Netflix Notes – ‘Night of the Living Ed’ Edition

True confessions time.

I’ve never seen The Godfather. Not I. Not II. I did see a little of Part III and what I saw, I REALLY liked. (Hey, where’d that horse head come from?)

Seriously though, Ed Humphries, the dude who toiled away for a number of years as the UMASS Daily Collegian’s Siskel (we already had an Ebert) has never seen The Godfather. Same goes for The Natural. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Citizen Kain. Chinatown and Casablanca.

I did see They Live five times in the theater, however.

That Godfather revelation came up in casual conversation with Mookie a few weeks back when I told him that I had recently restarted my Netflix account after a several year hiatus. Coincidentally, The Boston Globe ran a story Sunday where their resident film critic, Wesley Morris, admitted to the exact same transgression. Weird world!!!

Anyway, Mook wanted me to provide a rundown of my current queue. These are the times we live in. Your Netflix queue, Who’s in your Five and whether you watch The Hills are nature’s little barometers of whether a person should spend time with you or not. My list skewed very contemporary, much to Mook’s chagrin. I guess if he were in charge, it should be heavy on The Deer Hunter and slim on the Sid & Marty Kroft. .

The truth is what it is. As big a movie fan as I am, I’ve missed a number of titles in the past few years due in no small part to diminished trips to the theater post-child birth. That’s natural. I used to hit the movies almost once a week and once you have children, time flies. As for the older flicks, I think that happens to a lot of us (even students of the cinema). You tend to become expert on the movies you grow up with and occasionally catch one that informed the current crop. That’s why I’m such a Dawson – an unabashed Spielberg lover. I grew up in the late 70’s into the 80’s and hit my movie-going prime at the exact time Spielberg was building a better blockbuster. I developed a taste for his delicious confections.

As for the Netflix subscription – or any form of movie rental – I was really waiting to get the right equipment upon which to build some semblance of a proper theater going experience. When I added the Hi-Def TV last year, the big component was in place – augmenting the surround sound get-up I purchased a few years back. To this day, I am still missing the Blu-Ray that would really push this over the edge but for the time being, a progressive scan DVD player fits the bill just fine. With the economy heralding the End of Days (and our home in the hock due to those nagging vet bills that recently cropped up), I just have to remember Farmer Hoggett’s sage advice. “That’ll do pig. That’ll do.”

So, I hit Netflix and quickly assembled a queue that at current inspection stands 93 strong. With baseball playoffs looming (as well as my own play nearing opening night), it should take me a little while to whittle that total down. That said, since rebooting, I have viewed 2 – 3 titles a week. That gave me another idea for a recurring feature on this site. I call it Netflix Notes – basically quick capsule rundowns of the latest films I’ve had delivered. I’m not going to tackle these as traditional reviews. Sure, I’ll employ my ‘Ebert Heads’ as a quality gauge (this is what happens Roger when you localize your trademark to a ‘thumb’). Aside from that, I’m really going to use the space to let you in on some of my thoughts as I watched the flick.

As I’ve got 11 movies under my belt this month, I’m going to break this post into two sections – covered in chronological order of when I received them (from oldest to newest). As always, if you’ve seen these flicks, let us know what you thought in the Comments below.

Ratings Note – The Ed Zone reviews movies on a scale of [movie 1.0] to [movie 5.0]  Half Ebert Heads are indicated by coloring half of Roger’s head. Essentially, the colored area is indicative of the grade. I can die when I see “The Ed Zone calls (MOVIE TITLE) a Five EBERT HEAD serving of chicken soup for your sassy soul!!!” on a movie poster.

1.   The Mist

[movie 2.5]
When I heard Frank Darabont was hard at work on an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Mist, I immediately set aside 4 to 5 of my Ebert heads. Darabont has been the go-to-guy in Hollywood to remedy troubled scripts and did a masterful job himself in faithfully adapting The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile into thoughtful, evocative films. Having emptied the pantry of King’s prison dramas, Darabont decided to tackle one of King’s horror yarns.

Blame Harvey Weinstein for this one. Weinstein approved Darabont’s script and vision (including a gutt-punch of a non-Hollywood ending) but at a significant cost – dangling a mere $30 million upon which to assemble his apocalypse. The pithy budget (for an event pic) cheapens the flick, giving it a Sci-Fi Channel Movie of the Week feel. If you’re going to work in that arena, why not make Mansquito and leave ambition at the door.

Darabont tries his hardest and actually ends up overworking his script to overcompensate for the decreased spectacle. I give the film a middling recommendation although the first and last images almost elevate the entire enterprise. I won’t give away the ending but I will point out that Dark Tower fans are in for a treat in that very first scene. Speaking of which, when is JJ Abrams going to get around to erecting the Tower?

