The Things You Find On Netflix: 6 Balloons (dir by Marja Lewis-Ryan)


Poor Katie (Abbi Jacobson)!

All she wants to do is throw a surprise party for her new boyfriend and enjoy the 4th of July.  Is that too much to ask?  However, things are never easy.  Her friends are ruthless in their critique of what she’s planning to wear.  Her mother (Jane Kaczmarek) keeps pressuring her to go down to CVS and buy more makeup.  As for her father (Tim Matheson) — well, he’s just too damn good-looking.  All of her friends want to know if it was difficult for Katie to grow up with a “hot dad.”  Katie says it was.

You know what’s even more difficult though?

Trying to throw a surprise birthday party while also trying to take care of your niece and your junkie brother!

From the minute we meet Seth (Dave Franco) it’s obvious that he’s on something.  As soon as Katie orders him to roll up his sleeves, we know that this is not a new thing with Seth.  Seth is a junkie, the type who shoots up in grocery store bathrooms and who buys his heroin from a man who lives in a yellow tent.  Seth isn’t one of those charming junkies, either.  He’s not Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.  He’s a manipulative, self-centered asshole who agrees to go to detox but only if Katie agrees to pay for it and not tell anyone that he’s using again.  He’s the type who thinks nothing of begging his sister to leave the party that she’s spent weeks planning because he needs a ride to get one last hit before “getting clean.”

6 Balloons is a short film, one that takes place over the course of one long night.  While the party goes on without her, Katie drives Seth around the city.  Whenever Katie objects to what Seth is asking her to do, Seth guilts her.  He continually assures her that he just needs to get high one last time and then he’ll be able to do detox.  Meanwhile, Seth’s daughter sits in her car seat and begs to be taken home.

The acting is okay.  Both Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson are best known for their comedic work so it’s interesting to see them taking on such dramatic roles here.  At the same time, it sometimes seems like both of them are trying too hard.  The same could be said of  6 Balloons.  This is a film that could have used a little dark humor.  Instead, it’s relentlessly grim and serious and, as a result, a bit of a chose to sit through.  For a 70 minute film, 6 Balloons seems to go on forever.

The problem with films about junkies is that, for the most part, hardcore junkies are dull people and not much fun to be around.  Christiane F, Trainspotting and several of the films influenced by them dealt with this problem by featuring a propulsive soundtrack and some imaginative cinematography.  (Trainspotting also wisely devoted more screen time to Mark and Sick Boy than to Spud.  Just imagine how difficult it would be to watch Trainspotting if the entire film had centered on Spud getting high and crawling underneath cars.)  With its hand-held camerawork and it’s subdued soundtrack, 6 Balloons takes more of a documentary approach.  The film will leave you with no doubt that heroin is bad and it’s not good to be an enabler but, at the same time, it’ll probably also inspire you to glance at the time and ask yourself, “Is this thing over yet?”

Here’s The First Teaser for Stranger Things Season 3!


Here’s the first teaser for the third season of Stranger Things!

Don’t expect to learn anything about what’s actually going to happen during season 3 from this teaser.  In fact, the main message of this trailer seems to be, “We’re in production.  Get off our freaking back.”  The teaser, however, does make sure to remind us that Cary Elwes and Jake Busey will be joining the cast in season 3.

So, all of you Jake Busey fans — rejoice!

(And really, who isn’t a Jake Busey fan?)

Interestingly enough, at one point, I wanted to write a movie specifically for Cary Elwes and Jake Busey, one in which they played tabloid journalists who ended up stranded in a town controlled by a Wurdulak.  I really should get back to work on that…

Anyway, enjoy the teaser!  The third season of Stranger Things come to Netflix in 2019!  Will we once again convince Case Wright to watch and review it for us?  Keep visiting the site to find out!

The Cloverfield Paradox – *Great Spoilers*


 

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It’s Superbowl Sunday!!! Better yet, it’s The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix.

This movie is 1 part – Event Horizon, 1 Part – The Thing, and 1 Part – Boring.

We begin with a dying earth and pesky scientists have tried to create a free energy machine innnnnnnn spaaaaaaace.  Sounds Legit.

There’s British people talking in traffic and I need closed captioning.  The lady in traffic is apparently an astronaut and “Comm Officer”. However, I can’t understand anything she’s saying; so maybe, communications wasn’t the best fit?!

