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: I caught up with the classic Annie Hall, as well as a couple of animated features from the last couple of years (Frozen and Brave) that were alright but nothing special, with Grand Budapest Hotel and Captain America: The Winter Soldier making up the rest of a rather varied batch. Having three of my five choices last time as films I haven’t seen before made me realise I should be more original, so this edition is full of films I am watching for the first time. I did it in this Perusing Prime article which went quite well, but then also with only my second Negotiating Netflix article, and that had Leprechaun: Origins *shudder*, which nearly ended my Snooty Usher career right there and then.
So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Frank Oz, 1988)
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is regarded as a comedy classic, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, and directed by Frank “yes, the vlice of Ms Piggy and Yoda” Oz. It has also been made into a musical, firstly on Broadway with John Lithgow and then in London with Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound.
Caine is Lawrence Jamieson, a suave British conman earning a rather nice living seducing and conning wealthy women in Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. The only wrinkle in his easy life is a newspaper report of another conman called The Jackal, who has been working their way across Europe. When brash American hustler Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) blusters into town, threatening to ruin the tranquility, Lawrence quickly moves him along to the next town along on the Riviera. When Freddy returns in the company of a rich woman, Lawrence has him thrown in jail with help from a corrupt local policeman. Lawrence agrees to tutor Freddy, and teaches him all of the tricks of the trade (a particularly funny montage) before Freddy gets tired of playing second fiddle. A wager is agreed upon, and the conman who can successfully fleece Janet Colgate (Glenne Headley playing a naive American “soap queen”) will get to stay on the Riviera, while the other has to pack up and leave.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a timeless comedy classic. Steve Martin is on top form (only occasionally going too far, in a rather strange con that involves a Freddy acting as Lawrence’s brother), and if anyone ever says Michael Caine can’t act and just plays the same character, this is the film to show them. Headley more than holds up her end of the bargain as well. A definite recommendation, and the musical has been added to the list of things I should see as well.
The Cobbler (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
From the director of The Station Agent and Spotlight, Tom McCarthy (who also wrote Up!) comes an Adam Sandler film that barely got released, and so became the worse performing film of Sandler’s career. But as we’ve seen time and again, box office performance isn’t a sign of quality.
Here, Sandler plays Max Simlin, a cobbler struggling to make a living in a New York neighbourhood under threat from developers. He is also looking after his senile mother, who his father abandoned. His only “friend” is Steve Buscemi’s Jimmy, the barber who has the store next to him.
When waiting for a customer (Method Man) to return for a pair of shoes he has repaired with an old stitching machine, Max absent-mindedly tries them on and is transformed into the customer. This opens up a world of possibilities for Max to put right some of the problems in his life, as ever, there are consequences.
I had real trouble wording that last sentence, because I have made the movie sound more exciting than it is. Max’s ambition extends to going to Chinatown as an Asian guy and eating a meal in a restaurant then changing shoes so he can leave without paying. There is also a creepy section where he puts on his neighbour’s shoes (Dan Stevens, who disappears from the film after), does out for a drink as his neighbour, then is about to have sex with his neighbour’s girlfriend. I think the film is trying to show how Max is attracted to his neighbour’s glamourous lifestyle, but it comes off as morally very dubious. There is also a con at the end of the film doesn’t really make much sense.
The film should be a lot more fun than it is. It takes a very grounded (it’s called a “magical realism comedy drama” on Wikipedia) attitude to this gift that Max discovers, but by doing so it actually becomes less realistic. The ending then undermines most of this work. In retrospect, this would probably have worked better with the typical Adam Sandler performance, rather than the surprisingly restrained (by which I mean, slightly dull) one he gives here.
Oh, and there’s a very famous actor who made our Top 25 who turns up here, that genuinely made me think “what is he doing in this film?”
Not as interesting as it should be, give the film a miss.
