Tag: Netflix (page 3 of 24)

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Taken

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/taken.mp3]

I’m afraid we must again lament the fact that the movie of the week is not available on Netflix Instant. However, the lamentations are for different reasons. Last week I covered a classic action comedy steeped in supernatural tea which would make for a quick laugh and a good time when necessary. Taken, on the other hand, is what you should reach for when your brain needs a direct injection of adrenaline.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Liam Neeson is cast as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA prevention specialist trying to patch up his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter. Being 17 and a little spoiled, she absconds with a friend to Europe to follow U2 on tour. Bryan warns her that precautions should be taken but Kim isn’t really interested in such things as much as she is hot rock stars and playing her parents against each other. All that changes, however, when mysterious men break into the Parisian home of her friends’ cousins with intent to kidnap the girls. Fortunately, Kim’s on the phone with her dad. Preparing her for the worst, the phone is picked up by one of the kidnappers. Bryan says the following:

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you… and I will kill you.

You can guess what happens next.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Yeah, kidnapping the girl doesn’t make Daddy happy.

Casting Liam Neeson in this role was a stroke of genius. Imagine if most other Hollywood actors had taken on this two-fisted unfettered covert operative on a roaring rampage of rescue. From Mel Gibson to Matt Damon, it would have been very difficult for most of them to pull of the consistent, cultured restraint that informs every word Bryan says and every move he makes. It’s this behavior, this very focused and very direct method of executing action, that has caused comparisons to arise between this character and 24’s Jack Bauer. And we simply wouldn’t have that without Liam Neeson. He’s fantastic in this role.

He’s also what holds the whole affair together. Without his electrifying performance, there wouldn’t be much to Taken. I mean, I had to liven up the plot description with some of Liam’s lines. The story’s as straightforward as they come and you’re likely to see most of the turns coming well in advance. But let’s face it, you’re not here for nuanced and deep storytelling, you’re here to watch Liam Neeson make the Paris underworld cry for its mommy.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
And if Daddy ain’t happy…

That isn’t to say that Taken is dumb, by any means. It’s a dead simple premise, sure, and most of the characters are obstacles of one type or another for Liam to overcome with a good punch to the throat. But the way in which the action is executed, the composition of its shots and the lack of shaky-cam acrobatics keep the film grounded, all the better to conduct the aforementioned electricity. The abduction doesn’t happen for a good 20 minutes into the film, and all that time is character building for Bryan in a very smart way. It’s like seeing a lion at the zoo when it’s close to feeding time, the great beast pacing back and forth with barely contained ferocity while still looking majestic. Taken is what happens when that cage is opened after the lion’s been poked and prodded a little by fat, annoying tourists.

There are some who might say that it’s mere wish fulfillment for fathers who have become estranged from their children and long for the means to prove themselves in a crucible other than long court proceedings and awkward visitation incidents. There’s also the fact that Liam Neeson, a white Western European man, is going after Albanians and, at one point, an Arab or two. There are probably some unfortunate implications that can be read into that. However, this is played less for a feeling of jingoistic vengeance than it is for… well, people in Bryan’s way who are too dumb to move when he kicks down the door. Color, creed, sex and money mean nothing to this man; come near his family and he will ruin your life, which may not be very long past meeting the man. Meet the man yourself by watching Taken. This character played by this man single-handedly pulls the movie out of the sea of similar action-thrillers and lets it stand on its own as an interesting character piece as well as a very satisfying thrill ride that I highly doubt would leave you disappointed.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Big Trouble in Little China

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[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/bigtrouble.mp3]

It may appear at first glance that Big Trouble in Little China is one of those clever, funny deconstructions that film students are always raving about. There are even some moments where someone over-analytical may mistake it for a parody. But John Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek but straightforward action-adventure is not interested in tearing down the conventions of the genre nor in necessarily poking fun at it. It’s point seems to be simply having a great time telling a unique story with some inventive action. The hero just happens to be the guy who isn’t the big-name Hollywood tough guy. The hero isn’t even white. And that? Is fantastic.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

We’re first introduced to Jack Burton, a wise-cracking long-haul trucker with all of the swagger and bravado of any 80s action hero you’d care to mention. He’s friends with Wang Chi, the young owner of a restaurant in Chinatown. The pair head out to pick up Wang’s fiance from the airport, only to witness her being abducted by members of a Chinese street gang. Following her into Chinatown they stumble into not only a brawl between the kidnappers and their rival gangs, but three supernatural warriors called the Storms and their ghostly lord, Lo Pan. Lo Pan wants the girl for himself, and it falls to Jack and Wang to rescue her.