We’re on the space station and they’re trying to do some particle acceleratin’ …woohoo, but something is amiss. The story is really dragging.

Now, there’s nerds, foozball playing, and awkward conversation.  Are we sure this is a Space Station and not the Google Campus?  I do like that all peoples are represented and they’re all boring.  It’s about time that we embraced that most people are boring and even some Netflix films.

They’re about to turn on their Shepherd Accelerator and …… they are making particles, energy, or s’mores?  Then, the Shepherd overloads.  I’m guessing they forgot to use a surge protector. They get control, but the earth is gone- must’ve left the Earth in their other solar system’s pants.  They’re hurtling into empty space.

The crew is starting to act weird.  The Russian- I’m going to call him Boris – is playing with his face a lot and we’re getting an Event Horizon vibe mostly because JJ Abrams decided to defile the memory of another one of my favorite films.  The steel walls have screaming and they decide to open it….because sure. They reveal a woman fused to wires and the bulkhead who knows the Comm Officer’s name.  It’s pretty gross.  They try to do some ER work on her and she lives.

Meanwhile….Back on Earth. There’s explosions!!!

Back on the station…

The foozball is playing itself and things are disappearing: gyroscopes, worms, and my time.   Boris has a worm creature in his head and it’s doing gross things to his eyeball.  Boris starts talking to himself and the voices in his head ask him to make a 3d printed gun.  Boris pulls the 3d printed gun on crewmates and dies with hundreds of worms shooting out of him.

The lady they found in the bulkhead – Mina – wakes up.  She thinks that she was on the station the whole time.  Mina accuses Schmidt of sabotage.  For scientists, they are unimpressive.  These dopes haven’t figured out that they’re in another dimension?! Did they get their PhDs from University of Phoenix?!  They lock Schmidt up for sabotage and proceed to make bad choices.

Back on earth…. More explosions, but now there are screaming kids.

Back on the station: The ship’s Irish janitor is doing repairs and his arm gets detached.  The ship let’s Schmidt out of the airlock and he’s being chased by the Irishman’s arm.  The arm writes them a letter….really. It tells them to cut Boris’ corpse open.  They find the gyroscope inside Boris.  The comms come back and their current reality is pretty bad.  They watch CNN and learn that they’ve traveled to Another Dimension …. Another Dimension … Don’t … you tell me to smile….Interplanetary.   In this dimension, there’s World War III going on and everybody has goatees.  They decide to turn on the Shepherd machine again and hopefully not attract a herd of sheep as well.

Back on earth, the Comm Officer’s husband has rescued a random kid and went to a bomb shelter.

Back on the Station:  Tam figures out that condensation was messing with their calculations, but then she drowns….somehow.  In the alternate dimension, Eva’s kids are alive.  In the “Good Dimension” Eva apparently installed some bad track lighting and killed everyone, but in this “Evil Dimension” – they’re fine because she used lamps I suppose.  Eva decides to go back to warn her twin not to use track lighting…..ever.  I’ve noticed that they do A LOT of caulking in this movie to exciting music, but it’s still a guy caulking. There’s another malfunction and half the ship explodes.

The crew decides that they need to de-couple the broken part of the station, engendering a long scene of attempted space station repair.  It was really slow AND they had this crazy 8-4pm window to do it.  Then, the captain sacrifices himself to do it because why not?

Eva orders that they turn on the shepherd.  All looks well, but Mina steals the gun and starts shooting.  She needs the “firing key” for some reason.  Presumably, the Shepherd will create energy, but that really makes no sense because it doesn’t create energy as much as derivative B-Movies.  Mina manages to kill Eva in the final scene Aliens style and it’s mildly entertaining.

Schmidt lives and they start the Shepherd again, but first she warns her evil twin not to use Track Lighting and to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch in the 2015 Super Bowl.  They see earth again- the good earth and they have a stable power beam.   Eva’s husband doesnt want them to come back because—-monsters.  Then, as the escape pod enters the atmosphere, we see a monster.  So, they unleashed monsters and NBC’s Whitney.

This was a great bad movie, which is what JJ Abrams can do in his sleep. I would watch this if I had the flu or was in a B-movie place.

2017 In Review: 10 Good Things Lisa Marie Saw on Television in 2017


So, here I am.

I’m sitting here and I’m trying to make out my annual list of the good things that I saw on television last year and I just realized something.

