Welcome to latest chapter in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the vast 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 on Negotiating Netflix: a pretty mediocre selection, with the utterly camp Batman being a surprising highlight. This edition I’ve played it a bit safer, with a few retreads. Let’s see how it goes…
Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011)
Limitless was one of those films that came out of nowhere to be both incredibly successful ($150 milllion plus from a budget of $27 million) and very enjoyable. However, my abiding memory was of how slick and fast-paced it was – so does this stand up 5 years later on the small screen?
Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a “writer” struggling to actually write his book, with Abbie Cornish as his girlfriend who gets sick of him constantly failing to reach anything close to his potential. A chance meeting with his ex-wife’s brother (“is there any more useless [relationship] than the ex-brother-in-law”) introduces Morra to a drug that increases his brainpower, improves his memory until he can remember every detail of his life, and raises his IQ. However, after one great night, the effect wears off and Morra is desperate for more. His ex-brother-in-law is murdered, but Eddie finds his stash of the drug, and embarks on a regime of self improvement.
Morra starts investing in the stock exchange and makes remarkable financial gains, so much so that he comes to attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, in one of his better performances of recent years), who takes Morra under his wing. But when he starts having side-effects from the drug, his once bright future comes under threat.
There’s not really any subtext or deeper meaning, but Limitless is still a very enjoyable film. Bradley Cooper has moved into more critically acclaimed films since (3 Oscar nominations in a row), but this is one of my favourite films of his. Despite its modern themes and trappings, it has enough of old-style thriller flourishes to hold up as a thriller. I’m not surprised a TV series was made in the same world.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (Nick Park & Steve Box, 2005)
Recently I watched Anomalisa (my review is here) and was shocked at just how good it was – so much so that it actually displaced this as my favourite stop-motion film. And that was all the reason I needed to revisit this classic of British cinema.
Because that is what it is. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit sees our beloved duo running a vegetable security firm, Anti-Pesto. It’s the run up to the annual Tottington Hall Giant Vegetable Competition, and with such high demand for their services, Wallace has invented the Mind Manipulation-O-Matic. This allows him to hypnotise the rabbits and stop them from eating carrots, however a terrible accident leads to one rabbit being stuck in the machine, and although Hutch (the rabbit) no longer wants to eat vegetables, the machine is destroyed.
There is then a spate of giant rabbit sightings, and Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham-Carter) asks Wallace to protect Tottington Hall from pests, much to the chargrin of Lord Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a hunter who is looking to seduce Tottington and doesn’t want any competition. And when the Were-Rabbit strikes again, can our heroes save the day?
Bonham Carter and Fiennes are on top form as the Lady of the Manor and the devilish cad. Gromit is still one of the great British film characters, one of the most expressive and empathetic lumps of clay ever, and of course Wallace is still my favourite Lancastrian.
Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is absolutely packed with references to old horror films. It really is an absolute gem of British film making, as is most of Aardman Animation’s output (Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists made it into Negotiating Netflix towards the end of last year). Long may they continue.
Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001)
Due to the backlog created by my brief detour into the world of Amazon Prime, I actually re-watched this a couple of months ago, just before I went to see the disappointing Zoolander 2 (click for Dan’s review).
Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is the world’s greatest male model, with his patented Blue Steel look the envy of everyone in the industry. However, when he is usurped by Owen Wilson’s Hansel (“so hot right now”) and his 3 housemates die in a “freak gasoline fight accident”, he decides to retire and go back to his family of minors (a hilarious cameo from John Voigt, Vince Vaughan, and Judah Friedman).
However, he is soon offered a chance at a comeback by the one man who never hired him: inventor of the piano tie Jacobim Mugatu (a brilliantly over the top Will Ferrell). Mugatu has a sinister plan however – to assassinate the new ruler of Malaysia who is trying to regulate sweat shops – and Zoolander is his unwitting pawn. Zoolander is brainwashed, but a couple of unlikely allies and a mysterious figure from fashion’s past come to his aid. Can they stop Mugatu before it is too late?
