Tag Archives: Netflix original

Velvet Buzzsaw

Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is an art agent in the midst of losing Piers, an old, established artist who may be on his way out, but gaining Damrish, an up and coming artist with fresh talent and obligations elsewhere.

Piers (John Malkovish) is a successful artist who fears his best days are behind him now that he’s sober.

Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge) is the agent who’s just stolen Piers away, and is about to discover how little output there’s been.

Damrish (Daveed Diggs) is the hot, new artist, living and showing on the street just 6 months ago, about to become the next celebrity artist.

Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is Rhodora’s protegee who finds a way of wriggling out from under her shadow when she discovers the work of an unknown artist, which is an instant success.

Gretchen (Toni Collette) is a museum curator sick of always losing the best pieces to wealthy clients, so she’s lined up a new job as a private buyer and is in search of the perfect, undiscovered piece.

Bryson (Billy Magnussen) is the gallery’s handyman, and also a struggling, jealous artist himself.

Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is god of them all, an art critic who can make or break careers.

Velvet Buzzsaw’s art world is shook by the new paintings acquired by Josephina. SHOOK. Everyone’s falling over themselves, not to mention crossing and backstabbing each MV5BYWJiMGM1ZGQtYzMwMC00YzQ0LWJlZTUtZTNlOGY3NDE3OTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_other, to get a piece of the pie. But the thing about this art is that it’s angry. In fact, some sort of supernatural force is exacting revenge on anyone who’s too mercenary. If you’ve let greed guide your hand, you’re in trouble. And who of the above has clean hands? I’d be very, very nervous if I was them. There’s a great deal to be nervous about as a viewer as well. Tension is layered on thicker than gouache on canvas. The film is dark and atmospheric by nature, and director Dan Gilroy heightens things at just the right moments, making the viewing experience deliciously uncomfortable at times. It’s unlikely that criticism and capitalism will escape the ghost’s judgment, which is brutal and bloody and ruthless.

The last time director Dan Gilroy teamed up with Jake Gyllenhaal, they produced Nightcrawler. You can’t blame the film community for wetting itself over this new movie, even if we’re also justifiably a little concerned about Gilroy’s more recent work, Roman J. Esquire, which was much less fantastic. Velvet Buzzsaw is somewhere in the middle, well, not just somewhere – definitely closer to Nightcrawler on the spectrum, which I’m happy to report. It’s a little uneven, the dialogue a little clunky sometimes, but the visuals don’t just make up for it – they’re unforgettable (Nightcrawler’s visionary cinematographer Robert Elswit is back, and primal as ever). A horror in technicolour! Not to mention the team of talent that pulls together this satire-horror hybrid and makes it pulse with urgency and vitality. Jake Gyllenhaal is of course the standout, bold and unwavering.

Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t everything I wish it was, but it’s a distinct piece of cinema and a real coup for Netflix.

 

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Polar

Duncan is two weeks away from a cushy retirement. He can’t wait. But his former employer is thinking better of letting him escape to Florida, or whatever it is that ex-assassins do when they’re all used up. So they pit him against an elite army of young killers and hope nature will take its course.

I kind of love how director Jonas Åkerlund introduces his team; the film’s opening scene makes me shockingly optimistic that I may actually enjoy this film. Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) is very much the classic, gritty assassin, but many of other characters seem to belong to some heightened reality. Åkerlund isn’t afraid to establish Polar as a little mv5bzdcyn2iyywutmzy0ny00mza5lwfhmgutmgy5ndqwmdbiotizxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntcwmti4mtc@._v1_sx1777_cr0,0,1777,875_al_outside the normal bounds of action thrillers, and I admire that, though I quickly lost my patience with his clumsy stabs at auteurism. And I don’t mean to imply that he shouldn’t have the opportunity to put his flashy  mark on things, only that you have to have 110% of the talent and style to pull off such a ballsy attempt.

The movie is overstuffed with cartoonish deaths and gruesome flashbacks, including a crucifixion that Jesus Christ himself would find cruel and unusual. It’s so busy being cool and shocking and weird that it mostly forgets to be a movie that makes sense or is watchable. If you think that kind of thing is overrated, then hey, Netflix is catering to your dark and closeted fantasies. I wanted to celebrate Polar’s oddball tendencies, but it does as much to alienate even the most open-minded audiences as it does to stoke our need for something we haven’t seen before.

Despite my misgivings, I must admit that Mads Mikkelsen exudes mustachioed magnificence. If you don’t mind wading through the hot mess, or if you have an appetite , not to mention a high tolerance for, the strange and unusual, this role is truly something special for him.

