Tag Archives: Netflix original

Rebecca

Lily James plays a lady’s companion, a woman paid to accompany her mistress as she travels about Europe, but when Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) gets sick, her companion, used to attending to her mistress’s every need, suddenly has a lot of time on her hands but few options to fill it. As paid staff, Lily James’ character isn’t allowed to use the hotel’s amenities intended for guests. Luckily, the handsome if brooding Maximus de Winter (Armie Hammer) comes to her aid. A mysterious young widower, Max and his beautiful estate Manderley are often gossiped about, and it is whispered he has been terrorized by grief since his wife’s sudden passing a year ago. But on outings with the lady’s companion, he’s a perfect gentleman and charming company. Sadly, Mrs. Van Hopper eventually recovers only to catch wind of her companion’s secret rendez-vous, and she immediately books them passage back to New York. Facing a sudden goodbye, Max de Winter proposes to the young, naïve girl of lowly station, and they share a passionate honeymoon before he brings her home to Manderley.

Rebecca is a ghost story, written by Daphne du Maurier and newly adapted for Netflix by Ben Wheatley. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by two malevolent forces. First, the house itself, which is demanding in its size and responsibilities, and isolating too. Manderley is spooky because it is simply too large for just two people. It never feels like it belongs to her, in part because it’s been passed down for generations by the de Winter family, and partly because Rebecca, the dearly departed former Mrs. de Winter, had so confidently left her mark. Manderley is also a symbol of a growing class divide. It reminds us that not long ago, our young protagonist was staff herself, but even as a lady’s maid she’d never worked in or even seen such a massive estate. As its current mistress, she is uncomfortable in the position and feels out of place among Max’s friends and family. And then there is the spectre of Rebecca herself. The new bride experiences two very different encounters when it comes to Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), the housekeeper, seems nearly obsessed with her, and speaks reverentially of Rebecca. Rebecca’s routines and methods and preferences are considered by Mrs. Danvers to be the ‘right’ ones, and the new Mrs. de Winter can never quite measure up to a ghost. Max, on the other hand, will never speak of her, and loses his temper when the subject is broached. His new wife is cowed by how much he must still love Rebecca to be so sensitive, and realizes that there are perhaps 3 people to this marriage.

It’s a brilliant gothic exercise in gas-lighting and gender roles, and Ben Wheatley’s added some drop dead visuals to the mix, taking full advantage of every second they’re not in that house. It kind of feels that Ben Wheatley, known for his twisted, psychological horror films, went in the opposite direction, flexing new muscles with a talkier script and dazzling production values. However, because it was Ben Wheatley attached to direct, I imagined dizzying psychological warfare, and on that he under-delivered. Directing for a broader Netflix audience for the first time, he’s erred in favour of conservative and pretty. But Du Maurier’s source material is actually a good match for Wheatley’s usual directing style. I would have loved to see him seize on the madness, make Manderley as sinister and foreboding as High-Rise. Manderley is haunted, if not by Rebecca’s ghost, by secrets and resentments and insecurity. The house feels like a prison, and gender norms are the new bride’s shackles. Between her husband and the housekeeper, she is made to feel crazy. There is so much potential for psychological horror that went wasted.

Ben Wheatley, you are a talented man with a unique directorial voice. The world is improved by your personal brand of weird, and I wish that Netflix money hadn’t robbed you of the courage to just be you.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The trial (little t = not the movie, the trial itself) of the Chicago 7 was a clusterfuck from the start. From before the start. From before the trial, from before the election, from before the protest, from before the war…injustice is as American as apple pie and is baked right into the constitution. To say it wasn’t a fair trial assumes it was ever even a trial. By its very definition, a trial is an examination of evidence in order to determine guilt. Although the trial of the Chicago 7 was by jury, the judge on the case made it clear the evidence didn’t matter and wouldn’t be heard because their guilt was presumptive and anyone who disagreed was an idiot. Of course, not only was the trial of the Chicago 7 not a trial, there weren’t technically 7 of them either. We start with 8 and end up with 5, but more on that later.

A quick pre-trial bit history: it’s 1968. American is gearing up for a tough election amid a lot of unrest. MLK has been assassinated, and civil rights has become more dominated by the Black Panthers than by peaceful protest. The Vietnam war is increasingly unpopular but still racking up a disturbing daily body count. And so a bunch of different protest groups are descending upon Chicago, which is hosting the Democratic National Convention. Though there are many different organizations with different goals and methods of exacting them, they all pretty much agree that change starts with electing the right kind of leader. But the convention becomes secondary news to the riots and bloodshed that surrounds it. When the dust clears, “seven” men have been arrested for conspiring to start a riot. They did no such thing – some had never even met before being indicted for the crime, but like I said earlier, this was never about justice or truth. It was about politics.