I didn’t watch much TV last year.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  The television was often on, in order to provide background noise.  I’m not a huge fan of silence.  But it was usually just tuned to something random.  It was rare that I ever said, “Oh my God, I have to watch this.”

Oh well.  Let’s see what I can come up with:

  1. Twin Peaks: The Return.  I already devoted an entire post to how much I loved Twin Peaks: The Return.  But literally, this was probably the only show that I really looked forward to watching on a weekly basis.  This was the only show that I thought about between episodes.  And this is the only show that continues to haunt me now that it’s over.
  2. The original Twin Peaks.  The first two seasons of Twin Peaks are available on Netflix.  Jeff, Leonard, and I spent a month watching and reviewing them.  Twin Peaks was definitely responsible for some of the best things that appeared on this site last year.
  3. The Finale of Bates Motel.  This one of the best finales that I’ve ever seen.  This show, which I think everyone expected to fail, instead became one of the best shows on television and it ended perfectly.
  4. Degrassi.  I’ve had some issue with the last few seasons of Degrassi but it’s still my favorite Canadian television show.
  5. The Deuce.  David Simon’s look at Times Square in the 70s may not have reached the level of The Wire but it was definitely better than Treme.
  6. Episodes.  Showtime’s Episodes was never a good show but it certainly was fun to hatewatch.
  7. Veep.  Even though this was definitely the show’s weakest season, Veep still provided some of the best political satire around.
  8. That episode of South Park where Donald Trump dared the North Koreans to nuke Tweek’s home.
  9. All of the shows on ID and Crime and Investigation Network.  All of the true crime programming may be disturbing but it’s also undeniably addictive.
  10. Chiller.  Chiller shut down on December 31st.  I’ll miss it.

And finally, the worst thing that I saw on television in 2017:

The Murder of Laci Peterson.  This multi-party A&E documentary was an obvious attempt to 1) duplicate the success of O.J.: Made in America and 2) exonerate Scott Perterson for the murder of his pregnant wife, Laci.  Laci’s name may have appeared in the title but she was mostly an afterthought as the majority of the show’s running time was devoted to Scott’s creepy sister and her attempts to spring him from prison.  Heavy-handed, manipulative, and way too smug for its own good, the show did inspire a lot of people twitter to declare their belief in Scott’s innocence.  (The show’s argument, by the way, was that Laci was murdered by a Satanic cult because, as one Modesto detective put it, Meth addicts are very superstitious.)

Tomorrow, our look back at 2017 continues with my picks for the best novels of 2017!

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017
  9. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)
  10. 2017 in Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2017
  11. 2017 in Review: The Best of SyFy by Lisa Marie Bowman

Film Review: Mudbound (dir by Dee Rees)


In Mudbound, Jonathan Banks plays one of the most hateful characters to ever appear in a motion picture.

We never find out the character’s given name.  Everyone just calls him Pappy.  He’s the patriarch of an unimpressive family, a wannabe king who has no kingdom over which to rule.  Pappy never has a kind word to say to anyone.  He even tends to be brusque with his grandchildren.  When one of his sons returns from serving in World War II, Pappy only wants to know if he got laid in Europe and how many men he killed.  Pappy only killed one man in World War I but he did it face-to-face.  He’s proud of that.

As much as Pappy dislikes the members of his family, it’s nothing compared to how much Pappy hates people who aren’t white.  Pappy is the type to demand that, when he dies, he not buried anywhere near anyone black.  Pappy is also the type who takes it as a personal insult if a black man uses the same door that he uses.  When he sees Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) using the font door of the local grocery store, it doesn’t matter that Ronsel has just returned from serving his country and is still wearing his uniform.  It also doesn’t matter that Ronsel’s mother is helping to raise Pappy’s granddaughters.  What matters is that Ronsel is defying the social norms of 1940s Mississippi and Pappy takes that as a personal insult.

There are six narrators in Mudbound, all of whom tell us their story and share with us their thoughts.  Pappy is not one of those narrators and, for that, I was thankful.  I would have been frightened at the thought of entering his hate-fueled mind.  All we have to do is look into his hateful eyes or listen to his scornful voice and we know what’s going on in Pappy’s head.  He’s a man who has accomplished nothing in his long life, whose only happiness comes from making others miserable, and who fears the change that he secretly knows is coming.  It’s not just hate that makes Pappy demand an apology when Ronsel Jackson uses the front door.  It’s fear.