Close

Zoe Tanner (Sophie Nélisse) is a beautiful young heiress, her father just having died and left her an enormous stake in a company she wants nothing to do with – and boy does her father’s widow, Rima, agree. Sam Carlson (Noomi Rapace), a counter-terrorism expert and bodyguard, is newly hired to be her close protection officer, but isn’t thrilled to be working for a spoiled little rich girl with mommy issues.

Director Vicky Jewson opens the film with a gripping scene: a gun fight erupts in the open desert of Morocco, and Sam and Zoe barely escape with their lives. Cue a Kate Bush cover and some stylish opening credits.

Sam and Zoe may  not particularly like each other, but a violent and persistent kidnap mv5bytjmy2m1zjytntq0mc00zjm2lwi0ztutntqxnwzkn2e4mmy4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntc5otmwotq@._v1_plot will ensure that they depend on each other for survival. Zoe’s led a pampered life and is in the habit of sleeping with her bodyguards, but this time Sam is determined to teach her to fight back. And there’s no better time: though freshly bereaved, Zoe’s own stepmother Rima (Indira Varma) is more concerned with appeasing the shareholders than any rescue efforts. Not only are Sam and Zoe on their own in the middle of Casablanca, Rima may prefer if Zoe never returns since she’s a little bitter that her dead husband left the mining company to his spoiled daughter rather than to her.

Vicky Jewson is close to getting this right. Noomi Rapace gets us 90% of the way there of course, kicking butt, doing her own stunts, excelling in exactly this type of role. But Close just can’t live up to its bruised and battered star. It falls back on familiar action movie tropes and the action-filled pace doesn’t give itself a lot of room for exploring the interesting character developments that might have been. However, the movie is well-executed; Close looks and feels legit. So if you’re a fan of international thrillers or just strong female leads generally (this movie is inspired by real-life bodyguard Jacquie Davis), then you might just give this a chance.

 

 

 

 

Fyre

I don’t know if you remember the fuckfest that was Fyre, but for some reason it caught my attention at the time, and Matt and I killed a lot of time at “work” gossiping about it. And the dirt was legendary.

Fyre was meant to be a music festival, the first of its kind, a high-end music festival on a private island in the Bahamas. The tickets were outlandishly priced in the thousands upon thousands of dollars, and they got you not just access to a concert, but luxury accommodations, fine dining, and the ability to cavort with bikini-clad super models. The festival was the brainchild of Fyre’s young, maverick CEO Billy McFarland. He had partnered with Ja-Rule to form a company that would make it easier to book musical acts, and what better way to brand a new company than to throw the world’s most IG-worthy, FOMO festival? They went after the young and stupid rich kids through Instagram’s influencers, and they sold out in days thanks to a single promotional video that featured the likes of Bella Hadid and Chanel Iman romping around on white sand beaches and yachts with just enough scraps of swim suit to keep things legal.

But other than knowing how to package things through the heavily filtered lenses of super models, McFarland’s secret was that he’d never been successful at anything before. And he was using finds collected for Fyre to pay off the debts of his last business venture. With just a month before the festival was to begin, not a single shred of work had been done on it. And remember we’re talking a Bahamian island that has no infrastructure or even electricity and plumbing.  With the clock ticking, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened shows McFarland’s despotic tendencies, firing anyone who voiced concerns, and insulating himself with anyone foolish enough to believe in his pipe dream.

Of course it all falls apart in the end. Or rather, it had failed to come together since the fyre-festival-documentary-netflix-tweets-1547562032beginning. They erected a few hurricane-issued FEMA tents as the “luxury” digs, enough for a only small fraction of attendees, and that’s if they weren’t rain-soaked and slicked with mudslide, which of course they were. There wasn’t enough food. There weren’t enough toilets. And then there wasn’t any music.

I remember seeing the statement when Blink 182 pulled out, just the day before the festival was meant to begin. They didn’t have faith that the festival could provide them with the necessities for their show. Understatement of the year. They were failing to provide the necessities of life. But they let hundreds of kids arrive anyway, and they were stranded without food or water.

For the rest of us watching from home, it was all kinds of fun to watch their increasingly desperate tweets about the crap food and the chaos. Keep in mind these were the painfully rich, spoiled beyond belief kids, a bunch of entitled millennials with such unfettered access to mommy and daddy’s accounts that they could wantonly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a weekend they knew little about. The best thing about it was that it was okay for the rest of us to have absolutely no sympathy for them. This was likely the worst thing that had ever happened to them, and they’re clearly still dining out on the story 2 years later.

