Netflix Notes – “Oscar Bait” Edition

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With this latest batch, I’m all caught up again. Although, as I write this, I’ve got Valkyrie staring me down meaning the circle continues.

Here’s a helpful hint for any of you employing Netflix to feed your film habit. I’ve found that if you mail a movie out on Monday, you’ll almost aways receive that week’s new release by Wednesday. See, as long as you are close enough to a distribution facility, Netflix should get your return on Tuesday – the day new releases hit the market. And as long as you have a new release listed at the tippy-top of your pile, you’ll get it sent to you that day. If you are off by one day, get ready to join the “Very Long Wait” crowd.

So far it’s paid off wonderfully, which is how I got Valkyrie the day it swooped in. That’s just a helpful little tip to help y’all get ahead.

All right. Roll Film.

1.   Frost/Nixon
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I don’t know how I graduated college, with a degree in Journalism and a minor in History, with my area of interest focused on the Kennedy era and somehow missed out on this real-world sparring match between British journalist David Frost and disgraced Ex-President Richard Nixon. Seriously, going into this flick, I knew nothing about the tale let alone the historical significance of what a real-life David was able to do to Goliath. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, as for once, I found a real-life docudrama that had me on the edge of my seat wondering how it was going to all play out.

This flick is an adaptation of the Tony Award winning play and features the original actors Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost) in the roles they imprinted. Langella may not look like Nixon, and Ron Howard wisely avoids layering on the pancake batter to make a mimic, but within moments of his appearance, Langella becomes Nixon all the same. It’s a great powerhouse performance equaled by Sheen’s slyly devastating work as Frost, a playboy British entertainer sliding into career obscurity in exile in Australia, who does to Nixon what no other serious journalist could do. He gets him to come clean on his role in Watergate and essentially gives Nixon the trial he escaped and the public demanded. For a contemporary example, it would be like sending Jimmy Kimmel to crack Madoff

I’ve been impressed with Ron Howard’s ability to move from genre to genre (he’s really done it all) and continually create compelling works of cinema that work equally as commerce and art. I don’t know if it’s his Opie beginnings but he really doesn’t get the credit he should as being one of this generations more prolific and better directors. He’s got a number of credits on his IMDB page and almost all of them share one thing in common – they’re just damn good movies.

Frost/Nixon may be his best work to date. 

2.   Son of Rambow
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I seem to be staging my own Brit Invasion of late. That’s the insidious nature of Netflix for you. One flick suggests another so if you sample one quirky family comedy from across the pond, your eyes will be treated with a glimpse at another. The fact that this one, and the great Danny Boyle flick Millions, could be kissing cousins provides ample proof how Son of Rambow ended up spinning in my tray. And for good measure too, as it’s another great family-friendly comedy that doesn’t pander unlike some American counterparts. Sometimes, childhood can be slightly dangerous. That’s part of the allure – and these flicks both fix in on the adventures all young boys crave.

Son of Rambow takes place in England, in the early 80’s. It’s a buddy flick, with two kids from opposite backgrounds, thrust into the same orbit. The first is a young boy, raised under the watchful gaze of a strict religious order who has never seen a television program or movie in his life. The school bully latches onto him and after their initial courtship of cruelty, becomes friends with him. The bully shows some suprising deeper shades, as they often do, and reveals his massive collection of VHS taped copies of films playing at the local theater. His latest masterpiece – a pirated copy of First Blood – which energizes the creative juices of his budding cartoonist friend. The two decide to take to the woods and film their own makeshift sequel to First Blood, Son of Rambow, and from there, the adventure begins.

As a guy who never quite outgrew his creative bent and the appeal inherent to grabbing a camera and making a movie in the woods with friends, this flick hit me right in the heart.

I loved this movie!!!

3.   RocknRolla
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I’ve got a weird pedigree as student of cinema. I’ve seen a sampling of almost everything but the more I see, the more I realize I’ve missed. Entire filmographies of directors have gone sight unseen. I guess unlike Pokemon, we can’t catch ‘em all. So, when I gave RocknRolla a spin, it dawned on me that this was the first Guy Ritchie flick I’d seen.

Ritchie rose to fame as one of the first post-Tarentino directors who was as stylish as the master but also had something unique to offer. Where Tarentino offered his own warped tributes to the pulp fictions that flickered onscreen at his local grindhouse, Ritchie paid a debt to the great British gangster flicks of lore – layering a cast of colorful names and setting them off on twisty, convoluted plots designed to keep the mice scattering about. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was his debut and since that point, he appeared to be working overtime to recreate the magic. Then he married Madonna, decided he had to grow up, and subjected the world to Swept Away.

Well – Guy Ritchie fans aught to be giving A-Rod a hearty pat on the back. With Madge out of the picture, Ritchie has returned to his roots, offering the first in a planned crime trilogy – RocknRolla. It appears to fit his formula and although I haven’t seen Lock or Snatch, I’m going to seek them out based on the strength of this flick.

