Netflix Notes – “I Hope the Smoking Man’s in This One” Edition

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After a long winter’s nap, I’m back with some more thrilling installments of Netflix Notes – the riveting recurring series where I let all of you lucky bastards sneak a peak at the flicks that have drifted across my peepers. In essence, I see a movie and then write about it.

Well, more to the point, I try to provide a little bit of background about the flick and whether I recommend it or not but I make a point to not actually review the film. I had enough of that when I was holding the reigns as co-film critic at UMASS Amherst and here on this Blog, I like to divorce myself from the standard form and structure inherent to film criticism. Too dry and dusty.

I call it Netflix Notes because the lovely people at Netflix are the ones who send me the films – for a price, of course. If I were grabbing them from Blockbuster, then we’d have Blockbuster Blurbs or if I were just pirating them then we’d have Dastardly Dispatches. See how simple the name game works.

Anyway, it may have been a long layover in terms of publishing these pieces but I didn’t take an equal hiatus from actually viewing some flicks. Quite the opposite, in fact. As I stare down the massive backlog I’ve accumulated I realized that I have to get cracking.

So, with that said, on with the show.

1.   30 Days of Night
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There are some concepts that the moment I hear, the writer in me wishes I came up with. Take this flick. Set in Barrow, Alaska at the Northern-most point of the state, the film opens on the last day of the year before the town of Barrow plunges into (drum roll) 30 Days of Night. Yup, it’s located in one of those areas where darkness falls and the sun doesn’t return for a full month. Making it a prime feeding ground for hungry vampires whose appetite is so insatiable, they’ll travel to the ends of the Earth for their next snack. Bet you can’t eat just one.

Anyway, the ever dreamy Josh Hartnett stars as the town sheriff who is one of the few townies who linger in the Barrow and ride out the darkness. At the outset of the film, we’re treated to shots of the majority of the town packing up and heading out – apparently an annual ritual. Once the majority of the population has departed, night falls and the vampires descend.

Which, again, got me thinking. With so many people departing the town, roads impassable, airports shuttered for the month and wicked snowstorms whipping up with a moment’s notice – why do these bloodsuckers go to such trouble for a few scrawny morsels. They’d be better off chilling in Cabo and just picking off the Girls Gone Wild set after a night of body shots.

Ah well, those are all stupid quibbles for a decently effective vampire flick. While the latter part of the film boasts a sacrificial twist that I found idiotic, I enjoyed the film for what it was – a great little horror siege flick with a kick-ass setting to back it up.

2.   The Incredible Hulk
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I’m one of the few people who actually enjoyed Ang Lee’s original take on the jolly green giant but I realize I am alone. I thought Lee’s stylish direction and angsty approach to the origin story worked well and really lent the flick a nice comic aesthetic. Seriously, pick up any number of Marvel comics today  and you’ll find your fair share of angst ridden heroes.

But the mainstream chilled to the flick prompting Marvel to rethink the property and reboot it.

Well, as much as I enjoyed Lee’s take, I think Louis Letterier (The Transporter 2) does a fine job in restarting the franchise. Leterrier and his screenwriters Zak Penn (X-Men) and an uncredited Edward Norton actually cobble their flick from the original comics as well as the 80’s TV show – taking that vehicle’s concept of a Banner on the move and really running with it. They also nicely tip their cap to the 80’s show with a couple cute cameos and some audio cues that reference that classic Bruce Banner ‘sad walking music’ that played at the end of each episode.

What’s most notable about this film is how much it respects the audience intelligence. We’re at the point that several comic properties hit the big screen each year. Audiences get it – they understand what a superhero is – and don’t need to be fed an origin story for each one. And that saturation and acceptance in the mainstream has allowed Marvel Entertainment to really open the audience’s eyes to their expanded universe. So, like in their other big summer ’08 flick Iron Man, entities like S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, the Leader and others are woven into the fabric.

They’re also beginning to tie the properties together. It’s no secret that Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. appears in The Incredible Hulk as his character Tony Stark. It’s a short playful scene – meant to tease the inevitable Avengers flick. And while it’s over in the blink of an eye, it’s a nice little tease for the fans and a tip of the cap to a general audience that gets it.

3.   Tropic Thunder
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I’ve got a theory about comedy. It’s never as funny as when you are surrounded by a crowded house of like-minded individuals. We develop a hive mind for hijinks and the laughter can grow infectious. I remember seeing a matinee of There’s Something About Mary in a theater with 2 or 3 groups of patrons in attendance and I almost felt guilty laughing. Like somehow I’d spoil the mood. I saw the same film on a Friday night and laughed my ass off – missing half the jokes as the audience followed suit.

So, it was with trepidation that I fired up Tropic Thunder at home for a private viewing.

I think the neighbors are still complaining at the laughter. This is a great, big budget comedy – the kind we don’t get much of these days. Sure, the Apatow factory of comedy has been great, pumping out some modern classics year-after-year but back in the 80’s we used to get these glossy hi-concept comedies once a summer. Things like The Blues Brothers, Trading Places and Ghostbusters.

