Netflix Notes – “We’re Getting the Band Back Together” Edition

This year couldn’t have come any sooner.

In reviewing my current Netflix queue, I discovered that I am getting shockingly close to the bottom of the barrel. After all, this is a repository that used to number in the hundreds and now I’m down to about 20 flicks – some of which I keep shuffling to the bottom because I’m not really in the mood to see them. They’re my rainy day flicks.

I’ve got a fair number of the recent releases on standby – waiting for that magic day when they’ll shuffle up above the fold, awaiting departure – but that’s it.

So, yesterday I performed a little exercise aimed at refilling the coffers. Using Wikipedia, I pulled up a list of movies per year – from 2008 on, to see if there were any I missed. I was able to grab a handful per year, and added roughly 10 or 12 to my current queue.

With that done, I decided to pull up the 2011 schedule and was shocked to see that this year is stacked. I count at least 35 – 40 upcoming films, that I would love to see. And these flicks come from all walks of genre. It’s shaping up to be a fine time at the movie and as I led with, it came around at just the right time.

But that’s all for another day. Let’s roll film.

RED

I swear I saw the same movie 4 times last year. The actors may have been different but the plot and story beats were largely the same. Some years we get dueling ‘asteroid movies’ – other years we get four “rag-tag band of men on a mission” flicks.

In order, I watched The Losers, The Expendables, The A-Team and RED. Of those, I think RED was the best of the bunch – although like the others, it falls apart at the end.

RED is based on a graphic novel by cult comic writer, Warren Ellis. The title stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous – and refers to members of the CIA who are put out to pasture. The film starts strong with Bruce Willis’ character sliding uneasily into retirement; and there is a nice, amiable charm in watching this former spook settle into suburbia, with only Mary Louis Parker’s chatty phone operator available to comfort him.

RED follows a very specific formula (one that is echoed in the other titles I mentioned above). We get the central conspiracy set-up, the recruiting of a team of heroic oddballs, and then the big plan to take it back to ’The Man’. While all of these films share a breezy, over-the-top style –I though RED captured it best for the first hour. It’s a lot of fun and calls to mind caper flicks such as the underrated Sneakers – as well as the road adventure, Midnight Run. Once the tables start turning and Willis has his old compadres back in the saddle again (including Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman) – RED turns into a wheezy action flick; that bouncy fun that propelled the early acts deflating with each passing minute.

But that cast is amazing. Hell, just seeing Ernest Borgnine back in action (and looking as sprightly as ever – even in his Eighties) gives this one another ½ Ebert Head.

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The A- Team

My dream A-Team movie doesn’t take place in thick of action. Instead, the second our heroes liberate Howling Mad Murdock from whatever military hospital he’s interred in this week, we follow a bristling legal procedural as The Powers That Be launch an investigation into how these supposedly secure facilities can let the same guy slip their locks, week after week. There are some serious infractions going on here that need investigating, pronto. We’ll catch up with Hannibal’s mad-cap plans later.

Well, nobody is ever gonna’ make that movie so Joe Carnahan went and did the next best thing. He took the same winning concept (four ex-commandos play Robin Hood in the real world while trying to clear their name for a crime they didn’t commit) – and then he made a cartoon of it. This could have gone either way, and with Carnahan’s background in gritty crime thrillers (notably Narc), I could see a more sober ‘The Fugitive‘ approach. But he’s also the same guy who directed Smoking Aces – so he certainly knows his way around over-the-top action. That’s the tact he chose in directing The A-Team; doing his best to mimic Michael Bay-hem.

The A-Team is one of those movies that is effortlessly entertaining while watching but immediately forgettable the second you remove the disc. Its cotton candy, a live action cartoon – vaporware. Each of the actors drafted to play Murdock, Face, BA and Hannibal look they swung by iParty on the way to the set. This is Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Sharlto Copley headed to a Halloween party with some pretty spot-on costumes. And the fact that they mesh so well, and look like they’re having a helluva time, adds to the enjoyment level of the flick.

Just don’t ask me to describe the plot. It’s not complex – it’s just a series of bullet points aimed at bringing us from one over-the-top action scene to the next. So, it went in one ear and out the other. Like RED, the movie starts strong but seems to pique at the midway point. By the time Face is blasting away at robot drones in a free-falling tank, you’re either along for the ride or completely checked out. I enjoyed it in the moment but am glad I haven’t the brain to calculate the physics of it all.

I love it when a plan almost comes together.

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The Social Network

When the first title card rolled – September 2003 – I was shocked. Had it really only been seven years since the world conquering Facebook came into being? And that’s just the start of the story. The Facebook that we know didn’t really make its first public appearance until 2007 or so – having been primarily a college connection site for the handful of years before. This may have started on one college campus, Harvard, but it spread in a big way and like anything viral, it left its fair share of damage in its wake.

Not only is the one of the most important movies of 2010 – it’s also one of the most thrilling and enthralling. And entertaining, too – which is what you get when Aaron Sorkin is firing on all cylinders and giving us poetic dialogue that really captures the voice of our text-crazed generation.

As Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker says; “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet!”

Paired with David Fincher, they’ve created a film that pleases the eye and the ear and nourishes the brain. It’s just completely fascinating. And at the center is Facebook “founder” Mark Zuckerberg, who comes across as a true tragic hero defined by a heart-breaking dichotomy. Here’s a guy who is hard-wired to reject social connection and yet, he pioneered one of the greatest steps forward in social connectivity.

In history there are moments that shape and change the world. It’s rare that we know it when we see it. The Social Network is not just a great movie. It’s evidence that we’re in the midst of our next evolutionary step forward. Zuckerberg may have set the ball rolling but we’re all helping chart the course. By bringing us all closer, he’s truly expanded our world.

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