The five men who wind up on trial are Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), and David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch). The bonus 8th is Black Panther Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was only passing through Chicago at the time but got lumped in because a group that includes an angry black man looks 90% guiltier to any jury of “their: peers. As you can see, this is already a fantastic cast and I haven’t even told you about Mark Rylance, who plays a defense attorney, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the lead prosecutor. But the man who steals the show (and this is indeed an undeniable sausage fest) is Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, a man so inept at his job, so obviously biased and painstakingly obstructive in his own courtroom that he appears to be mentally incompetent. The trial is a circus, the truth is irrelevant, the law has no part to play, and the whole thing gets so wildly out of control you simply won’t believe what is allowed to happen in a court of law. And yet it did, it’s all true.

Writer-director Aaron Sorkin is absurdly good at sifting through months worth of testimony to find the perfect exchanges to illustrate this absurd miscarriage of justice and a mind-boggling waste of resources. He’s also deft enough (un oeuf) to point us toward the inevitable conclusion; this was train wreck of a trial but an excellent diversion that dominated the news cycle, elbowing things like an unpopular war and an unpopular president off the newspaper’s front page. Sorkin’s direction keeps things simple. History has provided some outsized personalities and a court transcript so outlandish you couldn’t make it up. It’s not a flashy film but it is a memorable one.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting

Kelly (Tamara Smart) opts out of the class-wide Halloween party but isn’t exactly thrilled when her mother books her a babysitting gig instead. Five year old Jacob (Ian Ho) is a bit high maintenance, with his 3-hour bedtime routine, but Kelly would likely have preferred a 5 hour routine, even a 10 hour one, compared to what she got. Which was a visit from the Boogey Man himself, the actual Boogey Man, and his trollies, who’ve come to kidnap Jacob, who has the ability to make nightmares come true.

Thankfully Liz (Oona Laurence) shows up, chapter vice president of the Order of Babysitters, charged with protecting special dreamers like Jacob against the Boogey Man (aka Guignol, played by Tom Felton), and his little monsters. The Order of Babysitters is James Bond lite – all the cool tech, fun gadgets, and special ops, but none of the booze or women. In fact, now that I’m hearing myself say it, scratch that, the Order of Babysitters is like James Bond 2.0: all the spy stuff without the misogeny.

The film looks slick and is packed with action-adventure, although when a battle of sorts is taking place at a children’s indoor playground, the worst part is just imagining the gallons of COVID-19 that probably lurks in your average ball pit. Ew. What I’m saying is, the peril is never too overwhelming, and the monsters are, with a few exceptions, actually pretty cute, endearing enough you have to struggle to remember they’re bad guys. Kelly is a great protagonist and well portrayed by leading lady Tamara Smart. Liz is a little more mysterious, having just been dropped into the action from literally out of nowhere. The Order of Babysitters headquarters is production design eye candy, and introduces us to some fun supporting characters, as every secret service needs an M and a Q, and whatever other alphabet R&D people are necessary to keep their organization running smoothly.

The Grand Guignol’s lair is where the real work goes down. Guignol is trying to extract something from Jacob’s dreams, but I guess someone didn’t hear about that infamous 3 hour bedtime ritual. I don’t know much about Tom Felton, and I’d wager he’s all but unrecognizable in this, but he is clearly enjoying the eccentricities of the role, he’s playing and flexing and savouring being larger than life. He’s generous enough as an actor no to steal the scene from our teenage protagonists but he is a true source of animation and energy.

A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is half Babysitter’s Club and half Artemis Fowl, the best of both, an entertaining watch fit for the whole family.

BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky

BLACKPINK doesn’t like to be thought of as “just K-pop” and while you can quibble about the “just” part, the “K-pop” is hard to argue.

South Korea’s government rather brilliantly decided to really invest in its arts some years ago, knowing that they could be the nation’s most important exports. With considerable funding and a business approach, today its video games, television series, and movies have global appeal and success; last year Parasite took home the top Oscar, the first time ever for a foreign-language film. However, one could argue that music, namely K-pop, is South Korea’s greatest triumph, and I’m not just talking Gagnam Style. BTS fever has replicated the same fervour as Beatlemania once did. BLACKPINK became the first K-pop group to play Coachella. South Korea has a well-oiled machine churning out pop acts, and Blackpink may be more than K-pop, but they’re certainly also representative of it.

