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Tag Archive: Netflix movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything’s connected.  Everything’s vulnerable.

The visionary behind the groundbreaking 1997 science fiction film Gattaca has at last delivered his next worthy sci-fi follow-up.  The direct-to-Netflix movie Anon is equal parts future crime and noir detective thriller.  It stars Clive Owen (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Children of Men, Sin City) and Colm Feore (Thor, The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck) as police detectives in a near-future Earth where smart phone and computer technology has merged with the mind.  Technology and science have evolved to allow humans to instantly identify and search their minds and a database shared with everyone as they move through their day–as if Google Glass tech was inside a contact lens wired to the brain.  Written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, writer/director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show, Anon features a police detective nicely synthesizing Rick Deckard, Frank Bullitt, and Dirty Harry Callahan.  Only an actor as unique as Clive Owen could pull that off.

With a world similar to Gattaca–but a colder, stark, and concrete-filled version of a rigid, totalitarian future close to that of the Prime side in the world of the Starz series Counterpart–telling lies has become a thing of the past.  The detectives must track down an unidentifiable woman, the anonymous hacker of the title played by Amanda Seyfried (Veronica Mars, Ted 2, Mamma Mia!), sought as the criminal behind a string of murders.  This hacker can erase memories and replace real thoughts with replaced images, and we see the best example of this as Owen’s detective pursues the hacker in a busy subway.  Oddly, this dystopia doesn’t feel as horrible as that of Mad Max: Fury Road, or Blade Runner, or Terminator.  It’s just not that far removed from the wired life of today.  Which should be enough of a cautionary warning.

Stark but slick and cool like The Adjustment Bureau, not only the visuals of Anon but the music is haunting and cold, thanks to an inspired score from Christophe Beck (Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Surreal camera angles and the use of shadow firmly plant the audience in this future thanks to cinematographer Amir Mokri, and you can credit production designer Philip Ivey (District 9, Elysium) and art director Aleksandra Marinkovich (Crimson Peak, Kick-Ass 2, Total Recall) for a stunning, new vision that leaves behind tech noir for something fresh and different.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest big-budget movie that has arrived at Netflix could have been on par with prior Netflix movies The Cloverfield Paradox or Bright.  These are science fiction movies that have something to offer viewers, yet they probably would disappoint most if you paid to see them in the theater.  As much as the marketing for these Netflix films is trying to convince subscribers these are the “real deal,” the new sci-fi movie Extinction brings the discussion home again.  The Cloverfield Paradox had a broad, fairly well-known cast and significant production values.  Bright relied on the charisma of star Will Smith with a solid performance from Joel Edgerton working through some hefty prosthetic make-up.  So they had that minimum quality for first-out-of-the gate films for newcomer movie house Netflix.  But despite the well-known genre star cast of Extinction, the latest Netflix sci-fi movie just isn’t strong enough.  Remember the rack of B-movie sci-fi films at the old movie rental stores?  Sadly, that’s where this one would have been filed.

Michael Peña plays the father of two girls in a future Earth.  He’s having problems dealing with violent nightmares that are too real to merely be in his mind.  His wife, played by Lizzy Caplan, and their friends, all think he’s crazy.  When an invasion on par with War of the Worlds arrives in the middle of a dinner party, the father attempts to use the bits he can recall from the dreams to keep his kids and wife alive, and try to understand the menace approaching from the skies.  Peña and Caplan are not given enough to do, not enough to make us want to cheer them on, as director Ben Young drags the audience through very carefully selected architectural layouts, platforms, pathways, futuristic buildings, all slowly panning and following people walking, doing mundane things that people do.  For an entire hour nothing happens.  Luke Cage’s Mike Colter plays Peña’s boss, and when hell breaks loose you get the feeling that roles once owned by Keith David can now be handed over to Colter, as Colter becomes that take-charge leader.   But his scenes are few.  The standout performance in the film is by British actor Lex Shrapnel (K:19: The Widowmaker, Captain America: The First Avenger) who steps in to assist the family after the first barrage.  His performance brings some much-needed life, albeit too late.  But the actors just aren’t enough to save the film.

You can’t blame the cast for this one.  The slogging story doesn’t gain any momentum until the last 30 minutes, and then it must rely on a gotcha to even get viewers’ attention to stay around for the last act.  The film probably suffers from a young director and an unsalvageable script by the Oscar-nominated writer of the similarly thin and derivative screenplay for Arrival, Eric Heisserer, among others.  And it lacks a much-needed sci-fi or action flick musical score–the one thing that might have given some energy or passion to the first hour (The Nelson Brothers are listed as composers, but someone must have edited out most of their music).  At only an hour and 35 minutes, the movie drags to feel like a full 2 hours, yet the thin story could have been told in a 20 minute episode of a show like Black Mirror.  Worst of all, Extinction is devoid of any humor–an essential element of the best tense sci-fi action thrillers.

