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: it was a bit of a mixed bag. All decent enough films, but nothing all that special to be honest. This time around, I’ve decided to base my selection on the New Arrivals section. Normally there are only a couple of interesting film in there, but for whatever reason, August brought some real quality and some surprisingly recent ones.
So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2016)
As a rule, we try not to repeat ourselves when it comes to reviewing films among The Snooty Ushers. But even though Dan has reviewed this, when I saw it was in the New Arrivals, I just had to include Creed here.
Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Rocky’s opponent in the first film) who is determined to become a fighter, despite his adoptive mother Mary Anne Creed’s (Phylicia Rashad) reservations. When no-one in LA will train him, Johnson moves to Philadelphia to find and get trained by the legendary Rocky Balboa, now living a simple life running his restaurant. There he meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson) a musician who is slowly losing her hearing. Desperate to make it on his own terms, Johnson wins his first fight with Rocky in his corner, but when his real lineage is revealed he is given the chance to take on world champion Pretty Ricky Conlan (real life boxer Tony Bellew).
Creed is a fantastic sports drama film. It’s also much much more than that. Stallone deserved every accolade that came his way, allowing the Rocky character to become a supporting character in Adonis’ story. Jordan is just as brilliant as Adonis however, as an intelligent young man you basically gives up everything to follow a burning ambition. He earns the famous fanfare in the final fight.
Of course, the fight scenes are full of action and drama. There’s a great long tracking shot during Adonis’ first entrance, and similarly the first fight with Rocky training him is basically in one take. You feel the tension in Adonis as he sways and moves, and feel his relief and joy. And then the final fight is so well put together, with a nice nod to Raging Bull thrown in, and a truly heart stopping moment. Even the training montages – a necessity – are given a modern spin while still retaining the original film, helped by an incredible score from Ludwig Goransson.
This is a spin-off the the Rocky series rather than a sequel, and the world of Rocky feels as fleshed out as any film series, like how Apollo Creed is offhandedly referred to as the greatest fighter ever in a news report, or when Adonis shadow boxes to YouTube footage of the Creed-Balboa fight. Then there are the more personal Rocky references (Adonis snatches the squash ball that Apollo gave to Rocky, the turtle in Rocky’s house) that show this is tied into the franchise still – as long as we all agree Rocky V didn’t happen.
I always thought that the first film that I reviewed after Dan would be something that Dan reviewed when he was a singular Usher. Instead, it’s this excellent film. As I mentioned in our first podcast, Creed was my favourite film of 2016 so far, and it still is.
Boom. My highest honour.
Sicario (Dennis Villeneuve, 2015)
Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. After breaking my re-review rule with Creed, here’s a second one. Sicario was a film I was looking forward to but missed back in October when it was released.
Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is a FBI agent who is asked to join an operation to take down the leader of a drug cartel, being led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) has also been hired as a member of the team, but his shady past and brutal methods cause Kate to question her role in the team, and what the end goal really is for them
Sicario is a great film, with quality performances from the three leads. It’s great to see Daniel Kaluuya in a proper role he can get his teeth into, and he more than holds his own here. I hope he gets more Hollywood roles off the back of this, a nice progression from Tea Leaf in Psychoville.
The way the story unfolds is impressive, as director Denis Villeneuve treats the audience with respect as the shifting loyalties and aims of the team are revealed to Kate (and in turn, the viewers) over the course of the film. His next film Arrival and the Blade Runner sequel (which he is directing) look like two quality films if he can keep this up.
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
There are certain films that are incredibly difficult to explain without revealing spoilers. In the case of The Lobster, that comes from a plot shift halfway through that reveals a new set of characters. So, this is a film set in a world where single people are turned into animals after 45 days, and my advice – go and watch this film now.
