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.
So, here we go…
Wreck It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012)
Not that long ago, Disney was not making great films – Meet The Robinsons, Brother Bear, Home on the Range anyone? Now, the output is almost bulletproof. Pixar was bought up, John Lassiter came aboard (see our Pixar column for further thoughts), and The Princess and The Frog and Tangled followed. If we ignore the traditionally animated Winnie The Pooh (which just didn’t quite connect with its young audience), Wreck-It Ralph followed their successes and raised it to a new level.
Wreck-It Ralph made the jump into the young boy audience, and being about computer games, it tapped into a huge market, and became one of the biggest hits of 2012. Director Rich Moore directed some of the best early Simpsons and Futurama episodes (including A Streetcar Named Marge, Marge v The Monorail, Lisa’s Substitute with Dustin Hoffman) and scriptwriter Jennifer Lee went on to co-direct Frozen.
It tells the story of Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) , the character in a video game who destroys a building that Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) rebuilds. Ralph is tired of being the bad guy – going to BAD-ANON, a bad guy support group – and ends up leaving the game to try and win a medal. He ends up in racing game Sugar Rush, where he mets Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a “glitch” in the game. Or is she more than that? And can Felix get him back to the correct game before they are unplugged for good?
Wreck-It Ralph is a good film, simple as that. There are enough video game cameos to keep even the most casual gamer intrigued. The action whips along, and the racing scenes really are a sugar rush for the viewer. A big recommendation, for children of all ages! With Pixels coming out soon, I’ve got a feeling this will be a much better movie than the Adam Sandler attempt.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, 2002)
I picked up a copy of Chuck Barris’ autobiography the day before heading on holiday for about 40p in about 2005. I didn’t know who Chuck Barris was, and all I could remember from when the film came out was some magazine articles that George Clooney had chosen an unknown to play the lead in his directorial debut.
This is the adaptation of that book, obviously with a few sections dropped. Chuck Barris was a TV producer who created The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game (which became over here as Blind Date), and presented The Gong Show, the forerunner to amateur talent shows. In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Barris claims that The Dating Game was used as a cover for him to commit state sanctioned assassinations for the CIA, and that makes up the main story of the film. Imagine that Cilla Black revealed that she was inspiration for James Bond – that was the type of reaction the book had.
Sam Rockwell is brilliant, showing a guy driven to the edge of insanity, but also the nailing the nervous gameshow host (he was a behind the scene guy usually). Not being aware of his work, I didn’t realise at first, but Rockwell hits every one of Barris’ onscreen mannerisms. Johnny Depp was linked at one point to the role, and you can see why he would want it. George Clooney is great as the CIA agent who hires and takes Barris deeper and deeper into the web of intrigue. Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore are very good as well, basically vessels for the story, but it is Barris’s story, and their characters make sense later on.
The book covers a lot more ground about Barris’ personal life, but this is an interesting film that showed Clooney to be a very good film maker, as well as an actor.
Life After Beth (Jeff Baena, 2014)
A film that barely got a release here in the UK, Life After Beth tells the story of Zach (Dane DeHaan) trying to deal with the death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). He spends a bit too much time with her parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), who eventually stop returning his calls and tell him they are trying to move on. The real reason though? Beth has come back to life, and Zach is delighted to be able to carry on their relationship. But is Beth really the same? And was Zach as happy as he remembers?
This is a very black romantic comedy. These types of films depend on one this – are they funny? This is funny. The films gets a bit more serious towards the end, raising some interesting points about relationships and loss, but still has a hilarious oven based joke towards the end that gave me the biggest laugh.
There are scenes in this that make Dane DeHaan look like James Dean, dressed simply in shades and t-shirt, and he feels like an iconic film star here. Aubrey Plaza shows she is more than the slightly one-note way she played her character in Parks & Recreation. I’m not sure the last time I read a “young Hollywood” list, but if I was putting a list together (future article pitch alert) they would both be on it.
A definite recommendation simply based on the chemistry between the two leads, never mind the fact that the rest of the film is very good.
Doors Open (Marc Evans, 2012)
Based on Iain Rankin’s book, Doors Open was a television movie shown on ITV on Boxing Day 2012. Produced by Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig’s company Sprout Productions, and directed by Marc Evans (who made the very good My Little Eye and Trauma in the early 2000s), this tells the story of an art heist.
Douglas Henshall plays a millionaire art lover whose friend, Stephen Fry (see the Comedy Special Special Edition for more of my Stephen Fry fandom) is an art collector for a private bank. When the bank is taken over and the art collection broken up, Henshall and Fry plan to keep the collection together by taking their favourite pieces. When Henshall’s old flame (Lenora Crichlow) is the consultant brought in to evaluate the collection, he is conflicted, and when they need to bring in a criminal element to help, thing get even more complicated.
This is a well put together heist movie. It does feel like a TV movie instead of a big screen film, it’s slightly small scale. It’s very enjoyable however. I’ve said before I love a good heist, and this has everything you want.
Hector and The Search for Happiness (Peter Chelsom, 2014)
Like Steve Coogan before him, Simon Pegg has managed turn British TV and film popularity into a legit career in films. Supporting roles in Star Trek and Mission: Impossible have lead to a series of leading roles, and Hector and the Search for Happiness is the latest.
Pegg plays Hector, a psychiatrist who struggles to provide answers for for patients who simply want to be happy. He is perfectly content in his life with Clara (Rosamund Pike), but is he happy? And what is happiness anyway? He decides to travel the world to research happiness, and meets a range of characters along the way.
If that sounds formulaic, it is. Stellen Skarsgard, Jean Reno, and Christopher Plummer play some of the aforementioned “characters” – all powerful and successful, but again, are they happy? Hector collects his thought in a book (which I would guess is how the original book is structured) in a way to narrate the story.
Honestly, after Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg can do no wrong in my eyes. He has taken a range of roles (The Good Night, Fantastic Fear of Everything, and Kill Me Three Times are not films you would expect a comedic actor like him to take) and I can see why he wanted to take this role. This is an uncynical film, there is a sincerity to the “search for happiness” – although the science-based ending is a bit much. The film does get schmaltzy, and may be a bit too syrupy for some, but Pegg is an engaging screen presence here, the globe trotting keeps the pace skipping a long, and I enjoyed it.
And that’s it for this edition. Wreck-It Ralph is probably my choice from this selection, Life After Beth is definitely worth a watch, and none of the other films are actively bad. 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. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.