Netflix Notes – “When In Bruges…” Edition


Now that all of that nagging TV is done, I’m back to provide some frequent updates from the world of cinema. It seems my Netflix queue stays at a constant 100 – despite my best efforts to watch 2 – 3 flicks per week. Dammit – If only Hollywood would go on strike or something – I could finally get this list whittled down to a respectable number.

Anyway, as is par for the course, I plan on giving you the rundown on the latest flicks I’ve seen. I try not to structure these as traditional reviews but I will slap my Ebert head scale on them so you can eyeball the score and decide if you want to give the flick a chance or not. And if you have seen any of these, let us know what you thought in the Comments below.

Roll film.

1.   In Bruges

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One of the great things about Netflix, or any media outlet that lets you build a queue and call up flicks On Demand, is that I find myself taking a chance on so many more flicks than if I were simply to visit a video store and peruse the shelves. Back in the old days, I used to trawl the aisles of Blockbuster with the intent of netting something new but would often walk out with the latest new mainstream release. A flick like In Bruges, one that truly bowled me over in love, would have gone sight unseen. Thankfully, I have my Netflix account and flicks like this Gaelic import join the smorgasbord and eventually find their way atop my platter. I’m glad I gave this one a spin.

In Bruges is written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. McDonagh is from the David Mamet school of scribe, meaning he writes about trash talking tough guys and his crime capers feel akin to a Tarentino fantasy. This flick finds two such toughs, played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, sent to Bruges by their nasty pit boss, Ralph Fiennes, to stew while he works overtime to clean up a botched killing. Gleeson is the aged veteran – the one who’s getting a little too old for this shit – while Farrell is the young buck in way over his head. There’s a lot of comedy mined from their odd couple posturing as well as Farrell’s complete disdain for the folksy fairy tale villa found In Bruges – a far cry from his beloved Dublin.

The story meanders early on, letting us sit side-by-side with these great characters as they take in the sights and then it swiftly disarms us as the plot grows trickier and more emotionally devastating. There are some wild mood swings, with the dialogue delivering huge jolts of laughter one moment and then tender sequences of extreme sadness the next.

While Brendan Gleeson’s grounded performance touched me, I was really surprised at how great Colin Farrell was. In fact, I’ve never seen him this good. It’s as if the opportunity to shed the Hollywood machine and simply be himself – to be Irish – has freed him, and he delivers his loosest, most enjoyable performance to date. He’s responsible for some of the biggest laughs in the movie and yet his predicament will pull the heartstrings.

This was a real surprise.

2.   Below

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I’ve been an avid reader of Harry Knowles’ Ain’t It Cool News site for years now. Now, I’m not a fan of the site design or Knowles himself but the site has proven to be a virtual geyser of information regarding obscure genre flicks that might normally go unnoticed. Case in point, this World War II haunted submarine flick.

When AICN first started covering this flick, they were frothing over Darren Aronofsky’s involvement. Over the years, the wunderkind director has been attached to some real “pie in the sky” entertainments – with Aranofksy’s Batman: Year One eventually yielding to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins being a prime example.

One genre project that Aronofsky wrote but handed the reigns over was this take on those old-fashioned World War II submariner yarns – think Run Silent, Run Deep or Ice Station Zebra. Aronofsky’s decision to set a haunted house tale aboard a hunted submarine is genius – a submerged vessel spooked by the sounds of the deep is already steeped in claustrophobia and a creep factor.

Now, I don’t know how much of Aronofsky’s script made it intact to screen. Director David Twohy is a noted genre writer himself, having launched The Arrival, Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, so there’s no telling what he may have rewritten. That said, this doesn’t feel like the in-depth drama that Aranofsky is known for in flicks like Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler. Instead, this plays out like a pretty good B-Movie in a novel setting. In fact, the standard submarine conventions (depth charge attacks, sonar hunts) are arguably more tense than the ghost story elements that keep side-tracking the plot. There’s a decent mystery set up early in the flick but like most ghost tales in the days since The Sixth Sense, we’re trained to look for twists and this flick’s finale is tipped way too early.

3.   The Transporter 3

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They’ve really got to mix this formula up. After three movies and a quick cameo in Collateral, our beloved wheelman Frank Martin has accepted a job and broken his own strict rules one too many times. What we need is for The Transporter to become The Transportee.

Great, I can already hear Luc Besson tapping away at his keyboard.

“We open on a vacant parking garage. A Mercedes sits idling as the camera floats towards the driver’s seat. A well-dressed man, face unseen, exits the car and walks towards the trunk. Suddenly he is beset upon by a rogue’s gallery of street toughs who have come to liberate him from his package. He ignores the toughs and pops the hood. In the trunk, is a large, writhing body bag. Unzipping the bag, we spy our hero, Frank Martin, bound and gagged. The Jr. Transporter looks around at the remarkably patient posse and then returns his attention to Martin. “Looks like you’ve got company”…” That one was a freebie Luc but you still owe me for Taken.

Anyway, this flick feels like a mash-up of Transporters 1 and 2 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just picked the remnants of the first two scripts for any scenes that never made it to the final shooting copy and then cobbled together this one. As in the first, Frank is transporting a sassy broad whom the bad guys covet but keep trying to cap. And, from the second flick, we get another environmental toxin as the McGuffin, meaning the producers get to Go Green with the Run n’ Gun. Oh, and that Inspector Clouseau arrives on the scene, once again, to supply the bumbling comic relief.

I’m a big fan of Statham and think Besson has kicked off a renaissance in action cinema but he needs to pace himself. From what I hear, Taken (which also sprung from his brain) is a lean, mean machine – so he’s got some good ideas kicking around. Forget Transportee. This series needs to be Transported to retirement.

4.   Pineapple Express

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I had mixed emotions about seeing this flick. While I’ve been a fan of the Apatow Clan of Comedy, and this one was written by his loyal soldier Seth Rogen, I’m of the mind that druggie humor really only works best on the stoned. And since I’ve lived my 36 years on this orb without ever taking a toke, I’m not sure how well the comedy would take to me. Now, I’m no prude but I am an asthmatic so practically speaking, I’ve never had any urge or desire to seek out the herb. That said, I do enjoy a fine cerveza and yet, I’m not so sure a beer comedy would work on me – although Bob & Doug MacKenzie’s Strange Brew may have had a subliminal effect at such a young age.

That said this is more Tango & Cash than Cheech & Chong. Rogen uses the mythic Pineapple Express strain as the vehicle to send he, and his hilarious stoner bud James Franco, off running scared from Gary Cole’s vicious dealer. And while there aren’t big laughs in the flick, I found the comedy develops organically – we really do grow to see this odd couple as friends. There is real chemistry between the two – no doubt a callback to their days repping the burn-outs on the sublime Freaks & Geeks.

So, while this wasn’t laugh out loud funny, I found it to be an entertaining two hours of my time. The action and comedy is deftly balanced and there’s some great character work on display. Ed Begley Jr. puts in a brief appearance as a harried Dad with a quick trigger finger and I was really impressed with Danny McBride, whose indestructible Red provides some great moments. As it is, the fight between he and Rogen comes close to the knock-down drag out brawl in They Live, at least in terms of shear longevity.

I’m recommending this while at the same time reminding you – “Kids, Don’t Use Drugs”. : )