Netflix Notes – ‘Scarlet Letter’ Edition

From 2003 through 2008, I saw maybe 5 movies… and one of those was Starsky & Hutch. Dark days, my friends. But that’s what I get for doing my part to insure the survival of the human race.

Of course, with every year that passes following the birth of children – you realize that some of that time you thought lost to the ravages of… well, time… anyway – it starts coming back. The thing is, by that point, you’ve grown so accustomed to getting so much done in so little time, that when you start getting major chunks back, you are at a loss with how to fill it.

For me – Netflix helped fill that void. Anyone who knows me – or knows this site – knows that I have an unquenchable thirst for cinema. It is my water of life and I’d drink it by the gallon if given the chance. And of course, I live to write. So – the two passions are tightly wed to each other.

Netflix Notes is not meant to shill for that specific corporation. Sure, I get my flicks from them; but this could stand in for any source. Hell, if you have a Mom & Pop Video Store that has somehow survived the Blockbuster blitzkrieg, then by all means, give them your business. I chose that title because I love alliteration. Makes me feel like I’m writing tabloid headlines, so who knows, maybe the New York  Post will take notice.

As always, I don’t aim to review these films and I try my best to keep spoilers to a minimum. Nope – this is just my first blush reaction aimed at giving you a sense of how each selection hit me. If you’ve seen them, hopefully this will kick start the conversation in the Comments below. If not, then maybe I’ve served up a little food for thought.

Enough with all that. Roll film.

Easy A

As a child of Eighties, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Hughes. The director, who fathered the fabled ‘Brat Pack’, owned that decade – capturing the excess and angst that crosses all lines of the high school caste system in a series of resonating pop entertainments. His films – especially Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club – were funny and smart…and sweet. Never pandering.

Although they were fashioned as modern fairy tales for a new generation; they felt real – and it was easy to pick through Hughes rogue’s gallery of jocks, and nerds, and basket cases and find someone who fit us to a T. For those of us who grew up on the awkward end of the spectrum (which let’s be honest – was all of us), it was comforting to note that perhaps the jocks harbored some of the same insecurities.

Easy A hosts Hughes’ spirit. For starters, it’s refreshing to watch a modern high school comedy that isn’t steeped in sarcasm, dripping with irony. No – this is a smart, clever comedic riff on The Scarlet Letter. There is a fine difference between clever and irony… and this film understands that so well.

While Emma Stone has made memorable appearances in flicks such as Superbad and Zombieland – this is her Julia Roberts role. Now, I’m no Pretty Woman fan (neither the actress nor the hooker with a heart of gold) but there’s no denying that movie was “America’s Sweetheart’s” launching pad.

Easy A does exactly the same thing for Emma Stone. It may not be the cross-demo success that Woman was; but Stone’s assured, playful performance in this movie solidifies her as the Next Big Thing. She has that innate watchability that the best actors and actresses covet – in that; she now rates “I’d watch her in anything” status – at least in my book.

When the flick is as enjoyable as Easy A, it makes the decision easy.

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Let Me In

This is the best movie not one single person ever went to see. The fact that it failed at Halloween, a season that drags people out looking for a good, scary movie to get them in the mood – is shocking. Of course, maybe “good” scared them off – as this is a “good” (Hell – GREAT) film that just so happens to feature a few scary moments.

I think if anything, this proves that more and more cinephiles are simply sitting things out, waiting for the quality stuff to come home. Leave the perennial Saw flicks to the masses and let me have something nourishing to chew on in the comfort of my own home.

Let Me In is a remake of a Swedish film, Let the Right One In. Both tell the tale of a quiet, bullied young boy who befriends a vampire that moves into his tenement. While the set-up seems ripe for horror, this is more of a tender, sweet, sad coming of age tale that really resonates.

I’ve seen the original and liked it a lot – and while it’s only been two years since it was released, I think this remake was warranted. For starters, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has a passion for the tale and that is felt in every frame. He gets all of the little details right; and in setting this in snowy Los Alamos, NM in the early Eighties, the film benefits from that specific time and place. This world feels dark and chilly and alien; the fact that Owen finds the only real warmth in his life through the bond with a cold-blooded creature underscores the irony of his situation.

Secondly, Michael Giacchino’s throbbing score haunts this flick like John Williams over Jaws. Giacchino is the best working film composer today and with Let Me In, he helps set the mood from the very first frame. A truly great soundtrack.

Finally, there is one sequence in this movie that would make Hitchcock lean forward in his seat. It’s a bravura piece of filmmaking that pivots our sympathy from a potential victim to the supposed “villain”. I don’t want to give anything away but will simply steer you towards a carjacking scene, of sorts. It’s a masterpiece.

I’m hopeful that now that it’s home, this movie will find its audience. It’s too good to leave out.

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The Town

If I’ve got this correct, Charlestown is home to the wealthiest population on the planet. How could it not be? Not when 99.9% of the population is out on the streets robbing banks and sitting on mad piles of loot. In my little hick town, what we lose in bank robbers we gain in possum wranglers. Hard to retire on pelts alone.

The Town was a great crime flick that settles the argument – Ben Affleck is the next Clint Eastwood. On screen, there’s no comparison. Dirty Harry beats Daredevil hands down. But behind the camera, Affleck is following a similar path as Clint. With Gone Baby Gone and now The Town, Affleck demonstrates a solid command of the crime story and a real flair with getting winning performances from his actors. It helps that he’s cast his films with expert character actors including Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper and more. And then he fills in the blanks with some people ripped from the real streets – lending greater authenticity to his films. These feel lived in.

It’s just a real nice surprise to see his career come to this point years after it seemed he was caught up in the typical Hollywood Armageddon. Home town boy makes good. Like his Brother-in-Arms Matt Damon, Ben is now making some good decisions that bode well for career longevity. This feels like the beginning of a very rewarding directorial career and I’m anxious to see what story he tackles next.

As much as Martin Scorcese made New York’s mean streets a character all their own, Affleck has his eye set on capturing Boston’s secular boroughs – and he’s done a great job bringing Dorchester and Charlestown to life. Although he grew up across the river in Cambridge (which might as well be a country away), Affleck understands the unique, tight-knit bonds that tie these towns together. This is a unique region to reside in – and for once, we have a filmmaker who sees beyond the tired, tortured dialect and is able to celebrate our local flav-ah, warts and all.

And I’ve got to tip my cap to the Fenway heist that caps the flick. I never thought I’d see the day that ‘Heat’ was staged in the concessions concourse. It’s been my experience that the gun battles are usually found in the bleachers.

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Piranha

I know what you’re thinking. Why?!?!?!?

I saw an ad for this flick featuring Richard Dreyfuss in full Matt Hooper regalia singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home” before being bitten by a frisky fish and I immediately tossed this in my queue. That’s borderline genius casting in my book – and that’s just the cherry on top as we’ve also got Elizabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell (as a Joe Francis wannabe), Ving Rhames, Adam Scott and Christopher Lloyd as a mad scientist on hand for this creature feature.

They just don’t make ‘B Movies like this that much anymore. Take that cast, a ton of money shots, prehistoric predatory fish and a plot that finds the sheriff angling to shut down the beaches on a pivotal holiday weekend and you’ve got me every single time.

This is just a dumb, fun, giddily gory shlock fest that works overtime to entertain. I’m glad I bit.

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One comment [now closed]

  • If you really want to see a great Emma Stone movie-catch The House Bunny! You may have to watch it twice to see Emma-but Ron assures me that it is worth it!!

    I also loved Easy A.