New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 7/29/14

This is pretty much it for the month but expect a new spate of catalog titles on Friday the 1st.

Airplane vs. Volcano

Action & Adventure: Airplane vs. Volcano

Comedy: Peace Love & Misunderstanding, Borrowed Time, A Short History of Decay

Documentary: FrackNation, Papirosen, My Way to Olympia, When the Iron Bird Flies, Weekend of a Champion, Evacuate Earth

Drama: Redwood Highway, Soda Springs, It Felt Like Love

Family: A Monster in Paris, Christmas with the Kranks

Eastern Bandits

Foreign: Hide and Seek, Detective Dee & Mystery of Phantom Flame, Eastern Bandits, The French Minister, Mickey Virus

All Cheerleaders Die

Horror: All Cheerleaders Die, The Den

Television: Southcliffe and new episodes of Lost Girl and Continuum

Thriller: The Samaritan, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

Hercules Schmercules

I recently had a day at the movies. You should go catch Snowpiercer but here are a few notes on Hercules. Hercules is currently playing in theaters.

Hercules

 

Hercules (2014) – Rated PG-13

Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

Once again we have multiple projects on the exact same topic. Last year, it was an assault on the White House. Previous years have seen competing versions of Snow White to the pairing of Valmont/Dangerous Liaisons. This year, Hercules is our whipping boy.

Renny Harlin rushed his “The Legend of Hercules” out at the beginning of the year. I haven’t seen it but by all accounts it is pretty awful. It stars Kellan Lutz and straight-to-DVD action hero Scott Adkins. The Legend of Hercules was dumped into the graveyard of bad movies aka January.

We’re well into July which used to be prime blockbuster territory but now that the blockbusters are all scheduled for May with a few June holdovers, July has become a testing ground for movies that have summer appeal but we don’t think are going to be blockbusters. In this summer heat haze, Brett Ratner brings us Hercules.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is certainly physically like I would picture the mythical Hercules, way better than a model and sparkly vampire. His sense of humor would also seem to lend itself to a lighthearted approach to the material.

I suppose the most unfortunate part of Hercules is that Ratner and the writers can’t seem to figure out what they want the movie to be. This Hercules is adapted from the Radical comic of the same name by Steve Moore. I have not read the comic so I cannot comment on that but Evan Spiliotopoulos and first time film scriptwriter Ryan Condal did the adaptation. This is Spiliotopoulos’ first screenplay in five years. Before that he did treatments of the direct-to-DVD sequels for Tinkerbell, Lion King, Tarzan, Cinderella, and Jungle Book.

If you are looking for a Steve Reeves peplum romp, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a CGI monster heavy fantasy, look elsewhere. Hercules patterns itself as a cross between the Kevin Sorbo series (Hercules as more of an adventurer than a demigod) and The Magnificent Seven (themselves based on The Seven Samurai).

Hercules leads a team of mercenaries, each with their own specialty (female archer – how original, feral hand axe fighter, seer with a staff, man with knives, etc.) while Herc carries a large styrofoam club. The villains of Hercules are ridiculously underdeveloped. The movie could actually have used to be a bit longer but Ratner wanted to keep things breezy. Hercules runs a scant hour and thirty-eight minutes long.

I guess I should be glad that they kept CGI to a minimum as the scene with the snakes is laughably bad as are some of the fire effects late in the film. The Nemean Lion and monstrous boar, shown briefly in flashback/storytelling mode, looked good though.

The movie plays out a little darker than Johnson’s preferred acting style. He is still fun to watch as are Ian McShane and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as teammates. John Hurt effortlessly steals the show as Lord Cotys. The movie seems tailor-made for a series of adventures featuring Hercules and friends.

The movie isn’t terrible but I can really only recommend it for fans of The Rock.

 

Snowpiercer and the Korean Invasion

I recently had the opportunity to catch a few movies in the theater. Snowpiercer is currently in theaters.

Snowpiercer

 

Snowpiercer (2013) – Rated R

Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.”

I have really enjoyed a lot of Korean cinema over the last decade. My favorites have been “The Host”, “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”, “I Saw the Devil”, and “Mother”.

I Saw the Devil” and “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” were directed by Kim Jee-woon. The former is a wonderfully dark and twisted tale of revenge and a serial killer. The latter is an epic Eastern Western. Both are currently available on instant Netflix. Obviously the success of these films caught the attention of Hollywood.

