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.
This is a column that has brewing for a while, all the Halloween stuff we did last week meant that these films were split over a long period of time – the first two were light films when I needed a bit of a distraction, then a couple of more serious choices, then another light, frothy movie to recover from the darkness!
So, here we go…
Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004)
I recently discovered the brilliant Australian comedy show Danger 5 (read me review of season 1 here and season 2 here with lots of pictures and gifs!), an over the top show about a group of international secret agents who go on wacky adventures. This obviously put me in the mood to revisit Team America: World Police. As a long term South Park fan, I love Team America, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s top notch action comedy that just happens to be made with marionettes. It’s still as funny as ever.
The script is absolutely fantastic, packed with clever lines – and some incredibly low brow comedy as well! The songs are brilliant, and there is one of the most O.T.T. sex scenes in film history.
I always thought the film set up potential sequels, and maybe we will get one once Parker and Stone decide to finish up South Park, but the time consuming nature of the film seems to have put them off.
Some people reading might not realise just how important South Park was when it started in 1997. Also, if you have stopped watching South Park, the last few seasons have been phenomenal. It’s not the huge, headline creating, pop culture juggernaut it once was, and probably because of the lower profile, the writers have less pressure and more freedom. They have developed other characters (Butters and Randy Marsh are two in particular) and some top notch episodes.
So… in conclusion – watch Team America: World Police. And watch South Park!
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Ivan Reitman, 2006)
There are certain films that are around, that are on TV ever so often, but that I have no interest in watching. My Super Ex-Girlfriend was one of those films. Luke Wilson has made some decent films, as has Uma Thurman, but romantic comedies tend to bring out the absolute worst in them. But, as these Negotiating Netflix columns have shown, it doesn’t take much to get me interested in a film. So when it popped up on Netflix and I saw it was directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), I decided to give it a go.
Luke Wilson dates Uma Thurman, who is superhero G-Girl, but as things aren’t working out he falls for workmate Anna Faris. Meanwhile, G-Girl has an arch nemesis Professor Bedlam, played brilliantly by Eddie Izzard, who sees her break-up as a chance to finally get one over on his enemy. Izzard is probably the highlight, and Rainn Wilson does alright with what is a sketch of a character as Wilson’s best friend and confidant.
This film is actually pretty decent, but there’s a problem with the very basic premise. They obviously set out to make a romcom superhero film, and appeal to a female audience but G Girl turns into a bit of a cliche ex-girlfriend, which doesn’t do the film any favours. Luke Wilson is a bit bland, but this kind of rom com lead role tends to lead to that sort of performance. The rest of the cast is good, but nothing more than a decent film.
On reflection, give it a miss.
Space Station 76 (Jack Plotnick, 2014)
Again, Danger 5 inspired this selection, with the period pastiches of Danger 5 peaking my interest in what is described as “a 70’s version of the future”. Patrick Wilson is the pilot of a space shuttle and Liv Tyler his new co-pilot, but describing the film is difficult. We basically get a snap shot of the various families and crew members and their everyday problems (a marriage falling apart, some spectacularly bad parenting, struggles with lost, seemingly forbidden, love) in an improvised, low key way.
There’s plenty to like here. I’ve seen this described as a black comedy, but there aren’t really any jokes, but there is definitely some very dark humour – I found myself laughing at an attempted suicide!
The detail in the sets, costumes, and camera work is great. If it wasn’t so shiny and clean it could easily be a 70s sci-fi film, even down to the stillness of the camera. It all shows that director Jack Plotnick has got a real eye for detail and hopefully a big future ahead of him.
I definitely recommend this… but I’m not totally sure why! It’s so low key and slow moving it might be off putting. Think of it as a slice of life from onboard community that just happens to be on a space shuttle. The film begins and ends with very similar establishing shots of the Space Station – leaving the feeling that these people are still up there, just getting on with their lives. At times it feels like a demo reel or someone sketching out an idea for a drama series or a soap opera, but it’s interesting and unique enough for me to recommend.