Children as young as 11 may enter this special training academy of song and dance and while most will eventually be asked to leave for failing to make the grade, others may last as long as a decade in the system, honing the skills and the look for eventual distribution into a group. Nothing left to chance, nothing unorchestrated, individuals are evaluated on a weekly basis, and asked to perform as a group in a rotating roster until something gels and a foursome such as Blackpink is plucked from obscurity for pop superstardom.

This documentary weaves in home videos of each of the girls, audition reels, practice footage, and video from their massive world tour to recreate the massive few years they’ve just had. And of course, hearing from Jennie, Lisa, Jisoo, and Rosé, we get to know a little bit about the personalities behind the carefully curated personas. It’s nothing that YG Entertainment (the parent company that recruited, trained, and launched the group, among others) doesn’t want you to know, but if it’s not quite as “all-access” as billed, it’s still plenty informative and loaded with charm.

BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky will give K-pop novices a look behind the scenes at the grueling selection process of putting together a group, and will please fans with previously unseen footage and personal interviews with each member. You can watch it now on Netflix.

Hungry for more? Check out BLACKPINK review and music on Youtube.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

For most of us, David Attenborough is the voice of nature. His soothing narration has taken us across the globe, from the coldest arctic waters to the hottest deserts to the wettest rainforests. The 93 year old Attenborough has spent his whole adult life exploring the world and documenting nature. During that time, he has seen drastic changes, and he has taken it upon himself to try to help us avoid an impending disaster.

Themes of conservation are not new to Attenborough’s documentaries but Netflix’s new A Life on Our Planet has no time for subtlety. Clearly, Attenborough feels he has no time to waste, which is less a function of his age and more an indication that catastrophe is imminent. Wisely, Attenborough’s warnings are interspersed with the beauty of our world, to show what is at stake and what could be saved or lost depending on which path we choose. Even better, Attenborough lays out a plan for saving ourselves, which he presents clearly and sells by pointing out that our planet is going to keep spinning, but our place on it is not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, Attenborough’s pleas will probably be dismissed by those who deny the changes that Attenborough, and all self-respecting climatologists, are documenting. Instead of ignoring the problem, I wish the deniers would be honest in their selfishness, and admit they don’t want to make sacrifices to preserve the future for coming generations. Of course, that would require them to admit they’re bad people, so I’m not holding my breath.

It is up to the rest of us to take action. A Life on Our Planet shows us how to do it, and more importantly, Attenborough reassures us that we can still undo the damage we have caused. A Life on Our Planet manages to be hopeful without minimizing the problems we face. It is a nature film that is about us, and it is a fitting capstone for Attenborough’s life work.

The Binding (Il legame)

Emma (Mia Maestro) and young daughter Sofia (Giulia Patrignani) are visiting her fiancé’s mother in southern Italy, which sounds like a dream scenario, sun kissed summers with wine and pasta, but it turns out this particular corner of southern Italy is less romantic getaway and more death by curse.

Turns out, Emma’s fiancé Francesco (Riccardo Scarmarcio) hasn’t always been a stand up guy. In his youth he got a girl pregnant and instead of a) doing the right thing or b) breaking up with the woman and sending a monthly cheque or c) becoming a deadbeat dad, he opts for d) use some black magic on her to get rid of the problem.

Obviously her evil spirit has been lingering, waiting for the perfect moment, and its malevolent intentions have targeted young Sofia as its victim. It starts with a tarantula bite and gets oh so much worse. To make matters even worse, it’s unclear to Emma, who isn’t fluent in poultices and incantations, whether her in-laws can be trusted or whether the old women and their evil eye are actually the source of the curse.

Is that the actual plot? Probably not. I was only paying half attention because the movie was so dull and boring. It’s supposed to be a horror movie, but the specifics of the situation are so vague and the relationships between characters so unclear that it’s hard to invest in the story or the consequences. I don’t think Sean was faring much better because his only quibble was with the freshness of the tarantula blood. So….

Maybe something was lost in translation. That seems possible. Maybe. I’m not convinced. In fact, I’m still a little resentful that this movie tried to scare me but didn’t try to entertain me. That’s a terrible equation and I’m not impressed to be involved. If you’re willing to be a variable, you can insert yourself on Netflix. Just don’t blame me if The Binding adds up to a pretty generic horror movie.