After his wife leaves him, David (Colin Farrell) moves into a hotel, ran by the ever brilliant Olivia Coleman. Here he meets a wide arrange of other single people. There is a Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) and a Lisping Man (John C Reilly), as well as a Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia), a Woman who gets nosebleeds (Jessica Bardem) and a Woman who likes biscuits (Ashley Jensen). He learns that he can earn extra time by capturing “loners” – single people who live in the forest – during the weekly hunts. These loners include Rachel Weisz, Michael Smiley (an actor I still know best as Tyres from Spaced), and are lead by Lea Seydoux (Inglorious Basterds and Spectre). David has to try and find love in the most depressing place imaginable, before he is turned into a lobster.
The Lobster is such a good film. Wonderfully odd with so many laugh out loud moments it would work as a bizarre comedy, it has great performances across the board. The characters are a strange mixture, and become on fixated on single characteristics. It has as many daft moments as heart-wrenching ones. I’m not sure if it is a deep commentary on the pressures of relationships and an individuals place is society or just a high concept piece of absurdist nonsense, but whatever its is, it is wonderful. As Mr Burns once said “I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate… and I don’t hate this”
I always say that pretty much the highest benchmark I have for a film is if it could be an episode of The Twilight Zone. Well, this could be a episode of The Twilight Zone. In fact this could be two episodes of The Twilight Zone. And I’m going to go the whole hog and bust out this:
I’m not messing around with this one. The Lobster is a great film.
The Duel (Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2016)
A slightly less high profile film to arrive on Netflix in August was The Duel. Starring Woody Harrelson and Liam Hensworth, it is the story of David, a Texas Ranger (Hemsworth) who is asked to investigate a series of missing Mexicans in the 1880s. Harrelson plays Abraham, the old lawman who has become the spiritual leader of a small town, and when David arrives, Abraham welcomes him and his wife Marisol (Alice Braga), making David the sheriff. When David finds out that the town’s leader is a lot more than just a Pentecostal snake-handler, he finds he has more to deal with than he every could imagine.
Calling the film The Duel was probably a mistake, as it would suggest there is one climactic fight. By Way Of Helena (a working title at one point) would have been a better title, because it is works best as an exploration of Abraham and his influence on the town and its people than it does as a revenge story. Harrelson is spectacular as always, Hemsworth gives a muscular, brooding performance that is probably his best, and Alice Braga (an actress who usually leaves me cold) brings a melancholy to her role that elevates an entire sub-plot to almost being as interesting as the main story. Marisol’s story doesn’t get the time it needs though, and isn’t really resolved properly.
Still, The Duel is a decent, low-budget Western. See it for another excellent Woody Harrelson performance.
Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
John Crowley (Intermission) directs this script by Nick Hornby (of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity fame) from the novel by Colm Toibin, and it’s a pretty straightforward story of a young Irish woman emigrating to live in Brooklyn.
Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young woman living in a small village in southern Ireland. She spends her weekends working for the judgemental Miss Kelly and going to to dances with her sister Rose. With no education or employment opportunities – and her romantic options limited to a bunch of dull, boorish lads from the local Rugby club – Eilis has arranged with Father Frost (Jim Broadbent) to move to America to better herself. She is plagued with feelings of loneliness, homesickness, and isolation, but eventually comes to terms with life in her new home. She eventually settles into her new life, taking a book-keeping course and meeting a nice Italian boy. But she still feels guilt about leaving her mother and sister behind, and when she has to return home she is faced with a difficult decision where her future lies.
Like I said a pretty straightforward story, but really well told. Ronan received her first Best Actress nomination (adding to her Best Supporting Actress nomination for Atonement) and I’m sure it is the first of many. A cracking film.
So, I guess you could say this was a good month. TWO FILMS out of five get the Danger 5 McKenzie thumbs up. I’ve only dished that out to Planes, Trains, And Automobiles, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Mr Holmes before this column. Only The Duel isn’t a definite immediate recommendation, as it doesn’t quite match Woody Harrelson’s fantastic central performance. But all in all, a pretty great selection. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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