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 good selection, if I do say so myself! Only the incredibly dull 47 Ronin (which I’m struggling to remember any details from already) wasn’t a really enjoyable film. Wallace & Gromit is an absolute treasure that I’ll watch time and again. This time I’ve caught up with a classic that I needed to tick off the list, a visual gem from a couple of years ago, a couple of animated hits that I had missed on release, and a quick reminder for a big release.
So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
Everyone has some classics that they have missed. Annie Hall is one of mine. In fact, a lot of Woody Allen’sback catalogue is – and I actually really like Woody Allen! And in his latter years he is a one man film industry. Check out Whatever Works with Larry David, it’s an under-seen gem. There was the entertaining Match Point, but Bananas is the only one of his early works I’ve seen.
Annie Hall is the story of a Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), a neurotic, New York comedian (such a stretch for him!) who starts a relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). As you can probably tell, they have their ups and downs.
However, beyond the basic set-up, Annie Hall rewrites the book on what a film could do. It seems so familiar now, but Singer breaks the fourth wall more than Deadpool, and the subtitled double talk scene deserves the legendary status that it has earned. There are also a good few cameos to spot along the way, always a fun game to play.
Some classic films fall flat, especailly comedies. But any cinema fan should watch Annie Hall, it really is great. And very funny. Even if my re-telling of the joke at the beginning went down like a lead balloon. If you’ve ever wondered what the big deal is with Woody Allen – this is the film that will show you. The script is brilliant and his performance is just as impressive. I was so relieved it lived up to the hype!
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
And now we come to one of the best films I saw in 2014, and one of the films that will make probably my Top Films of the Decade when The Snooty Ushers announce our list in 2020, live from Hollywood, in our planned celebration that will definitely happen.
We start with a young girl reading a book under a statue of its author. We then are taken to the author (Tom Wilkinson) introducing the book, and then to the younger author (Jude Law), staying at a rundown Grand Budapest Hotel. He meets an old guest (F. Murray Abraham) who turns out to be the owner, who over dinner tells him the story of how he started working at the hotel. We are told the story of concierge Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes) and how young Zero (Tony Revolori) got wrapped up in a tale of murder, art theft, prison, revolution, war, and delicious cakes.
If you’ve always been put off by Wes Anderson’s “art house” reputation, this is the perfect film to jump in with. An absolute treat, with Ralph Fiennes giving a belter of a performance! How he didn’t get an Oscar nomination is a mystery. Tony Revolori is brilliant, as is Saoirse Ronanas Agatha. We have a litany of memorable performances in small roles (Tilda Swinton, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and more) and too many cameos to even start listing. In fact, I’m going to bust out one of these:
Check out The Grand Budapest Hotel as soon as you can. It’s one of the most fun, absurd, and yet moving films you will see. A genuine cinematic treat, as sweet as anything from Mendel’s Bakery.
Frozen (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee, 2013)
As much as I love The Grand Budapest Hotel, some people love Frozen even more. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen, as a pair of closeted, distant, orphaned sisters are exposed to the outside when their city opens its for the first time since their parents death. It was a film I missed on it’s original release, so this is my first time watching it.
Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are playing together as children, using Elsa’s power to control ice to have plenty of fun. There is an accident when Anna is injured, and the King and Queen take her to the troll king, who heels Anna and removes her memory of Elsa’s power, warning that her power is dangerous. This leads to Elsa alone in her room (whether it is enforced or her own choice is not clear, but her parents make it clear she is dangerous). This leads to Anna being a lonely child, and so when the city’s gates are opened for Elsa’s coronation, she is excited, whereas Elsa again is hesitant to embrace the outside world. There is another incident with Elsa not being able to control her powers, which leads to her freezing the kingdom, fleeing and building an ice palace. Anna sets off to find her sister, getting help from Kristoff, an ice seller, and his reindeer Sven, and Olaf, a snowman created by Elsa.
First of all, this is definitely a kid’s film. In away, it should be applauded for not shoehorning in adult references for the sake of it, but compared to Zootropolis there’s nothing under the surface. The message of “be yourself” (and I guess, be nice to your siblings) are a bit simplistic. And, of course, there’s a problem with the actual story, which means it isn’t a film that stands up to any scrutiny. Disney spent a long time trying to work the Snow Queen story into something that worked on screen, and maybe a decision was made to simplify a lot of the early story.