As with many successful Asian directors, Kim Jee-woon was brought over to direct a Hollywood picture – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback, The Last Stand. While there are some nice visual flourishes, The Last Stand is not very good and not just because of Johnny Knoxville.

The Host” (2006) and “Mother” were directed by Joon-ho Bong. The former is a wonderful horror tale about a pollution monster with some oddball humor. The latter is a dark movie about a mother’s efforts to clear her son of murder charges. The Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

Joon-ho Bong chose the more independent route of making an international picture, neither Korean nor American. Snowpiercer is an English-language film starring Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton. It also features some Korean sequences with Kang-ho Song, star of “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” and Ah-sung Ko, star of “The Host”.

The ever fickle Weinstein Company chose a new strategy for this release. Two weeks after the theatrical premiere, Snowpiercer was made available on Video on Demand. Since it takes about two weeks for independent films to trickle down to Asheville, this meant an almost simultaneous release here. While it may mean less revenue for them theatrically, Weinstein gets a much larger share of the profits from the VOD end.

I applaud whatever arrangements allow Joon-ho Bong and other directors to realize their visions without the obvious compromises caused by the Hollywood corporatization. Here I feel it results in the difference between The Last Stand and Snowpiercer, just as decades ago it resulted in the difference between John Woo’s The Killers and Hard-Boiled and his Hollywood movies like Windtalkers and the aptly named Paycheck.

Snowpiercer is a fantastic science fiction masterpiece. Every scene is wonderfully crafted. Each car on the train serves a different societal purpose. Special effects are omnipresent yet are understated and serve the story rather than detracting from it.

The movie has a lot of interesting things to say about the (inevitable) class system that develops but never becomes pedantic. It also has quite a number of interesting revelations along the way. I really enjoyed the power of self-delusion shown in several of the characters.

Acting is wonderful from the ensemble cast. They make Chris Evans quite scruffy and tone down his charisma so fits right in. Jaime Bell makes an earnest second-in-command for the revolution. John Hurt is a charmer and a scene stealer as is Tilda Swinton though she is perhaps a bit over the top. The aforementioned Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko are great as well despite speaking in Korean without subtitles (for the most part).

Snowpiercer is the second best film I have seen this year, behind only The Grand Budapest Hotel. Catch it in theaters if you can. If not, it is available through Amazon and other VOD services.

I Meet a Fan…sort of…

 

I stated this blog a number of years ago for two reasons. The first was that I felt I needed to write something, anything as my cognitive skills seemed to be atrophying. My loving wife suggested a blog, something she had done for years.

I took her up on it but was still at a loss as to what to write. She already wrote about our family life, our outings, and life’s little bumps and bruises. My daughter would always complain that there was nothing on television. I pointed out that streaming Netflix has tens of thousands of movies.

I have loved movies all my life. Some of my fondest memories growing up were going to the movies. I saw Star Wars for my 13th birthday party (yes I am that old). My mom took me to see Halloween when it came out (I don’t think she knew what she was getting into). I snuck in with my friend John to see the original Alien.

Obviously I would write about movies. Initially I covered only movies on Netflix (still a primary focus) but I still love the experience of losing myself in a movie theater presentation so I cover that as well. While my blog is available through the Kindle on Amazon (and I am quite pleased that so many people read this), I write primarily for myself.

I was completely flabbergasted this weekend.

Marc

 

Saturday, the family celebrated lunch out. Jenny and I were discussing an embarrassing topic while Els and Dorothy were in the bathroom. The waiter walked up at a particularly opportune time. After looking at me and thinking a bit, he said, “didn’t you write a review of Epic theater?”

I have never encountered someone who has read my blog. It is not advertised anywhere locally and yet he recognized me from the review, presumably because my Netflix shirt looks similar to the one I wear on the blog. Jenny had to get a picture of course. Our waiter was game though he doesn’t look as pleased in the photo.

That, and a similarly gratifying incident that same evening, really made my day.

Prisoners of the Asteroid vs. Earth Sun

Asteroid vs. Earth is currently available on instant Netflix

Asteroid vs. Earth

 

Asteroid vs. Earth (2014) – Not Rated

An elite team of scientists races against time when a torrential storm of giant meteors threatens to annihilate all life on Earth.”