The Last Days On Mars (Ruairi Robinson, 2014)
This is a low budget film starring Liev Schreider (the star of one of Senior Wrestling Correspondent Jonny Hogarth’s favourite shows Ray Donovan) as a member of a team of researchers on Mars preparing to return home when one of the team discovers bacteria on the surface of the Red Planet. This is also a film that he (sort of) recommended.
The story plays out as a bit of a horror cliche, going through many tropes you have in plenty of other films. However, setting it on Mars does make it more interesting. There are also some early scenes that look a lot like The Martian.
Schreiber is very good, giving an understated performance similar to his role in the excellent Spotlight. The supporting cast also does well, I do want to give a mention to Tom Cullen from an episode of Black Mirror, and Olivia Williams, who as usual is excellent.
The small budget limits what the film makers can do, but they work around it though. The make up effects aren’t great, but they get the point across. The jumps are in the right place, but the film doesn’t rely on them.
I would modestly recommend this film, as long as you have modest expectations. It’s good that the Senior Wrestling Correspondent and me agree on this one.
The Decoy Bride (Sheree Folkson, 2011)
Confession time: I would watch David Tennant in anything.
Even before his run as The Doctor, there was Blackpool and Secret Smile, then of course his role as Casanova, which easily made my Top 10 BBC Three shows, and was a highlight of that channel’s early output. Broadchurch and Jessica Jones since then have solidified his reputation. His film output finds him in a similar position to many British actors however, who are at the top of the TV star scale but can’t get the roles in the British film industry. Hugh Laurie kicked open the door to American TV, and Andrew Lincoln is another who has become a star, but there’s only so many roles in Game Of Thrones, so some British actors have to pick and choose.
Here he takes the role of James Arber, an author who is trying to marry the most famous actress is the world, Lara Tyler (Alice Eve). After the paparazzi continually spoil their wedding, they decide to marry on the remote Outer Herbridean island of Hegg, where Arber had set his first novel. Katie Nic Aodh (Kelly McDonald) has just moved back to the island after her fiance broke off their engagement. When one photographer follows the celebrities to the island, Katie has to act as a decoy bride to throw him off the scent. Lara goes missing on the island however, and Katie and James have to try and find her.
Being a romantic comedy, you know exactly how the main story is going to play out. THe three main characters are charming enough to make it watchable though. The supporting cast includes Sally Phillips (who wrote the script as well), Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie, James Fleet, and Dylan Moran, all of whom are very funny. There’s also a very good performance from Maureen Beattie as Katie’s ill mother.
There are enough wrinkles in the story to keep it interesting enough. There’s a surprising depth (for a rom com) to Sally Phillips’ script that makes me wish she had written more (or had more scripts developed). I recommend it.
Takers (John Luessonhop ,2010)
Idris Elba is the leader of a group of bank robbers, including Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Michael Ealy, and Chris Brown (yup, that Chris Brown). Matt Dillon is the police detective trying to catch them. A former member of the gang (Ghost, played by hip hop artist TI, who also produced the film) is released 5 years after being caught during a robbery. Ghost persuades the gang to take on a new job, and we see each of the team do their thing to set it up.
As I have said, I love a good heist movie. Takers isn’t a good heist movie though. Idris Elba is very cool (as always) but Hayden Christensen as a slick talker donesn’t really convince, even though he only has a small role. The same with Paul Walker, who only has a supporting role here. I always thought Walker never really found a decent character outside of the Fast and Furious franchise (The Lazarus Project was interesting and Running Scared saw his character get about 95% less interesting in its final act), and this is another one note character. A tagline of “Who’s taking who” is pointless as well – *spoiler* Ghost is so obviously out for himself that his betrayal isn’t even slightly surprising *end of spoiler*
Look at how badly photoshoped the faces are on the main poster. Give Takers a miss. Check out something like Triple 9 that uses an ensemble cast and pulls off its heist much better. To be honest, even your average episode of Hustle is better than this.
A decent selection this time out. Takers and The Cobbler probably aren’t worth your time, but The Decoy Bride and The Last Days On Mars are interesting enough takes on rather familiar stories. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is very good indeed. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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