Tag Archives: Netflix original

Anima

A man (Thom Yorke, of Radiohead) is one of many people riding the subway in a dazed state, nodding off, sleep walking through life. Only his sighting of a beautiful woman (Dajana Roncione) sets him on a divergent path, going against the usual drudgery to return a forgotten lunch box to her.

Paul Thomas Anderson directs Thom Yorke in a 15 minute musical short, though Yorke isn’t exactly breaking into song, it’s more like an extended music video, a visual piece accompanied by hypnotic music that to be honest is really working for me.

The choppy, physical choreography has Yorke literally going against the grain, and it’s only when he finally reunites with the woman from the subway that the dance, choreographed by Damien Jalet, becomes playful, fluid, more intimate. The two carve out a private space in a world that is monotonous and homogenous. It’s hard to say if this world is dystopian, or if it’s meant to be interpreted on a more metaphorical basis, but images of competition and subjugation abound.

The piece ends with the two boarding a streetcar. Yorke again nods off, and it’s unclear if the whole that came before it was meant to be a dream, but even if it is, it’s taken him from the underground darkness (or artificially lit at best) of a subway and left him above ground, seated in a beam of sunlight.

You’re darn right it’s weird, unlike anything else you’ll find on Netflix. But that’s what I can easily love about it, and about Netflix. Netflix is a lot of things, and not all of them good, but it’s creating space for experimentation. With the sheer volume of output, it can afford to take risks, and it does, something that is increasingly rare if not already obsolete for movie studios. Not very long ago it would be nearly impossible for most of us to catch a short film, other than the ones that routinely screened before Pixar films (although I can’t be the only one to notice this absence before Toy Story 4). But Netflix now hosts, and in fact is creating, a whole host of out of the box content. How wonderful to let PTA do his thing. And no, Thom Yorke is no actor, but I can’t help but admire someone who will go out on a limb for art. It gets all of our creative juices flowing to see new and boundary-pushing things, which is what Anima is. At worst, all it costs you is 15 minutes, but it’s a literal tunnel out of oppression, an exploration of conformity, and ultimately, an expression and rejoicing of freedom.

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Beats

August (Khalil Everage) hasn’t left the house in 18 months, not since his sister was gunned down in front of him. Now he’s suffering from crippling PTSD, living the hermit life, which his mother (Uzo Aduba) isn’t too mad about. They clearly love and care for each other, but they’re both so broken they can’t heal each other. August retreats into his music, creating beats, safe under his world-cancelling headphones.

But then one day his school’s security guard Romello (Anthony Anderson) comes looking for him. Coincidentally (or not), he’s a washed up manager with one big ex-client and a whole lot of baggage, including an estranged wife for a current boss, who expects him to bring back truant students so her school’s funding doesn’t get cut. But instead of bringing August back to school, Romello wants to bring him into a studio. He hears gold records, and a chance to get back on top. But that’s going to be extra challenging when your 17 year old prodigy producer is a recluse with mental health problems.

In Chicago, hip hop and gun violence intermingle, but in Chris Robinson’s movie about both, it’s fear that reigns the day. It feels trite to talk about the ‘healing power of music’ but it’s clear that for August, his music is a retreat, and a balm. But as good as his beats are (and they do hold up thanks to some authentic Chicago talent), it’s going to take more than that to get August back on his feet, and to make this movie better than average.

So is it? Better than average? I’m going to say yes. It’s not super profound but for all its simplicity, it does really speak to a particular brand of tragedy. It’s a painful testimony to all the victims in Chicago’s south side and beyond. August’s story isn’t particularly noteworthy in his community. Everyone has suffered loss. Everyone risks their lives just walking home at night. We really understand how something so horrific can come to feel normal to people who live it every day. It’s only through August’s mother’s eyes that we remember how crazy this is. She is willing to sacrifice everything, to keep her son locked up at home, if that’s what it takes for him to live to his 18th birthday. Uzo Aduba is of course wonderful, her presence strong. And Khalil Everage also makes a strong impression on his first time out.

Netflix dropped Beats today, perhaps in honour of Juneteenth. Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, it’s a national day of observance that commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and in fact the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the confederate states. The Emancipation Proclamation was of course enacted as of January 1, 1863, but Texas was quite remote, and the proclamation was not enforced until after the confederacy collapsed.

While it’s certainly worth celebrating, this movie is perhaps a good way to think about the modern manifestations of slavery, and the ways we may be withholding true liberation, inadvertently or not.

Beats has a strong sound and a good message. It’s not solving the gun violence in America, but it shows us how to have courage even when things look hopeless.

