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.
How’s 2016 treating you so far? Still going to the gym? Eating healthier? Good, I’m proud of you. Me? Not so much, but hey, let’s get to the movies! I’m still clearing the backlog caused by all the Star Wars and Christmas articles (just wait until you see what I’ve got planned for Christmas 2016), which you might be able to spot in a couple of the choices!
So, here we go…
Free Birds (Jimmy Hayward, 2013)
Once upon a time (in the middle of November), I had an idea to do a best Thanksgiving films list – there must be loads of them, right? Surprisingly not. And there was the fact that upon re-watching I realised Planes, Trains and Automobiles is just so great that it deserved its own re-view.
This was the other Thanksgiving film that came to mind. Reggie (Owen Wilson) is the one turkey in the flock who realises that being fattened up leads to being eaten at Thanksgiving. He is disliked by the rest of his group, but he becomes the President’s chosen “Pardoned Turkey”. this leads to him living a pampered life at Camp David, where he starts eating pizza and watching telenovelas.
He is then kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson) who is from The Turkey Freedom Front. He has been sent by The Great Turkey to help Reggie go back in time to the first Thanksgiving, where he will change the course of history by making sure that turkey isn’t served during the dinner, and so turkeys will no longer be the domesticated creatures they have become. When the turkeys arrive in 1621, the turkeys have been forced to live underground to keep away from the settlers, and set about helping them survive the first Thanksgiving, hopefully changing the tradition and saving the future of turkeys.
This film is a mess. There are some funny moments – the government facility has some surprisingly witty guards – but they are few and far between. The talented cast is absolutely wasted as the plot plods, then has a few twists, before a terrible (and almost literal) deus ex machina ending. Even the twists just happen. The plot happens, then there are twists, then the film goes on again. There’s no build up to a big reveal, as it is only introduced a few minutes before. It’s strange to have character points only established two thirds of the way into the film, especially to have the resolution of these points be the vital to the ending.
Give it a miss.
Sabotage (David Ayer, 2014)
Over Christmas, the BBC produced a fantastic version of And The There Were None, based on the Agatha Christie novel which is the biggest selling mystery novel of all time. Sabotage is also (very, very) loosely based on the same book – and this was the only excuse I needed to stick this action film on one night. To be honest, the fact that it is made by Training Day, Harsh Times, and End of Watch director David Ayer really should have been enough of a reason, but I obviously needed another little push.
Since his spell as The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken some surprisingly interesting roles. The Last Stand is quite restrain (before the huge, incredibly enjoyable ending), The Escape Plan is the dream pairing of Arnie and Stallone, and Maggie sees him as father struggling with a zombie daughter. At first, Sabotage looks like a typical Schwarzenegger movie, with his a the macho leader of a DEA group that includes Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Josh Holloway, and Mireillie Enos.
There’s more to the character than that however. Maybe it’s working with Ayer that gives him a depth, as his seemingly honest group steal $10 million in the middle of a raid on a drugs cartel’s base. The money goes missing however, and the gang is suspended for months. When they are eventually being reinstated, they set out to try and find what happened to their cash. But the time apart has strained the relationship of the team – can they still trust each other?
I found this was a very interesting action film, with a talented group of actors happy to get down and dirty. This Schwarzenegger kid might have a future in this acting lark. I’d recommend you give it a watch and make up your own mind.
The Family (Luc Besson, 2013)
Luc Besson is a one man film industry. He made his name directing the likes of Nikita, Leon, and The Fifth Element, but as a producer he has made films as diverse as Ong-Bak, Nil By Mouth, The Transporter, 22 Bullets, A Monster In Paris, The Horseman (check out Dan’s Modern Western article for more on this one) and of course the incredibly successful Taken franchise. So when Besson steps behind the camera to direct, it’s usual for something special – the bonkers Lucy was a good example. The Family also stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, so this should be good, right?
The family in question here is in a witness protection scheme in France after offending a Mafia boss, and becoming an informant to allow his family to survive. They have been re-located in a small village after some issues with their neighbours, and they again have issues settling in. Tommy Lee Jones plays the agent who is responsible for the family’s safety, and advises the family to lay low. Of course, each member of the family members has their own problems fitting in – the father Fred (De Niro) is struggling to blend is as just a normal guy, his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer) struggles with the snotty attitude of the French locals, and the kids Belle and Warren have problems with school bullies and horny teenagers.