This might seem like a run-of-the-mill setup for an 80s action romp, but Big Trouble in Little China isn’t all that interested in re-treading old ground. Carpenter and Kurt Russell, the man playing Jack Burton, are clearly looking to do something different. Rather than making sure the tough-talking strong and manly white man conquers the bad guys and scores the girls, the two have set out to give us the story of a man who thinks he’s the action hero, when really he’s the comic relief character. This must have been a fun subversion for Russell, as his roles in Escape from New York and The Thing thrust him firmly into the action genre. It’s the mark of a smart man who looks to avoid being pigeonholed as soon as possible.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
If nothing else, Jack’s got a great war face.

I mentioned before that Big Trouble isn’t a parody. It isn’t looking to lambast the action genre the way Hot Shots! would. Instead, it cleverly presents Jack as both sidekick and audience surrogate for the narrative. Since this is a movie shot & released in North America that deals at least tangentially with Chinese mythology, there’s going to be a marked cultural difference in terms of aesthetic, foundation and execution. By putting us in Jack’s boots while the powers of the Three Storms are revealed and the depths of Lo Pan’s fortress are explored, we see this unfamiliar world through his eyes and he voices many of the same reactions we might. And for the most part, they’re hilarious. For example, a monster menaces the party as they make their way to rescue the girls who’ve been kidnapped. The sorcerer Egg Shen, accompanying our heroes, simply says “It will come out no more.” Jack’s response? “WHAT? WHAT WILL COME OUT NO MORE?” Not exactly the hysterics you’d expect from a big, tough action hero, right?

As much fun as the movie has with the conventions of other action flicks, it also takes us on a rather uncontrived adventure that has more than a few surprises in it. It introduces us to aspects of a culture to which we might have been ignorant in a way that’s appealing and not terribly difficult for an unenlightened American movie audience to understand. I can’t say all of the portrayals of Chinese myth are entirely accurate, of course, and how exactly does one become an ‘evil bodhisattva’? Being a product of the 80s, some of the effects may seem a bit dated to a few viewers, but there’s plenty of action and fun to make up for that. Even the studio couldn’t stop the movie from having a good time. They had Carpenter throw in a superfluous prologue scene for fear of the audience not understanding the fact that Jack’s a supporting protagonist, but from the reaction of the guy in the suit interviewing Egg Shen, not only does our writer & director show he has confidence in his audience, he understands the sort of folks who just don’t get it.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Fashion and hair design by Ming the Merciless’ majordomo.

Originally planned as a Western, with Jack as a drifter whose horse is stolen, setting the film in Chinatown with Jack just wanting his truck back while Wang & Egg Shen take up a divine struggle against a deathless sorcerer allows Big Trouble in Little China to tease and tip over so many aspects of action movies it becomes scarily close to a deconstruction. Deconstructions, however, tend to take stabs at their origin material with varying degrees of bitterness. John Carpenter, however, clearly has affection for action movies and isn’t interested in tearing down the walls of the genre, just coming at them from a different angle. In doing so he created one of his best works. It’s narrative, while at times oblique or even silly, is tightly written, and the characters behave in human ways, especially Jack. It’s a fun time at the movies, a unique adventure and a great example of the so-called main character needing to take a back seat when he enters a world he (and we) are not familiar with. The only thing I can really say against Big Trouble in Little China is that it isn’t available on Netflix Instant – you have to wait for the disc in the mail. But trust me when I say, the wait will be well worth it.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Killers

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/killers.mp3]

We mix things up all the time. Mix some leftover pasta, meat, sauce and veggies together and you get goulash. Throw some tequila and frozen fruit in a blender, and you get margaritas! It’s similar with fiction. Genres mix all the time. Action is mixed with comedy and comedy with romance. You might even throw some sci-fi, fantasy or steampunk in there if you’re feeling bold, or you’ve had too much to drink in your latest binge in the wake of rejection letters.

It is possible, however, to mix things in wrong proportions. You can overpower a drink with too much booze, undersaturate your casserole with sauce or have too much going on in your story… or not enough. While Killers isn’t suffering from a lack of genre and ideas, it is suffering from a lack of originality. And humanity. And humor.