Tropic Thunder represents a return to form and it contains an embarrassment of riches. For starters, Tom Cruise erases any ill-will he earned from the couch diving and bitch slap of Matt Lauer. His profane performance here shows he gets it and his interplay with Bill Hader (always funny) is great. And then there’s Robert Downey Jr. whose performance really is Oscar worthy. If you didn’t know it was him – you wouldn’t know it was him – and his searing indictment of Russell Crowe, Sean Penn and other actors who dive a little too deep into their craft is on point, ballsy and hysterical.

There’s a lot of funny scenes in the film – and as I watched it, I could easily point out the lines I know I would have missed had I seen it in the theater. Real laugh out loud stuff. In fact, I haven’t laughed harder this year than I did at Ben Stiller’s reaction when learning of his director’s whereabouts.

4.   The X-Files: I Want to Believe
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This past summer, I wanted to believe that I was doing the right thing in avoiding this film (the return of my beloved franchise) when I came across the poor reviews and scathing Internet chatter. Now I want to believe that if I came across any of these miscreants, I’d sick the Flukeman on them.

What a great surprise this film was. In fact, it made me miss this show more than I have in the last few years and it made me enjoy the franchise more than I did in the last few years of its television run.

For the long-awaited comeback, 20th Century Fox pulled a fast one and handed Chris Carter a middling budget and a tight shooting schedule and demanded he produce a film in time for the Summer Movie Season. Their actions are criminal on all counts although fortunately only one element hurt the show’s creator.

The slight budget and schedule seems to have energized Carter and crew – as the film calls back to the program’s origins – presenting an original, standalone creep show. This really feels like one of those eerie Monster of the Week episodes that hooked us in the first place. And Carter’s decision to set the film in wintry Virginia and shoot in British Columbia lends a haunting air to every shot.

And there’s the fatal flaw. Fox forced Carter into these restraints, Carter delivered to the best of his abilities (which are sizable) and then they dumped this smaller, more intimate reunion right into the middle of the bustling summer movie pool. If you’re not going to give him summer movie money then don’t make him compete against the big boys.

This would have been a perfect October release – or better yet, a nice chilly tale for a cool January night.

My bet is that fans will discover this on DVD and will pine for the good old days once again and hold that candle alight that Mulder and Scully will get the proper treatment they deserve.

Comments now closed (6)

  • Here, here on X-Files, but you liked Ang Lee’s Hulk? I don’t think we can be friends anymore. I’m as big a comic geek as anybody (Well, okay, not really.), but that thing was ssslllllloooowwwww.

  • @Dursin – Lee’s take was weird, bizarre and at times, batsh!t insane. It may have been slow but it was never boring. Not my favorite comic book flick of all time but not as dreadful as some might believe. Now, Fantastic Four on the other hand. That flick is like half the length of Hulk and twice as bad.

    That said – I think The Incredible Hulk is a much better film. That was a good take on the tale.

  • I stand with you with respect to Lee’s Hulk, it was a good film and it did well by the characters and origin. The new version was also good and yes, maybe because it is newer, I’d rate it slightly higher than Lee’s, but one shouldn’t really be compared to the other. Let them stand on their own.

    Also, the newer version pulls some origin ideas from the Marvel Ultimates universe which is an alternative to the regular one. Most characters are the same at the core, but with twists on origin, etc. For Hulk, he was the product of trying to re-engineer the super soldier serum that produced Captain America. Obviously something went wrong. Here, they are trying to make super soldiers resistant to radiation and the like.

    I gave Thunder four heads too, but I know you liked it a little more than I did. I am hoping to see X-Files at some point this month. I probably need to bump it up the queue.

  • @Ed – I’m with you on the X-files – that movie made me absolulely miss the series. So much so that I plan to watch alot (if not all)of the episodes again from the beginning (was planning on doing it sooner, but someone had to go and give me Y: The Last Man 😉 ). It’ll be nice to sit back and watch 2, 3 or 4 of the X-files each week (and it’ll probably take me a couple of years to go thru all 9 seasons – unless I skip cruddy ones like the “albino episode” – (I know you know which one I’m talking about)

    I have Tropic Thunder here at the house, just gotta put it into the DVD player…

  • Nice write up! I’ve been wanting to see Tropic Thunder, have to do that..the clips that I’ve seen- hysterical! Yeah Sean, you can’t compare the two Hulks- but Ed, I’m with you on the first Hulk, I liked it a lot. Not so much the Nick Nolte/father berserk end but everything else; yeah! Plus you got Jennifer Connelly!!! Loved the second one. Glad to hear X Files was good, reviews did tear it apart, gotta see that too…

  • BTW I have 3 more of these pieces ready to go. I’ll probably run one a week so stay tuned. Many more flicks to cover.