Patrick: This past August, I lived in Pamplona, Spain which is directly on the route of “El camino de Santiago”, a famous 800 kilometer pilgrimage route through the Pyrenees to the shrine of Saint James in Northwestern Spain. Every day, I would see “pilgrims” with backpacks as big as they were walking by. Being an ignorant American, I asked a Spanish friend about all of the pilgrims, and he told me to watch the Martin “Seen” movie. After a puzzled look and a few Que?s I realized he was talking about Martin Sheen and the movie The Way.
Recently, I finally watched the Emilio Estevez movie starring his own father which, not coincidentally, is about a father who has lost his son on the camino and decides to do the walk himself to scatter his son’s ashes on the pilgrimage he could never finish. I started to watch the movie out of nostalgia for my short-lived home and to see all the sites again, but continued watching because I genuinely liked it. The movie has somewhat of an Into the Wild feel to it, with a personal journey and the bonds formed and lessons learned on it. Martin Sheen’s Tom relearns the importance of travel, feels more connected to his now-deceased son, and meets some interesting people along the way: Sarah takes the journey to quit smoking; Joost walks the 800 kilometers to lose weight; Jack needs the pilgrimage to beat his writer’s block. Together, they take the journey. And together, they make the journey that is The Way a fun but profound movie, certainly worth the watch whether you’ve lived in Navarra or never heard of it before.
Continue reading Netflix Picks #5
What do you want out of a superhero show? There’s no shortage, of course — you’re getting superheroes whether they’re what you want or not. They’re everywhere. Shakespearian actors are nudging each other out of the way for the chance to play a purple-faced mind-controller. At least kids across America are thankful that there’s something to be for Halloween besides Harry Potter. Heck, even the Academy Awards are doling out statuettes for superheroism (although there’s something special about Birdman winning Best Picture, as if the Academy were trying to fight back). There’s no way around it: the increasingly staggering numbers of superflicks hitting theaters over the next half-decade can now be measured in metric shit-tons. The only thing more tiresome than the parade of superheroes is the commentary about how the parade of superheroes is so tiresome.
And, yeah, the shared universe gripes/laudations are just as stale, but here we are. Marvel in particular has reached the point where they seem to want it both ways: they want their superheroes to be intricately connected to every other superhero and yet be distinctly standalone. And, yeah: Jessica Jones. The latest entry in Marvel’s grand scheme has more inherent push/pull to the interconnectedness thing than any other installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that includes the Netflix predecessor Daredevil. On one hand Jessica is about as far away as you’re gonna get from Captain America, and maybe that marks trouble for an inevitable crossing-of-paths — either the dark tone of Jones would be compromised to accommodate Cap or the other way around.
Continue reading Jessica Jones – Season 1
Narcos has a rookie season that moves like a final season. Netflix has been in the TV game for a while now, with their flagships House of Cards and Orange is the New Black both entering fourth seasons soon, and it’s rare that a Netflix series falls wide of the mark — Bloodline, Daredevil, and Sense8 all drew in high-powered acting and directing talent and were almost immediately renewed for second seasons. Narcos, with the pacing and and urgency of a well-established series and character arcs that would normally be stretched over the course of a lesser show, might outdo them all.
A large part of what sets this story apart from the pack is the fact of this story being a true one. Pablo Escobar has been portrayed several times by all the people you might expect — there’s Benicio Del Toro just last year in Paradise Lost, Javier Bardem next year in a new biopic, and then John Leguizamo (okay, so maybe not who you’d expect) in yet another biopic the following year — but the infamous Colombian drug lord has never been viewed under a microscope like this. It’s Wagner Moura who steps into Escobar’s patterned polos here in Narcos, and he’s up to the considerable task.
Continue reading Narcos – Season 1
Sense8 seems like the kind of show that began with the title, then developed an edgy concept to match/justify the title, then built a plot around the concept, then sort of accumulated characters to fill the whole thing out. That’s conjecture, of course, and of course there’s no “right” way to build a lasting story in the medium of television or otherwise. Lana and Andy Wachowski have been around the block, too, with the Matrix series, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas and their most recent film Jupiter Ascending among the numerous entries on their joint résumé. Their sci-fi movies are big, loud, and undeniably ambitious, and while the jury’s mostly still out on whether those movies are any good or not it’s certainly true that their concepts are highly original.
