Tag Archives: Netflix original

El Camino

Is this a prequel or a postquel, I wondered, until the movie threw me into a Breaking Bad recap which I badly needed but basically indicated that the movie would pick up where the show left off – why else refresh events? In fact the movie picks up exactly where the show left off, with Walt dead and Jesse driving off madly, and I do mean madly, in an El Camino (says Sean – I can only identify it as far as subcategory “real ugly car”).

This story is told in two parts: the immediate minutes and days following the show’s big shoot-out finale, during which Jesse Pinkman has been liberated from his cage and is finally free from Walter White’s tyranny and all the fallout, and in flashbacks to the time of his captivity leading up to the show’s finale. I found it really difficult to tell the difference between the two despite Sean constantly reminding me “he has a beard!” (which means it’s a flashback”) or “no beard” when it wasn’t. I really should have been able to pick up on that myself, it’s a pretty handy little metric, but it was embarrassingly challenging for me. I’m much more confident in your own ability to keep things straight.

Now truth be told, I needed more than just a 30 second recap. I either have a “piss poor” memory or a “craptastic” one – I can never remember which – but either way, I meant to look up like a nice, meaty 20 minute supercut on Youtube and I guess I forgot to do that too. I annoyed the heck out of the Sean with two main questions that I ran on a loop: who is that guy, and isn’t he dead?

Anyway, poor Jesse survives Walter White, survives cooking in captivity, survives crooked cops and coked up ghosts only to come up $1800 short for taking the Saul Goodman ultimate escape plan route. That’s a tough break after 5 straight seasons worth of bad luck on AMC. Jesse Pinkman arguably deserves a break, but El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie isn’t about to give him one.

It’s kind of nice, after 6 years, to get another little taste of the blue stuff. It’s also nice to revisit old friends. Breaking Bad ended on a bloody and dark note, so it’s kind of nice to have this caveat on a story many of us followed obsessively. Aaron Paul is better than ever and writer-director Vince Gilligan insists on giving us an authentic Breaking Bad experience. While not exactly essential, it’s a nice addition to the canon and proves that every once in a while, you can go home again.

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In The Shadow of The Moon

A series of victims, each with the same puncture wounds on the back of their necks. They bleed from their noses, their ears, their eyes. They bleed and they die. The only thing that connects them is a mysterious woman in a blue hoodie, who seems to have visited each before they died. When Locke (Boyd Holbrook) and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) investigate, along with their Lieutenant Holt (Michael C. Hall), what they uncover makes little sense.

Turns out, thanks to a glitch in the moon, every 9 years this hoodie woman (Cleopatra Coleman) gets to visit from the future and assassinate a few select people who would eventually contribute to Earth’s destruction. It’s like going back in time to kill Hitler’s grandparents. It’s for the good of humanity, but try telling that to the beat cop on the case. Locke gets a sense of this but no one else believes him, which means that every 9 years he gets crazier, more obsessed, more fixated on a narrative that can’t possibly be true.

The plot’s a little bumbly so it’s better to focus on how isolating it would be to hold a tiny piece of history secret in your heart, to chase a serial killer who reincarnates every 9 years, even after you think you’ve killed her. There’s no scenario in which that makes you a better person. Which the voice-over narration tells you pretty bluntly. And the thing about voice-over narration is that it’s usually used to mask glaring holes in a story that the film isn’t up to showing in a less obtrusive, sermonizing way. It’s rarely a good thing. And as you might guess, as we gain understanding of these slayings, the movie’s tone shifts from detective whodunnit to preachy science fiction – not exactly my favourite.

Jim Mickle’s In The Shadow Of The Moon starts off with promise and then declines steadily from there, perhaps falling to its own ambition, which does not incline me toward forgiveness.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie

Zach Galifianakis is our tour guide as we enjoy a behind the scenes look at the set of his wildly successful talk show, Between Two Ferns. It’s completely fake of course. And wonderful.

Zach’s “show” is a series of web videos you can find literally anywhere on the internet but most of all on Funny or Die. It looks like a bit of amateur public access television that somehow manages to book very high profile celebrities and seat them betwixt the eponymous two potted ferns. He has interviewed the biggest names: Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, even Obama, but the thing that makes people seek out his videos is that he uses it as an excuse to insult celebrities to their face. He uses his own name but the interviewer character is extremely antagonistic and recklessly inappropriate. As Will Ferrell states, we’re laughing at him, not with him.

The movie’s premise, which is as thin as they come, is just Zach hitting the road in order to film 10 rapid-succession shows in order to achieve his ultimate goal of a network late night show. The plot, if you want to call it that, is flimsy because it’s just a vehicle for random acts of bizarre humour. You either like it or you don’t. It’s on Netflix so it’s low risk, but this is not going to win over any new fans and isn’t trying to. It’s just a 10 course dinner rather than its usual light snack. Can you take that much fern? Can anyone?

