Tag Archive: Netflix movies


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Review by C.J. Bunce

What appeared via advance marketing like it was going to be another film from the back side of the video store rack or film school-level sci-fi movie actually ends up as an acceptable sci-fi/superhero B-movie.  Code 8, which just arrived on Netflix, began back in 2016 as a short film project by Canadian cousins Stephen Amell, famous as CW’s Arrow, and Robbie Amell, who played CW’s Firestorm.  The project then went on to accumulate nearly $3.5 million of crowd-funding to make this feature length film, from first time writer-director Jeff Chan.  Ambitious is a fitting description of the film, which has overall low production levels, yet at points it offers some quality sci-fi tech via android cops and superpowered humans.  But its best feature is the promising young lead, as the more popular Stephen Amell takes a backseat to his cousin, Robbie Amell (ARQ, The Tomorrow People), whose charm and authenticity have him upstaging everyone scene after scene, including his cousin.

Robbie Amell plays 26-year-old Connor Reed, one of a rare breed of superpowered humans in a near-present day alternate Earth, with the story set in the fictional Lincoln City, some 90 years into a world of X-Men-inspired superhumans, all with varying types of powers.  Connor is a Class-5 “electric” meaning he can wield incredible jolts of power to use as a carpenter or to defeat high-tech security in a heist taking the form of android cops.  Connor’s mother, played by the versatile Kari Matchett (A Nero Wolfe Mystery, Leverage, Wonderfalls), is dying, and so he makes the decision to use his powers for evil to earn tens of thousands of dollars in gang money for a needed operation.  Class struggle is a theme handled here similar to District 9 and Elysium, with the discrimination beats of AlienNation and Bright, and the superpowers presented here bring out the vibe of Brightburn (minus the horror).

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The town has its own gangsters, centered around a drug called Psyke, including a mid-level, up-and-comer played by Stephen Amell named Garrett, who takes on Connor when he needs the extra power (literally) for a job.  The real-life cousins’ chemistry is instant, and Connor joins a crew of characters, one with the power to melt metal played by Locke & Key’s Laysla De Oliveira, a deaf superhuman with incredible strength played by Vlad Alexis (X-Men: Apocalypse), and a young woman with the power to heal played by Kyla Kane (Channel Zero).  Levels of crime lords mean power plays, and that makes everything messy for everyone.  Crime requires crimefighters, which sets the stage for the second best part of the movie, The Fast and the Furious’s Sung Kang with his always cool vibe, this time as the key cop on the case.

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Robert B. Parker′s crime-solving duo made famous by Robert Urich and Avery Brooks in Spenser for Hire is getting its first movie adaptation with the Netflix Studios release, Spenser Confidential.  The film is billed as an action-comedy, and is based on Parker’s star characters from his 40 novels.  Parker used other writers for some of the novels in the series, and this film is reportedly loosely based on the novel Wonderland, penned by Ace Atkins.

The wise-cracking Bostonian Spenser is not new territory for Mark Wahlberg, who will join director Peter Berg in their fifth film project together.  In this first trailer, Wahlberg, the 2017 highest paid actor in the world, makes it hard to differentiate this from the roles he’s played in The Italian Job, The Departed, The Other Guys, Ted, Pain & Gain, Shooter, 2 Guns, Transformers: The Last Knight, and All the Money in the World. But like Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson, fans go to Wahlberg movies to see Wahlberg be Wahlberg.

Hawk will be played by Black Panther co-star Winston DukeSpenser Confidential co-stars Alan Arkin (Catch-22, Argo, Gattaca, So I Married an Axe Murderer, The Muppets), Iliza Shlesinger (Instant Family, Elder Millenial), Bokeem Woodbine (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ghostbusters: Afterlife), and Post Malone (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).

