Tag Archives: Netflix original

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

I did not think the world needed another Jungle Book movie. I felt the same about Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book. I am too young to have any warm feelings toward the Disney cartoon – that movie felt old-fashioned to me as a kid, and I couldn’t watch it. We never read the books, and I was never a boy scout. And don’t get me started on this “live action” nonsense – this may be more sophisticated animation, a less cartoony cartoon, but this stuff is 95% computer-generated.

Anyway, as you may have gleaned: a “mean” tiger named Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) eats some humans in the jungle. He’s the menacing villain of the story, even though the tiger was only doing as tigers do. But white people think they own MV5BOWNjOGFlNTAtZDlmMS00ODdjLWFiMjQtYjMxNTUwYjY1OWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,732_AL_everything they see and touch and feel, and are surprised not be welcomed with open arms whenever they attempt to colonize new lands. The jungle was never meant for humans, and almost everything about the jungle makes that abundantly clear. Anyway, the dead humans leave behind a baby, Mowgli, who is accepted by and raised by a  literal pack of wolves. Mowgli is mentored by a black panther named Bagheera (Christian Bale), and a bear named Baloo (Andy Serkis). They try to teach him the ways of the jungle, but they also know the strange animal called man is edging in on their territory, and it can only be an asset to have one of them among them.

At PG-13, this is a darker, less family-friendly version of the Jungle Book. Mowgli’s story has always had something to say about fitting in, and whether how we look has ever been the best way to judge who is one of us, and who is not. But, we’ve obviously been told this story several times before, and Serkis’ version gives us nothing new, just some special effects and his trademark motion capture that actually brings nothing to the table. There’s no charm, there’s no heart. Andy Serkis may have donned the green suit to give life to Baloo, but he’s never seemed more cold and aloof. He’s not the same Baloo that people have loved for generations. This isn’t the same Jungle Book. It’s dark and it’s bloody – so, for the rare person who wishes beloved children’s books played more like war movies, I guess this is pay dirt – but for the rest of us, this is a miss.

 

Advertisements

Dumplin’

Willowdean, aka Dumplin (Danielle Macdonald), feels like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Her aunt Lucy always had a knack for making her feel at home and helping her to navigate life greasier spots, but aunt Lucy is gone now. Thank goodness for her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), a fellow lover of all things Dolly Parton. Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), is practically a celebrity in their small Texan town. She was Miss Teen Bluebonnet 1991, and is the pageant’s current director. Their house looks like Miss America barfed all over it, except in aunt Lucy’s old room, still not empty of her belongings, but that won’t be true for long, if Rosie has her way.

MV5BNTIwODk1MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQxMzU3NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1301,1000_AL_Dumplin’ is based on a novel by Julie Murphy, and it’s kind of like a Love, Simon for fat girls (we deserve love too!). Willowdean doesn’t have the perfect figure, a fact all the more noticeable standing next to her mother, a literal beauty queen, and the town’s image of perfection. So it’s a mystery to her when Bo, the heartthrob that works with her in the local diner, seems to be interested in her. That can’t be right, can it?

Overweight women struggle to find acceptance in the world, and remain almost invisible, undepicted, in Hollywood. Weight will be the last taboo, clearly. So when Willowdean enters the pageant, it’s an act of rebellion. Her mother isn’t thrilled and the pageant institution wants to preserve its ‘sanctity’, but when Willowdean shows up, she’s like the Joan of Arc of fat girls, inspiriting several other ‘unsuitable’ girls to sign up.

It’s interesting to watch Willowdean struggle, to know in her head that people’s judgement about her weight is complete bullshit, but also to have internalized it, to use that bit of self-loathing as as a defense mechanism. It takes a lot of strength to confront these stereotypes, and to have Willowdean do it as a high school student, so young and vulnerable, keeps our compassion levels high – as well as our concern. It makes us watch with a critical eye. Who is complicit? Store that sell a minimum of (small) sizes? Magazines that wrongfully equate weight with health? Movies that would have you believe that a boy who likes a fat girl is a hero? The pageant system itself, which celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty and weighs intellect and swim suit wearing equally?

There’s nothing in the rules that says “big girls need not apply” but all too often, fat girls see barriers everywhere. Sometimes they’re just barriers we just mentally put there ourselves after being conditioned by society to feel somehow inferior or unworthy. Dumplin’ is asking us not to buy into that – not of each other, and not of ourselves. A number on a scale is incapable of determining beauty, and it’s not even close to measuring a person’s worth. The film doesn’t follow the book’s exact plot, and it wisely edits a lot of the romantic drama, because this story is most of all about self-acceptance, as every story should be.