2.   Shaun of the Dead

[movie 4.5]
The British export Shaun of the Dead was billed as a zom-com – a play on ‘romantic comedy’ with the zombie genre integrated. It’s really more of a zom-rom-com as Shaun wears its bloody, beating heart on its sleeve.

At once a dissection of zombie flicks, buddie movies and romantic comedies – director Edgar Wright’s satire works exactly as a proper send-up should. Simply put, Wright and co-writer/star Simon Pegg love the hell out of the genre and therefore treat it seriously. It makes you want to grab those skinjobs that keep churning out Date Movie after Epic Movie after Disaster Movie, sit them down and give them a little film school education. If you want to satirize something, you have to respect it too. Just dropping random pop-culture references does nothing but severely date your flick. (C’mon, Hannah Montana and Hancock shots? That’s not going to play in five years. That’s like releasing a flick now and having Yahoo Serious stroll by?)

Anyway, I sought out Shaun based on the strength of Hot Fuzz (which was the follow-up flick to this one featuring the same creative team). I think Hot Fuzz is the better flick (I’d even give it 5 Ebert Heads) but both films showcase some really talented individuals. Shaun of the Dead is as gross as any zombie movie I’ve seen (I usually avoid them as I don’t really have the stomach for entrails) and therefore it qualifies as a genuine zombie movie – so much so that George Romero ended up casting Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as zombies in his Land of the Dead pic from a few years back. That’s high praise indeed from the godfather of these ghouls.

Do yourself a favor and rent both this and Hot Fuzz. Hot Fuzz will probably play better to all of you (all you need to know is it’s like a Michael Bay action flick in a sleepy English village) – but they are both endlessly entertaining. If anything, this flick has the most ingenius use of Queen since Wayne’s World.

3.   No Country for Old Men

[movie 5.0]
I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan and try to see everything they release. To date, the only flicks I’ve missed are The Man Who Wasn’t There and the recently released, Burn After Reading. Before seeing this film, I heard a lot of comparisons to Fargo. After watching it, I’m not sure I see the through line outside of one strange coincidence that I’ll get to in a moment. No – this is as bleak and as dark as Blood Simple, their debut piece. Fargo was always a pitch-black comedy. Even it’s opening title card, “Based on a True Story”, was a goof.

No Country for Old Men is downright apocalyptic. Usually, the Coens mine comedy from idiocy. Fargo was wall-to-wall with dumb people doing stupid things. No Country flips things – presenting Josh Brolin’s Llewellyn, a simple rancher, as a lot smarter that we, the audience, initially grant him. The Coens tease our expectations by pairing Llewellyn with a child-like wife so when Llewellyn hits the bricks with a satchel of purloined drug money, we sit and wait for his mistakes to catch him. But, the trick is on us as Llewellyn plays things fairly intelligently.

Then there’s Javier Bardem’s monster Anton Chigurh. Bardem is good and deserved that Best Supporting Actor award but I’m not so sure he’s the greatest villain I’ve ever seen dragged from the dark. He does come across as a malevolent force of nature. If anything, Bardem’s success with the Academy does bode well for Heath Ledger early next year.

To my surprise, Tommy Lee Jones completely won me over. I thought this was going to be yet another of his grumpy old men renditions (he is the Old Men of the title after all) but his performance conveys immeasurable waves of melancholy. Jones’ character haunts this picture and his performance, particularly the last scene, is the one that really stuck with me long after viewing this.

Now, here’s the coincidence- no doubt planned. The Coens followed up the success of their critical darling, Fargo, with the absurdist fantasy, The Big Lebowski. That move confounded critics. Every time they think the boys have followed their suggestions and “grown up”, they go off and chase a lark. Flash forward 10 years and the Coens follow No Country for Old Men with the absurdist fantasy, Burn After Reading. And what has been the critics’ general response? Hands tossed in the air. Personally, I enjoy the fact that the Coens switch gears from film to film. They keep me off-center and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here.

Finally, I’ll leave with this. Rumors are swirling in Hollywood that the Coens are interested (and may be offered) the chance to write and direct the next Superman flick. That could be one for the ages and would insure these guys are working until they die.

4.   Zodiac

[movie 4.5]
This is the JFK of serial killer flicks.