Courtesy Lionsgate

We’re introduced to Jen sandwiched between her parents on a flight to France after she’s been dumped. As soon as they arrive, she meets Spencer. A few awkward silences and vague flirtations later, Jen and Spencer have a series of dates that lead to a happy marriage. Spencer moves back to the states and they start building a life together. But it turns out Spencer is a spy, or was and didn’t fill out his exit paperwork properly. Since espionage employers are thoroughly unforgiving people, people start trying to kill Spencer and Jen, which not only threatens their lives but the future of their marriage. Oh, and this is all supposed to be really, really funny.

It must be said that Killers looks good, at least. It’s hard not to with attractive leads. And the French scenery is gorgeous, too. It lifts a love of sumptuous European locales directly from any number of romantic comedies whose audience might have been duped into seeing this thing. The direction and cinematography are clean and straightforward, relying on jump cuts and by-the-numbers angles rather than slight-of-hand camera work and lens flares. While this works well for the film and captures the primary appeal of our actors, it’s a very shallow form of attractiveness.

Courtesy Lionsgate
Here, check out ~70% of this film’s appeal.

In fact, ‘shallow’ is a good word for Killers. It has about the same amount of substance in its narrative as a handful of potato chips has nutritional value. The writing, like the camera work, is strictly formulaic. The dialog is only slightly stilted, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s assembled with toothpicks and held together with rubber cement. It’s not what I could call ‘solid’. At least in Spenser’s case, it makes sense for him to be as stiff as he is. And Jen’s dad is the most stoic of stoic dads. But everybody talks in this stilted, formula manner. It’s really irritating, to me at least, and takes a lot of wind out of the sails of the would-be jokes.

The other main problem with Killers is that of its several blended genres, none of them are strong enough to work on its own. Now, this might be a necessary evil with a mish-mash like this, but it’s difficult to be a romantic action comedy when the two leads are relatively flat cyphers, the action doesn’t pop as it does in its contemporaries and the comedy isn’t overly funny, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. At the very least, you want some chemistry between your leads, some truly punchy or funny lines or actually inventive action. When all of that is missing, you have a movie that’s all appearance and no substance.

Courtesy Lionsgate
Mr. Selleck’s moustache is unimpressed.

Finally, this has been done before. That isn’t to say filmmakers can’t take old ideas in new directions. But if you’re going to do something new with a franchise or a concept, do something good with it.* The problem Killers faced even before it started in with the shallow dialog, formula plot and complete lack of spark is that we’ve seen this sort of thing done before, and better, in True Lies. And say what you want about Mr. and Mrs. Smith, at least Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had something approaching banter and chemistry. Ashton and Katherine seem more concerned about hitting their marks and twisting their faces into another iteration of dull surprise than they are about conveying emotion, let alone an original thought.

Killers feels like it was assembled by a committee of robots fed the criteria of what most American movie-goers are looking for: attractive stars, exotic locales, cheap laughs, gun fights and whatever passes for humor among their circle of friends. It functions, to be sure, but it’s so derivative and dull as to be entirely skippable. Get True Lies or Mr. & Mrs. Smith from Netflix instead. The goal for a film like Killers is to at least partially be romantic, comedic or action-packed. Instead, we get a flaccid, hollow and thoroughly uninteresting flick that’s devoid of passion, lacking in laughter and staggeringly boring.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

* Don’t, for example, let squishy shallow humans take center stage when your flick’s supposed to be about giant badass transforming robots.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Green Hornet

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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Even if you’ve never seen a single one of his films, I’m willing to bet you know who Bruce Lee is. A martial arts master and action movie superstar, he was tragically killed on set in what is technically labelled an accident. His style and presence have informed everything from the main character of Cowboy Bebop to the likes of action-movie successors Kill Bill and The Matrix. Bruce Lee was first introduced to the world in The Green Hornet, a TV series of one season that was inspired by a radio serial of the same name. A modern movie has finally been made of it, and if nothing else, I think Bruce would be proud of his successor.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

The movie opens with Britt Reid, son of the owner of a crusading Los Angeles newspaper, generally being an irresponsible and obnoxious brat, even when he’s a grown man. The senior Reid is killed and Britt is left his media empire. Britt discovers his father employed a wickedly talented mechanic named Kato, and together the two of them act out a bit against the deceased’s somewhat caustic behavior. In the course of doing so they foil a mugging. Feeling a sense of accomplishment for the first time, the duo decide to continue this pursuit of vigilante justice, but in the guise of villains claiming their own turf. Britt uses the newspaper to sensationalize the events, and it’s the press that call him the Green Hornet.

