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.
A quick turnaround into another edition this time. Five very different films this time!
So, here we go…
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! (Peter Lord, 2012) (aka The Pirates! Band of Misfits)
Aardman Animataion won hearts around the world with the creation of Wallace and Gromit. Chicken Run is an absolute masterpiece, and although Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas underperformed at the box office, they have plenty of charm. The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is another fantastic piece of work from the Bristol based studio.
Hugh Grant voices The Pirate Captain, who has constantly failed to win Pirate of the Year, but retains a loyal crew and a luscious beard. He comes across a ship called The Beagle, and it’s doctor Charles Darwin (David Tennant). He realises their parrot Polly is infact a dodo, and asks them to travel to London to present Polly at the Scientist of the Year awards. Despite Queen Victoria’s (Imelda Staunton) hatred of pirates, The Pirate Captain decides that as a master of disguise, they will be able to win the competition and the untold riches that comes with it.
The most enjoyable animated films are the ones that are simply good films that happen to have animated characters. Toy Story is a buddy movie. Rango works as a Western. The Pirates! is a swashbuckling action film. The cast is superb, Martin Freeman, Russel Tovey, Brendan Gleeson, and Ashley Jensen (surprisingly curvaceous pirate) are all fantastic, and Jeremy Piven, Selma Hayek, and Lenny Henry are funny as the rivals in the Pirate of the Year competition. As expected with Aardman, the script is hilarious and the screen is always packed with visual gags. The music also is great, a jukebox soundtrack that include The Clash, Jimmy Cliff, and Flight Of The Conchords. And Darwin’s butler Bobo is comic creation for the ages, a spin-off in the vein of Shaun The Sheep would be most welcome.
I can’t recommend this film enough, even if it just for the line “And that’s why, in a straight fight, a shark would probably beat a Dracula”
Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau, 2011)
After the success of Iron Man and it’s sequel, Jon Favreau took on the long gestated Cowboys & Aliens, having at one point in the late nineties been in the hands of Steve Odenkirk, who has primarily worked in comedy. Robert Downey Jr was linked to the lead role, although he moved on, it led to Favreau getting int he director’s chair.
In the opening to a brilliant western film, Daniel Craig wakes up in the desert with a strange metal bracelet around his wrist, wanders into a local town. He falls afoul of Harrison Ford’s cattle owner Dollarhyde, whose son he had got into a fight with. As I mentioned, this is the opening of a brilliant western. Unfortunately, then the aliens turn up, and this ambitious film just can’t get the balance right.
There would be a way to make this film as a straight western, and just have the bad guys happen to be aliens, maybe just building to a shootout showdown at the finale. But the aliens and there influence seep into other parts of the film, where they really aren’t needed. The characters are 19th century cowboys and are written that way. They are characters from a cowboy film! It is a strange decision to mix the genres so much – when a simple cowboys fighting aliens story would have worked so well.
There are very good performances from Craig and Ford, Olivia Wilde, as a mysterious, tough woman, is very good as well. It’s worth watching, but the fact it could have been a better film – as is in it’s first third – will probably annoy you!
Machete Kills (Robert Rodriguez, 2013)
In 2007 (wow, that long ago!) Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino got together and made a double feature film and released it as Grindhouse. The films themselves (Planet Terror and Deathproof) are both decent but kind of forgettable. What the project is probably best remembered for is the series of fake trailers that played before both of the films. Machete was one of these trailers, and when Rodriguez decided to make it into a full length film, it took more than the original run of Grindhouse.
Three years later, Danny Trejo is back as the federale agent, this time asked by President of the USA Charlie Sheen (credited as Carlos Estevez, his birth name) to stop a madman who has threatened to launch a nuclear missile at Washington. Machete finds the psychotic Mendes in Mexico, but he has to get him back to America to disarm the missile after it is launched. Mendes puts a bounty on his own head, so Machete has to fight off Mendes’ gang, the police who are after Mendes as the criminal that he is, and the boarder force. This leads to him crossing paths with a number of wonderful characters, played by a range of actors making cameos.
