If you're in the mood for ordering takeout and drinking beers on your couch instead of going out, or if you just want to play catch-up on a film you really wanted to see in the theater but didn't get a chance to — you were born in the right era, my friends. Not only does the Internet keep all our Scene movie reviews for your eventual perusal, but Netflix lets you grab back-to-back viewings of visionary foreign films (Holy Motors, check), ghoulish stop-motion kiddie fare (ParaNorman, check) and highly anticipated Christian (sort of) films with strong local ties (Blue Like Jazz, check). All three of those are recent additions to the Netflix cadre of at-home entertainment. Read up below, and update your queue accordingly.
In any other movie year, the vertiginous Cloud Atlas might have been the cinematic head trip above all others — shuffling identities, scrambling stories, vaulting centuries in an eyeblink. But this is the year of Holy Motors. Its writer-director, Leos Carax, never abandons his generous spirit and sense of play; this riot of images and ideas is the movie to whip out of your back pocket the next time some twerpy professional handwringer moans that cinema is dead.
No synopsis could convey the movie's greatness, or its allergy to synopsis. But here goes: In a sleek white limousine driven by his faithful chauffeur Céline (Édith Scob, from Summer Hours and Georges Franju's enduring Eyes Without a Face), the protean Monsieur Oscar rides through Paris. He's played by the great Denis Lavant, the acrobatic actor best known in the U.S. for playing Charlie Chaplin in Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely (and for incarnating the insuppressible desires of Claire Denis' Beau Travail). On his rounds, this shape-shifter will undertake various appointments where he'll don makeup, costumes, even ideologies and interact with the real world. Assassinations, parenting, motion capture, panhandling, political kidnapping — these are literally all in a day's work for Monsieur Oscar.
If you're looking to avoid the "Christian Movie" label, one way to do it is include a scene where a lesbian feminist uses a urinal. Another is to approach your craft like an artist, not a well-intentioned youth group. With his Nashville-shot coming-of-age story Blue Like Jazz, based on Donald Miller's best-seller, director Steve Taylor employs both. At its best, Blue Like Jazz is a likably quirky indie that offers wit, zest and energy in place of heavy-handed platitudes. At other times, not unlike its protagonist, it tries so hard to sidestep the pitfalls of faith-based entertainment that it sometimes stumbles.
The movie arrives bearing a lot of fond hopes. As a college freshman, I found in Miller's book of personal essays a significant "me too" from a writer I already admired. Moreover, I covered the film and the remarkable movement to save it for the Scene ("How a twist of fortune, a confetti cannon and a large rabbit helped save the movie version of Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz," Nov. 24, 2010). Miller and Taylor are easy guys to root for, and like those who contributed to the movie's now-legendary Kickstarter campaign, I've been rooting for Blue Like Jazz for a long time.
Norman is a kid ParaNorman's viewers can relate to. He's got a quiet sense of humor, evolved as a defense mechanism against his family and their various foibles, and an abiding love for the ghoulish side of art. He likes zombie movies and ghost stories — but not exactly in the way that many kids/teens/adults do. Norman, you see, can talk to the dead.
If 2012 is another summer of superheroes, then ParaNorman deserves to stand alongside the Avengers, Batman, and Spiderman, because this kid steps up to the plate and brings everything that's good and decent about humanity with him. That Norman talks to the dead unnerves the town. This is in itself kind of weird. The film's cosmology allows for — in fact, depends on — the presence of an afterlife, positing that those who remain on this plane of existence have unfinished business of some sort. You would think the presence of someone who could speak with the dead would provoke rapturous hosannas from those looking for everyday miracles. But nobody seems to care too much for Norman.
This film, the latest effort from Oregonian animation studio Laika (Coraline), has a lot on its mind. It starts slowly, laying out its characters and town in a way that might prove frustrating to those expecting non-stop thrills or something pitched at the frenetic pace of most recent family films. But ParaNorman builds narratively and emotionally as it goes along, and by its end, it has the inexorable momentum of a runaway train.