I’ve been a huge fan of David Fincher (best know for the masterful Seven, he also helmed the greatly underrated Alien 3). Fincher has been knocked by his worst critics as an extraordinary stylist with nothing substantive under the hood. It’s the same tired cliché that dogs Ridley Scott. Just because these guys know who to shoot a movie and give it an ethereal, dream-like quality with visuals that just sear onto your brain doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on under the surface. Zodiac ought to shut them all up. Fincher’s style is in full force but it’s subtle. He deftly recreates a swatch of time that does what all movies should aspire to – melt our real world surroundings and transport us away to a very specific time and place.

That time is California – beginning in the late 60’s and time warping to the early 80’s – as the region was under the wicked spell of the Zodiac Killer. Fincher bases his story off the books written by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith – who did his best to build a case (largely forged from circumstantial evidence) and identify the true Zodiac Killer. Going into this film, I think a lot of people expected Seven Redux and I think that is exactly what attracted Fincher to the project – this was a chance for him to revisit familiar ground and cast it in a more realistic light. Fincher himself grew up in that area at the same time and recalls the Zodiac’s threats to shoot out the tires of a school bus and snipe the children as they exit the bus. If you recall the DC sniper shootings of a few years back, I imagine this is the same climate of fear that the region experienced.

I was sucked into this movie – absolutely enthralled as Fincher methodically lays out all of the events and circumstantial evidence that point towards one very real suspect. He staffed his vast menagerie of supporting players with a host of character actors (including Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Mark Ruffalo and Brian Cox) and everyone really melds with their character.

This is an excellent film!!!

5.    Beowulf

[movie 3.0]
I love animated films. In fact, Wall-E currently sits neck-and-neck with The Dark Knight as my favorite film seen in the theater this year. I just feel that animation can reach heights that would bust most traditional film’s budgets. If you love films – then you love all types.

I’m still not sold on performance capture animated films, however. The more realistic the creators try to paint a person, the creepier they become. It’s called the Uncanny Valley effect – they look close enough to real people, maybe enough to fool the casual eye, but your mind knows that something is just not right. I find it curious that I consider the animated people in a movie like Ratatouille as more human than the motion-captured persons on display in films like Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express and his follow-up, Beowulf.

I did enjoy elements of this film. There are some sequences (namely a battle on the back of a soaring dragon as well as a tall-tale featuring Beowulf’s battle with a gaggle of sea serpents) that just couldn’t be realistically done on traditional film – at least, not if the producers wanted to recapture their costs. But the humans are hit and miss. Angelina Jolie’s demon and Ray Winstone’s Beowulf fare best. The rest look plucked from a video game in their best moments and a nightmare in their worst.

6.    Cloverfield

[movie 3.5]
This is a gimmick movie that almost transcends the gimmick. The granddaddy to this type of film is The Blair Witch Project. I always thought that the former flick worked best if passed along to someone on a battered video tape and watched in some remote cabin in the woods on a dark and stormy night. The Witch found me at a midnight showing in a theater where the projectionist forgot to bring down the lights and a drunk snored three rows ahead of me. The scariest thing about that experience was the strange hole that my bud Mook was cutting in the bottom of his popcorn tub. That’s it – no more midnight movies for me.

Cloverfield bests Blair Witch by acknowledging its roots. At no point are they trying to pass this off as a real event – they simply want to provide a different perspective on a giant monster attack – that of the panicked masses running in the streets. And for the most part they succeed.

The thing is, I am literally sick of overt shaky cam. I remember when NYPD Blue launched, a slight jiggle of the handheld camera would prompt more seizures than Pikachu. These days, NYPD Blue looks as serene as Golden Pond. I get the aesthetic and usually I dig it (I think it works wonderfully in the Bourne flicks) but Cloverfield borders on overkill. As the whole film is told through one dude’s digital camcorder, we get to experience his entire fight or flight. At times, the gimmick really shines (as in the night vision reveal of some tunnel dwelling creepy-crawlers) but our main man Hud spends a little too much time dashing to and fro. I watched this at home on a 40” TV and had to readjust my view from time-to-time. Had I seen this in the theater, my fellow movie goers may have been treated to an instant Scanners remake. Hey, they may go home wearing my grey matter but at least they got a double feature.

That said, Cloverfield has its merits. It takes the giant monster seriously and provides enough shots of the critter to prove these guys made the most of their modest budget. Talk of a sequel seems like a bad idea however. I think the gimmick works once. If they really do need to mine this material further, I’d recommend dispensing with the handheld and picking up a big boy camera. There are only so many times in a life that I can refill my brain pan.


(Now for a light Mist spoiler… Scroll down)

This is the poster David was painting at the beginning of The Mist. Also, in the whole Kingverse, there’s a popular theory that the source of The Mist is a hole that is ripped between the two dimensions – and that the creatures from Roland’s world are what come spilling out and attack the supermarket, etc. Specifically, the Lobstosities from The Drawing of the Three (which in the flick can be seen in the parking lot snapping a guy in two).