Hubie Halloween

Hubert Dubois is Salem’s official volunteer Halloween helper. Easily startled and frequently frightened, Hubie devotes himself to keeping the holiday safe for everyone, young and old, for which he is openly and mercilessly mocked by all.

This Halloween, armed only with good intentions and his trusty swiss army thermos, Hubie (Adam Sandler) has an extra hefty burden. He’s being bullied by some local high school kids, he suspects his neighbour Walter (Steve Buscemi) is a werewolf, and a psychotic prisoner in a pig costume is on the loose, escaped from a nearby institution. Exasperated with Hubie’s numerous reports, Sgt. Steve (Kevin James) shuts down his concerns, leaving him with only his elderly mother (June Squibb) in a series of suggestive tshirts and his childhood crush, soup-serving Violet (Julie Bowen) as allies.

As with every Adam Sandler movie, many of his friends and a great many of his family join him on set as they film on location in a very quaint-looking Salem, Massachusetts, even if the town’s lengthy history of “bullies” persists. Hubie Halloween reunites Sandler with his Happy Gilmore costar Julie Bowen 24 years after she first played his love interest, Virginia Venit (this time playing Violet Valentine, we see that Sandler’s love of alliteration and the letter V have also withstood the test of time). Also joining them from the cast of Happy Gilmore, Ben Stiller in a cameo playing the exact same character, orderly Hal.

Although Sandler’s movies for Netflix have been more miss than hit, this one is a pleasant exception. It’s just scary enough to qualify as Halloween viewing, but Sandler’s brand of low-brow humour ensures that all but the little ones will be able to watch. Does it reinvent the wheel? Not remotely; it’s merely better inflated than the flat tires his production company has been turning out for some time.

The thrills are mild, the jokes are corny, but it’s a harmless movie that might add some Halloween spirit to your household, and considering many will be refraining from trick-or-treating this year, a movie night is a nice way to celebrate in a safe and socially-distanced way. I think Hubie would approve.

Check us out on Youtube!

Vampires Vs. The Bronx

Best friends Miguel (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald Jones III), and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) are cresting their last wave of childhood growing up in the Bronx. They roam the neighbourhood independently but aren’t yet exempt from the dreaded mother yelling something embarrassing out the window for everyone to hear. Miguel is very plugged in to his neighbourhood; everyone calls him the Little Mayor, and it’s even what his (hand-drawn) business cards say.

Miguel’s current project is saving the neighbourhood bodega – lots of local businesses have been closing up shop, and a mysterious real estate company is swiftly encroaching. White people with canvas bags are merely the first step; gentrification is next. Except these white people are paler than most, and the renovations they have in mind are even more sinister than Lululemons and Starbucks and Blow Out Bars. Having recently watched Blade without parental supervision, Miguel, Luis, and Bobby are convinced the new neighbours are vampires, but who would believe such a thing? The only ally they manage to make is a neighbourhood teenager called Rita (Coco Jones), who has the distinction of not only being the only one to believe them, but also being a bit older, a bit cooler, and a heck of a lot prettier than our original trio.

Not even Rita’s credibility is enough to convince Moms not to open their doors to new neighbours or bodega owners to close shop. How then will they save the Bronx?

Longtime segment director at SNL Osmany “Oz” Rodriguez directs and co-writes the script with Blaise Hemingway, and together they’ve come up with something rather strange and wonderful. The kid cast is charming and exceptional (special mention to Imani Lewis whose character never stops her brilliant live stream), and the adult cast is fun and unexpected.

The allegory may be told through a very, VERY thin veil, but it’s as clever as it is unmissable, putting a new twist on a very old story. It’s rated PG-13 but the violence is far less graphic than what you’ll find in Blade, the movie the kids proficiently use as a vampire bible (and their rules hold up). As a comedy-horror, it’s a little light on both, but it’s an easy and enjoyable watch for everyone, including families with older kids and tweens, who will likely tolerate it with enthusiasm.

American Murder: The Family Next Door

If you have an appetite for true crime, this documentary newly released on Netflix will certainly serve as a hearty appetizer.

It’s a story you may already be familiar with: in 2018, 38-year-old Shanann Watts and her two young daughters disappeared in Colorado and since they were a typical suburban (and need I say, white) family, it made nation-wide headlines. You and I are no dummies when it comes to this kind of disappearance; we all know in which direction to look, and neither the cops nor this documentary waste time on any other perpetrator theories. Director Jenny Popplewell pulls together an impressive amount of footage taken at the time of the investigation (and of the investigation itself), and synthesizes it down to a watchable, digestible narrative. The one thing Popplewell can’t do is make sense of it. Technically, we do know the “reason” by the film’s end, but we can never be satisfied by it. It defies logic that anyone would think this was a good idea and it is immensely painful to know how incredibly unnecessary it was.