“People find you unpleasant,” this according to David Letterman, and he’s putting it lightly. This version of Zach Galifianakis is an asshole, but that’s the fun of his little show: it subverts the usual softball style of celebrity interviews. It looks Jon Hamm straight in the eye and asks whether Bradley Cooper’s success “will open doors for other hot idiots?” If you think it must be hard to get those insults out while remaining deadpan, stay tuned through the credits for proof.

TIFF19: The Two Popes

When Pope John Paul II died, a conclave of the world’s cardinals assembled in the Vatican in order to elect their new leader. A cardinal needs 77 votes to win; votes that fail to achieve that number are burned and black smoke signals to the throngs of believers outside that another round of voting will be necessary. After two such failures, the guy who wants it the most, Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) makes the rounds, glad-handing and kissing babies. Just kidding. The process IS crazy political and Ratzinger is the consummate candidate, but priests are still celibate last I checked and besides, babies would wreak havoc on those all those white robes. Ratzinger wins in the third round, becoming Pope Benedict XVI, sending up a puff of white smoke to cheers outside.

But Ratzinger’s papacy is mired by conflict from the start. You may have heard some of catholicism’s myriad scandals – the whole priests molesting altar boys and all that. Plus his own personal secretary is arrested, and his correspondence leaked. But most of all, he’s haunted by the runner-up for pope, an Argentinian named Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who seems to be effortlessly popular. Bergoglio didn’t even want the job and didn’t campaign for it, yet he still almost won, which drives the ambitious but unlikable Ratzinger crazy.

The bulk of the film is about a secret meeting between the two when Ratzinger begins to realize that though Bergoglio is much too progressive for his taste, he is perhaps what the church needs right now. They’re not enemies, because brothers in god can’t be, but they are opposites. They discuss theology, dogma, belief, but they’re also just a couple of grumpy old men, struggling to fit in in a world that seems to want them less and less. Ratzinger is a Fanta-Formula 1-Fitbit kind of pope, touches that humanize a man who seems otherwise apart from, and perhaps above, humanity. Bergoglio is a football and tango kind of cardinal. If two of the highest-ranking catholic priests can’t find common ground, what hope have we for the rest of us?

The film opens closed doors in Vatican City and offers brilliant behind the scenes insight. It makes you wonder about things you’ve never stopped to think about before. But it’s put together in a fun and very watchable way. If you never thought about the natural pairing of a somber religious occasion and Abba, then please allow director Fernando Meirelles to expand your horizons.

Hopkins and Pryce play off each other with such dynamism even their silly pope clothes fall away, leaving just two men, more fallible and more human than we’re usually allowed to consider them, telling each other their sins, secrets and regrets. The audience is their confessor, without being asked to judge, or forgive.

The Two Popes is thought-provoking but more importantly, and somewhat surprisingly, delightfully funny and entertaining.

TIFF19: Dolemite Is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore is a real-life man who made something of himself. He started from the bottom, begging people just to notice him, but eventually finds his niche, creating a character named Dolemite and telling jokes on stage and on comedy albums to very appreciative (mostly black) audiences. He’s a success by any measure, but after a lifetime of being told no, he sets his sights even higher, wanting to take his character to the big screen even though the studio system refuses to make room for him.

This is the role Eddie Murphy was born to play; he is truly at his very best here, more alive and in his skin than I’ve seen him in a long time. His joy is infectious. A long time passion project for Murphy, it’s clear all the cast has caught the bug as well. It truly feels as though everyone is proud to help bring this story to the screen, and to a new generation’s attention. The exceptional ensemble cast, including Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Mike Epps, and the lovely Da’Vine Joy Randolph, has a shared energy and passion making for a veritable party on the screen. It’s easy to join in and feel part of the fun.

Dolemite was a character just waiting to be born from years worth of cultural stories and jokes passed down generationally in the African-American community. Moore tapped into this consciousness, giving Dolemite back to his people, and director Craig Brewer ensures that he will not be forgotten. Watching Murphy as Moore find the groove of this Dolemite character is pure magic, a privilege to see. Moore achieved fame as a blaxploitation star in his own right and on is own terms, and he reached back, creating opportunities for others as well as himself, recognizing and picking up spare talent along the way. It’s a remarkable story and kind of an inspiration – in a weird way, a lot like Tommy Wiseau and The Disaster Artist.