Comments now closed (30)

  • Wow…I was still reeling that Wesley Morris had not seen The Godfather, and now THIS! Of course, this is from someone who has seen it no fewer than 100 times, can do virtually every line in both I and II ( most annoying to other people in the room), and will freely reenact the Sofia Coppola scene at the end of III. And The Natural too???? This is too much to take. I will forgive anything in B/W, at least I grew up with a B/W TV.

    I will read the reviews later, when I have had a moment to compose myself. I can no longer trust Mr. Morris, his reviewing ability is skewed, but I should have known that when he said that he didn’t expect to be that happy again at a movie in 2008….and he was watching Mamma Mia.

  • I haven’t seen any of those “classics” myself, but I have seen The Natural numerous times and I am actually surprised you haven’t seen that one because it isn’t like it was released before our time. That said, I want to watch Casablanca at some point in my life, but don’t much care about those others.

    As for your current list here, only Shaun is in my queue (and Hot Fuzz is on my coffee table), but perhaps I will check out Zodiac and No Country.

    I was actually planning on doing a monthly Netflix round-up myself now that I have been back on the wagon, but now it will look like I am stealing. I guess the big difference is I won’t put as much in my thoughts about each one because that’s not my gig. It will/would be more like “Liked it” or “Hatorade.” 🙂

  • Ok.. I’ll admit I didn’t read the whole post… BUT… having been a Mist fan and camped for 27 years right next to where it was supposed to happen (I shop at Food City) I HAD to see the movie. Went along ok… they had to add stuff obviously, it was a short story… but the end killed me. I won’t spoil it either but I will say it wakes me up at night still!

  • Agreed on that ending – it is a complete sucker punch that just pulls the air out of you.

    This was actually one of my favorite King stories so it gutted me that Darabont couldn’t get the type of budget they toss at dreck like ‘Fantastic Four’. That said – his ending (which he added to the tale with King’s blessing) is downright bleak. To think, this flick came out the night before Thanksgiving.

  • Oh, and Joe and Justin – this Amy is not one of the other Amy’s that occasional frequent this site. This Amy is an old friend, now found. See, I told you Facebook could be used for good and not just evil.

    I’ll let you guess which Amy this is.

  • Okay, so I thought about all these witty comments about Ed’s post. Then I checked out the Father’s Day post – which is closed so I couldn’t post there – BAH!
    Anyway, you all have kids!!!!
    On some strange level I pictured you as bachelors still having fun while us parents were chained to band practice, girl scouts and softball – thankfully boys are still yucky to 2/3 of the crew! See what fun you have to look forward to?
    Now, I fully expected Ed to have kids. Not sure if you remember, Ed, but we chatted one time about getting together years later with everyone’s kids running around… I think it may have been over drunken ice cream sandwiches… so it fit.
    But I digress…
    It was so great to see pictures of all you guys with your kids! You all deserve it.. and I mean that in a good way!!!

  • Amy – Fortunately for me, I had the boy first. Which means one of two things:

    First off, there’s no question who (among Justin, Joe and Rick) is the real man here. We’re talking testosterone prime.

    Secondly, I’ve got Colin to sit shotgun beside me (as we clutch our shotguns) when that first gentleman caller comes a knockin’ for Aria.

    As for the other guys, they have all left bachelorhood behind. I know, I’m as shocked as you. Who would marry these guys? Well, it just so happens that the fall of the Berlin Wall coupled with a destabalized economy in Russia led to a free market system in the former Communist states that led to the catalog these guys found in their malbox one day.

    Kidding of course.

    Anyway, Rich has 3 kids (Girl, Girl, Boy – in that order). Joe has two kids (Girl, Girl) and Justin two as well (Girl, Boy).

  • Now see, here’s where I will guess what Jay would say…. a true show of testosterone is the ability to live in a house with 4 women…we do have a male dog and 3 male cats… keep in mind, my two oldest are the dreaded “pre-teens,” “tweens,” whatever you want to call them as long as it is not “children” – they will give you quite a tongue-lashing! Jay just plans to work LOTS of OT for a week or so every month!

  • Amy Parsons? The girl who was engaged (or at least figuratively 🙂 ) through college? and who made me a John Denver mix tape to get me into his music (which I probably still have somewhere) – a mix tape that actually worked at some level since I just LOVE “Rocky Mountain High”… 🙂

  • @Ed-You had friends who were into John Denver??? Ya’ never spilled THAT little tidbit!!