The film was co-written by one of its stars, Seth Rogen, giving Britt the sort of bumbling, in-your-face humor that’s mostly defined his career. He’s written to be an arrogant, selfish and glory-seeking egomaniac on a power trip. He geeks out at the drop of a hat, isn’t very good at concealing his secret identity and only scores with the ladies because he’s got a pile of cash. And this is how he acts for most of the movie. It’s only after innocent people are killed just for wearing green that he starts to take some responsibility. In other words, he spends the last 20 minutes or so on the character development that Iron Man spent the entire film building, and the slap-dash nature of it shows. It’s hard to care about our hero when we don’t really like the guy very much.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
One of the few shots where Britt doesn’t look or act like a bell-end.

On top of that, we have a rich Caucasian man taking all the glory and credit for the goings-on while his minority partner does all of the work. In the original radio serial, Kato was merely the Green Hornet’s driver. It was Bruce Lee that expanded the role to ass-kicking partner. Taiwanese singer Jay Chou plays Kato as something of a drifter looking for his place who finally finds it in fighting crime, but the fact remains that he is building the cars, gadgets and legend of the Green Hornet as well as doing most of the heavy lifting in fights, while his rich white douchebag of a boss is getting all the attention. This does come up in the movie, and it’s certainly a more legitimate basis for the two to bicker and fight than the affections of Cameron Diaz.

Don’t get me wrong, Diaz does a fine job and her character actually helps the guys more than she knows, but the subplot of Britt and Kato vying for her affection goes absolutely nowhere and serves no purpose other than to drive an artificial wedge between the two of them and extend the running time. This is time that could have been spent making Britt more sympathetic, like trying to learn some of Kato’s moves on his own or in showing more appreciation for Kato instead of marginalizing the poor guy in any variety of social situations. I think Seth saw Iron Man and how Tony Stark acted, especially around Pepper Potts, and tried to splice that directly into this flick. However, Tony Stark has a gradual and well-paced character arc, a real charismatic presence, some truly funny moments as he develops himself and treats Pepper with respect and courtesy. Britt Reid, on the other hand, treats nobody with respect, tosses money around in place of showing any sort of humility and is really more the butt of a joke than he is a superhero.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
This kind of sums it up. Britt looks confused, and Kato looks badass.

Admittedly, the movie is on the funnier side of things and isn’t taking itself too seriously. There’s also the fact that Christoph Waltz is clearly enjoying his turn as the affable crime boss Chudnofsky, and Tom Wilkinson and Edward James Olmos provide some much-needed maturity to counter-balance Seth Rogen’s unashamedly juvenile behavior. The fact that Britt is the least competent person around is kind of the point of The Green Hornet, and this keen self-awareness is one of the things the movie has going for it. We are shown the potential of Britt and we want to see it used well even if we have to kick the jerk’s ass ourselves, and it’s gratifying when it finally does happen. It just happens too late to have any real significance. Instead we see Britt being a dick to just about everybody, and him and Kato behaving like partners in far more than the crime-fighting sense.

In the end, The Green Hornet is relatively harmless. It’s light-heartedness means it doesn’t touch the depths of X-Men the Last Stand and it plays a lot more like a groovier and lighter play on Sam Raimi’s Darkman. A lot of Britt’s personality and motivations are lifted from other superhero movies, and Chudnofsky feels more like a gang boss from the gritty but hysterical London of Snatch or quite a few of Tarantino’s movies, which don’t quite mesh together perfectly, especially when you add the notion of one of the nation’s last truly independent newspapers, or the mere presence of the hyper-competent and infinitely-cooler-than-his-boss Kato. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but because it’s having so much fun just hanging out with you and showing off, it’s hard for me to give a blanket ‘Skip It’ recommendation for The Green Hornet. If you can grok that Britt is supposed to be an asshole and get past the unfortunate implications of his treatment of Kato, and everybody else to a lesser degree, you might just catch yourself having a good time. It might also make you really thirsty for a well-made cappuccino, but that could just be my lack of breakfast talking.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Krull

