Tag Archives: Streaming on Netflix

Body Brokers

Having done absolutely no research on this myself and relying solely on what this movie has told me: the Affordable Care Act classified addictions as a must-treat disease, creating the opportunity for an economic boom in the health care industry. There are thousands of beds to be filled; the trick is in finding the bodies.

The Premise: Utah (Jack Kilmer) goes to treatment after a decade of crack and heroin.

The Verdict: This isn’t a story about an addict in recovery. This is the story of corruption in the treatment industry. The movie feels, and it’s probably fair to say that writer-director John Swab feels, that treatment centers are a scam. An actual multi-billion dollar fraud that relies on repeat customers so isn’t exactly invested in full recoveries, uses its few success stories to recruit other addicts into empty beds to keep the cash flowing in, and profits from relapse. It’s a scathingly cynical view of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It reminds me of I Care A Lot – which dealt with corruption in nursing homes – in content if not delivery. Body Brokers lacks a certain gloss, a certain finesse, but if you’re in the mood to rage against the machine, this will get it done, and a grounded performance by Michael Kenneth Williams makes it go down that much easier.

R.I.P. Michael Kenneth Williams.

Worth

How much is a human life worth?

As a philosophical question, it’s emotionally fraught and almost unbearable to contemplate. Can you put a dollar amount on a life? You can, actually. Uncomfortably. And people have. They do it all the time. You may even know how much yours is worth in the event of your death. Will you have an insurance payout? How do insurers decide how much you’re worth? What if you have an accident? What would a court of law determine to be your worth? Lawyers wrangle over this number all the time, but I doubt anyone’s every been satisfied with their answers.

When al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out deadly suicide attacks 9/11, the loss was astronomical and the country mourned. But as weeks and months passed, that loss began to be quantified, and it fell to someone to develop a formula that would establish a financial settlement for each of the victims. Under the formula, the families of deceased CEOs would receive more than the families of deceased janitors. It wasn’t fair, but maybe fair wasn’t the point. Maybe it wasn’t possible.

Congress hand-picked Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) to lead the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Armed with a calculator, he and partner Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) had the unenviable task of calculating something incalculable while looking the victims’ families in the eye and hearing their devastating stories of heartbreak and loss.

One claimant in particular (Stanley Tucci) challenges Feinberg to confront the humanity of his job, maybe for the first time in his impressive career. Worth is a story about compassion. Given its content and context, it would be easy to turn maudlin and dramatic, but Keaton keeps the whole thing in check with a restrained, stoic performance – not unemotional, but an excellent counterpoint to Tucci, who eschews melodrama in favour of simple human connection. It’s a nice movie about a tragic event. Check it out on Netflix.

Sweet Girl

Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) is understandably upset when he and his daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) watch their beloved wife and mother die of a cancer that is treatable, if only they could afford it. An affordable generic brand is tragically pulled from the market, having been bought out by its larger and more expensive competitor, BioPrime. Ray harbours an inevitable and totally justified grudge, and vows to take it out on BioPrime CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha). It just so happens that Ray is a trained fighter with a passion for justice, so even though there’s a hitman literally hot on his trail, Ray’s going to see this thing through, to avenge his wife and protect his daughter.

So: grief and action. Blood and then more blood. The action’s decent, but it’s definitely a watered down version of better scenes in better movies. Not great movies, mind you; Sweet Girl is a pretty low bar, and no one involved in the movie seems motivated to reach any higher. I probably should have been more motivated to reach for the remote to give this movie the boot, but had I, this review would end here and you’d never know how Sweet Girl turns around.

It gets worse. It goes from generic, forgettable action movie with a superficial social justice heart to a bullshit “twist ending” that thinks it’s quite clever but will only earn eye rolls at best. Nothing feels authentic enough to care about or good enough to enjoy. The acting ensemble is not to blame; Momoa is the weakest link but the others, including Amy Brenneman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Lex Scott Davis, do a plausible job with implausible words and circumstances. It’s not enough to save a worthless cause. However, if you’d feel content just to watch Momoa throw some punches (and his hair over his shoulder), this movie delivers exactly that, with little else to distract you.

The Loud House Movie

Lincoln has 10 exceptional sisters. He’s great at helping his parents navigate the chaos of having such a large, high-achieving family, but at the end of the day, being a great helper doesn’t get him any trophies, and he’s having an existential crisis about not having his own special talent.

The Premise: In pursuit of Lincoln’s special talent, the Loud family travels abroad to Scotland, hoping to find evidence of some aptitude or skill buried in the family tree.