Mudbound tells the story of two families in Mississippi and the farmland on which they both live and work.  (Early on, when a skull with a bullet hole is discovered, we’re informed that an old slave cemetery is under plowed fields.)  Pappy’s oldest son, Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke), owns the land.  Desperate for his father’s approval, Henry hopes to succeed as a farmer but he soon proves himself to be rather clueless.  Henry’s wife is Laura (Carey Mulligan).  Laura was a 31 year-old virgin when she met Henry.  She tells us that she married him because she didn’t want to be alone.  She stays with him because she loves their children.

The Jacksons live on Henry’s land.  They’re tenant farmers and Hap (Rob Morgan), the family patriarch, dreams of one day owning his own farm.  While Pappy openly hates the Jacksons, Henry treats them with a patronizing condescension.  (Whereas Pappy knows that he’s hated, Henry actually thinks that the Jacksons look up to him.  There’s not a lot of humor to be found in Mudbound but I couldn’t help but smile at Henry’s cluelessness about how little Hap thought of him.)  Henry and Laura even hire Hap’s wife, Florence (Mary J. Blige), to serve as a housekeeper.  Henry and Laura think they’re doing Florence a favor, never considering that they are essentially asking Florence to neglect her own family so that she can take care of their’s.

The Jackson and the McAllans do have one big thing in common.  They both have sons serving in the army.  Ronsel is a sergeant who is both surprised and happy to discover that white Europeans are not the same as white Americans.  Henry’s younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), is a captain in the Air Force.  When the war ends, both Ronsel and Jamie return to their families.  Jamie returns with a severe case of PTSD and a drinking problem.  Having experienced freedom in Europe, Ronsel is angered to return to a country where he is still expected to sit in the back of the bus and cheerfully accept being treated like a second class citizen.

When both of them are caught off guard by the sound of a car backfiring, Ronsel and Jamie immediately recognize each other as returning soldiers.  A friendship develops between them, one that goes against the racist norms of their society.  Violence and tragedy follows.

Mudbound is a Netflix film.  It’s currently getting a one-week theatrical release so that it’ll be Oscar-eligible.  (If it is nominated for best picture — and many think that it may be — it’ll be the first Netflix film to be so honored.)  That said, the majority of the people who see Mudbound will see it via Netflix.  That’s a shame because, visually, Mubound is a film that should be seen on a big screen.  The imagery — the farmland that seems to stretch on forever, the storms that always seem to roll in at the worst possible moment, the scenes of Ronsel and Jamie in Europe — is frequently beautiful and haunting.  (The comparisons to the work of Terrence Malick are justified.)  Even when viewed on a laptop, Mudbound still looks good but I fear that the small screen will rob the film of some of its epic scope.  Since Mudbound is a leisurely paced film, I fear that many members of the Netflix audience are going to be tempted to hit pause and then not return to the film for an hour or two, therefore robbing Mudbound of its cumulative power.

Over the time that I’ve spent writing this review, I’ve come to realize that I actually liked Mudbound a lot more than I originally thought I did.  As opposed to many of the films that I’ve seen this year, I have a feeling that Mudbound is actually going to stick with me.  Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, and Rob Morgan all give wonderful performances, though the cast standout is Jason Mitchell, playing a man who, having tasted freedom, refuses to silently go back to the way things were.

Mudbound is a very good film.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a great film, though many other critics and viewers are.  Director Dee Rees captures some beautiful images and some wonderful performances but the film itself has some pacing problems.  The first part of the film is occasionally too slow while a few of the final scenes felt rushed.  I’ve always felt that it’s a petty even contest between Garrett Hedlund and Aaron Taylor-Johnson for the title of the most boring actor to regularly appear in major motion pictures and, in the role of Jamie, Hedlund does little to change that impression.

But no matter!  Even if it does have flaws, Mudbound is a powerful film and one that I recommend taking the time to watch.

The Things You Find On Netflix: To The Bone (dir by Marti Noxon)


Way back in January, when I first heard about To The Bone, I had high hopes for it.

After all, To The Bone was the directorial debut of Marti Noxon, who is well-known both for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for co-creating Unreal.  To The Bone was reportedly based on Noxon’s own struggle with an eating disorder and it was said to feature an outstanding lead performance from Lily Collins as an artist struggling with anorexia.  Even the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor sounded intriguing.