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[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/krull.mp3]

This, it was given me to know: that purveyors of the Internet value the reviews and criticism of others especially in mixed media. This, it was also given me to know: there are things we remember from our childhood that will no longer hold their charm as we grow old. But this I cannot know: whether or not such criticisms will lead to anything beyond a few additional visitors, especially when I ape the tone and timbre of the opening narration of the film in question. In this case, the film is 1983’s Krull.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Krull is a world in a distant corner of the galaxy, and it is under attack by the powerful and malevolent Beast. He rules from a teleporting palace of dark magic called the Black Fortress and employs an evil army of creatures known as Slayers. Krull is not without its defenders, two mighty kingdoms traditionally at war. The kings will form an alliance, however, at the behest of their children: Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa. The night of their wedding is when the Slayers attack.

So we have a story that isn’t terribly complicated. But simple does not mean bad. Sometimes the simple stories are the best. Let me give you some examples: a dude that fights monsters has to prove he’s not a dick before he can have his magic monster-fighting hammer back. Five criminals are picked to pull off a heist for a mysterious guy they all fear. A little guy has to destroy a rather evil piece of jewelry. And here we have an actually kinda charming prince storming an evil space-traveling castle to rescue his princess.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
All this and brains, too. Not to mention chutzpah.

Let’s face it, the story isn’t any more complicated than your typical Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Considering this was originally intended to be the Dungeons & Dragons movie, that should come as no surprise. Objections of the late great Gary Gygax aside, there’s a lot going on here that is very much D&D. The first title for this film was the Dragons of Krull, but some licensing issue lost to time caused the title to change. It also somehow caused the dragons to disappear. But we still have a good core party of warrior, thief, wizard & cleric. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Despite its trappings of tabletop gaming and some of its other trope-happy aspects, Krull has a good cast of interesting and well-developed characters. Colwyn is headstrong and brave but also willing to admit his faults and strive to overcome it. Princess Lyssa is also brave, as well as smart. The comic relief isn’t entirely annoying or useless, the dour cyclops is a great presence even if he speaks little and the small seer boy is more endearing than anything else. And let’s not forget the presence of a young Liam Neeson & Robbie Coltraine! The movie gets bonus points on this talent alone.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures

And the talent isn’t wasted. The story’s as simple as they come but the dialog and characterization are rather well-rounded. There isn’t much scenery-chewing going on, at least not by the actors. James Horner’s score, on the other hand, has bombast and dramatics coming out its ears. This film came out a year after Star Trek II, another movie that he scored, and they sound very similar, despite one being a nuanced space opera and the other the highest of high adventures. Oh, it’s grand and appropriate for the setting, to be sure, it’s just that it tends to overwhelm the action on-screen now and again rather than complimenting it. But honestly, if the biggest criticism one can bring to bear is that the score could be dialed down a couple notches, that’s another point in the movie’s favor.

There are a couple places where the special effects and other bits are starting to show their age in Krull, the villain is more effective when he’s heard and not seen, the story as mentioned is pretty simple and some of the acting is admittedly nothing award-winning. But the whole affair is so earnest and charming that it overcomes these failings and takes on a timelessness that normally is held by such adventure sagas as the Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia. It’s earnestness means that it doesn’t quite fall into the realm of camp that Flash Gordon does, even though they might seem similar at first glance to some viewers. Krull‘s charm comes from the honesty of its characters and the straightforwardness of its story, rather than the degree to which it sticks its tongue in its cheek. Now, this all may come as high or perhaps even undeserved praise, but I for one would rather see unique ideas like this, with intriguing and surreal set designs and characters that actually behave like real or at least likable people, get produced rather than another franchise knock-off or a Tyler Perry movie.

Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Colwyn, seen here with the deadliest starfish ever.

For every moment the seams in the story’s age start to show, there’s at least one where the characters shine through in their writing and portrayal. For every knock you might make about the premise being cliched or character motivation being too simplistic, a merit in the ideas in play or a stylistic touch of coolness can be pointed out. All in all, the pros in this film far outweigh its cons. If it’s adventure you seek, unapologetic for being unique if that uniqueness means the occasional silly moment but looking to tell you a tale you’ll remember, Krull belongs on your Netflix queue.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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