Tag Archives: netflix

Film Review: The Highwaymen

Whilst not heading towards full revisionism, The Highwaymen is a low-beat retelling of the last days of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the two cops-of-advancing-years who finally bring them to the ultimate justice. 

Kevin Costner is Frank Hamer, Woody Harrelson is Maney Gault and they barrel across the badlands, cooped up, unwashed in their tiny car, trying to work out how and where in the vast wilderness their prey will next appear. The chase will take as long as the chase takes, as America civilises around them. And if that sounds like The Searchers then the film helps you out by homaging one of its most famous shots as a character stands in complete silhouette, looking out at the emptiness, framed by the door.

The Highwaymen is an odd film in many ways. It determinedly wants to present the real impact of Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes so they, are decidedly unglamorous. However, clearly that might mean that we, the audience, think that killing them in a hail of bullets is a bit unfair. So some of the legend remains in place. Bonnie is shown killing a defenceless policeman on the ground; the truth is generally accepted that this infamous incident did not occur.

There are also some incongruities in setting. Some shots are external and beautifully crafted; but then we have people running across obvious sound stages whilst sprinkler rains falls on them.

But, the key reason to like it is the double act whose names are above the title. Costner and Harrelson work so well together. Costner reminding you that despite all this detractors, he can do this stuff effortlessly; Harrelson just adding to his run of quality performances that he now seems to deliver whatever the film.

The Highwaymen is not great. But it’s decent. And there’s more than enough to keep you going. It probably shouldn’t be two hours long but it is and, unlike some, that’s far from an ordeal. It’s almost the perfect film for home viewing: challenging enough, entertaining enough, amusing enough, dramatic enough, but with a story you already know that’s not going to tax you too hard.

On Netflix: Bonding

Bonding. Kinda like bondage, you see. Because Tiff is a college student by day but she makes ends meet by being a dominatrix in the evening, and she needs to rely on her friend Pete. Who is gay, repressed and needs, with everything the euphemism implies, a helping hand to put himself forward into the world. This is how you find yourself in the twenty-first century.

All that said, deviant sexual practice has never seemed so cherry pie. Bonding is a sweet-natured teen-esque friendship series disguised as something darker. Which may make it the most radical thing to pop up on my screen in a while, or may, possibly at the same time, make it just too vanilla to be worthwhile. Either way, what’s not deniable, is the simple gusto with which the cast enter into the spirit of it all.

It also looks brilliant. There aren’t many series where so many shots, in particular the ones in which the dominatrix scenarios play out, look clever and funny just by characters pose whilst they wait. But whether it’s a man in a penguin suit anticipating fun or a woman who’s not sure how to ask for activities for her husband, the mise en scene is spot on.

As said, that look, combined with the central performances from Zoe Levin as Tiff and Brendan Scannell as Carter is why you’ll keep coming back. That plus the fact that as this is a Netflix series there’s no need to keep to network-friendly run times or episode quantities so there are seven shows of ‘about fifteen minutes’ each. Nothing outstays its welcome and, so far, we’re mercifully free of completely pointless retro/origin episodes to pad anything out.

If there’s going to be more then Rightor Doyle (writer and Executive Producer) may need to dig deeper for plot, which presents the danger of taking the fun out of it all. For now, though, Bonding is an enjoyable example of the good stuff coming out of Netflix right now.

Film Review: High Flying Bird

‘I love God and all of his black people.’ This is the mantra that Spencer, a Bronx basketball coach who builds up players only to see them put into the system where their talents are controlled by people who can’t play basketball (so they invented ‘a game on top of a game’), insists is said whenever anybody brings up the institution of slavery with relation to the modern day NBA.  The fact that this is important should alert you to the fact that whilst High Flying Bird is very much a film about sport, it is resolutely not a sports film. And that’s no bad thing.

Funded by Netflix and shot by Steven Soderbergh on a smartphone for a budget of around $2m, High Flying Bird gets everything done inside 90 minutes. Given that there are talking heads with current players and the usual credits to run that probably means we’re looking at around 60-70 minutes of actual film. Or, about the same length of time as the average tedious speech took in the second series of Westworld. Soderbergh gets fun, he directs things at a pace, he uses the distortions and wide angles allowed by the smartphone beautifully. The script, from Tarell Alvin McCraney (writer of Moonlight), keeps things going forward whilst allowing us just enough of a glimpse into the characters’ worlds.

Race dominates. The players and the people on their side are all black. The owners and their shady dealers are white. Our way in to this world is agent Ray (Andre Holland) who has the number one draft pick, Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg) on his books. They would both be sitting pretty but for the fact that the players and owners are in dispute so the NBA is in lockout. No games are being played, no money being made. Ray, whose ultimate goal could be an end to the lockout, or just some money, or maybe a wholesale reinvention of the ownership of basketball, flies between his ex-assistant, the mother/agent of a big name player, his former mentor, the players’ union legal rep, and the owners’ group’s head honcho, fast-talking throughout and trying to bend the rules of the game on top of a game.