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With $2 billion put toward new content, a record stock price, and critical acclaim–this year it leads the Emmy count with 112 nominations–Netflix now dominates television.  In addition to the great new series and its catalog of films, you can’t deny the satisfaction of avoiding theater crowds to watch first-run, cinema-worthy films streaming directly to your living room.  Because the low monthly fee is already locked in, Netflix stands right there with cable TV (whether served via coax, wireless, or your old home phone line), with the largest volume of content up against those hundreds of channels it competes against.  So even if each new first-run movie on Netflix isn’t the next Oscar winner (yet–see Emmy reference above) or even the next pop hit like Avengers: Infinity War, for what feels to many like “practically free new movies,” it’s easy to give the next Netflix movie a try.  So far we’ve liked War Machine, Cloverfield Paradox, and even the strange mash-up Bright.  The next film in the sci-fi variety has the cast and an interesting trailer to make giving it a try a no-brainer.

The movie is director Ben Young’s Extinction.  Normally a plot like this might be the stuff of merely passable made-for-TV movie fare, but now is the perfect time for Michael Peña to be the lead in his own action film, right when audiences are still excited about his great work in Ant-Man and The Wasp.  He’s a future Earth everyman, only in a very Philip K. Dick twist he’s having nightmares that he believes to be premonitions of a dire future.  We get to see Luke Cage himself, Mike Colter, co-starring outside the larger-than-life superhero realm along with Lizzy Caplan, known for her roles in Cloverfield, Tru Calling, Now You See Me 2, Orange County, and Freaks and Geeks.

We always have room for another alien invasion flick, and the method of arrival in the first trailer for the film seems similar at first blush to the falling-from-the-sky visitors in Attack the Block.  But these visitors appear to be the bipedal variety of sci-fi alien.  Whatever else there is to learn we’ll need to wait to find out in the movie.

Check out the trailer for Extinction:

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It was about the time when I got my first dog (first of what would eventually be 12) when my Mom took me to the old Wakonda Theater to see For the Love of Benji.  It was 1977 and the film was a life-changing movie for a little kid.  The original film premiered in 1974, titled simply Benji, and everyone saw it and fell in love with its lead pooch.  Its song, sung by Charlie Rich, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe Award.  The movie marketers of the day, well aware of its surprise success, used its word-of-mouth popularity in its ongoing promotional campaigns, and the film’s success led to eight movies, two documentaries, and a short-lived TV series.  They hold up surprisingly well because the star character, second in all-time popularity only to Lassie, was a great actor (actually actors), and the stories were about good kids being good to their four-legged friend.  Next month Benji makes his way back into a feature film, one of the new brand of movies released exclusively on Netflix.  It’s a remake of the original, also called Benji, brought to life by the original family that created the character nearly 45 years ago.

The original canine star of the films was a mixed-breed black and tan dog named Higgins, who had a 14-year career in film, going back to Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres.  Higgins even co-starred in 1971 with Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor in a film called Mooch Goes to Hollywood.  He came out of retirement at 14 to make the original Benji.  Remember Tramp from My Three Sons?  That was Higgins’ son Mac.  (My grandma named her dog after that character).  But Higgins’ daughter Benjean would go on to star in several films taking on the role of Benji, from For the Love of Benji in 1977 to Benji the Hunted in 1987.  It was Benjean who took on the human voice of Chevy Chase in the very funny and memorable 1980 comedy Oh, Heavenly Dog!  In that film Benjean acted alongside Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif as a reincarnated detective (Chase), seeking revenge on his murderer.

Everybody in the 1970s loved Benji. That’s Higgins (left) on the film re-issue poster and Benjean (right) on the cover of every kid’s favorite magazine.

All the time it was creator, writer, and director Joe Camp who kept the Benji stories fresh and fun.  For this year’s film, Joe’s son Brandon Camp will take the helm, writing, directing and producing the film.  Brandon, who appeared in For the Love of Benji when he was six years old, previously directed Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, and he wrote the script for the film Dragonfly (which starred Kevin Costner, Susanna Thompson, and Casey Biggs).  His new film stars a new dog unrelated to the past family of Benji stars, and features two kids, played by Gabriel Bateman and Darby Camp, who oddly enough does not appear to be related to Joe and Brandon Camp.

The new poster (above) was released this week.  And check out this trailer for the film:

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