Angela’s Christmas

Some people believe they’ve seen a stone statue cry tears of blood. Others think they’ve seen Jesus in toast. This is the story of Angela, a little girl who thinks that the baby Jesus in her church’s nativity scene looks awfully cold, underdressed in his manger. She sneaks in to rectify the situation, which is how her sneeze has members of the congregation believing that the baby Jesus has caught the sniffles and has come to visit his germs upon them (or something like that, but very holy and earnestly felt). And if that had been the entire story, this review would be very short. But the thing is, Angela snatches the baby Jesus in order to warm him up. She is sincere in her good intentions, but this is still the theft of the lord we’re talking about – and on Christmas, no less.

Angela’s Christmas is an animated Netflix original, just 30 minutes, perfect for family viewing around the holidays. It’s adapted from Frank McCourt’s children’s book, so MV5BMDRiY2Y0NDYtODViNi00NWQzLWE2M2YtNjc4N2U4NjkzZjQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwMTM0Ng@@._V1_SX1238_CR0,0,1238,999_AL_presumably this is the very same Angela of Angela’s Ashes (McCourt’s mother). If you’re at all familiar with McCourt’s work, then you know it’s got plenty of Irish authenticity, and so does this little film.

Like all of McCourt’s work, the details are so terrifically rendered that they will inevitably bring a tear to my eye. This is a very sweet film that can’t help but please all audiences. Perhaps you’ve got a lump of coal where your heart should be? No? Well then add this to your holiday viewing list. It’s pure and innocent, and it’ll put a little coziness where you need it most. Angela’s Christmas is the anti-dote to all your holiday cynicism. There are no gifts, no turkey, no reindeer, just childhood innocence and the warmth of family. And that’s really all you need.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Last year you fell in love with clutzy, Conversed Amber as she met and became betrothed to her prince, since crowned King Richard. This Christmas, Amber and Richard are to be married with all the pomp and circumstance that befits a king and queen.

The only problem is, Amber doesn’t want any of it. Not the ostentatious event, not the fishbowl lifestyle of a crowned queen. The only other problem is, nor can they afford it. Despite Richard’s best efforts at modernization, phony baloney Aldovia is bleeding money and the out of work peasants citizens are angry.

So on the one hand, there’s a gay caricature of a wedding planner (think Martin Short in MV5BMjIwMTE1ODAyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMyMDY3NjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Father of the Bride) trying to steamroll Amber’s wedding into some poufy-sleeved thing she’d never want and doesn’t recognize. And on the other hand, she’s foregoing her bachelorette party in order to follow a journalistic hunch and stick her nose where the press secretary has specifically forbidden it.

As corny and awful as A Christmas Prince was last year, this year’s is so much worse. I mean, it’s not even a romance, it’s like Spotlight for people with no intellect or shame. And in a year with not one but two actual, real royal weddings, broadcast all over the world in their regal, swoon-worthy glory, there was not even a hint of reference to either. Harry and Megan Markle, despite actual royal protocols to follow, still managed to impress us with more romance and personality than this film does, and believe me, A Christmas Prince: The Royal wedding takes liberties literally every damn where else.

There are bad movies, and then there are bad Christmas movies, which truly does deserve its own pepperminty category of its own. There’s a moment, for example, when an unexpected guest arrives, and the 6-8 people in the room are all surprised, so the camera gives them each a close-up-shocked-face moment. I honestly didn’t know those even existed outside soap operas. And they shouldn’t.

Anyway, for a movie literally called The Royal Wedding, there is precious little time spent on the wedding, and it’s hardly royal. The dress is horrendous and Amber’s hair is constantly a complete mess. Not only does Aldovia not have a royal hairdresser, it does not appear to have a royal brush. But the genius in Netflix’s line of Hallmark-esque holiday is movies is that they’re so dumb they make us feel smart for mocking them while watching. Like the first, there are horsies and cookie montages, but there’s a lot less sparkle and a lot more business. In other words, plenty to mock.

The Christmas Chronicles

Kate Pierce is reviewing videos from Christmases past. Her father’s in all of them but he won’t be there this year, and the family’s taking it hard. Her older brother Teddy’s been acting out in dangerous ways and her mom is overworked and stressed out. When Kate’s mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) gets called in to work on Christmas Eve, she leaves the kids in a house that feels emptier than it should, but with a video that contains more than it has any right to. Just before a video cuts out, someone’s arm is seen placing a gift beneath their tree. Kate is ecstatic: proof of Santa, caught on tape! But the video is vague and an arm is not really enough, so she begs her brother to pull an all-nighter to collect more evidence.

MV5BMTYyNDE4MjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTc4NDY2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Long story short, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) end up as stowaways on Santa’s sleigh, which causes a derailment (I don’t know the technical term for throwing a sleigh off its course while flying through the air), and a crash, and the loss of Santa’s magic sack of toys, and the temporary misplacement of the reindeer. Catastrophe! Santa (Kurt Russell, in absolute bearded glory) isn’t too happy on a whole lot of fronts, but he recognizes in Kate a true believer, so together they concoct a plan to save Christmas.