The Verdict: I’ve never seen the show before (the movie takes place between season 4 and 5) but I can assure you you needn’t be a fan to enjoy the film. An intro song conveniently catches us up on what we need to know. And then the songs continue, over the pond to their ancestral land, Loch Loud, where they stay in their clan’s sprawling castle as Lincoln attempts to dig up some innate knack or flair or interest. Lincoln makes friends with groundskeeper Angus (David Tennant) and learns that there’s royalty in his bloodline (and dragons in the basement). Will the Loud family relocate so Lincoln fulfill his destiny and become Duke? When you inevitably watch to find out the answers to these pressing questions, the movie looks and feels just like an extended episode of a hand-drawn Saturday morning cartoon. It’s unpretentious and the songs are simple, but the creators clearly know how to keep us entertained.

The Last Letter From Your Lover

The Premise: Journalist Ellie (Felicity Jones) stumbles upon a stack of vintage love letters and is inspired by their contents to unravel the mystery of their forbidden romance.

The Verdict: The film covers two distinct stories: that of Ellie in present day, whose passion for the archives may have as much to do with the sensitive and hunky administrator as the love letters, and of Jennifer (Shailene Woodley) in the past, falling in love with a man who is not her husband before an accident derails the relationship. The film is pretty, often sumptuous actually, particularly the period pieces (people haven’t truly dressed well since the 60s), but the story isn’t exactly original. Jones is sweet as ever, but her character’s flat; Woodley is respectable but not quite believable as a glamorous adulterer. The highly contrived events are predictable of course, as all romances tend to be. But if they’re your jam, The Last Letter From Your Letter offers two for the price of one.

Check out this semi-steamy period romance on Netflix.

Director: Augustine Frizzell

Starring: Felicity Jones, Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Callum Turner,
Nabhaan Rizwan

Based on the book by Jojo Moyes

The Vault

We wondered whether to actually watch this movie as it sounded extremely similar to a show we watched (also on Netflix) called Money Heist, which Sean chose solely for its ridiculous title.

The Premise: College ‘boy genius’ Thom (Freddie Highmore) is recruited into a gang of thieves needing his help to crack the world’s most uncrackable safe, located in the Bank of Spain.

The Verdict: The most interesting thing about this movie is that this vault is fact, not fiction. Called the Chamber of Gold for good reason, it contains most of Spain’s gold reserves and is located 38 meters underground. Should anyone breach its barriers, the 16-tonne steel door closes, sealing off the chamber, and then it floods. Instant death for would-be thieves. Madrid’s famous fountain, La Cibeles, would feed it in case of emergency. What a beautiful, beautiful death trap. The movie thieves (including Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Sam Riley, Liam Cunningham, Jose Coronado, and Luis Tosar) are bizarrely confident they can be the first, indeed the only, successful robbers, using the World Cup as cover. Will they penetrate the vault? Will they drown trying? The answers are all on Netflix, baby.

Pray Away

The Premise: By now you’ve heard about conversion “therapy” – church groups with the audacity to not only claim that Jesus has no love for gays and that homosexuality is a sin, and inherently wrong, but that it’s also a choice, something that can be overcome through traumatic and soul-crushing “therapy” by unqualified, untrained individuals. This documentary gives survivors the chance to tell their haunting stories, but we’ll also hear from “ex-gay” leadership on the other side of the table, granting us a fuller picture of a story that’s been hiding in the shadows.

The Verdict: Director Kristine Stolakis isn’t afraid to confront both sides of the issue, nor does she overtly try to convince us that the notion of “praying away the gay” is wrong or stupid or impossible. She trusts that her audience has already come to that very obvious conclusion themselves. Her goal here is to let us hear directly from not just survivors, but the administrators of this very harmful practice – some who have seen the error of their ways, some who haven’t, all of whom are either ex-gay or ex-ex-gay themselves. What their stories amount to, rather importantly, is a reminder that this is not just some shameful part of the church’s history, of our history, but a continued practice that still takes place today – albeit underground. The truth is, almost no one commits suicide because they’re gay. Having warm, tingly feelings about another person is a thrilling thing – it feels good. Who wouldn’t want that? Only people who are then told that feeling this way about the same sex is somehow intrinsically bad, and that Jesus would deny his love because of it. People commit suicide because they experience virulent homophobia. They feel rejected by their communities and that their very personhood is corrupt and illicit. The only solution the church offers is dangerous and destructive. Conversion therapy has never had success in eradicating homosexuality; it merely creates trauma and scars and a lifetime of bad memories. It sounds barbaric and archaic, because it is, and through this doc you’ll find that the church has never stopped performing it, they merely got better at hiding it.