Check out the first trailer for Spenser Confidential:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) and director Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon) are going to surprise a lot of people this December.  Their new film, a direct-to-Netflix, big-budget action spectacle called 6 Underground, is the kind of movie that belongs on the big screen leading the box office rankings.  It has big, over-the-top, expensive action sequences that leave last year’s seemingly impossible to beat Mission: Impossible–Fallout, in its wake.  It also stuffs about two movies into one: giving the audience a slight breather between action sequences, its edits are sharp and quick, so much so it offers one of those strobe warnings upfront, with an amazing new weapon we haven’t yet seen anywhere that it keeps for its third act.  If you loved the team of crooks in Baby Driver, the good guys seeking revenge of The Italian Job, and the speed of The Fate of the Furious, get ready for the next watchalike.  It’s Leverage on steroids.  It’s the best direct-to-Netflix movie yet–and a whole lotta fun.

Reynolds is a billionaire genius fed up with not being able to do good with his money by following the rules.  He fakes his death and recruits and tries to maintain an international band of six “ghosts” who have complementary mad skills and are willing to leave their lives (including names) behind to change the world.  This includes an incredible driver played by Dave Franco (Now You See Me), a badass ex-CIA spook played by French actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), a hitman played by Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), a doctor played by Puerto Rican actress Adria Arjona (True Detective), and a parkour whiz played by Brit actor Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody, X-Men: Apocalypse).  When one of the team dies in a messy job, Reynolds’ character, known only as One, recruits an ex-marine sharpshooter played by Corey Hawkins.  And the movie gets bigger and better.

Although the opening 20-minute action scene will be talked about for years, it’s Hawkins arriving new to the team as Seven where the story takes off.  He was willing to leave the military service behind because he was held back–he tried to save his fellow soldiers in an attack but was ordered not to–but with this new team he finally has the freedom to do all he can for the greater good, all under his own terms.  Reynolds as Reynolds–the same snarky, smartass character he played in Deadpool and Life and R.I.P.D. and Green Lantern is here, and he makes it work yet again, thanks to funny banter and a team of actors and characters with chemistry.  He carries the leading action man role that would normally be taken by Jason Statham and twists it a bit, not doing all those kicks and physical feats, but getting in the middle of the action and staying there with all the other stunt-heavy moves going on around him (not that he doesn’t get to play in the punches, too).  If that weren’t enough, 6 Underground also has amazing international settings and gorgeous, James Bond universe-type cinematography thanks to photography by Bojan Bazelli (The Ring, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, Snake Eyes).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Eighty-five years ago today, April 1, 1934, two Texas highway patrolmen, 26-year-old Edward Wheeler and 22-year-old Holloway Murphy were on motorcycle patrol, checking on a car they thought may need assistance.  Instead, they were gunned down by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.  It was Easter Sunday.  The two notorious criminals had repeatedly evaded the law, in part because they were sheltered in an era where the stupidity of the masses outweighed sense and a large segment of the populace viewed them as some kind of folk heroes.  Despite being captured by two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, that legendary hero status stuck somehow, thanks in part to Hollywood, and specifically the rather popular and also critically acclaimed movie Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  That film portrayed a rollicking, at times humorous, ride, which in fact, shared little of substance about the criminals and their victims.  Hollywood is now doing an about-face with a new, edgy, thoughtful drama, which includes the murders of Wheeler and Murphy and others, in director John Lee Hancock‘s The Highwaymen, now on Netflix.

Hancock, who wrote screenplays for the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, the screenplay for Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and wrote and directed the 2004 version of The Alamo, offers up a reserved, measured tale not of the infamous criminals this time, but the two aging men, Hamer and Gault, who knew how to track and kill criminals.  That’s thanks to a script by John Fusco, who has experience writing historical accounts for the screen, as found in his Billy the Kid story Young Guns, the Babe Ruth biopic Babe, the 1890s horse rider tale Hidalgo, and his heavily researched series Marco Polo.  Despite the sometimes dry “historical drama” label, The Highwaymen is by no means devoid of compelling storytelling.  Plus, headlined by Kevin Costner, playing the elder more experienced former Ranger Frank Hamer, and Woody Harrelson as the slightly less experienced B.M. “Maney” Gault, the film showcases the chemistry between the duo.  In one key dramatic sequence the two lawmen come upon a temporary residence for the criminals, looking for clues among the closeted clothing in what could be the bedroom of any small town couple of the day.  But Harrelson may get the most satisfying scene, as he responds to being cornered by a group of Barrow supporters while in a public restroom.