And yet, to me, the most intriguing part of the entire documentary is its title.

***SPOILERS***

American Murder

This has become such a frequent M.O. that we have now dubbed this the typical American crime.

Chinese checkers

Dutch oven

French kiss

Canadian bacon

Panama hat

American murder

More than half the time an American woman is murdered, it’s by her former or current romantic partner. In a third of those cases, it was right after a big fight. 15% of these women were pregnant.

Shanann’s partner was by all accounts a devoted husband and father. He provided for his family and said all of the right things. But around 2am on August 13 2018, Shanann is dropped off at home by friend Nickole, returning from a business trip they’d taken together. Footage from Shanann’s own doorbell camera is the last time she’s seen alive. Husband Chris claims they fought about his infidelity and the end of their marriage so he strangled her to death in anger. Her family maintains if that were the case, she would have fought back. They suspect he did it in her sleep. In any case, he wrapped her body in a sheet and loaded daughters Bella, aged 4, and Cece, 3, into the back seat of his truck along with their mother’s body and drove off before the sun was up, just a few short hours later. He buried his wife’s body near his job site, and then quickly killed his daughters as well, dumping their little bodies in an oil well. He had recently met a woman and wanted to be unencumbered to start a new life with her. Shanann was a little over 4 months pregnant at the time of her death.

Considering divorce is also very much an American way of life, it’s impossible to understand why Chris went with any other option, let alone one so gruesome.

He will spend his life in prison for the murder of his wife, their 2 daughters, and their unborn child.

Also spending his life in prison: a homeless man who procured two dime bags ($10 each) of marijuana for an undercover police officer who promised him a $5 commission. Five bucks: the price of a cheap meal. Marijuana: a substance that is legal or decriminalized in many states, and is actually sold by the government in Canada and elsewhere.

Two life sentences, one white perp, the other black.

American justice.

The Boys In The Band

Michael (Jim Parsons) is throwing a birthday for his friend Harold. He’s decorated the terrace of his New York City apartment, bought ice for the voluminous quantities of cocktails about to be consumed, and thrown together a guest list he flippantly describes as “all the same tired old queens.” Michael is a screenwriter who spends and drinks more than he should, and both are catching up to him. Michael’s former flame Donald (Matt Bomer) is unexpectedly in town for the event, filled with all the gems he’s been collecting in psychotherapy. Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) arrives with knee pads he’s bedazzled and monogrammed himself as a gift, and Emory (Robin de Jesús), a flamboyant decorator serves up what I believe is a lasagna laced with a little something special. Emory’s shared a tense cab ride over with lovers Hank (Tuc Watkins), who’s recently left his wife for Larry (Andrew Rannells), who doesn’t believe in monogamy.

If you’re thinking this birthday party, set in 1968, sounds a little ripe for conflict, you’re not wrong, but you don’t know the half of it. It’s about to be crashed by two unexpected guests: the first is a hooker named Cowboy (Charlie Carver), a big beautiful dummy meant to be Harold’s gift for the night, the second is Alan (Brian Hutchison), Michael’s straight college roommate to whom Michael is not out and asks the others to be discreet as well. Alan isn’t technically invited but shows up anyway, emotional, and well on his way to drunk. And only then does birthday boy Harold (Zachary Quinto) finally show up, chronically late, razor-tongued, cripplingly insecure.

Repressed sexuality and alcohol: a powder keg that’s absolutely, definitely going to blow up, the only question is whether it’ll be before the cake or after.

Joe Mantello directs a rather faithful adaptation of Mart Crowley’s play, allowing it to sit in a period when homosexuality meant so many different things: dangerous curiosity, underground relationships, chosen families, and more. Navigating this landscape is difficult, and each of these characters represents a different perspective, but they’re all just desperate to live life on their own terms. It’s the original cast from the 2018 Broadway revival, so not only is the cast extremely comfortable in the skins they’re temporarily inhabiting, but production can proudly claim that all 9 leads are themselves openly gay men. The ensemble isn’t just talented, but believable as a group with many permutations and entanglements, yet who continue to choose each other and probably always will.

This film is not just a fossil of its source material but a living, breathing thing where pain and expectation are lying in shallow graves, waiting to wound again.