We Got Netflix Covered: Naughty Secretaries, Ghost Protocols And A Cabin In The Woods…

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Welcome back to our recurring recommendation article, We Got Netflix Covered, a place where numerous writers will be discussing their specific genre-based favorites that you can stream on Netflix Watch Instantly this very second. To prove we certainly do have this covered, we’ve developed a list of genres that we’ll be providing recommendations for every week – 11 total genres – and the writers responsible for each section have been established. While these might change week to week, here’s today’s roster:

Independent: Sarah Myles
Classics: Lauren Humphries-Brooks
Television: Eric Hall
Action & Adventure: James Garcia
Foreign: Paulo Lazo (no entry this week)
Documentaries: Adam Donaldson
Dramas: Isaac Feldberg
Horror: Matt Donato
Family/Children’s Movies: Christian Law (no entry this week)
Comedies: Gem Seddon
Sci-Fi: Al Lowe

Look at those names – a real “almost” Dirty Dozen if I do say so myself. Enough chatting though, let’s see which Netflix movies you should be streaming this week!

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Independent Pick: Secretary (2002)

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Secretary is one of those movies about which people make assumptions – assumptions based on the movie poster, assumptions based on the style of music on the soundtrack, and assumptions based on sensationalist attitudes toward one of the themes of the film: BDSM relationships. The truth is, however, that Secretary is a wonderfully made, brilliantly written and perfectly performed film, exploring what happens when two people find enough acceptance in one another – affording the space and opportunity to truly be themselves. In that respect, Secretary is simply about love.

Socially awkward and emotionally troubled Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from the hospital after what is implied to have been a serious incident of self-harm. Trying to settle back in with her dysfunctional family, she learns how to type, dates a high school friend – Peter (Jeremy Davies) – and gets a job as a secretary for isolated attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader). As they work alongside each other, Grey becomes angered by Lee’s various mistakes, unprofessional appearance and personal habits. He verbally reprimands her, which increases the submissive nature of her behavior and in turn, increases the sexual desire in him. Her natural submissiveness appeals to his natural dominance, and he becomes locked in a beautifully played-out battle with himself to contain his own compulsions.

As tension builds in the workplace, Grey confronts Lee about her need to self-harm, bringing the two closer together to point that they eventually embark on a BDSM relationship. Their bond deepens, and Grey and Lee evolve in a variety of ways, until he begins to experience shame and self-doubt. As he questions his own behavior, Lee gains confidence in hers, and he puts their relationship to the ultimate test.

Written and directed by Steven Shainberg (Fur), with Erin Cressida Wilson (Chloe) also taking screenplay credit, Secretary is based upon the short story ‘Bad Behaviour’ by Mary Gaitskill. Notable for its elegant and affecting production design, the film works brilliantly because of the performances turned in by Gyllenhaal and Spader. While Spader is the embodiment of internal conflict, Gyllenhaal creates a character that audiences can immediately invest themselves in – making it all the more uncomfortable when Grey responds to the electrifying tension in the room by inflicting corporal punishment for persistent typing errors. It is the reactions of both parties to this boundary-crossing, however, that spins the film on its head and jettisons us off into an unexpected, but wholly satisfying direction.

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Classic Pick: Warning Shadows (1923)

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One of the great elements of the Netflix Watch Instantly service is the availability of a large number of early examples of cinema, most of them in the public domain and now available in fairly good and complete prints via streaming. One such film is Arthur Robison’s fascinating and seminal German Expressionist work, Warning Shadows.

In its simplest terms, the film tells the story of a 19th Century baron who throws a dinner party and invites all four of his beautiful wife’s would-be lovers. In the midst of the party, a shadow-player arrives and sets up a shadow-puppet theatre as part of the dinner’s entertainment. He proceeds to act out a play depicting what might happen if the baron does not curb his jealousy and the men don’t cease their attentions to the baron’s wife. The film grows ever more complicated, melding reality with the shadow performances as the baron’s violent jealousy increases.