    Confession- I own every one of his albums in just about all forms, years ago canvassing the globe to find rare HTF bootleg copies ( mostly made in Japan) It took me 10 years to put him on my ipod after he died in 1997-not owning an ipod until 2005. First words I ever heard Uncle Ron speak on the night we met, as he pawed through a pile of LPS by the turntable ( ask if you need help with any of these ancient concepts) and saw my ” Greatest hits”… ” Somebody likes John Denver…” We decided to get married about 5 hours later.

  • @Aunt Sharon – So the country that gave us the Bullet Train, Karaoke and Pikachu somehow revers Joh Denver as a God. Makes perfect sense.

    There’s a reason I haven’t spoken to Miss Amy in twelve years.

    Of course, I kid. Hey, if y’all recall, I titled my Red Sox World Series post from last year (in which I saluted John Lester, by the way) as Rocky Mountain High. Seek it out in the archives (should be under October 2007).

  • If you’d like to be transparent to your readers about what is in your queue, I can create a list via RSS feed in your sidebar for all to see.

  • Sounds good to me. My readers are idiots though and wouldn’t know an RSS feed from a TPS report.

    I kid… I kid…

  • I said I was kidding!!! Believe me, I have some of then most savvy, intelligent, astute readers on the web.

    Why – each one of them can see Russia from their house.

  • Are you looking for more movie suggestions you may have missed? My sister recently told me she never saw The Usual Suspects and I was horrified!

  • @Kerry – That is horrifying!!! And she calls herself a… (Whatever your maiden name is)!!!

    I’m a HUGE movie fan and actually used to be one of two critics working for my daily school paper at UMASS Amherst, the Daily Collegian – but it seems the bulk of my selections start around the mid-80’s through now. I probably saw every major release in the 90’s. Then viewership dropped during this decade (especially after we had kids). Now, I’m playing a little catch-up.

    Of course, Andi has it worse. Until this past Spring, she hadn’t seen a film in theaters since The Return of the King (2004). A 3 year span between that and Juno (which she saw with friends from the Mom’s Club). She really enjoyed Juno but she says they could have just run the Candy Band for two hours and she would have given two thumbs up.

    This past summer we made our first full family excursion to the theater to see Wall*E. Colin had seen Cars a couple years back but this was the first time we all went as a group and everyone was fully engaged. It helps that the movie was so well done.

    Anyway – I’m getting back on the horse now so if anyone has ideas, shoot them over. I’ll tell you if I saw it. If I haven’t, it’s going in the queue.

  • Kerry – Thanks for passing that on. I noticed I’ve seen some (Memento is fantastic) and have a few in my queue (including Good Night, Good Luck – thanks for the added reccomendation on that as well). I also found a few on that list that I totally forgot about (Sideways, Gangs of New York) so that’s going in the queue too.

    Speaking of Clooney, I’m supposed to receive Michael Clayton in the mail tomorrow. That follows 28 Days Later (not the Sandra Bullock movie but the zombie flick – wait a minute, one in the same?). Anyway, looks like I’ve tipped my cap as to what to expect for a few of my write-ups at the end of the month.

  • Hey Ed, Jay and I are racking out brain for the Dark Tower reference – we remember mentioning it but are trying desperately to block the movie from memory… could you email or facebook me a reminder – don’t want to spoil anything here. Jay’s drooling over the zombie reviews – he loves zombie flicks – I’m sure he’ll be posting his thoughts at some point…

  • Hey… Memento is on my coffee table too.

    Gangs is probably a bit too, um… bloody for me, so therefore probably 28 days, unless it is the Bullock version.

    Seen Sideways and all I have for that one is… meh.

  • Amy – Check out this post again. I added a picture at the end of it. A light spoiler but it’s not like I’m ruining the flick (this is the first image in the movie afterall).

  • One movie of note that I can think of that I never saw was ET… Melissa cannot believe that, but it is true. Then again who is she to say anything…. she has never see It’s a Wonderful Life!!! How is that even possible? It was not too long ago that It’s a Wonderful life was the Christmas Story of Christmas movies. It was on all the time on every channel. Then I think NBC bought it and only shows it once a year. Plus she has never seen Die Hard or The Terminator. I can’t believe I didn’t know this before I married her!

  • Damn’t Chris – I hope you had her sign that pre-nup. No Die Hard. No Terminator. This is a child of the 80’s, correct? Now that I think of it, you better quiz her on Predator, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. And throw in a little Fright Night for good measure.

  • She is child of the 80’s. She knows more about 80’s music than anyone. It is a hole in her 80’s resume. I know she has The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, not sure on Fright night and Predator. We’ve only been married 6 years. Is it too late for that pre-nup?