Welcome to the latest chapter in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the cast expanse of Netflix. Braving the unknown… discovering the hidden gems… risking the dire and the dreadful… all so you don’t have to.
Last time out I had the unfortunate experience of stumbling across one of the worst movies I have ever seen (click here for the last Negotiating Netflix, including for my review of the terrible Leprechaun: Origins). This time I’ve been slightly less brave with my choices.
So, here we go…
1. Confidence (James Foley, 2003)
One of my very favourite types of film is the heist movie. The Sting obviously is the daddy of them all, I enjoy Ocean’s Eleven (original and remake) and even Ocean’s Thirteen. American Hustle from last year was very good as well, and Hustle was one of my favourite TV shows while it was on. Sure they are light and meaningless, and you know that they are going to get away with it even after the plan has all gone wrong, but I still love me a good heist movie.
After an episode of the new season of Community (if you can find a way to watch it, please do, there’s some very good stuff in season 6) focused grifting, I was in the mood to watch something in this vein. Netflix is surprisingly short on this type of crime film, but Confidence seemed a decent choice with a decent cast.
Edward Burns plays the leader of a small group of grifters who get entangled with Dustin Hoffman’s crime boss after he kills one of the team. Paul Giamatti and Rachel Weisz are two of the gang, Andy Garcia is the special agent on their trail, and Luis Guzman (another Community link!) is one of the corrupt LAPD policemen. As I said, a decent – if slightly B-level – cast.
The film is less than the sum of it’s parts however. Hoffman’s character is a bit unbelievable as a crime boss, putting some interesting quirks and tics onto the character but not being menacing enough. I doubt it is prominent on his CV. Edward Burns doesn’t quite have the charisma to pull off the role and comes off as Danny Ocean-lite, and because of that I never really bought into the camaraderie of the grifters. They talk about having worked in previous cities and having to move on, but there’s not really a bond between them.
Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley also brought us The Corruptor in 1999, something of a misfire that starred Mark Wahlberg and Chow Yun-Fat, and I can’t help but feel that he needs to pick his movies better.
A slightly disappointing film, give it a miss unless you are desperate to see a heist film, and like I said there aren’t too many options on Netflix. It’s decent, but even for a heist film it is too light weight. Maybe another viewing will make it
2. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller, 2014)
Another safe-ish choice. The follow up to 2005’s Sin City, a stylish noir that I enjoyed despite (or maybe because of) having never read or having any knowledge of the original Frank Miller comics. This film didn’t do very well at the box office, and the fact that I didn’t find the time to go and watch it despite working in a cinema probably speaks to part of the reason for that poor performance.
Like the first film, this has a episodic structure, with some parts being set before and some after the first one. The main section of the film has Josh Brolin taking over from Clive Owen as Dwight McCarthy. He is dragged back by a former lover (Eva Green) to help her escape from her abusive husband. We also have the return of Marv (Mickey Rourke) who is still watching out for Nancy (Jessica Alba), who is haunted by the ghost of Hartigan (Bruce Willis). The third main story is a hot shot gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who decides to take on Senator Rourke (Powers Boothe) in a high stakes game.
First of all, just like the first, this look amazing. However, it’s clear why this do as well at the box office. The performances are all perfectly good, although maybe Rourke is overused here, and (like most movies he is in) I wanted to see more of Gordon-Levitt, who oozes cool in his introduction. But the stories just don’t feel like they matter. The splashes of colour and the gore is just not as impactful this time around. The characters here actually feel TOO real (maybe apart from Marv) They all seem like real people, missing a Yellow Bastard or a cannibal. It’s not a real city, putting real character with real problems seems like a missed opportunity, and comes across as slightly boring.
I wanted to like this. However, give it a miss, or at least set your expectations really low. Sin City is a much better film, and re-watching that would be preferable.
3. Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011)
After two underwhelming films so far, I decided to check out a film that was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films I have seen in a long time.
I caught this film one afternoon just because there was nothing else on. Johnny Depp voices Rango, a chameleon who becomes sheriff of a town called Dirt in the middle of the Mojave desert. The town’s water supply has been mysteriously stolen, and the townsfolk look to their new hero to get to the bottom of it.