In part a horror film and in part a fascinating psychological thriller, Warning Shadows takes a relatively simple melodrama and transforms it into something disturbing and otherworldly. The performances are extreme and dated, but the use of shadow and light, of tinted scenes and transformative images, make the film a supreme example of German Expressionism filmmaking. Warning Shadows is also remarkable for its use of pure visuals. There are almost no intertitles or dialogue, relying entirely on the visual aspect of the medium to convey meaning. This produces an especially uncanny effect to contemporary eyes, in the true sense of watching wordless shadows enact a strange, haunting drama. Warning Shadows might not be as well known as its Expressionist fellows The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Murnau’s Nosferatu, but it is a spectacular vision of what early cinema was capable of, sticking with you long after the final frame has flickered out.

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Television Pick: Wilfred (2011-?)

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While FX had some excellent programming at the beginning of the century such as The Shield and Rescue Me, the network never really hit full stride until the last few years. Long running comedies like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and The League have major followings, while programs such as The Americans and Louie have garnered mass critical acclaim. Lost in the mix of all of these shows, though, is Wilfred, which has turned off as many viewers with its odd premise as it’s won over.

A remake of an Australian show of the same name, Wilfred centers on Ryan Newman (Elijah Wood), a young man with some rather severe mental issues. After a botched suicide attempt, Ryan is approached by his new neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann) about watching her dog while she is out. However, instead of seeing a regular dog, Ryan instead sees and hears a man in a dog suit (Jason Gann). Although he is unsure of who or what he is exactly talking to, Ryan soon comes under the tutelage of Wilfred, who helps him achieve some type of goal in each episode.

What makes Wilfred such a unique experience (other than Wilfred himself) is that it deftly manages to blend pitch-black humor with intriguing and exciting plot development. While Wood is excellent as Ryan, showing us just how crazy and broken this man may be, it’s Gann that holds the show together. He provides a majority of the humor, either through the fact that we see him do dog-like things or his (usually terrible) wisdom. However, as the creator and writer for the show, he also provides Wilfred with its surreal and fascinating story.

As I mentioned before, Wilfred is certainly not for everyone. It’s odd and abrasive and black-hearted – but it’s also unique and funny. With season three set to come to Netflix within the week and the final season set to debut on FXX on June 25, now is the perfect time to start watching.

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Action & Adventure Pick: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is one of those films that’s better than it has any right to be. Not only is it the fourth entry in a franchise, but it came six years after the last installment, which had received generally favorable reviews but was short of being a reinvigorating smash hit. I doubt anyone cared about a fourth movie before Ghost Protocol came out.

Luckily for us, the film had an ace in the hole: director Brad Bird. After coming off of such animated gems as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, Ghost Protocol was Bird’s first foray into live-action. It was a risky decision, but one that payed off in spades. The film is tightly scripted, yes, and has a good cast; but Bird’s direction is what truly makes it unique, and keeps it from becoming just another entry in a long-standing action franchise.

Tom Cruise reprises his role of IMF Agent Ethan Hunt. At the start of the film, Hunt is deep undercover in a Moscow prison, but is extracted when another agent is killed by an assassin while trying to intercept delicate information about a dangerous man called “Cobalt.” Before long, Hunt and his team are caught in an explosion at the Kremlin in Moscow, suspected of the attack, which Russia considers an undeclared act of war by the United States.

The U.S. President then activates “Ghost Protocol,” a black ops contingency plan that places the blame for the attack on Hunt and his team, forcing them to go off the grid in order to bring down Cobalt and clear their names.

What follows is not only the best Mission: Impossible film to date, but one of the best action films of the last decade. Bird’s direction is superb, as he delivers fast-paced, well-choreographed set-pieces that are smartly plotted and expertly executed. By now I’m sure you’re familiar with the action scene that takes place on the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. The scene is not only awesome to watch, but terrifying at the same time, all thanks to Bird’s vision. Oh, and Tom Cruise does all of his own stunts. Remember that when he literally runs down the side of the skyscraper.

If you aren’t familiar with the Mission: Impossible films, don’t worry. I wasn’t either when I saw Ghost Protocol, and still immensely enjoyed it. These movies are kind of like an American version of James Bond, part of an existing and ongoing franchise, yet highly self-contained and enjoyable as individual films.

Cruise is joined by a great cast here as well, which includes Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg. They work incredibly well as a tight-knit ensemble, having to rely on only each other until their mission is complete.

So, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch this incredible action flick, all made possible by the guy who brought you Ratatouille.