The Christmas Chronicles involves police chases, gang activity, Elvish, jingle bells, literal jail house rock, and an archive system to die for. And like any good Netflix original, it has a scene of someone watching some other Netflix original. But mostly it has Kurt Russell, who brings everything to the role. Like me, you may be a little bit squeamish about our dear Kurt Russell playing Santa. Is it really the time in his career for this? Worry not. This is not the rosy-cheeked, elderly Santa that Coca Cola is pimping (in fact, this Russell’s Santa is particularly peeved by that depiction). Russell’s Santa is a little cooler, a little leaner, but he’s still 100% magic, and that’s what counts.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve already had frostbite warning and record snowfall, and it isn’t even winter. What we need on cold nights such is these are great holiday movies to warm and soothe our souls. And while this one isn’t an instant classic, it’s a pretty decent entry into the catalogue.

The Holiday Calendar

In the month leading up Christmas, Abby dons an elf suit to take pictures of kids sitting on Santa’s lap. It’s not exactly the kind of photography work she’d imagined for herself, but every time her parents ask if she’s ready to come work for the family law firm, she defers. Besides the humiliating elf costume, 3 key things happen to Abby just as the holiday season kicks off:

  1. Her best friend Josh returns from his globe-trotting adventures.
  2. Her grandfather gives her an antique advent calendar, an inheritance from her recently deceased grandmother.
  3. She meets Ty, a cute new guy and potential love interest.

To be honest, Abby (Kat Graham) and Josh (Quincy Brown) are adorable together and have great chemistry, so you almost root for them to hook up, though the writers have MV5BZTE0MzQ4MmEtMjJiYi00YmE3LWIyMjEtMTg5YThkYWY0ZDg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTA5NzQ0MDQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_other ideas. Let’s respect their friendship! Plus, the antique advent calendar from Gramps (Ron Cephas Jones, the dead dad from This Is Us – no, not that one, the other one!) may or may not be predicting the future with the little trinkets it presents to her each day. They’re adding up to a romance with Ty (Ethan Peck), the handsome single dad doctor who plans great dates and works with the homeless. That plus the magic of the holiday season makes for a pretty compelling case.

If you’re surprised at the lack of sarcasm in my tone, well, so am I. I’ve never met a Netflix or Hallmark holiday movie I didn’t hate on sight, so I wasn’t prepared to find this one kind of charming. Graham is a glowing, sweet as pie reason for this – she and Brown lead a surprisingly solid cast. They elevate the material beyond the normal Christmas cheese. And I liked that the romance didn’t start improbably from a negative place – finally a boyfriend who isn’t a jerk! Which is fortunate because we get to know Abby enough to know she has a good head on her shoulders and a lot of support from family friends – not the kind of woman silly enough to confuse condescension for caring.

Abby’s family and friends are exactly the kind of people you won’t mind sharing part of your holiday season with. Glass of wine and cozy socks optional but recommended.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is actually 6 distinct stories. The first one opens in spectacular fashion, Buster(Tim Blake Nelson) mounted on his horse, strumming his guitar, his pleasing singing voice echoing off the mountains around him. When he rides into town, he lives up to the second part of his illustrious reputation: he’s the best gun slinger in town. And indeed. no matter how jaded a western, shoot em up, action hero connoisseur you are, Buster has some moves that will impress you. This opening vignette sets such a strong tone, and an enjoyable one, that its abrupt shift left me confused and grief-stricken, and maybe even bored.

We turned the movie off halfway through. But that opening part really stayed with me. It did such a good job establishing the movie as one to watch that  I succumbed to the MV5BMjQwNDI4MTA3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ1OTEzNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,960_AL_pressure and made attempt #2 the next night. I rewound to the beginning and what I found was: yes, the switch between the first and second chapter is brusque, and because for me unexpected, I had lost interest when I failed to keep up. In this second portion, James Franco is a bank robber who gets the ultimate sentence for his crime. Our first extended look at his face is perhaps one of the most striking portraits of a man I’ve ever seen on film. The editing is astonishingly economical: the story is told not so much quickly as efficiently. But during my second watch, with all guns firing, not only was I less confused, I was incredibly impressed.

Joel and Ethan Cohen know what the hell they’re doing. If their movie isn’t speaking to me, I should damn well know that it isn’t their failing as writer-directors, but mine as a viewer. Subsequent chapters star the likes of Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and Zoe Kazan. They all tell their own stories about brutal and unforgiving life in the Old West.

The Coen Brothers have been at this a long time yet they’ve still got the ability to surprise. Their brevity inspires them to experiment in yet more ways, crafting stories that are compelling exhibitions of their dark humour and signature style. Did I like this movie? No. I fecking loved it. It took me two tries to get there mind you, but it was fecking worth it.