Antarctica: A Year on Ice (Netflix)
For this fascinating, visceral documentary, filmmaker Anthony Powell took his cameras north, where he begins shooting footage of an Antarctic research station during the busy summer months. Scientists, technicians, engineers, and others work in the dazzling, chilly landscape--during one period, the sun never sets--and Powell's astounding time-lapse cameras capture much of it.
But then winter comes and a few brave souls stay behind to handle the day-to-day operations, facing storms, isolation, disorientation, and a period in which the sun never rises. Powell is mainly concerned with the humans in this story, rather than scientific explanations or theories; we get moving tales of important events missed, heartbreaking tales involving the workers' vow not to interfere with nature, love stories, and more. It will have viewers seriously considering a trip there to see the beauty for themselves.
Life of Crime (Netflix)
Elmore Leonard's stories have been gracing the big screen since the 1950s, and Life of Crime (2014) happily joins this long tradition. It's adapted from Leonard's 1978 novel The Switch, whose sequel, Rum Punch, was previously adapted into Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997). Though some of the characters are the same, they are played by different actors. The two movies go off in their own directions, and the connection between them is barely more than a footnote.
Louis Gara (John Hawkes) and Ordell Robbie (Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def) plan to kidnap Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston), the aging trophy wife of a wealthy property magnate, Frank (Tim Robbins), and hold her for ransom. Unfortunately, Frank has a mistress, Melanie (Isla Fisher), and doesn't care about his wife; in fact, her death would be a favor, since he wants to marry Melanie. Will Forte (TV's Last Man on Earth) plays Mickey's ineffectual suitor, and Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy) is a creepy creator of peepholes. Set in the 1970s, writer/director Daniel Schechter's movie doesn't have a lot of action, but, it has a lot of style and a great deal of Leonard's clever plotting and dialogue. It's good for an evening of low-key fun.
Lars and the Real Girl (Hulu)
Written by Nancy Oliver (TV's Six Feet Under and True Blood), Lars and the Real Girl (2007) starts with what sounds like a sitcom setup: a lonely man buys a lifelike doll and develops a relationship with her. Happily, the movie never goes for cheap laughs or easy situations, and when it seems like it's just about to go someplace overly familiar, it holds back. It remains rooted in human truth, finding beautiful emotions in the absurdity.
Ryan Gosling plays Lars, and it's a highly skilled performance, intuitive and interior (not unlike Joaquin Phoenix's character in Her). He doesn't relate well to people and doesn't like to be touched, so his doll, Bianca, is the perfect solution for him. His brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) do their best to understand, and in some of the movie's finest scenes, a clever doctor/psychologist (Patricia Clarkson) pretends to examine Bianca while treating Lars. Nothing ever goes quite where you expect it to, and Oliver's screenplay received an Oscar nomination. Craig Gillespie directs.
Sign up for MIS Asia eNewsletters.