And, to me, it didn’t matter that To The Bone got mixed reviews at Sundance.  Who would seriously expect critics, especially male critics, to understand a movie about body issues and eating disorders?  When I heard that To The Bone had been purchased by Netflix, I did sigh a little.  Far too often, Netflix is where good films end up getting lost in a sea of mediocre offering.  But then again, perhaps To The Bone was exactly the type of intimate character study that would actually benefit from being viewed on a small screen.  After all, it’s not a film about a bunch of space lizard attacking the great wall of China.  It’s a film about a young woman struggling with an eating disorder.

When Netflix finally released To The Bone back in July, I was excited.

Then I actually watched the movie.

To The Bone actually gets off to a pretty good start.  The first 20 minutes or so are dedicated to establishing who Ellie (Lily Collins) is.  She’s 20 years old.  She’s smart.  She’s sarcastic.  She’s an artist.  She’s a college dropout who apparently used to have a very popular tumblr that dealt with being thin.  She’s also anorexic and, from the first minute that we see her, Ellie looks like she’s on the verge of death.  (To the film’s credit, it makes clear that there is a huge difference between being naturally thin and being anorexic.  That’s a distinction that is far too often overlooked.)  We meet Ellie’s dysfunctional family: her frustrated stepmother (Carrie Preston), the father who often can’t be bothered, and the half-sister (Liana Liberato) who both loves and resents her.  The relationship between the two sisters is especially well-handled.  Even if it takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing a compassionate but tough-talking doctor, the film still works during his first few scenes.

Then, Ellie joins Reeves’s inpatient program and moved into a house with six other patients and this is where the film started to annoy me.  Ellie is such a well-drawn and well-acted character that it makes it all the more obvious that the rest of the patients are not.  Instead, the rest of the patients are all easily identifiable types.  As soon as they show up on screen, you know everything about them and you know exactly what is going to happen to each and every one of them.  From the minute that Ellie reluctantly steps into that house, To The Bone starts to feel less like an honest look at anorexia and more like a well-meaning and predictable PSA.  One of the patients is pregnant and always talk about how worried she is that her eating disorder is going to lead to her losing the baby.  Can you guess what happens?

And then there’s Luke (Alex Sharp).  Luke is the ballet dancer who is recovering from a knee injury.  As soon as I saw that Luke was the only male in the house, I knew that he was destined to eventually declare his love for Ellie.  But my problem with Luke has less to do with his predictable character arc and more to do with just how annoying a character he is.  Luke is relentlessly upbeat.  Luke constantly tells corny jokes.  Luke just will not stop talking!  When Luke leaves a room, he starts singing a song called Sugar Blues.  When Luke reenters a room, he is still singing Sugar Blues.  SHUT UP, LUKE!

(Whenever Ellie would visit Luke in his room, I would find myself distracted by the posters on his wall.  The majority of them said “Jazz Festival” and featured some saxophone clipart.  As strange as it may sound, it really started to annoy me that there was no date or location listed.  Why would you go through all the trouble of making — or buying, for that matter — a poster for a jazz festival and then not bother to include a date or a location?  That may sound like a minor thing but, as I watched the film, that inauthentic poster came to represent everything that felt inauthentic about Luke as a character.)

I guess the main problem with To The Bone is that it never succeeds in convincing us that the inpatient program is actually going to do any good for Ellie.  It’s not for lack of trying.  However, the scenes in the house are too overwrought and predictably scripted.  There’s a scene where Reeves takes the patients on a field trip and it’s supposed to be inspiring but it doesn’t work because, as a first-time director, Noxon doesn’t trust her material enough to allow us to draw our own conclusions.  Instead, she beats us over the head with her message.  For To The Bone to work, it needed a director like Andrea Arnold, someone who specializes in a naturalistic performances and who is willing to embrace ambiguity and take the time to let a scene play out.  Noxon makes the mistake of not trusting her audience to draw the right conclusion and, as a result, To The Bone goes from being an intriguing character study to being the cinematic equivalent of the last 15 minutes of an episode of Intervention.

Though it all, Lily Collins continues to give a good performance.  Even when she’s forced to deliver some unfortunate dialogue, she’s the best thing about To The Bone.  Unfortunately, the rest of this movie just collapses around her.

Jazz Festival