Murder Mystery

You may not believe this, but Adam Sandler’s in a Murder Mystery and he’s not playing the corpse.

Nick (Sandler), a New York cop, has repeatedly failed to make detective, and failed to take his wife on a European honeymoon for 15 years solid. Luckily, on the eve of their anniversary, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) picks a fight about this very thing and Nick is able to book extremely last minute tickets and pass them off as a surprise. On this transcontinental flight, she runs into a disgruntled first class passenger, Charles (Luke Evans), who invites them to join him on his yacht.

It’s a little more complicated than that: his fiance Suzi has recently left him for his billionaire uncle Malcolm (Terence Stamp). The yacht is full of people who are not overly happy about this: the son who stood to inherit, a maharajah whose family fortune is entangled with Malcolm’s, a famous actress, the godson Grand Prix racer, his best friend and literal life saver (and a bonus bodyguard). He’s gathered them all together to call them leaches, to cut them off, and to amend his will to reflect only Suzi as inheritor. But just as he’s about to sign the new will, the lights go out, and when they come back up, there’s a body. Malcolm is dead. One of the yacht’s occupants is a murderer.

For a murder mystery, it’s pretty light-hearted. It IS an Adam Sandler project, after all, but his usual humour’s been tempered somewhat and most will find this surprisingly tolerable. Not a great movie maybe, but definitely watchable, despite his mustache. Sandler and Aniston have a great chemistry after a couple of movies together, and the script, though not quite clever enough to actually keep you guessing, is entertaining enough that you won’t really care, and the ensemble cast supports it ably. Director Kyle Newacheck doesn’t try anything fancy but he doesn’t get in the way of the film’s strengths: a few moments where Aniston shines, a few moments where Italy shines, and the harnessing of Adam Sandler’s baser, more juvenile instincts. It’s for the best.

I Am Mother

All that remains of humanity is a maternal droid and 63 000 human embryos. Following her directive, the Mother robot grows a baby and raises it, alone in some sort of bunker. Mother (Rose Byrne) seems programmed to repopulate the earth but is in no hurry to do it, so far working just one at a time, and in fact, stopping at just the one. Their bond is unique but not without warmth and nurturing (though it did make me think of those experiments of rhesus monkeys raised by wire “mothers” who would cling to and love them as long as they had literally any kind of padding).

I watch countless sci-fi movies and read many books more in the genre, but I never understand how or why humans think they deserve to save themselves – or rather, why, when failing to save themselves personally, they still feel so strongly about saving ‘humanity’ in general. It’s conceit, obviously, to think we can and should thwart the natural order of things. To defy our own extinction when the time comes. To watch countless plant and animal species become endangered and then disappear but continue to place ourselves above them. We’ve had a good long run at the top of the food chain and of course we’d like to extend that indefinitely, but everything must end, and we seem to be doing our best to hasten ours. But when actually faced with the consequences of our footprint on the earth, our best fictional accounts continue to depict our self-importance.

When daughter (Clara Rugaard) reaches early adulthood, she’s been reading a lot about our kind, and even though Mother warns her of the toxicity outside the bunker’s doors, she can’t help but be curious as to what’s out there. It must be hard to imagine living among other people when you’ve never laid eyes on another. But it also seems part of our genetic makeup to want to be part of a pack, and a robot Mother will only cut it for as long as there’s no choice.

And then one day, choice comes knocking. A woman (Hilary Swank) bangs on an outer door. She’s wounded, shot, and is begging for access. Daughter lets her in, but there’s immediate tension between the Woman and the robot Mother. They’re telling VERY different stories about what’s going on in the outside world, and the droids’ role in everything. What motivation could Mother have for lying? But then again, we could say the same of Woman.

I Am Mother develops a striking sense of the creepy. There is lots of room for doubt, which fills the holes in our imagination. Which is good, because the setting is sparse. We’ve got one cold bunker, a constant interior shot that’s not going to vary. And Daughter’s interactions are against an imposing hunk of metal named Mother. It’s hard to act against a robot, and it’s hard for a robot to act. So it’s got a couple of strikes against it cinematically but much more going for it thematically, combining heaping helpings of Passengers and Ex Machina, with liberal sprinklings of Isaac Asimov for kick.

Always Be My Maybe

Sasha Tran is a famous chef opening a new restaurant in her hometown, San Francisco. Her fiance has just fled to India for 6 months, during which time they’re going to “see other people.” Those other people may or may not include Marcus, Sasha’s childhood best friend, with whom she lost touch after an ill-conceived grief-fuck in the backseat of his car. I mean definitely not. Their brief coupling was so awkward, and then she went off and did big things and he stayed behind to work in the family business after his mom died. It’ll never work. Never.