Actually, I’ve got to stop there. If this film was written by anyone but a Frenchmen, this would be incredibly racist. The villagers are the most stereotypical anti-American caricatures you can imagine (that episode of The Simpsons where Bart ends up working in the French vineyard is more sympathetic!) and the horny teenagers pretty much attempt to gang rape Belle by driving her to a lake, but she fights them off with a tennis racket, so it’s OK I guess? Maybe I’m misreading that sequence, but the tone of this film seems all over the place. Sometimes it’s lighthearted, sometimes dozens of innocent villagers are being gunned down by mafia hitmen.
Give it a miss. There are some interesting parts – Frank is invited to a film club, and ends up talking about Goodfellas. Robert De Niro discussing Goodfellas! So why haven’t you seen this film already? It’s because the film just isn’t very good. And the trailer is incredibly misleading.
Spaceballs (Mel Brooks, 1987)
So, I’m not sure if you noticed, but The Force Awakens marked a pretty successful return for the Star Wars franchise (check out Dan’s review here). In the build up to the release, I planned to watch and re-view the Star Wars parody Spaceballs, but ran out of time, so it ends up in here instead.
Naturally, I’m a huge fan of Mel Brooks. The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Robin Hood: Men In Tights are all favourites of mine (yeah, Robin Hood is slightly weaker, but my sister and me used to watch it loads). For some reason however, I’ve never seen Spaceballs. I’m not sure why – maybe Rick Moranis’ character being called Dark Helmet seemed a bit too stupid? I’m really not sure why – but here we go.
I’ve got to be honest, I was disappointed. Whereas the previous films come from a place of love, the parodies in Spaceballs seem cynical and cold. Where Brooks is obviously a huge fan of Westerns, he can take the mickey out of them in Blazing Saddles, I’m not convinced that Brooks likes Star Wars enough to earn the right to mock, and that’s what it feels like. In fact, there are more jokes about the film business than there are about sci-fi. I feel like Brooks had these jokes about merchandising and using the home video release to have the bad guys catch up with the good, and could have fit them into almost any movie.
It’s a shame, because the production values are very high, and Lucas himself approved the film. But, it’s only a moderately funny film, and there could be much more fun to be had with the Star Wars universe. If I’ve dampened your expectations enough, give it a go. If you already love the film, feel free to
abuse me tell me why I’m wrong in the comments!
Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Jay & Mark Duplass, 2011)
Early on, I predicted Jason Segel would be the breakout star of How I Met Your Mother. Neil Patrick Harris’s Barney is the breakout character, but Segel seemed to be the guy most likely (and later, with the right connections) to make the jump into movie stardom. Most of his comedy roles have be at least co-written by himself, and have been a bit hit and miss – Sex Tape, anyone? But in 2011, he had roles in 3 films – Bad Teacher, The Muppets, and this.
Obviously, The Muppets will probably be the highlight of his career, but Jeff, Who Lives At Home shows a different side of Segel. Here he plays Jeff, who lives at home, in the basement with his mother. A wrong number asking for Kevin and a trip to the hardware store leads to him going on a journey to fulfill his destiny – at least that’s how he sees it. To be honest, he gets off the bus a stop early and follows someone with a basketball shirt with Kevin on the back. He meets up with his brother Pat (Ed Helms) by accident, and the two of them then see Pat’s wife Linda (Judy Greer) in a car with another man. The two of them follow the illicit couple, and the brothers finally start to talk and connect.
Segel and Helms are both very impressive in this film. They have a strange duality in their careers – both have been succesful with subtle work in indie films, and yet in their more commercial films they sometimes go for crude humour. Here, the Duplass brothers Jay and Mark (who also produced The One I Love from a previous Negotiating Netflix) are in full mumblecore mode, with the improvised style working really well with these talented actors producing believable relationships and some genuinely touching moments. Special praise to the world wear (but still hopeful) Susan Sarandon as Sharon, the boys’ mother. Her story seems slight at first, but ties into the themes of the movie so well. An interesting, enjoyable film, if you can get past the indie stylings. (That’s a terrible phrase, but I hope you know what I mean!)
Jeff’s obsession with the film Signs has also made me want to dig it out for a rewatch. I still say M. Night Shyamalan can make a comeback!
And that’s it for this edition. Again, I seem to have got two good, surprisingly interesting films, and a couple of poor ones. Spaceballs is just kind of just there for me. Maybe it’s because I love his other films that I feel a bit let down that it isn’t a classic. Jeff, Who Lives At Home is much more interesting and enjoyable than I thought it would be (i was kind of dreading it) and Sabotage is a good action film that has a brain (I think – I might need to re-watch to confirm). Freebirds is a mess, and The Family’s bad bits annoy me so much I dislike it quite a lot.
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, and I know I’ve been saying that, but it’s true! I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.