Super (James Gunn, 2010)
When it was first announced that James Gunn was going to be directing Guardians of the Galaxy, it told me the film was in good hands – after I looked up to check if it was the same guy who had directed Super! I didn’t realise GotG was going to be as good as it was, but Super had left a big impression on me. I’d enjoyed Slither, Gunn’s debut film, a lot as well.
Rainn Wilson (Dwight in The Office) plays Frank, a man who has only had two completely happy moments in his life – marrying his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler, like Wilson making a second appearance this edition) and telling a policeman where a criminal had gone. Sarah disappears one day, having relapsed into drug addiction and left Frank for Jacques (Kevin Bacon in full on sleaze mode). Frank is then inspired by a Christian superhero called The Holy Avenger (the ever-brilliant Nathan Fillion), and goes to a comic book store to research superhero without superpowers, and meets the clerk Libby (Ellen Page), who will eventually become his kid sidekick. Frank becomes the Crimson Bolt, and sets about trying to right the wrongs that he sees, eventually leading to him taking on Jacques and trying to win Sarah back.
Although there have been superhero-without-power films before, one thing looms over this film – Kick-Ass covers very similar material, and came out just a year earlier. Libby even says the line “I wonder all the time why no-one’s never just stood up and become a real superhero”, which is a very Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass thing to say. Whilst obviously there is a lot of overlap, whereas Kick-Ass is a comic book film, this feels a lot more personal, a man going through a serious crisis who does what he does to survive. In another script, Frank would become a criminal and overthrow Jacques after infiltrating his gang. Or he would become an unlikely gigalo, or an art forger, but all the time the film would be grounded in real life.
Here, Frank’s actions have real life consequences, and that is why I like this film. It’s not just that the people Crimson Bolt hits with his wrench get badly injured, or that people involved with Frank suffer brutal injuries. When Frank starts down the superhero path, he attacks pedophiles and drug dealers, but soon he is hitting a man who cuts in front of him in a queue in the head with a wrench – and the woman who was with the man. If a real person in the real world became a vigilante, they wouldn’t be a hero for long, they would end up doing these sorts of things.
Rainn Wilson is so good in this film. Frank is a deeply troubled man, and his “the rules were set a long time ago – they don’t change” speech towards the end is as good a justification for a hero as you will here in any film. Ellen Page is well out of her wheelhouse as the foul mouthed yet childlike Libby. Kevin Bacon is great, and Liv Tyler also doesn’t give the performance you expect.
I really like this film, so I definitely recommend it. It’s not a superhero-spoof, and if I was to class it as a comedy it is a very, very dark comedy. And although it has a similar premise, it is a very different film to Kick-Ass. But, prepare yourself for one shocking scene towards the end.
Gambit (Michael Hoffman, 2012)
A remake of an old Shirley Maclaine/Michael Caine film, this is a film about a put upon art dealer (Colin Firth) who decides to rob his boss (Alan Rickman), with the help of rodeo rider Cameron Diaz. Colin Firth turns on the charm, Alan Rickman chews the scenery, and Tom Courtney is entertaining as hell. That is all the positive stuff I can say about this film. Cameron Diaz isn’t bad I suppose as well.
I love a good heist movie, but unfortunately this isn’t one of them. A script form the Cohen brothers (the fact they had nothing more to do with the film is a disappointment) is a bit dull, and these types of film need that great twist at the end that tells you they got away with it after all. That’s kind of the point. But for some reason that doesn’t happen here, it’s so straight forward. And Tom Courtney pretty much disappears half way through, which is a real shame.
This remake spent years and years in developmental hell, going through a lot of different directors, lead actors, and even studios. It feels like someone had enough and said “just make the damn movie!”, and the result is a just a bit rubbish.
Strangely it reminded me of The Wolfman, another films that took ages to make it to the big screen and ended up leaving me cold. Actually that had an engaging lead and older British support (Benicio del Toro and Antony Hopkins) as well! Give it a miss.
And that’s it for this edition. A bit of a mixed bag this time around: choosing two of films I really like (Team America and Super) put me on a good course, and Space Station 76 was a pleasant surprise, one that has stuck with me for a good few weeks, but there were also two pretty mediocre efforts. 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, both of which could soon be being revisited. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.