If it’s hard to describe what actually happens then, in part, it’s because so much hinges on understanding the disruption taking place. And that could last as long as a tweet impression or it could be as longlasting as a trade deal. For a 75 minutes of action film, there is a lot to think about.

The script is sharp, the observations brutal. We may quibble that Netflix themselves get a positive mention but then it is only a quibble. Soderbergh is on fire here and he draws top drawer performances from his cast. A special mention to Jeryl Prescott who takes the role of Emera Umber (the aformentioned mother/agent) and makes you want to see a whole series of her owning every scene she’s in.

So, we’re in definite slam dunk territory for Netflix. Another strong film to add to their growing library. One that I think we will be talking about for a long time to come.

Film Review: The Bar (El Bar)

How do you like your eggs in the morning? If you like yours with a sideshow of gunfire and biological terror then the bar in The Bar is a good place to start your day. Although the customers trapped inside may disagree as things don’t necessarily turn out so well for them. Variety called it the worst movie to show at that year’s Berlin film festival. Dullards.

Written, directed and produced by Álex de la Iglesia, whose first film is the now-quarter-century-old Accion MutanteEl Bar impressively combines observational humour at contemporary mores, flashes of grim horror, and neat character interplay. The story also rattles along nicely even if, at no point, is it remotely believable.

Variety had particular scorn for the fact that, yes, the attractive lead does wind up in her underwear. That’s Blanca Suarez as Elena, the outsider who was only in the bar because her phone charge was gone. She, and the rest of the cast, have to go through far more than just an underwear display. Carrying corpses, plunging into and out of sewers, grimly being doused in oil to fit through tiny manholes and so on. The action is grim and disturbing, the cinematography and look mostly could come straight out of a daytime soap. It’s a deliberate and amusing juxtaposition.

Residing only on Netflix, El Bar is clearly never going to find a massive audience in the UK now. Shame. It’s dark, disturbing, fun and funny. Not Citizen Kane but an enjoyable ride.

On Netflix: Godless

You can, in my humble opinion, judge a western by how the characters react to getting shot in the gut. A slight grimace before they carry on shooting, perhaps with their hand over the blood, and we know we are in make believe land. Most Westerns are like this. Nobody simply winces in Godless even though a lot of people end up shot. Godless is perhaps the most Western Western of recent times – and that is mostly a very good thing.

Mis-sold as the story of a town where the men have all gone and the women are in control, Godless has a remarkably simple central narrative. Disappointingly for some, the main story is as male as they come. Peter Griffin, a slaughtering outlaw who pauses for occasional acts of kindness and charity, has sworn revenge not only on Roy Goode for leaving his gang of bandits but also any town and community that harbours him. In the opening episode we see the aftermath of such an event as the town of Crede smoulders and its residents swing from gallows.

It is in the context for this drama that our town almost without men – La Belle – comes to life. Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) out on her ranch, trying to break in the horses and get the well to reach water; Mary Agnes McNue (Merritt Weaver), who now wears trousers and lives as liberated as she dare; and her brother Bill (Scott McNairy) as the sight-failing sheriff determined for one more shot at bravery. The other widows and survivors get their own depth and story, which they should over a series that runs to around eight hours, but it does sometimes feel that it would be nice to see more about this strange little world, so at odds with the violence and dirt that surrounds it, and a little less of two conflicted men heading towards their destiny. Godless does it a lot better than most have ever done but it’s still a story we’ve seen many times before.

Jeff Daniels as Peter Griffin and Jack O’Connell as Roy Goode carry the burden of the story with ease. Daniels will almost certainly win whatever awards are going. Godless homages pretty much every great Western there has ever been in terms of look and feel – even part-time cineastes like me will recognise the use of the internal door framing the outside world from The Searchers. There’s a good script too and some unexpectedly affecting moments.

Some might feel the story takes a long time to get anywhere. The majority of the episodes clock in at 70 minutes; 50 minutes feels like a breeze. There are a lot of digressions, some of which engage more than others, and as well as the women of La Belle, there are other towns, characters and episodes to chart. Godless gives us a world which may, at times, test your patience. It still moves quicker than Westworld though.

The promise on Netflix is that this is a limited season. There are no arcs needing a second, third, ninth series to complete. I hope so with one caveat. The story of Goode and Griffin is done and dusted in this season but there are characters in that hinterland I would want to see more of if such a thing could be done well – and perhaps with a touch more brevity.