How do you know the tonnage of our weapons?” – “Google, sir

Is there a more dire warning of what’s to come in a movie than “The Asylum Presents”? I think not. The movie opens with a young man watching a series of monitors that clearly aren’t conveying anything useful. The monitors are arranged around a circle and he stares at them even though most are showing generic space pictures.

Another scene shows a General at home where a supercell instantly forms over his house. Huh? This is interspersed with scenes of actual flooding in some other, undisclosed location. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to assume these are the same or different locations as neither is labeled though clearly terrain isn’t even remotely similar. It appears as though they just spliced in scenes from another movie as the flooding and supercell don’t appear to have anything to do with the plot.

Our young man tells the military that their warheads won’t do anything to the asteroid but, and I am not making this up, if they detonate them selectively on Earth, at a faultline, they can move the Earth out of the way of the asteroid. The plot does not get more intelligent as we go along.

The usual assortment of AWCs (Actors without Careers) are present. Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World) plays an important scientist. Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek Voyager) takes a break from convention-hopping to represent the military. Veteran heavy Robert Davi collects a paycheck as General Masterson.

One would think that Asylum’s CGI would naturally get better over the past decade but it really hasn’t. In short, no aspect of this movie is competently handled.

AVOID

Prisoners of the Sun

 

Prisoners of the Sun (2013) – Not Rated

A group of explorers embark on a perilous mission under the Egyptian pyramids to stop the resurrection of hostile ancient beings who threaten mankind.

The room is unfortunately now armed.” (referring to a room in the pyramid)

At least this doesn’t start with ‘The Asylum Presents’. Prisoners of the Sun takes the standard start for a mummy movie and adds aliens into the mix. There is an entire movie’s worth of exposition in the first three minutes.

Our slumming actors here are John Rhys-Davies (here clearly trading on his Raiders cred) and Joss Ackland (The Hunt for Red October, Lethal Weapon 2). They at least make an attempt with the material, unlike Asylum’s casts.

Unfortunately there is a worse harbinger than ‘The Asylum Presents’. That would be Uwe Boll’s name in the credits, here as a producer. The director is Roger Christian, the man who directed Battlefield Earth. He most recently directed the execrable Stranded.

Prisoners of the Sun is easily better than Stranded. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it good. Plotting and scripting are slapdash but still much better than Asteroid vs. Earth. Toss in an alignment of the stars, an ancient bloodline, tomb raiding, a woman who has visions, and the requisite mummy and mix well.

Unfortunately the individual elements aren’t handled very well. Prisoners of the Sun only looks good in comparison to Asteroid vs. Earth or Stranded. It is not terrible but there are far better uses of your time, unless you are particularly attached to John Rhys-Davies.

Yahoo Screen, Community, Sherlock, Daredevil, The Killing

Yahoo Screen

* Community has been renewed for a sixth season. The catch is that it will be available on Yahoo’s streaming platform, Yahoo Screen. Currently Yahoo Screen appears to be a very confused repository of clips, trailers, music videos, and Saturday Night Live reruns.

Sherlock

* Another of my favorite shows will be coming back. In spite of the two main actors being movie stars, Sherlock has been renewed. Martin (The Hobbit) Freeman and Benedict (Star Trek Into Darkness) Cumberbatch will be returning for a fourth season.

Netflix

* I’m really looking forward to Netflix’ Daredevil series. Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) is Daredevil, Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) is Karen Page, and Elden Henson is Foggy Nelson. Strangely Vincent D’Onofrio is playing the Kingpin. Obviously he is the wrong size so I’m curious how he will be portrayed.

* On August 1st, Netflix will have the new streaming season of The Killing. I’m looking forward to watching it as I enjoy the two very flawed lead characters but The Killing never quite gelled correctly. The Killing always had potential but never seemed to realize it.

R.I.P. James Garner 1928-2014

James Garner

 

James Garner passed away July 19th at the age of 86. While primarily known as a television actor, Garner appeared in quite a few movies, from The Scrounger in The Great Escape to Duke in The Notebook. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Murphy’s Romance and, while he didn’t win that, he did have his Golden Globes and Emmys for Barbarians at the Gate and The Rockford Files.