The concept of Sense8 is simultaneously the best thing about the series and the most frustrating. Eight people, spread across the world from San Francisco to Chicago to Mexico City to London to Berlin to Nairobi to Mumbai to Seoul, make a fascinating discovery about themselves: they are able to sense each other. Thoughts, feelings, secrets, emotions — regardless of the distance between them, these “Sensates” (get it?) share a bond that no one else can understand. They themselves don’t understand it for some time, and by the end of the first season there’s still a lot left to explore about the connection these eight people share.
Continue reading Sense8 – Season 1
Matt: Remember the Titans director Boaz Yakin got his start with Fresh, a 1994 film about a 12-year-old drug dealer caught in a bad cycle with bad people. Young Fresh is a quiet kid living in a loud world. The housing project where his family lives is packed with people, and out on the street it seems sex and violence won’t leave him alone either. There’s a realness to Fresh that you don’t often see in coming-of-age tales, an earnestness that makes the movie seem less like the idealistic Titans and more like a David Gordon Green film. Fresh’s escape from the prostitutes, dealers and gangster-wannabes comes in the form of his estranged father (Samuel L. Jackson), who plays chess with Fresh every week. Sean Nelson, the 13-year-old kid who plays Fresh, turns in some amazing scenes with the veteran Jackson; their relationship is the core of the film, though the rest of that noise keeps encroaching on their meditative matches. As a whole, the blend of real-world urgency and sincere emotion makes Fresh compelling, distinctive and — sorry — refreshing.
Continue reading Netflix Picks #4
John: In Bruges is the debut effort of far-too-unknown writer and director Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, this is the kind of film that makes you feel guilty about bursting out into gut-wrenching laughter. Farrell plays the young, impatient thrill-seeker and Gleeson portrays the classic oldie who only wants to take in the beautiful architecture of Bruges, Belgium, where the whole film takes place. This might seem like a familiar dynamic, but there’s a twist: they’re a pair of assassins-in-hiding after a job gone wrong.
The brilliance to the film really starts with its basic premise. Bruges, one of the most aesthetically beautiful and quaint little towns in the entire world, has become the hideout and eventual battleground of the hitmen and, ultimately, the mob boss they work for. There’s a vague element of mystique, as well, an almost dream-like quality to the film that fits so well because of how easily Bruges might compare to one’s idea of heaven. I suppose it’s possible that is what allows the layer of absurdity the film also possesses to work as well as it does. At no point does it feel like some of the more ridiculous occurrences are too much, or that they do anything but add to the awesomeness of the film. It is a true shame that Mr. McDonagh has, as of yet, only made two films (the second being 2012’s Seven Psychopaths). The Oscar-nominated writing, fun performances and harsh themes all make the film immensely enjoyable for anyone with even a slight taste for the darker comedy. If that’s you, then In Bruges is fun as hell.
Continue reading Netflix Picks #3
If anyone has shown a dedication to the long game in big-budget storytelling lately, it’s Marvel. The latest addition to the ever-expanding Cinematic Universe is the Netflix series Daredevil, chronicling the early days of lawyer Matt Murdock and his crimefighting alter-ego. In many ways Daredevil is the best thing to happen to the MCU in a long time. Not only is it far superior to Marvel’s other television ventures Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but it often packs more of a punch — physically and emotionally — than the majority of the MCU films. The lack of cable television limitations or MPAA ratings means the show can be as dark as it needs to be. Most importantly, though, Daredevil shies away from the typical overblown grandiosity of many MCU ventures and opts instead for a very human drama.
