Some little known independent films discovered over break

By Andrew Fishman / Staff Writer

Faced with the freedom to do whatever we wanted and free of our responsibilities (at least for three weeks), winter break was a great opportunity for many of us to really find ourselves.

Most of us didn’t have to look too far, either. The couch and the bed are just a few flights of stairs apart.

Though it’s wonderful seeing friends from high school and spending quality time with one’s family, I don’t think I would be wrong in saying that a large percentage of college students spent an equally large percentage of their time numbing their already finals-killed brains even further by engaging themselves in quality television watching.

In today’s society, winter-break couch potatoes (or WBCPs, if you will), find themselves presented with a far wider variety of television and movies than what happens to be on cable at 2 p.m. that day (for no respectable WBCP dares to wake up before 2 p.m.). If you don’t own a Netflix account or at least “borrow” the password to an account owned by your roommate’s brother’s girlfriend, it’s time to re-evaluate your life.

Netflix provides both WBCPs and your everyday television or movie fan with hundreds of instant options right at their fingertips. As if leaving the house, driving to a movie theater and paying to watch a movie wasn’t already about the laziest, yet extremely fun, activity one could participate in, Netflix allows people to get the same form of entertainment (and more) without even leaving his or her house (and for less money). It really is quite a brilliant idea.

The key to Netflix is the aforementioned hundreds of instant options. Every genre and subgenre imaginable is well represented in the movie database, giving viewers an opportunity to watch a film that they didn’t get the chance to see in theaters, or even something outside of their comfort zone.

This winter break, I immersed myself in the world of Netflix. I kept a running list of the movies I watched with the goal in mind to watch as obscure, yet highly recommended of a collection of indie movies as possible. Now that the semester has started up again and we WBCPs have had our procrastination sessions cut to 2-hour blocks, I’ve narrowed down the list to my top three picks of the break.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (David Gelb, 2011)

This documentary that is quickly gaining a cult following (albeit 3 years after its release), takes place in Japan, and follows the life of Jiro Ono, an 85-year old sushi master whose highly-esteemed restaurant has 10 seats and requires a month-in-advance reservation. The film delves into Jiro’s techniques, family and history, and provides an eye-opening experience into the value of work, as well as the craft of sushi-making.

“Prince Avalanche” (David Gordon Green, 2013)

This heartfelt indie comedy-drama features masterful performances from two rather mainstream actors for an indie film: Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. The duo play two men painting lines on a road in Texas after a huge forest fire (a seemingly uneventful plot in which the two men form a seemingly unlikely bond). The film made its way around to many film festivals in 2013 (including Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Film Festival) after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Blackfish” (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013)

This increasingly popular documentary discusses and criticizes SeaWorld —  particularly the theme park’s treatment of its iconic killer whales  — and examines how the overall practice of keeping the species in an unnatural captivity can lead to extremely violent behavior by the orcas. “Blackfish” is a haunting, saddening tale of the dangers of keeping any animal, particularly killer whales, in an unnatural environment. 


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