But Dolemite is such a unique character and Murphy such a massive talent that this film is simply undeniable. Also rude, crude, and vulgar – not fit for a dog to see, as they say. The best kind of dirty. Dolemite is his name. Fucking up mother fuckers is his game. And for a time, it can be yours.

Falling Inn Love

Netflix sees a swarm of streaming around Christmastime of those sappy, romantic holiday movies. It’s not a Netflix phenomenon by any means – those movies are all imported from poor-quality television channels that have low budgets and even lower standards. Generally, it shows, and generally, it doesn’t matter. But people are starting to wonder why the bump in ratings has to wait for Christmas. The Hallmark Channel recently hosted a Christmas in July. Netflix, on the other hand, is turning out non-Christmas movies that follow the same basic principle.

They’re cheesy as hell, but if you’re choosing to watch, you know what you’re getting, and you must like it. This particular one, though I have not yet forgiven it for the terrible pun in the title, is about a hard-working city-slicker named Gabriela (Christina Milian) who is going through a turbulent time of transition; in just a few days she loses her job and her boyfriend. But her luck’s not all bad: a “win an inn” contest she entered has borne fruit! So this San Franciscan packs her bags and heads to New Zealand to claim her praise.

The catch? The inn, though pristine in press photos, is derelict. The movie might have turned into a money pit situation were it not for a hot young widower carpenter, Jake (Adam Demos), who likes helping out beautiful Americans almost as much as he likes whipping off his shirt with little to no provocation.

Demos is actually Australian, not a New Zealander, but surprisingly, much of the other cast is in fact Kiwi, and the production seems to have actually filmed there.

Of course, the couple in question MUST start off on the wrong foot. Gabriela intends only to fix and flip the inn, and she’s obsessed with making everything eco-friendly, putting her at odds with Jake, who feels a special attachment to each and every one of the inn’s original fixtures, even the rotted, crumbly ones. But she keeps endearing herself to the locals and he, the handyman-cum-firefighter-cum-beekeeper remains tantalizingly unavailable, what with the tragic dead wife and all.

And then there’s the fun stuff, like the inn being haunted by a goat, and a rival innkeeper getting her knickers in a jealous twist, and controlling ex-boyfriends showing up unannounced. It’s not just renovation porn, but it is that too.

So if you like your romance uncomplicated, Netflix has your back.

American Factory

As the trade war between the US and China escalates, American Factory arrives on Netflix and shows why this war is one that China is likely to win.  The US is at a severe disadvantage in this war that it started, because the American Dream now belongs more to China than to the endangered American middle class, and because idyllic post-war America was built in large part on cheap imports from China and now the pendulum is swinging the other way.

American Factory is the first Netflix film from the Obamas’ production studio, and its release is perfectly timed.  China and the US continue to threaten each other higher and higher tariffs, announcing another round of increases to take effect american-factory-1this fall. Of course, these threats are not really to the countries themselves; they are threats to consumers, who will inevitably bear all these increases in the form of higher priced goods.

While American Factory isn’t really about tariffs, the tariffs are still an important part of the story. That’s because the tariffs were instigated by the US in order to bring manufacturing back to the American heartland, which has been decimated by the loss of factory jobs as more and more of those jobs elsewhere to take advantage of cheaper labour and lower safety standards.

One of those shuttered factories is a former GM plant in Dayton, Ohio. Its closure in 2008 put thousands out of work, but in 2015 Fuyao Glass America, a Chinese-backed company, reopened the plant and brought hope back to Dayton. However, we quickly see that the reality is not quite as rosy as the fantasy, because the workers have taken a 30% pay cut, safety standards are not enforced, and management uses every dirty trick in the book to prevent the workers from unionizing.

Chinese workers are brought in to show the Americans how to operate the plant, and managers from the US are trained in China to help them better motivate the workers. American Factory captures the remarkable contrast between the workers’ attitudes in the two nations, and the attitudes of the nations as a whole. The Chinese are willing to work harder for less, sacrificing their bodies and family lives for the benefit of the company. The Americans, on the other hand, feel entitled to earn more money than their Chinese counterparts without making any of the same sacrifices.

Something has to give there.  In both the Fuyao factory and in the larger trade war, the Americans can’t possibly get everything they want but are oblivious to that reality.  Working-class Americans seem not to have realized that their consumer-centric society only exists because of other countries’ cheap labour, and that unskilled labourers will never again be “middle class”. If these American factory workers want to achieve their desired standard of living, they need to acquire marketable skills. Labour is no longer marketable on its own, and China and the rest of the world are eager to live the American Dream. China and the rest of the world also clearly want to realize that dream so much more than the Americans do, so in any head-to-head battle the Americans are going to lose out. The only question is whether the Americans will realize that before it’s too late.