Rockford Files

Jim Rockford and Bret Maverick were his quintessential roles. He played Rockford for six season and eight made-for-TV movies. Netflix is currently streaming all six seasons as well as his movies, Move Over Darling, Twilight, Dust to Glory, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. If you find six seasons too challenging, try Twilight, an excellent private eye movie starring Paul Newman.

Rest in peace, James Garner – you will be missed.

New Netflix Streaming Releases for the Week of 7/22/14

A fair number of documentaries and a smattering of other items

Action: Dead in Tombstone

Comedy: Authors Anonymous

The Act of Killing

Documentary: The Act of Killing: Director’s Cut (37 minutes longer), Downloaded, Particle Fever, Sounding the Alarm: Battling the Autism Epidemic, War Don Don, Weekend of a Champion, The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats

Drama: McCanick

Family: Animal ABC’s, An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars

Riley Rewind

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Riley Rewind

Foreign: Andaz Apna Apna, The Last Days, Special 26, Bethlehem

Manhunter

Horror: Manhunter, Patrick: Evil Awakens

Television: Forensic Files, Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs, Inside: Lego, TEDTalks: Body by Design, Unsealed: Conspiracy Files, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, and new episodes of Hell on Wheels and Baby Daddy

Thriller: Gun Hill

R.I.P. Cinebarre

Cinebarre

Yesterday, July 20th, was closing day for our Cinebarre. The Cinebarre chain is doing fine with a new one opening in Boulder, Colorado shortly. Our Asheville Cinebarre was the first and I was there for opening and for their one year anniversary celebration. Unfortunately, the dying mall it was attached to was bought by developers (yet again – the fifth owner in about as many years). The developers are putting an outlet mall in its place and apparently movie theaters are not compatible with outlet malls.

Cinebarre

 

Going out with some style, all food & drink was 75% off yesterday. Needless to say, I spent the entire day at the theater, watching three separate $1 movies and having breakfast, lunch, and dinner there. My wife, daughter, and granddaughter joined me for the final showing of Captain America: Winter Soldier. One of their bartenders even came up with a couple of farewell drinks. My wife and I each had one of the Sweet Farewells.

Cinebarre

 

Finally there was a heartfelt plea on the tip jar. I hope everyone gave as generously as we did because, as of this morning, the waitstaff are looking for jobs.

 

Cinebarre

 

Farewell Cinebarre! You will be missed.

Never Sleep Again with American Courtesans

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy and American Courtesan are currently available on instant Netflix.

Never Sleep Again

 

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) – Not Rated

As Freddy Krueger is reborn for a new generation, it’s time to return to where it all began. Join star Heather Langenkamp for a rare journey down Elm Street, with film clips, rare photos, storyboards, and more treasures from the entire series.”

Unfortunately the only Nightmare on Elm Street movie streaming on Netflix is #2: Freddy’s Revenge, which is perhaps the worst one apart from the abominable remake. Still Never Sleep Again will satiate any rabid Elm Street fan. This thoroughly exhaustive documentary covers the entire series.

Never Sleep Again is for serious fans only as it does run almost FOUR hours long. That said, it is chockful of interviews and insights and is pretty entertaining.

American Courtesans

 

American Courtesans (2013) – Not Rated

Follow 11 sex workers through massage parlors, brothels, strip clubs and New York high-rises in this documentary about their choices and fears.”

I have to start this with a bit of a caveat. When I watched American Courtesans, the sound was significantly out of sync with the picture and nothing I did (mostly consisting of turning it off and then on again) managed to fix this problem. This definitely hampered my enjoyment of the film.

American Courtesans is very reminiscent of the documentary After Porn Ends, simply substituting sex workers for porn workers. Both films have extensive interviews with people experienced in their field.

Unfortunately both films have the same flaws too. Both simply let the interviewees talk in a meandering fashion without any apparent aim. Both need serious editing with a goal in mind.

American Courtesans needs serious direction. While the interviews are interesting, they don’t add up to a cohesive whole. The description says it is about 11 workers hopes and fears but it is also about some johns that they interview, workers’ home life, workers’ childhoods, and so on. In spite of the wide array of topics and interviewees, the movie is only 86 minutes long including credits.

None of the topics are discussed in any depth before we move on to someone else and none of the stories are particularly unique. I think the only thing I learned was that some sex workers who are ‘aging out’ of sex work graduate into the S&M world. American Courtesans is both a misnomer and a missed opportunity.