Sasha (Ali Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) have a lot of love between them, but love is not enough. Their lives have diverged more than just geographically. Plus, it’s hard to take a dip in the hot springs of love when you’ve been lollygagging in the fallow fields of friendship all these years. Can they possibly overcome?

I mean, yes. Of course they can. This is a goddamned rom-com people. It’s not rocket science. There’s no will they or won’t they, there’s just how much longer until they do. And with this movie, you kinda hope it’ll be a while because you’re just enjoying the ride so much. Or at least I was, and improbably, I believe Sean was too. So that’s two people who hate romcoms (Sean because he literally has no emotions and myself because I’ve literally had eyeball surgery after bursting a network of vessels when I rolled them too much) who have made an exception for this one.

Always Be My Maybe is funny, and not just because the title is a pessimistic twist on a 1990s Mariah Carey song. Ali Wong is of course a comedy genius, and she plays very well against Randall Park, who I’ve always thought of as more of a dry comedian, but he’s got a bigger bag of tricks than I ever knew, including a musical side AND a violent side – and while I love them both, by god, I loved them even more when combined (stay through the credits).

This movie has absolutely nothing new to add in the romance department but you’ll be so busy being taken by surprise by random lines funny enough to stay with you for weeks you won’t even care. The cast is charmingly quirky and features a cameo (in fact, a meaty little part) that will pretty much make your year. Always Be My Maybe is streaming on Netflix right now, and it’s not a maybe, it’s a full-on yes.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island is a comedy trio consisting of childhood friends Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. They became known for their popular digital shorts on SNL, many of which, like Lazy Sunday, went viral, for comedic songs like Jack Sparrow, featuring THE Michael Bolton, and for movies like Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. If you like them, you probably love them, and if you love them, you’re in for a treat. Especially if you also have a soft spot for late-1980s-era major league baseball.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is a 30 minute short streaming now on Netflix that’s the supposed never before seen\heard rap collaboration between steroid bash brothers Jose Canseco (Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Schaffer) of the Oakland Athletics. I don’t give two shits about baseball (especially not historical baseball from another century), but Sean did and does and had an especially appreciative chuckle for all the references they got right.

The rap album consists of many memorable musical numbers, literally something for everyone, between such hits as Bikini Babe Workout, IHOP Parking Lot (featuring Maya Rudolph), Oakland Nights (featuring Sia, who looks an awful lot like Sterling K. Brown in a a wig unworthy of the real Sia), and my favourite, Daddy, which explores the mountainous daddy issues behind the Canseco-McGwire shenanigans.

Sean wondered how – not if, but how – high they were when they wrote this stuff. And the answer can only be: extremely. So high. And yet I was sober when I watched it and I still dissolved into fits of giggles (a credit cameo featuring “Joe Montana” had me gasping for breath). It’s light-hearted and doesn’t dare take itself serious for a single split second. The narrow theme of the “visual poem” (a la Beyonce’s Lemonade?) ensures that the songs are punchy and topical, if not always sensical. But you didn’t come for the sense. You came for the nonsense, and they’re flooding the diamond with it.

Samberg and Schaffer are both hilarious in their terrible mullet wigs, but it seems like everyone who pops up in these videos are having a riotously good time. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience offers locker room injections of satire and parody, and they will PUMP YOU UP.

Good Sam

Kate Bradley (Tiya Sircar) is a TV reporter who takes too many risks getting exclusive footage of fires and daring rescue attempts. Dedicated to the bummer beat, her boss can’t get her to stop, so he gives her a different kind of story, soft news that insults her, but the story turns out to be quite the gold nugget.

An anonymous donor has left a literal bag of cash on someone’s door step. She’s thrilled to have $100 000 but has no idea who could be so generous. That first recipient wants to call it a miracle, but Kate’s story doesn’t stop there. There are other door steps, other bags of money, and pretty soon the whole city’s abuzz with the good news.

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Good Sam is a feel-good story, and perhaps a bit of a fantasy. In the day and age of Trump, it’s hard to imagine such a positive news cycle dominating the headlines. The plot’s a little flimsy and the characters aren’t shadowed by motivation or even much personality, but Tiya Sircar leads the cast with such good cheer, she’s hard to resist. Which is a good thing, because though Good Sam reaches for themes on the top shelf (journalism’s role in public perception, generosity without expectation), it all too often scrapes along the very bottom (mired in Kate’s relationship status). But with tempered expectations, Good Sam is not a bad way to spend time thinking about how ratings drive a news cycle, and heck, it’s easily accessible on Netflix right now.