Columnist discusses what not to watch on Netflix—with alternatives

by Sammy Bonasso, ’20

Avoid: Velvet Buzzsaw

One of the largest appeals to writing this piece was the opportunity to unload my frustration about Dan Gilroy’s grand cinematic offense, Velvet Buzzsaw.

Gilroy wrote and directed the purposeful and thrilling 2014 film Nightcrawler, making the utterly pointless Velvet Buzzsaw—which contains neither purpose nor entertainment—even more detestable. What was the point of John Malkovich’s character, an artist and former alcoholic? What was the point of starting the movie as a lackluster, poorly-written satire on modern art if it was just going to transition into a lackluster, poorly-written horror movie? What was the point of including horror elements if they were so insultingly unemotional? I’ll never know.

And neither did Jake Gyllenhaal, as proven by his sometimes flamboyant, sometimes calm—but still enjoyable—performance. Although his character, art critic Morf Vanderwalt, provides the only worthwhile aspect and likeable character of the movie, an awkward script and poor directing hinders his performance nonetheless.

In fact, Velvet Buzzsaw’s few enjoyable elements only hurt it. It’s neither good enough to enjoy by yourself or bad enough to laugh at with friends: It’s disappointing, asinine, and the worst movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Enjoy: Zodiac

I’ve been searching for my favorite movie all of high school. It was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 freshman and sophomore year and then Blade Runner 2049 for a stint, but now I’m leaning towards David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece Zodiac, which focuses on the Zodiac Killer’s murders in 1960s California.

What ties this movie to Velvet Buzzsaw? None other than the pride of Sweden, the Columbia dropout himself—Jake Gyllenhaal, playing cartoonist Robert Graysmith. As always, Gyllenhaal delivers a fantastic performance, this time bolstered by meticulous direction from Fincher, a filmmaker known for his many takes. Additionally, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. support Gyllenhaal as detective Dave Toschi and journalist Paul Avery.

I find almost every aspect of this movie perfect: the acting, the pacing, the editing, und so weiter. But I know near-perfect films; There Will Be Blood is the best-made movie I’ve seen. Zodiac is my favorite movie because it faithfully represents a captivating subject matter: the ultimate cat-and-mouse chase. If you needed any more persuading, the movie references The Most Dangerous Game, which many of us read as freshmen, and highlights a certain 2016 Texan presidential candidate.

Avoid: Hellboy

With the new (but poorly-reviewed) Hellboy reboot having arrived in April, some might consider watching the original 2004 comic book adaptation on Netflix. It was written and directed by that Oscar guy, Guillermo Del Toro, so it must be good, right?

Wrong. The 2004 Hellboy is a painfully average film that somehow, someway attracted a following.

Like most, I admit Ron Perlman perfectly characterizes the titular childish and brash demon. Additionally, the practical effects stand out, and I don’t remember the CGI being particularly dreadful.

But little else of the movie impressed me. The writing is clunky; Hellboy’s love interest is a drip; and the villain (Rasputin) is forgettable on an Ant-Man 1 caliber. Yes, you read right: They made Rasputin a forgettable villain. I still crack up over Hellboy’s choice of antagonist, which only Kung Fury’s choice of Hitler has matched. And so I suppose Hellboy is good for at least a chuckle.

Enjoy: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians 2 released in May 2017, but I only saw snippets of it until fully watching it in December 2018. In the time in between, I bought in to the popular consensus that it was a decent film but inferior successor the the 2014 original. However, my views changed after watching the whole film.

Graphic by Katie Zhao

GotG 2 is an excellent successor to the original, surpassing it in countless ways. I found that the series’s trademark humor improved, although most did not, and appreciated the impactful emotional moments spread throughout the film, contributing to a better tonal balance than GotG 1.

Additionally, the cinematography is far and away the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Too many MCU films (I’m looking at you, Civil War and Infinity War) are filled with dull and uninspired shots, visually boring audiences and diminishing the rewatchability of the movies. Whether you appreciate James Gunn’s tweets or not, at least appreciate how much better GotG 3 will be with him returning to the project.

Be wary of: Only God Forgives

Arthouse films appeal to a narrow audience, an audience which rarely includes young people. However, I know the cinephiles among you will keep open minds to all movies, even incredibly slow ones that make little immediate sense, such as The Tree of Life, Phantom Thread, or anything by David Lynch.

Nicolas Winding Refn is unmistakably an arthouse director, for better or worse. For better, look to his 2011 masterpiece Drive, an impressive movie only hindered by its extreme violence; for worse, look his 2013 movie Only God Forgives, an often-boring, needlessly moody, gratuitously violent film about a drug trafficker in Thailand seeking to avenge his brother.

The pacing of Only God Forgives drags perpetually: Too much of the movie is merely lead actor Ryan Gosling purposelessly standing, sitting, or walking. This is especially dreadful considering the movie’s atypical plot structure, which feels like an extended, hypnotic metaphor and makes little sense taken literally.

Furthermore, although I don’t mind violence, Refn almost fetishizes it in his films, with a particularly grueling torture sequence in Only God Forgives.

Still, reasons exist to watch the film, especially for patient moviegoers and Refn fans. For one, the cinematography entertains, as does the score. And although Only God Forgives is often boring, it forces audiences to contemplate its symbolism and messages far after they view it. Should you watch it? Maybe. Are there better alternatives? Read on.

Enjoy: Enemy or The Master

Only God Forgives is not an anomaly among arthouse movies: Most others also contain heavy symbolism and multiple layers of subtext.

For example, Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 movie Enemy is a metaphor for commitment and the difficulty of breaking habits. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 movie The Master utilizes symbolism to depict the human desire for both order and chaos.

I recommend Enemy for its fantastic writing and the great simplicity of its message. The Master often drags in pacing, potentially alienating viewers, whereas Enemy always entertains. And despite the first viewing being confusing, Enemy requires less analyzation, allowing its message to resonate better with audiences.

But I encourage everyone to watch The Master, as well—if not for the excellently-written plot, then for the fantastic performances from lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman and the stunning camerawork.

Graphic by Katie Zhao