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Documentary Pick: Birth of the Living Dead (2013)

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All this zombie stuff – the millions made at the box office, the tons of books sold, the record-breaking TV audiences that tune in weekly – can all be traced back to one unlikely hit movie made by a rag-tag crew in Pittsburgh called Night of the Living Dead. The now ubiquitous nature of the zombie subgenre sort of belies the fact that nearly 50 years ago this monster, as we know it today, didn’t exist. But the cast and crew of Living Dead didn’t realize they were making something special, they were just trying to make a movie, the chronicle of which forms the basis of Birth of the Living Dead.

Filmmaker Rob Kuhns covers the inception, filming and release of Night of the Living Dead through interviews with its director George A. Romero, and opens up the movie’s broader cultural context in discussions with people like Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd, and film critic/commentators Elvis Mitchell and Mark Harris. To those film buffs shrewd enough to already have dissected Night on their own time, there might not be much here that’s new to you. For casual fans, or anyone who enjoys zombies and has yet to enjoy its root cultural ancestor though, this may be intriguing\. Kuhns certainly exhibits a lot of passion for the subject, and the film moves you through various plot points and topics of interest quite breezily.

In fact, this documentary packs a lot into its 80 minute running time. From the unintentional socio-political commentary of the film, to the accidental breaking of the color barrier when serious actor Duane Jones was cast as the film’s lead and the script wasn’t changed to reflect the fact that its hero Ben was now African-American. The commentary is mostly insightful, and as an introductory text to the importance of Night of the Living Dead on film and culture, it more than gets the job done. I would have liked to have seen a few more people involved in the original film interviewed, but Romero is more than entertaining enough on his own.

For optimum viewing, the original Night followed by Birth of the Living Dead would make a great double feature.

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Drama Pick: And While We Were Here (2012)

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This week, as I dream of getting away and enjoying the summer weather, I’m picking And While We Were Here, a little-seen but underrated romantic drama that doubles as a highly effective advertisement for the gorgeous Italian island of Ischia. A lot of people hated this one for its slow pace and dialogue-heavy story, but I really found myself drawn in by every aspect of the movie – from stellar performances to Kat Coiro’s captivating direction and philosophical script.

Kate Bosworth stars as Jane, a depressed tourist on holiday with her neglectful violist husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg). As she chafes under his lack of attention and struggles to piece her shattered sense of self back together, Jane breaks away and begins an affair with 19-year-old Caleb (Jamie Blackley). As you can tell from that set-up, And While We Were Here isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in any sense. It simply wants to tell a familiar story about life, love, death and time, using an evocative setting and emotionally compromised characters to do so.

Unlike most films about extramarital affairs, And While We Were Here is rarely tense or nail-biting. It’s all about real people, and that’s reflected in the film’s quiet and meditative approach to storytelling. Bosworth gives one of the best performances of her career as Jane, commanding the screen and nailing every nuance of her character’s complex emotional state. Her work left me thinking for days after I saw the film. Goldberg and Blackley, too, are remarkably strong and convincing.

Viewers looking for a sexy, fast-paced romance may be frustrated by what And While We Were Here has to offer, but those in search of more thoughtful fare should find themselves as engrossed and surprised by the film as I was. It’s a wonder, and a testament to the skill of those involved, that such a small film can be so incredibly compelling, indelibly haunting and quietly devastating.

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Horror Pick: The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

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I’m going against my own rule this week by picking something more mainstream, as I’m sure most horror audiences have at least HEARD of The Cabin In The Woods, and since this masterpiece has been sitting on Netflix’s Watch Instantly roster for a while, you’ve had ample time to watch Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard geek out hardcore for our enjoyment. Wait, you STILL haven’t? Well, you’re missing out on of the best horror movies of the decade, a statement I stand behind 100% whenever someone tries to tell me otherwise. Come at me, bro!

The Cabin In The Woods succeeds at exploiting the horror genre for every bit of potential available, utilizing long-standing stereotypes to create a wholly unique experience that becomes a hybrid of almost every subgenre possible. At first glance, we expect nothing but a generic backwoods slasher movie, but what unfolds becomes more of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book from hell. Government agencies, balance keeping, sacrifice, insane gore, crazier designs – Whedon’s story takes something typical and churns out something special.