Machete Kills is a decent film, but the basic premise is kind of played out after Machete. It plays as road movie, but even with that, the cameos do get a bit distracting. Michelle Rodriguez is back, and Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga, Walter Goggins, Sophia Vergara, William Sadler, Cuba Gooding Jr are just some of the famous faces that show up, which is cool, but it kind of spoils any flow the film might have. Even at nearly 70, Danny Trejo is one hell of a badass!
Originally the Uncle in the Spy Kids films, a trailer before the film suggests that Machete will return for one last time in Machete Kills Again… In Space! It would seem to be the logical, over-the-top conclusion to the Machete trilogy.
The Guest (Adam Wingard, 2014)
There are certain films that are difficult to describe without explaining the whole plot. If you watch this film, you will enjoy it so much.
Dan Stevens (yes, from Downton Abbey) play David Collins, a soldier who visits the family of a fallen comrade. The family is missing their son, so David is welcomed into the family, and starts to take care of them – helping the younger son stand up to bullies, and helping the mother come to terms with the death of her son. When the dad’s boss dies and he is promoted, the family start to wonder how far David will go to help them.
I can’t say any more about this without spoiling the film. Director Adam Wingard has worked extensively in horror, but this film plays like a straight forward thriller, with the plot unfolding at a nice pace throughout.
Dan Stevens is fantastic here. This could be a career making performance. The intensity reminds me of Paddy Considine in the awesome Dead Man’s Shoes. In fact, that could be the closest comparison I can make, and it’s not one that I make lightly.
I highly recommend you watch this film, in a few years it will be regarded as a minor classic, either when Dan Stevens is a superstar or when Adam Wingard is directing huge blockbusters. It also makes me want to find You’re Next, which is from the same actor and director but was a film I’d dismissed as a derivative slasher film.
Everything Must Go (Dan Rush, 2010) (aka Neighbor For Sale)
In a parallel universe, Will Ferrell is the king of the indie movie. (I guess that’s a given, how infinite parallel universes work, there’s a parallel universe where I had syrup in my porridge instead of jam last Thursday.) He was in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, Stranger Than Fiction showed that he could do proper acting, and in Everything Must Go he tackles an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.
Farrell plays Nick, an alcoholic who gets fired on the same day his wife leaves him, changes the locks on the doors, and cancels his credit cards. This leaves him with all of his belongings on his lawn – and nothing else. With the help of a local kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace), he sets up a yard sale (thus the alternate title Neighbour For Sale), but can’t actually bring himself to move on and sell anything. A new, pregnant neighbour (Rebecca Hall) has moved in on her own, and forms a very uneasy friendship with Nick.
When reviewing Super for the last Negotiating Netflix column, I about how becoming a superhero was the choice that the character made ti try and make his way through a personal crisis. There’s a similar idea at work here in this film, the protagonist has a yard sale on his front lawn. It feels like a natural progression that this character would take, and that is because of a great performance from Will Ferrell. Wallace is great as well (he is Notorious BIG’s son, and could have a big future as an actor). Rebecca Hall (who has made the transition to American from Starter For Ten, which was in my second Negotiating Netflix column) is so good as well, bringing a chance of redemption for Nick. Michael Pena plays Nick’s sponsor and brings a depth to the role, as do Laura Dern and Stephen Root in small roles, and you may recognise Nick’s boss as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Glenn Howerton
There’s plenty to recommend about this film. It’s a surprise Dan Rush hasn’t much since. Everything Must Go has a very indie feel to it, but don’t let that put you off.
So this edition ends on a high note, signing off with two very good films in The Guest and Everything Must Go. In fact everything this week is good, Machete Kills and Cowboys & Aliens are only really let down by the fact that they could be better films.
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.