really what makes the whole film work.

 While the movie’s message may be that to fully enjoy being an adult, we must not forget the child we left behind, the film also examines what an adult’s life looks like to a child. In the film Josh gets to work for a toy company, meets/dates the beautiful Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) which is juxtaposed against young Josh’s failure earlier on, and yet this literal wish fulfillment is still to much for him to handle.

As a 13-year old, Josh gets the luxury of experiencing the joys of adulthood: freedom to do what he wants, live on his own, get a cool-sounding job, and date a woman. He hasn’t yet learned all the ways society keeps adults restricted, and therefore life is a relative playground. And what’s ironic is that the adults around him are fascinated by his strange, innocent approach to everything. Now here’s a guy who thinks outside the box!

However, Josh also gets the not-so-fun things that come with adulthood, from navigating the corporate jungle all the way to figuring out his identity and place in the world. And best of all, that the biggest juveniles can actually be found in corporate boardrooms. My favorite line in the whole movie comes from Susan when she is asked by her former fling and crybaby Paul what she sees in Josh: “He’s a grown-up!”

Ultimately, of course, Josh decides to be a kid again, making some of us wish that it were just that easy to reverse the process of growing up. Just as Josh accepts his adolescence, Susan has also come to terms with being an adult, despite her affection for Josh’s whimsy and carefreeness. At the end of the movie, she could easily reverse the process (as she observes the secret of Zoltar), but chooses to remain 27. Perhaps knowing what comes shortly after 13 (high school hell, etc. etc.), she realizes that growing up should be a one-time deal. Or maybe she realizes that she would have nowhere to live, because no one would rent an apartment to a 13 year old, and that she won’t be able to drive a car. I prefer the first answer, though.

Watch Big on Netflix Instant.

Previous Filmhash Netflix Instant Picks.

Netflix Instant Pick: Tales from the Script

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Screenwriters have always held an aura of fascination for me. I usually have visions of them sitting in a bohemian-style studio apartment, probably in New York, puttering away on an old typewriter (typewriters hold a romanticism that computers have yet to possess). They are surrounded by pages and pages of crumpled paper littering the floor. And then finally, they stand up exalted! Call their agent, and send off their finished script knowing full well that every glorious line of delicious, witty dialogue they have concocted will make it to the silver screen.

But we know this rarely, if ever, happens. And if you didn’t know that before, then Tales from the Script will give you the brutal awakening. The film memoir (I call it a memoir because it doesn’t have the feel of a traditional documentary per say), is a collection of stories, thoughts, tips, warnings, and hilarious anecdotes from some of the industry’s best, and perhaps not so well-known writers. It’s set up in a series of chapters, that might as well be called “How to Accept Rejection,” and “How to Deal with Difficult People,” etc. It attempts to run the gamut of the entire process of producing a script, and while some chapters provide ample insight, there were others slightly lacking for me. Nothing is sugarcoated, and the job of writing screenplays is very rarely glorified by anyone. In fact, I believe it was Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) who said no one pursues a “career” in the arts unless there’s no other choice.

It’s always been the notion that artists, screenwriters included, pursue their art out of passion. There can be no other explanation as to why someone would struggle for years to make a living unless they were moved by a force greater than money. But Tales from the Script provides an interesting view into the motivations of screenwriters, and the constant battle between making money and attaining longevity, or sticking with your gut and never working again.

After watching this film, I was convinced that each and every movie is an artistic miracle. With the number of movies produced every year, it’s hard for us as viewers to really appreciate all that goes into making it. For me, the screenwriter is the unsung hero, the master made whipping boy. I say this because after a writer sells their script, they are often bullied out of the process of making their story a movie. Yes, that’s something I had to think about as well. Screenwriters don’t write movies, they write stories that are then turned into movies by filmmakers. And more times than not, a screenwriter must sit back and watch their work get torn to bits, plots altered, characters changed, lines rewritten (sometimes the entire script-by another writer!), and every decision is made with the bottom line in mind.

The central message of Tales from the Script doesn’t make itself known until the very end. Throughout the film we come to understand the screenwriter’s existence as that of a tightrope walker; you can keep your job long enough to make a living by not pissing off the wrong people, and kissing the asses of the right people. Screenwriters, and filmmakers work to make money for studios by producing movies they think people will see regardless of whether or not they are right. But at the end of the film, we are told a very touching story by one screenwriter who learned that his critical and financial flop of a movie changed the life of a woman he met at a party. In that moment, he knew he didn’t make that movie for the studio, or even for himself, he made it for her. And that was enough.

Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Last Temptation of Christ

I recommend watching this film if like me you fancy yourself a wannabe screenwriter/starlet. It provides a variety of different writer experiences from people across the industry, from the seasoned Hollywood salt to the aspiring newbies. Make no mistake though, this film is a series of talking heads, and therefore if you don’t find the inner workings of Hollywood utterly fascinating, then this film isn’t for you. But, should you watch, you’ll be greeted with painful, funny, and meaningful stories that may change the course of your future in screenwriting. Can you imagine pitching a story to Steven Spielberg, over the phone, while he’s parallel parking? Or sitting at a table with Rob Reiner, and listening to Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson read lines from your script right in front of you? Ah, so that’s why they do it…

You can watch Tales from the Script here.

Netflix Instant Pick: Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

I’m not really a fan of bad movies. I know people who seek them out, or are fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but for me, it’s usually been more about curiosity than anything else. Most of these films, like Plan 9 From Outer Space or They Saved Hitler’s Brain, are awful, and so is the viewing experience. I know that Jerry Seinfeld (or at least the character from his show) loves Plan 9:

Elaine: You should’ve just had dinner with your uncle tonight and gotten in over with. It’s just a movie.
Jerry: Just a movie?! You don’t understand. This isn’t ‘Plans 1 through 8 from Outer Space’, this is ‘Plan 9’, this is the one that worked! The worst movie ever made!

Seinfeld, “The Chinese Restaurant” (1991)

I will leave others to debate whether Toll 2 is worse than every other movie, but what Troll 2 has that others lack is a supreme sense of watchability. We actually discovered Troll 2 through the documentary Best Worst Movie, which chronicles the film’s eventual rise to cult status. But more on that in a moment.

For those who are unaware, Troll 2 is a 1990 film by Italian director Claudio Fragasso, featuring a cast of unknowns, and was originally titled Goblins (the film was titled Troll 2 to capitalize on the success of the movie Troll). It is supposedly a horror film, though little about it is scary. I will refrain from talking any more about the plot, because for one, it doesn’t really make any sense, and two, I don’t want to ruin any of the fun.

I would highly recommend watching this movie, especially in a group setting, with some drinks or whatever else. I have never had this much fun watching a bad movie. Apparently, the combination of an Italian director, writer, and crew with an unexperienced American cast created the “perfect storm” that is Troll 2. This is an extremely earnest film, and that ultimately makes it so watchable. In fact, I may watch it again tonight. Or this weekend. Or both.

To that effect, the documentary Best Worst Movie, directed by Michael Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2, is a very personal portrayal of the cast/filmmakers of Troll 2, and the audiences that just can’t get enough. The documentary is fascinating to watch, and the slow reveal of what the cast and director are currently up to is masterfully edited. This is a movie filled with incredible people, and it’s amazing to imagine that the people behind ‘the worse movie ever’ are just as interesting…and strange…as the movie itself.

Troll 2 is on Netflix Instant, watch it.

Sadly, Best Worst Movie is not, but you should seek it out (or get the disc from Netflix). Together, both movies make for one of the most sublime double features imaginable.