All horror movies need to watch The Cabin In The Woods for an exemplary lesson in how to deliver the perfect payoff, as an epic monster mash has become one of the crowning moments in recent horror memory. I’ll remain entirely vague here for those lost souls who somehow haven’t been introduced to this magnificent film, but just understand that Goddard and Whedon know exactly where they want to get viewers, holding an explosive ace up their sleeve, and when the chaos ensues, it’s like the most epic dustup song just dropped the bass. If you’re a metal fan, that’s the equivalent to hearing the most brutal, thrashing breakdown imaginable. I’ve seen the film a billion times since I bought a copy, and I still get giddy knowing the insanity I’m about to witness.

Despite having the hunky Chris Hemsworth and some other hot young characters for us to ogle, everyone has a blast fighting their way through The Cabin In The Woods - especially a lovable stoner played by the very talented Fran Kranz. Although these doomed vacationers seem to be the main characters, it’s veteran actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins who steal every single scene with awkward dance moves and quick, lightning wit. Again, revealing their parts will spoil story material, so just take my word on how unforgettable these two are and see for yourself.

The Cabin In The Woods deserves the highest praise, and should be watched immediately. There’s nothing left to say. Featuring one of the most show-stopping climaxes in recent memory, the ballsy confidence on display becomes the most intriguing factor of all because everyone involved knows how good of a movie they’re making, and they aren’t afraid to show it. I pity any horror fan who still hasn’t seen this Rubik’s Cube of horror awesomeness.

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Comedy Pick – I Give It A Year (2013)

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The staples of typical British romcoms are given a tweak in I Give It A Year, forcing the film to address what happens AFTER the happy ending. Whereas most formulas revolve around throwing together two seemingly incompatible people for 90 minutes, only for them to realize their irritation is actually a sadistic foreplay, this Working Title production betrays that blueprint.

Instead, we’re ushered into the lives of newlyweds Nat (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Rafe Spall), whose first year of wedded bliss we witness in spluttering flashbacks as the two sit with a marriage counselor. That’s not to say the film doesn’t conform to some of the genre trappings. After all, there’s a buffoon best friend. Played by Stephen Merchant, the rule of sidekicks dictates that he bags all of the best gags. As Josh’s best man, he aims for a risky gamble during his speech which winds up insulting the bride and making the speaker appear as a total underage lech. It’s classic Merchant.

The surprises emerge from the fact that Nat and Josh may indeed be completely wrong for each other – with the main romantic longings occurring outside of the marriage for the both of them. In other words, a welcome change from the obvious plot turns romcoms are bound by. With both parties desperate to mend their failing union, there’s a ton of set-ups that are destined to end in tears – which means, plenty of laughs. During a Christmas spent with Nat’s family, Josh’s turn at charades (Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman) results in him thrusting away at the geriatric members of Nat’s family. You know, in an attempt to rhyme ‘Quinn’ with ‘quim’ – that old euphemism for a woman’s special area.

Proof that comedies don’t always have to lean on the predictability of recycled stories, I Give It A Year might still contain the yearning for an all-encompassing love – but it comes at a very funny price.

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Sci-Fi Pick: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

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If you’re doing a “Best of” Netflix list, you can’t go wrong with listing a film that’s likely worthy of a “Best of” genre list as well. That’s how I decided that this week’s sci-fi recommendation should come in the form of the James Cameron classic Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

I absolutely love the original film (also available on Netflix now), but it was the 1991 sequel that took the franchise to new heights. The seven years between the two did a lot for the quality of special effects, as did a drastic increase in the budget. It’s one of the greatest sequels of all time and one of the rare few that surpasses its predecessor in almost every way.

T2 stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as an older terminator, but this time he’s a good guy, out to help Linda Hamilton save her son and everyone else from the robots that are approaching. The villain this time around is sleeker, faster, and more dangerous than ever before, mainly due to its shape-shifting abilities. That T-1000 is played to perfection by Robert Patrick, as he retains an even more robotic appearance than Arnold did in T1.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out the reception the film got. It won four academy awards (Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects), it has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is ranked the 40th best movie of all time by audiences on IMDB. The accolades and awards go on and on, but those three numbers should be enough to prove that this is a film absolutely everyone needs to see.

You’ve had 23 years to see it, so I’m guessing you have already, but this is the sort of movie that’s always ripe for a re-watch, if for nothing else than to serve as a reminder of the magic James Cameron was able to create before everything was focused on Avatar.

That’s it for today, but be sure to tune in next week though for another edition of We Got Netflix Covered! Also, be sure to leave a comment and let us know if you enjoyed any of these picks.

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