Like Tarentino’s movies, Ritchie adores his Underworld entourage and that proves infectious. These are loathsome yet lovable crooks (some worse than others) and there’s a lot of fun watching them squirm and work overtime to grab their cheese. With so many characters dominating the landscape (Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Bulter, Thandie Newton, Jeremy Piven, and Ludacris merely cap the cast), recounting the plot is a fool’s errand. All you need to know is there are nefarious deeds afoot, and in a page ripped from Pulp Fiction, everyone is hunting the same mystical McGuffin – in this case, a mesmerizing painting takes the place of Marcellus Wallace’s soul.

The film ends with a promise for continued adventures. I’ll be there for The Real RocknRolla.

4.   The Wrestler
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I seem to be on a tear, catching up on all the Oscar bait I missed earlier this year. In addition to Frost/Nixon and this flick, I have Benjamin Button on deck. Based on the strength of the flicks I did catch, especially this one, last year was a rock solid year for serious drama.

I found Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of fictional grappler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, to be completely engrossing. And Mickey Rourke, a sad beast of a man, makes this the role of his lifetime. He’s playing Randy “The Ram” but he’s using the canvas as his own confessional. And he really bares it all.

There is a suffocating melancholy that drapes over this flick as thick as the wintry curtain that clouds every scene. Essentially, he’s giving us The Hulk Hogan story. Or the Jake “the Snake” story. Now, I never followed pro-wrestling as a kid (I wasn’t really into sweaty guys grappling in their Underroos nor did I really go for Gladiator movies) but I have no doubt Randy’s fate is shared by some of those superstars. They had their Saturday Morning Cartoons. Their cereal boxes. Their face plastered on a Nintendo cartridge. And then, their prime demographic grew up and left them in the dust, broken and beaten and worse… forgotten.

The day after I saw this flick, I was waltzing into my local Pizza House (every town has one) and I spied a placard in the window announcing the following “The Webster Town Police proudly present A Night of Big Time Wrestling with the legendary Ric Flair”. And immediately, my mind drifted to a sweaty community center, packed to the gills with society’s dregs, screaming to the rafters – their voice added to the chorus chanting in unison for blood, sweat and tears.

I can’t think of a sadder way to spend a Saturday night.

And I can’t imagine a sadder movie.

5.   The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
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Out of all the Oscar flicks, this was the one I most wanted to see. And out of all of them, this is the one that seems juryrigged to win the big prize – coldly calculated to win the Big Award. Essentially, this disappointed me.

The pedigree should have proven me wrong. For starters, it was directed by one of my faves, the great David Fincher who gave us Seven, Zodiac and the woefully underrated Alien3. Added to that is Brad Pitt, who I really think does a great job of taking non-traditional roles. He’s taken a page from Johnny Depp’s playbook, trading in his good looks for roles that challenge – and I’ve always liked that about Pitt. Sure, he’s half of Brangelina but I’m able to divorce myself from real world gossip meaningwhen I’m watching a movie, I see an actor, not father to half the Third world. The same goes for Tom Cruise. I never see an excitable kid pouncing on the furniture.

Anyway, the issue I have with Button is it really does feel like Forrest Gump redux. The two flicks share the same screenwriter – Eric Roth – and it is uncanny how closely they follow the same formula. If anyone else had written Button, we’d hear talk of plagiarism as the story structure is exactly the same. Every dramatic beat in Gump is echoed in this flick and despite Fincher’s best intentions to film the proceedings with a chilly, unsentimental eye – you can’t escape the nagging notion that you’ve seen this movie before.

Unlike a box of chocolates, I knew everything I was gonna’ get and that deeply disappointed me.

Comments now closed (6)

  • Dude, you should totally become a NEtflix affiliate if you’re going to keep doing these columns. You get money anytime someone joins through your ads. You’re giving them free publicity, anyways. And how come you don’t have an Amazon affiliate account. I have one, and no one ever even reads my blog. Anyway, good post.

    Durs

  • I have all these in my queue already except Button, which I refuse to see. (BTW: Not that it has anything to do with it, but look at that screen-cap, could look any worse/fake?)

    As far as Netflix and Amazon go, I’m not totally up on the flix one, but your cuz Jason does okay with the Amazon ad. You should go over to those sites and search on affiliate so see how to set up accounts. I can do the rest once you do that. Also, you were doing okay with the Google ads until people stopped clicking on them for you. I admit, they started off as misdirection for 4/1, but they could bring in enough cash to actually support each year’s hosting costs. Plug those ads. Get those clicks!

  • To be honest, the effects in the movie are actually one of the bright spots. There is some real subtle work done – especially later in the movie when he’s younger.

  • I’m sure the effects were fine… they looked better in the commercials, I just thought it was funny how bad that shot looks.