Much Better – God, The Europa Report Only Forgives Grabbers

Today we have a much better crop of movies on instant Netflix.

Europa Report

 

Europa Report (2013) – Rated PG-13

“In this nail-biting thriller, a private space-exploration company sends six astronauts to determine whether Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, can sustain life — and what they find terrifies and transforms them.”

Okay, I officially despise the found footage genre. It had its day but now it’s just lazy moviemaking. That said Europa Report is a really great low-budget science fiction movie. Unfortunately it is hard science fiction instead of high concept and has no big names attached to it so it will probably fly under most people’s radar. Like most found footage, there is a long buildup to a final payoff.

Europa Report has a good international cast, including District 9’s Sharlto Copley, genre veteran Embeth Davidtz (Army of Darkness, The Hole), Anamaria Marinca, and Michael Nyqvist (Dragon Tattoo series).

Look for scientist extraordinaire Neil DeGrasse Tyson appearing as himself.

 

Grabbers

 

Grabbers (2012) – Not rated

When alien monsters go on a murderous rampage on an Irish island, the only survivor is drunk — because alcohol makes blood toxic to the aliens. Now, as a sober cop tries to stop the carnage, the rest of the town must get wasted in order to survive.”

Grabbers is a highly amusing horror comedy from across the pond. The two leads, Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley, are very engaging and the monsters are very well-designed and executed. Look for Russell Tovey (George from Being Human) as the enthusiastic Dr.Adam Smith.

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013) – Rated R

“Ryan Gosling stars as British gangster Julian, who runs a Bangkok fight club, and Kristin Scott Thomas plays his crime-boss mom in this action thriller. When a cop kills Julian’s brother, the family matriarch flies in from London to oversee revenge.”

Nicolas Winding Refn knows violence. I haven’t seen the Danish director’s Pusher trilogy. Valhalla Rising (which I refer to as Valhalla Risible) was a laughable exercise in style and violence. Even though I despised it for its ludicrousness (a half dozen vikings invade America) and pretentiousness (pick a scene, any scene), I really enjoyed Refn’s next effort, Drive. I found Drive to be a nice neo noir with some astonishing violence.

In Only God Forgives, Refn ups the violence ante and tries to do the same with verbal violence. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and character placement is often very unusual.

Ryan Gosling plays Julian, an enigmatic man of few words, much like his turn in Drive. Kristin Scott Thomas plays his incredibly foul-mouthed and vengeance-fueled mother. Vithaya Pansringarm is superb as the stoic investigator and karaoke enthusiast, Chang. Dialogue is in English and Thai but there isn’t much of either. Refn is mostly a visual storyteller and his films are light on dialogue.

Unfortunately the violence will repel quite a few people, the seedy subject matter will repel some more, and those that are left will notice that, as with Refn’s last two efforts, there isn’t actually much story here. That said this is a beautiful film with good performances – it just doesn’t have anything to say.

Jay, Lars, Archer, Silent Bob, and the Real Girl Go Down Under

Yet still more odds and ends on Netflix

Jay and Silent Bob

Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under (2012) – Not rated

“Filmmaker and comedian Kevin Smith returns with an all new special, taped in front of a sell out audience in Sydney, Australia. Joined by his infamous buddy Jason Mewes, this impromptu, uncensored hour is filled with bawdy and cautionary tales.”

Kevin Smith is a fantastic speaker with a voice as unique as his directorial vision. He discovered that people were willing to pay him phenomenal sums just to go talk. He then discovered that he could tape the proceedings and sell those as well, netting him a fortune. Generally I would say good for him – Too Fat for 40 is a fascinating talk that includes his ejection from a flight for being too fat and Burn in Hell was his best talk ever covering the making of Red State and his confrontation with the Westboro ‘Church’.

Unfortunately this appears to have made him quite lazy. Perhaps I am too old but his stoner schtick is just juvenile and the presence of lifemate Jason Mewes can only be tolerated in the tiniest of doses. I actually only got nine minutes into Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under before I was so disgusted that I turned it off.

Lars and the Real GirlLars and the Real Girl (2007) – Rated PG-13

“When a delusional loner buys a life-sized sex doll over the Internet, promptly falls in love with her and starts telling people that she’s his girlfriend, his brother and sister-in-law decide it’s time to intervene.”

“Sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is, and how to spell my name.”

I actually expected Lars and the Real Girl to be a raunchy romp and instead it is quite a tender-hearted comedy. I loved the directions that the story went in and the message ultimately gleaned from it. The cast is wonderful and Ryan Gosling does a great job of downplaying…well Ryan Gosling.

Lars is a charming piece of fluff and definitely worth a viewing as long as you can stand a little schmaltz.

ArcherArcher (2009-11) – TV-MA

“Sophisticated spy Archer may have the coolest gadgets, but he still has issues when it comes to dealing with his boss — who also happens to be his mother — in this wicked animated spoof of spy flicks and the sex-crazed agents who populate them.”

On the opposite end of the comedy spectrum lies Archer. I just finished watching the third season and it is hilarious. It is not however charming – the humor is sharp and raw and definitely earns its TV-MA rating. There are very intelligent humorous bits in each episode but also quite a bit of lowbrow humor. If you are easily offended or don’t like mean-spirited comedy then Archer is not for you.

Drive

Nicholas Winding-Refn’s Drive just became available on instant Netflix.

Drive (2011) – Rated R

“A Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor and her young son. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison.”

“My hands are a little dirty.” – “So are mine.”

I really hated Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising. The production values were good but the script and direction veered from awful to pretentiously awful. I was not really looking forward to watching Drive.

Refn’s Drive turned out to be a nice little B-movie raised to the level of not-quite-high art by the director. The style is different from but akin to that of Michael Mann. The visuals are slick and cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel is impressive. Los Angeles by night is absolutely gorgeous.

Sound design on the film is equally impressive and achieves a great balance between dialogue, music and sound effects. Drive was nominated for a Best Achievement in Sound Editing Oscar but lost out to Hugo.

The classic fable of The Scorpion and The Frog is woven throughout the film in a series of nice artistic touches. This ranges from the general theme and plot to visual touches such as Driver (Ryan Gosling’s character is never given a name) wearing a scorpion jacket through much of the film (i.e. carrying the scorpion on his back).

Acting is good but not great. Refn chooses to eschew dialogue in favor of meaningful glances. He did this to extreme in Valhalla Rising. Here it is toned down and less risible. Ryan Gosling is often just there to look cool. He gives his best Steve McQueen impression but comes across as something of a cipher – not really surprising given that his character doesn’t have a name.

Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Bryan Cranston put in nice performances. Sadly Christina Hendricks, fabulous in Mad Men, is largely wasted here in a very minor role. The surprise here is Albert Brooks in the first serious role I’ve seen him in. I would never have thought of him exuding menace but he nails his role.

Drive also reminded me of The Godfather (no Drive is not a classic). The violence was brutal but often came out of left field and was almost always startling. This is how violence should be handled in action movies. Several of the violent sequences stayed with me long after the movie ended and one in particular is absolutely chilling (no spoilers – it’s the one that takes place in the garage). Reportedly the head-stomping scene had to be cut many times to get Drive an ‘R’ rating.

Drive is definitely a matter of style over substance. If you can appreciate that style, this film is very enjoyable and highly recommended.

People Watch: Look for veteran character actor Russ Tamblyn as Doc. Russ is best known for his role as Riff in West Side Story but has been in everything from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Gideon) to Twin Peaks (Dr. Jacoby)