It’s still a hero vs. villain thing we’re dealing with here, of course, but Daredevil is at its strongest when it plays away from that (striking the super– prefix from both hero and villain). Murdock gets his ass handed to him on a regular basis, Wilson Fisk is diabolical and yet relatable, and the street-level politics of the show are far more interesting than the end-of-the-universe Avengers stories. This is true of the comics, too, and as with live-action Daredevil it took a while to get the character right. There are a whole host of comic book influences for the Netflix series — primarily the Frank Miller tales The Man Without Fear and Born Again —which we’ll dive into now. Ye be warned: spoilers abound.
Continue reading Daredevil – Season 1
Bloodline is one of the latest original series produced by the ever-strengthening Netflix (it’s alive!), and by all accounts it’s a unique outing for the media giant. Set in and around the sweltering Florida Keys, the first season is less like fellow Netflix pal House of Cards and more like Showtime’s The Affair, another drama that zeroes in on family dynamics and household hostility. At best, though, comparisons aside, Bloodline is a true family drama with well-drawn characters and a driving central premise.
The family in question is the Rayburns, an island institution known and respected for operating the beachfront resort Rayburn House for decades. Father (Sam Shepard) and Mother (Sissy Spacek) are vitally influential in the lives of their four children and, as a bonus, are supportive of any conspiracy theories related to casting actors with alliterative fore- and surnames as husband and wife. They’re pillars of their community, and snippets of conversation and glances at newspaper headlines clue us in to the fact that the Rayburns are the public face of their little stretch of Key West. But Bloodline starts early in the slow uncovering of the real ways in which good ol’ Mum and Dad molded their children.
Continue reading Bloodline – Season 1
Kevin: Gregg Araki’s mesmerizing White Bird in a Blizzard has all the initial trappings of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) longs to leave her idyllic hometown life, while her mother, Eva (Eva Green), feels overburdened by her role as a doting housewife. When Eva mysteriously disappears, Kat is haunted by persistent dreams of her, and reassesses their tumultuous relationship through therapy and an affair with a cop assigned to her missing person’s case. The premise is familiar, but the film draws upon the melodramas of Douglas Sirk to convey how Eva feels shackled by the hardships of marriage and motherhood. Aided by cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen and composer Robin Guthrie, Araki abstains from the histrionic tendencies of his earlier work, opting for an understated color scheme and score that firmly establishes the themes of alienation in 1980s suburban life. Following her widely praised turn in The Spectacular Now, Woodley demonstrates assertiveness in the lead role, but it’s Eva Green who leaves the greatest impression. Green’s steely flourishes invite comparisons to Joan Crawford, but feel closer to Barbara Stanwyck in their unrelenting swagger. Other notable performances include those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato, whose lively exchanges with Woodley provide a needed respite from the drama, and Shiloh Fernandez, who complements his character’s fetching looks with a charming half-witted persona as Kat’s boyfriend Phil. In a standout sequence that takes place in a local underground club, Kat and Phil seductively dance to Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Behind The Wheel”. Through a breathlessly shot and edited montage, Araki injects this scene with infectious spontaneity and groove. White Bird in a Blizzard is Gregg Araki’s most restrained directorial effort since Mysterious Skin, but is punctuated with many spirited moments that reaffirm his reputation as a genre-defying, risk-taking filmmaker.
Continue reading Netflix Picks #2
Jorge: Full disclosure, The Hunt is an unfair pick for a Netflix recommendation. If you’re settling down with a glass of wine and a partner to cuddle with this Valentine’s Day, you will be more than disappointed. You will be devastated. But if you’re in the mood to distrust your fellow man and sympathize with a poor soul, then where better to turn than Danish cinema? (Of course, if I were really mean it would be a Lars von Trier film.) In his best, most heartbreaking role, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) plays a family man wrongfully accused of molesting a child at his day care. Off to a rough start, I know, but follow him for a few minutes and you won’t be able to look away from the handsome, lovable man who somehow played a Bond villain. The Hunt‘s pace is slow and thoughtful, like most movies from anywhere other than the US and India, and it serves to convince us that this story is nothing but true and harrowing. It’s a tough two hours, yet worth it for a different perspective at a time when the media is quick to point the finger. This is a story about innocence in the face of blame and hatred.
Continue reading Netflix Picks #1