Wrath of Man

Jason Statham.

Need I say more? I know for many of you, that’s enough. If so, proceed. This movie is pretty darn Jason Stathamy. If not, read on.

The Premise: H (Jason Statham) is the new guy at a cash truck company, but suspiciously, his skills don’t exactly match his resume. H, as you may have guessed, has an ulterior motive.

The Verdict: Since Guy Ritchie directs, so you know what you’re in for. Violence and revenge, basically. Lots of both. Nothing surprising from Ritchie’s corner, nor anything too outside of his wheelhouse for Statham – but then again, isn’t that why you’re watching? To see Statham, still in peak tough guy shape, do what he does best: coldly and methodically avenge fictional deaths by creating yet more havoc and death. He tears through action scenes like a man on a mission. A certain type of man, a type-cast kind of man, but Statham knows his niche and he fills it with such precision and panache that we aren’t tired of watching yet. Wrath of Man is too long; the conclusion takes forever to actually conclude. The pay-off is small, and predictable; you won’t have to look too hard to find flaws in this film. But if you’re looking for some action and you don’t mind taking some stylistic detours to get there, Statham and Ritchie are a pretty effective pairing.

A Week Away

Greetings from my toilet! I don’t normally write movie reviews from my bathroom but I’ve recently developed a severe intolerance to dairy and it seems imprudent to risk sitting anywhere else.

Yes, this movie is THAT cheesy.

Will (Kevin Quinn) is a teenage orphan and a bad apple. Stealing a cop car is the last straw that gets him kicked out of the group home so as a last resort he gets sent to summer camp. Which is actually church camp. And at church camp, in apparently just the space of a single week, a certain young lady helps him develop a crush on Jesus and saves him from himself. Avery (Bailee Madison) is the pastor’s daughter and has a dead mom herself, so they really bond over seeing their dead loved ones again in heaven one day. Hypothetically, of course, which is what atheists call faith.

Faith is great but prayers are not going to get you through this movie, and that’s because this isn’t just a teenage romance that puts marriage on the table but not kissing, it’s also a musical! An eerily perky, God-centric musical with the absolute cheesiest, boppiest choreography I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Generally I like a good musical, and I don’t mind a sappy teenage romance, but this movie made me hate them both, made me hate movies generally, made me hate even cheese, and cheese is practically my religion.

This movie is unabashedly Christian, though I do think paintball and confetti cannons are rather obvious ways to trick kids into thinking Jesus is cool, and I think tricking anyone into religion is technically a cult. But a cult with an arts and crafts cabin and tater tots on Tuesdays. Care to join? It’s currently recruiting on Netflix.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

The college admission scandal was a hot and juicy news item for a minute. Rick Singer was getting rich kids into college through a “side door” called money. Money paid to Singer inflated test scores while bribes to college coaches went to fabricating phony athletic profiles for the prospective student, allowing the coach to “recruit” them. Kids who stood no chance of getting admitted into a good college were now strolling right through a side door thanks to mommy and daddy’s wallet. This got a lot of play in the media because it meant rich white people were scamming a system already designed to highly favour them. There was not a lot of sympathy in the story (except maybe for the clueless kids whose own parents knew them to be too dumb to earn anything meritoriously). Plus the whiff of disgraced celebrities (Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman) was hard to resist.

This documentary enlists a host of actors including Matthew Modine and Josh Stamberg to reenact an FBI investigation that went after not just kingpin Rick Singer, but the bribed officials and the shady parents as well.

What it does particularly well, and makes it worth the watch, is keeping its target on the “victim” of these crimes, the colleges themselves. The true victims are of course the many applicants who were refused because their rightful places were taken by undeserving kids, but in the court’s eyes, it was the colleges who were defrauded. But as the documentary cleverly points out, the colleges have not only benefited (and not been required to pay back the bribes) from the situation, they’re the ones who created it. The side door was used primary by rich families who weren’t quite rich enough to use the back door that American colleges and universities leave purposefully propped open. Donations of about $10 million tend to net candidates preferential admissions consideration. And that’s to say nothing of the problematic front door, where the most elite schools are only accessible only to those rich enough to pay the exorbitant fees, privileged enough to attend schools that adequately prepare them, and white enough to ace culturally-biased entrance exams. The law may have let these schools off the hook, but Operation Varsity Blues does not.