The film is fueled by a compelling musical score by Thomas Newman (Spectre, Skyfall, Road to Perdition, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Man With One Red Shoe), the kind of a soundtrack that will no doubt stand well as its own creative work.  His score sets the tempo of the picture while not overtaking it, as happened with Ennio Morricone’s Oscar-nominated score for Costner’s The Untouchables, a similar era film that will no doubt be compared to The HighwaymenNewman’s music is entirely different, a balance of post-Civil War, Western, and Depression-era motifs with guitar that echoes the former Rangers’ cowboy, horse-riding past.  Cinematographer John Schwartzman delivers the kind of bleak, spacious, 1930s America perhaps last scene in László Kovács’ film work on Peter Bogdanovich’s depression-era film Paper Moon.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers appeared like it could have been so much more, but it wasn’t to happen.  Instead of the science fiction thriller promised in the trailer, this month’s Netflix movie Io is a slow, dry character study about a character who isn’t all that interesting.  Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys) has the lead role as Sam, daughter of a world-renowned scientist in the years after a toxin has finally pushed life from Earth.  Most of humanity leaves for a colony on Jupiter’s planet Io, including Sam’s boyfriend, who tries to prompt her to meet him there via future email (that looks like text on a vintage Commodore 64).  But Sam’s father has died, and she continues his research, attempting to prove “life will find a way” on Earth.  Her father’s speeches persuaded many to stay, including Micah, played by Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Infinity War), whose wife has died.  Via air balloon, Micah travels to Sam’s science station, one of the rare places where oxygen still allows life to go on.  He comes to murder Sam’s dad, but when he learns of Sam and her desolation, he tells her she needs to come with him on the last flight from Earth.  Most of the film time is quiet thought, Sam doing her experiments, including killing a bee, apologizing blandly like that makes it okay.  And Sam and Micah talk at each other, contrived anger in spots from Micah, seeming indifference to anything from Sam.  Should they stay or should they go?

Without any emotional punch by Qualley, not much about the film works.  It’s a tale that has been told so much in science fiction and in so many better ways, that Io’s effort to tell the “end of days” story has little to offer other than an attempt at splicing in several mythology allegory references.  But without compelling, believable characters and a story with a coherent message, the effort is pointless.  The entirety of the film is in the Netflix trailer, and the rest of the film is filler.  The message of any apocalypse story is for humanity to wake up and not let the world go to hell.  Beyond that, many other movies have used the concept of apocalypse that are more accessible and interesting.  Netflix’s own Orbiter 9 is much better, and the Tom Cruise sci-fi tale Obsidian offers a similar story with much more to keep viewers engaged.  Even the Mad Max series offers characters who act like they want to survive.  Fans of the slow-paced, sci-fi dramas Arrival or Interstellar might very well like this film, and that may have been Io’s target audience, but with little budget or script it doesn’t come close to those either.

The production expects the audience to infer too much about the character of Sam from the performance of actress Margaret Qualley.  But the director, newcomer Jonathan Helpert, never settles in on who Sam is supposed to be and how much empathy we’re supposed to have for her.  The easy part is understanding her loneliness, since her father died and left her alone.  But the entirety of her emotions are held within–the audience cannot tell anything about her by her methodical, scientific mannerisms, her limited written messages to a boyfriend off-planet, or her stilted conversations with newcomer Micah.  We know she wonders about artwork off in a museum in a territory that is deadly, but so what?

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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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