Streaming dominated our COVID-ridden 2020, and though COVID continues in our post-vax 2021, I will be devoting far less time to streaming. Whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, there will be far less time to plop down and give two hours of my full day to whatever new trinket any of them are trotting out, less they be legitimately important or significant. Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s latest splash-page zombie pic, was made not for the couch but for the BIG SCREEN, and that goes for so many of Netflix’s major film releases. The Movies with a capital-M have returned. Theatrical may never be the same, what with simultaneous release strategies and shortened thirty to forty-five day exhibition windows, but I will continue supporting what makes cinema “cinema.” So with that, I bid adieu to the streaming-only era with three ‘pretty good’ efforts, all of which are somewhat worth your time and yet strangely unique to the algorithmic, flavor-of-the-week tokenism that defines most of the big apps’ output.
NETFLIX: The Mitchells vs The Machines
An animated science-fiction extravaganza that employs YouTube culture for good and ill. It’s pop culture’s idiocratic tendencies run amok. Though overly zany and occasionally stylized to a fault, this is still a clever offering from the increasingly worthwhile Sony Animation Studios, not to mention dynamic duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller. More emotionally effective as a drama than funny-effective as a comedy, Disenchantment‘s Abbi Jacobson and an amiable voice cast enliven this likable, dysfunctional family as they travel cross-country during a robot apocalypse. And while its goal of delineating the good and bad of smart technology and our addiction to it doesn’t always work, it’s difficult to chafe at a story whose protagonist is a future film student worried about her future. That was me ten years ago. Bonus points for ambitious animation.
AMAZON: Without Remorse
Stefan Sollima’s directorial finesse shows in a few expertly-staged action sequences, one an opening overseas shoot-out that emphasizes atmosphere in the best of ways, and another a harrowing underwater stunt involving an airliner sinking in the ocean. A mixed bag of political machinations that recall Cold War thrillers of yesteryear, as well as typical revenge movie tropes, prevent Without Remorse from reaching a bonafide recommendation. Guy Pearce appears in a suit and tie as a Washington insider emblematic of government bureaucracy and possibly foreign policy conspiracy, and instantly we know the latter is true after listening to him speak for a mere five minutes. It’s a case of casting working against the best intentions of a script wanting to keep everything close to the vest. Worst of all, Michael B. Jordan is surprisingly bereft of charisma or depth here, often phoning it in from a script riddled with first-draft dialogue. Still, the individual talents of Sollima and rising star Jodie Turner (seen above) go a long way.
Thriller extraordinaire Alexandre Aja may not be one of our best working filmmakers, but he’s absolutely consistent at one thing: delivering slightly better-than-average thrill-a-minutes that provide gentle twists on proven concepts. Oxygen is a fine example of such a record, featuring a stellar one-woman-show performance by French star and Tarantino alum Melanie Laurent, and nimble creativity behind the camera by Aja as he navigates every nook and cranny of a cryogenic unit in which nearly the entire film is set. Laurent keeps us grounded in spite of the script’s head-in-the-cloud flourishes, where hacky flashbacks and a predictably very-sci-fi final act threaten to derail said creativity. Netflix has an addiction to apocalyptic scenarios and reverse-engineering science fiction narratives. You can almost predict when one of their wee thrillers is going to whisk you along until suddenly it’s not such a nimble little movie anymore. Laurent, for her part (which is most parts, essentially the entire film), reminds us why she was such a force to be reckoned with in Inglourious Basterds.
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