So, let’s get this out of the way, this is a Nickelodeon-produced movie, and I can’t talk about it’s effectiveness as a kid’s film. There’s plenty of slapstick humour, chase scenes, and funny looking characters with silly voices, though I’m not sure the very youngest wouldn’t get a bit lost trying to follow the story.
But, Rango is so much more than that. The film opens with Rango musing on the his lack of identity, throws in a cameo of Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and has Rango talking to Roadkill (Alfred Molina) an armadillo that was trying to cross the road – by his name you can guess he didn’t quite make it – and was responsible for . So, why did the armadillo cross the road? To seek The Spirit of The West. A discussion about destiny later, Rango sets off into the desert to find his calling, and becomes a Hero.
Literally, this is within the first five minutes. This is a real spaghetti western, the only difference is that the characters are different animals. There are a bucketful of references, some subtle, some more blatant, including Chinatown, Transformers, Apocolypse Now, and Lord of the Rings, before we even get to the actual Western movie references.
Finally, the cast is fantastic. Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone, and Stephen Root are probably the most recognizable voices in the supporting cast, but Isla Fisher (who plays Beans) is brilliant, and Depp is on top form.
This is a very good film. If you are a fan of westerns you will love it, in fact if you are a film fan you will love this. Rango was clearly a labour of love, both from the director and the cast. Some people feel that Chico and Rita was robbed of the best animated film Oscar in 2011, but I feel Rango was definitely a worthy winner.
Strongest possible recommendation
4. The Muppets Movie (James Frawley, 1979)
Next up, another film packed with references, a supposed kid’s film with plenty of interest for adults. The Muppets Movie is the first big screen outings for Jim Henson’s creations, and was shot between the third and fourth season.
This is a great film. Obviously watching this in 2015 some of the puppetry isn’t as seemless as we would see nowadays, but the warmth at the heart of the Muppets is infectious. Sure seeing Kermit ride a bike isn’t much now, but at the time it was this first time the Muppets had been seen in full body shots. This is also the only time a Muppet movie was directed by an outsider until Tim Hill did 1999’s Muppets From Space, and apparently the set was a very unhappy place with the performers and directors struggling to work together.
This road movie tells the story of how Kermit made the journey from his swamp to Hollywood to be rich and famous (and picked up Fozzy Bear, Gonzo, and the rest of the gang along the way), we are treated to too many cameos to mention here, and a bunch of catchy songs. The Muppets have always had great music, and here is no exception. Can You Picture That? by Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem is probably my favourite, although The Rainbow Collection is a bona fide classic.
Strongest possible recommendation. There is a reason that 2011’s The Muppets stuck so closely to this formula: it works so well. A great film for children of all ages.
5. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell, 2014)
Mark Duplass is a star of one of The Snooty Ushers’ favourite TV shows, The League (click here for my rundown of my top 5 episodes) but also is a film maker in his own right. His brother Jay and him are rather prolific, directing films like Jeff Who Live At Home and Cyrus, and producing a series of films that have spawned a genre called “mumblecore”, that involves naturalistic and improvised dialogue and performances. Here he is executive producing, as first time director Charlie McDowell creates a film which is basically a romantic comedy (maybe more of a “dramady”) set in a Twilight Zone episode.
Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple that are having troubles, so their therapist (Ted Danson) suggests to them a retreat that has worked well for couples in the past. When they get there, they have a great first night together, but things aren’t quite that straight forward.
I don’t really want to go into the plot anymore than that, the set-up is an enjoyable part of the story and I wouldn’t want to spoil it.
The first 30 minutes would work perfectly well as an episode of the Twilight Zone – and most reviews will reference that the story feels stretched past what feels like it’s natural length. However, I feel like the story develops well beyond the initial premise, with both lead actors (there are only 3 people in the entire cast) giving very good, understated performances, giving an interesting look at jealousy and the nature of relationships. All round, an interesting film, a definite recommendation.
And that’s it for this edition.Two slight disappointments, two very good films, and one classic. You can check all of our Netflix columns so far by clicking the tab at the top, including our spin-offs Investigating the iPlayer and Perusing Prime. Who knows which streaming service will be next – will Yahoo Screen come to the UK? Is Hulu available here? And more importantly, can we come up with pithy titles for the columns? I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.