Nor do you need any sympathy for McFarland, wanted on charges of fraud. Of course, McFarland hasn’t learned a lesson, the extent of which is revealed in the Netflix original documentary (Hulu has its own doc on the subject, but it’s more montage-driven than interview-driven, so a little less informative). But this documentary has taught me where to expend any welled-up sympathy that I may be hoarding: on the poor Bahamians who worked tirelessly to build a festival from the ground-up and never saw a penny. The scam artist known as McFarland has of course left unpaid bills all over the place, but the only ones you’ll care to see paid are the local Bahamian ones, innocent people taken down by a stupid white boy from New Jersey with an inflated ego and a golden touch. But it takes a village of idiots to go along with it and make it happen. McFarland didn’t act alone.

The Last Laugh

Al Hart (Chevy Chase) is a retired showbiz manager touring the local senior living facilities with his granddaughter and frankly, he’s just not feeling it. He’s not ready for death’s waiting room. So when his retirement home tour guide happens to be his first client, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss), it seems kind of fortuitous. Buddy is a stand-up comedian who quit the business 50 years ago, just as he was about to break on Johnny Carson. He went into podiatry instead. But with nothing to lose, and nothing better to do, the two concoct a scheme to hit the road and work the comedy club circuit to see if they can mount a comeback that’s been 50 years in the making.

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The jokes are as old as the stars delivering them. The formula’s as stale as the butterscotch candies in their pockets. But Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss prove the point their characters are trying to make: there’s still some gas left in the tank. Chase is charming in a doddering kind of way, but Dreyfuss still has that killer zing. If Buddy’s stand-up isn’t exactly fresh, Dreyfuss at least delivers it with some salty panache. They’re the ones who sell the material. And since neither has had a notable starring role in a film this century, it’s kind of nice to see some friendly, if wrinkly, faces.

Still, no one’s going to mistake this for a great movie. It’s on the forgettable side even while you’re watching it, so if memory’s the first thing to go, we’re in trouble. But if you’re looking for some “easy watching” and you don’t mind an oldies station, this movie is the perfect antidote to loud, explody, VFX-heavy blockbusters. Plus it’s got Andie MacDowell, Chris Parnell, and Lewis Black in small doses, so you can’t go wrong exactly, you just wish for more right. But I guess past a certain age, we all take what we can get.

The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

Bird Box

Imagine threatening very small children with their lives. Imagine threatening your own children with their deaths, their painful deaths, by your own hands if necessary. Can you even imagine a situation so dire that you would tell your kids you would kill them IF?

If you’re a fan of Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, Bird Box, the good news is,  you can always reread it. Netflix has adapted this “unfilmable” book (how many books have we said that about now?), and turned it into something bibliophiles will scarcely recognize. But that doesn’t meant it’s bad.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is in the impossible situation. She’s pregnant at the end of the world. This particular nightmare is the inverse of The Quiet Place – they had to stay silent in order to not die, and in Bird Box, they have to not see. The sight of something is causing people to almost immediately become homicidal and ultimately, suicidal. It’s a plague killing millions, killing billions, killing everyone around the world. The only way to survive is to not see, to never see. But food and water and resources inside are finite. MV5BMjE5Nzk1ODgwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5MTE2NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Malorie is living with a small group of people, strangers, really, who don’t always agree on the best way to exist together, or how to stay alive. Malorie’s not even the only pregnant one – Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is expecting too, right around the same time. The house’s other inhabitants (Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver among them) will have to make all kinds of hard choices to ensure the group’s survival. As you probably guessed, ultimately, Malorie will need to leave the relative safety of their shared home – and worse than that, she may have to sacrifice one child to save another. Doesn’t that sound like a fun little jam to be in?

Yeah, this is a horror movie, in case you’re not picking up on the obvious. The unknown, horrible, unseeable things remain unseen by us, but they’re a constant threat. Director Susanne Bier understands it’s way creepier to only suggest the worst, and let our own imaginations prey on our fears. A newborn baby is of course the most vulnerable creature in the world. What else could heighten a dangerous situation like a helpless baby? But what else would pose a greater danger? A baby, unable to look away, unable to understand, a baby who will only need need need, and take take take, and attract attention while putting everyone at risk. A baby, two babies, normally a blessing, but in this scenario, the worst possible thing.

Bier creates a tense atmosphere and Bullock keeps us riveted. Rather than jump scares, Bier gives us a character study, and Malorie’s humanity and the children’s inherent weaknesses gives some real meat to the film’s anxiety. But the film strays quite far from the book, and to no real advantage. Since this film streams for “free” on Netflix, it’s a no-brainer if you can take the heat (or rather the chill, the frisson). Squeeze your eyes half shut.