Zoolander is a top notch comedy. The “walk-off” between Derek and Gretchen is brilliant, and there are so many quotable lines. Oh, and the cameos – I’m not sure any film has used them as well as Zoolander did. And not overusing them so they lose their impact. Especially this one:
Zoolander was never a film “of its time”, as none of us are really that familiar with the world of high fashion, so it has aged very well, considering it is now 15 years since we first met Derek Zoolander. It is off beat enough to be endearing, but not too much. One of the best comedies on Netflix.
47 Ronin (Carl Rinsch, 2013)
If The Snooty Ushers had been together as the awesome united foursome we are in 2013, Dan’s list of risky films for that year would have included 47 Ronin. Any film with a budget of $175 million is a huge risk, and in today’s landscape of well-known properties and franchises, you are really up against it trying to bring something truly original into that marketplace and sell the number of tickets needed to make a profit. Add in a full year’s delay to the release date (allegedly to help the conversion to 3D) and you had plenty of warning signs.
Keanu Reeves is Kai, who was found as a child in the woods by a hunting party, and has been trained as a samurai. During a visit from another Shogun, Kai’s mater is killed, and he and all of his fellow samurai are declared masterless and forbidden from seeking revenge. They eventually regroup and attempt to regain honour when their leader Oishi realises witchcraft was used in the death of his master. There’s plenty of mythical obstacles for them to overcome along the way.
As Dan said in his risky film article, there are certain films that bomb at the box office bit are still good films. This isn’t one of them. A shocking dull film. I’m not sure how you make a film about samurai not be slightly interesting. I’m sure one of the issues was the marketing – although the poster featured some cool characters, it was never clear where they fit in the story? Were they allies for Keanu Reeves’ character? Or bad guys for him to fight?
Pitched as an attempt at a Lord Of The Rings epic, it doesn’t get anywhere close in any aspect at all: give it a miss. Keanu Reeves is actually in a purple patch right now with Man Of Tai Chi, John Wick and Knock Knock – but maybe his time in huge blockbusters is gone.
Muppets Most Wanted (James Bobin, 2014)
The Muppets was a great comeback film. Jason Segel and James Bobin had a great script, and Segel and new character Walter were the perfect way to reintroduce the audience to the Muppets. The songs were absolutely perfect as well. Three years later, this sequel came along, which went for the comedy caper/road trip style of 1981s The Great Muppet Caper.
We pick up right at the end of The Muppets, complete with the crowds cheering their comeback. As the crowd disperses however, they notice that the cameras are still rolling: as Miss Piggy sings “the studio considers us a viable franchise”. So we roll into our first song “We’re Doing a Sequel”, which has host of ideas pitched until Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) suggests a world tour. He becomes their new manager, but he is also number 2 to the world’s most dangerous criminal Constantine. This leads to Kermit in a Russian gulag (run by Tina Fey) when Constantine swaps places with him, and the gang being investigated by Sam Eagle and Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell with a ridiculous French accent). There are high jinx aplenty as the gang make their way across Europe, while Kermit tries to survive in the prison alongside Jermaine Clement, Ray Liotta, and Danny Trejo (as Danny Trejo), before putting on a talent show.
The film suffers in comparison to the sheer joyfulness of The Muppets, but is still a very good film. Gervais and Fay are both fantastic in their roles, and Burrell’s Clouseau-inspired perfromance is so much better than Steve Martin’s in The Pink Panther (which I reviewed in the last edition). There are just so many in-jokes and references, and the cameos just keep coming. Brett MacKenzie’s songs are more Flight Of The Conchords than ever. Give it a watch, even if “as everyone knows the sequel’s not quite as good”
So, Wallace & Gromit is a cracking film, Zoolander, Limitless and Muppets Most Wanted are all really enjoyable, and the one disappointment is the utterly dull 47 Ronin. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS As a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s the excellent Warburton’s advert featuring the Muppets.