The main issue is that the first third of the film doesn’t really make sense, and there aren’t quite enough songs or comedy moments to distract away from it. I’m not going to add to the reams and reams written about whether Elsa and Anna’s parents are abusive, my problems with the story are on a more basic level: why does no-one realise how awesome Elsa’s powers are? Seriously, Arendelle could rule the world! Why is the younger sister protected at the expense of THE POWER OF CRYOKINESIS! And then, after the King and Queen’s death, who is running the kingdom? I’m not expecting the political intrigue like the Iron Throne of Westeros, but there is not a single advisor or other family member, so much so that Anna leaves her fiance in control. Never mind “you can’t marry a man you just met” – you can’t let him take over your castle either! Like I said, it seems like the film makers made a choice to just get to a certain point in the story and streamlined the beginning.
Personally, I prefer the sparse 2010 horror-thriller Frozen, but that’s just me. I reckon Tangled is a better film as well, but this entertaining enough, I’m only half-serious about my problems with the story. Olaf is the highlight, a great comedy sidekick character, and most of the songs are great, although the famous “Let It Go”, while a great sinaglong song, feels shoehorned into the actual film.
It’s an entertaining enough kid’s film, but it’s not one of the top tier Disney films.
Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012)
Like Frozen, Brave was a film I just wasn’t interested in. After the fantastic Up and Wall-E, this seemed to me to be Pixar trying to do a Disney film. So, four years later, how does their first fairy tale hold up?
Kelly Macdonald voices Merida, a Scottish princess who is given a bow and arrow by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), much to the displeasure of Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants Merida to grow up to be a “proper” princess. Merida wanders off into the woods and is attacked by a bear, leading to the King fighting him off. This fight, and the loss of Fergus’ leg, becomes the King’s favourite story, and we see him (years later) boring his family to death with his umpteenth re-telling at dinner.
This dinner also serves as a way for the King to announce that a challenge is to be held to win the hand in marriage of Merida. Being a free-spirited young woman, Merida hates this idea, which leads to an argument with her mother. She then manages to enter (and win) the archery competition, discrediting all her potential suitors and their clans, leading to an even bigger argument. Merida heads out into the woods and meets a witch, who gives her an enchanted cake that with allow her to control her own destiny. Obviously this comes with strings attached, and Merida has to deal with the consequences when the clans threaten to bring war to Scotland.
Brave is a very good looking film, but just feels… slight. Similar to Frozen, beyond its message of acceptance and being yourself (and to let your kid’s be themselves) there’s not a lot of depth. As a fairy tale, it is a nice, fun film, and Merida is a great, feisty, independent addition to the ranks of the Disney Princesses. But this is a Pixar film, and we expect better from them, don’t we?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014)
Just before the release of Captain America: Civil War, and in the process of putting together our first Ranked! column, I decided to put together an Avengers edition of Negotiating Netflix. However, when it came down to it there was only the two Captain America films and the two Thor films, as well as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. This wasn’t quite enough to put together a column (especially with Civil War not featuring Thor!) so I picked the film that leads directly into Captain America: Civil War.
The ninth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (see where it we placed it in Ranked!) sees Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) working for SHIELD, 2 years after the “New York incident”, alongside Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) under the leadership of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). After a successful mission, Captain America questions Fury about the real aim of the mission, as he had caught Romanoff stealing information. Nick Fury then reveals Project Insight, a huge operation which will culminate in a satellite system that will be able to eliminate anyone SHIELD sees as a threat (with a nice tease of Dr Strange). This makes Rogers uneasy, and when there are problems with Romanoff’s data, Fury himself has some questions for his boss: Alexander Pierce, played by the legendary Robert Redford.
What then unfolds is an espionage film, as Rogers is forced out of SHIELD and Fury is attacked, and are joined by Romanoff and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to try and understand who is working against them – and did Hydra manage to survive the end of the War better than Captain America himself? And just who is the Winter Soldier?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fantastic film. It unfolds like a 1970s spy film, with all the trappings: Rogers using low-tech methods to hide important evidence in plain sight, the attack on Fury could have been taken straight from East Berlin, and Fury waiting in Rogers’ apartment is a spy novel staple. My only issues with the film is that Steve Rogers is never in any real danger, even during the huge explosive finale. And also, this should be a Black Widow film, putting her in those same situations would build a lot more suspense. Still, it’s a cracking film, and only my love for other films in the series kept it from being higher in my list. A great addition to the MCU, showing that Marvel can fit their characters into many different genres of films.
A good selection this edition, if I do say so myself. Annie Hall is a cracker, and I should have seen it earlier. I really should start taking on more films that I have’t seen before, rather than just recommending films on Netflix. So next time out, it will be a set of films that I have never seen before. Also, I need to say it again, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute gem. I can’t recommend it enough. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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