The Things You Find on Netflix: Rebecca (dir by Ben Wheatley)


Ben Wheatley’s new film, Rebecca, is the second cinematic adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic romance.  It was first adapted by David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock in 1940.  That Rebecca was the only Hitchcock film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though Hitchcock himself reportedly felt that Rebecca was more indicative of Selznick’s style than his own.

Ben Wheatley, as one might expect from the brilliant director of A Field in England, takes his own idiosyncratic approach to the material.  From the start, he gets two things right when he casts Lily James as the second Mrs. de Winter and Armie Hammer as the enigmatic Maxim de Winter.  James and Hammer are ideal for these roles because they’re both so achingly pretty that they seem like they belong on the cover of a gothic romance.  That’s especially true of Armie Hammer, who has never been that interesting of an actor but who still has the type of chiseled screen presence that makes him ideally suited for roles like the one that he plays here.  He’s tall, handsome, a bit dull, and undeniably upper class.  He’s an appealing slab of beef and that makes him perfect for the role of Maxim de Winter.

Directing in vibrant color and taking advantage of the fact that the films stars two of the best-looking people working in the movies today, Wheatley brings an erotic charge to the story that was missing from Hitchcock’s more sedate (and Production code-restricted) version of the story.  When Maxim and the woman who will became the second Mrs. de Winter embark on their whirlwind romance on the French Riviera, there might as well be a title card that announces, “Yeah, they’re fucking.”  There’s nothing subtle about it but, at the same time, it provides a definite contrast to the second part of the film, in which Maxim and Mrs. de Winter return to the grand but chilly mansion of Manderley and Maxim goes from being charming and sensual to being cold and withdrawn.

It’s also at Manderley that we meet Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is obsessed with preserving the memory of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.  Scott Thomas is perfect casting for Mrs. Danvers.  In fact, at first, she seems almost too perfect for the role.  She’s so imperious and passive aggressively hostile when we first meet her that I was worried that Scott Thomas wouldn’t be able to bring much more to the role beyond what she had already shown.  However, as the film progresses, Scott Thomas turns Danvers into a surprisingly vulnerable character, with the film suggesting that she’s as much of a victim of Rebecca’s toxic legacy as anyone else at Maderley.

Wheatley’s Rebecca is all about the journey of the second Mrs. de Winter and her transformation from being meek and somewhat mousey to being someone who refuses to be cast in anyone else’s shadow.  When Maxim says that Mrs. de Winter is no longer the innocent girl that he meet on the Riviera, Maxim is disappointed but Mrs. de Winter is not.  By the end of the film, the de Winters resemble none other than Henry and June Miller, searching the world for their place and casting seductive glances at the audience.

Visually, it’s a stunning film.  The colors are vibrant.  The sets are ornate.  The costumes are to die for.  That said, the film itself is never quite as engaging as it should be.  Despite the strength of the cast, the film still leaves the viewer feelings somewhat detached.  It’s all wonderfully produced by the film still feels more like an intellectual exercise than an emotional one.  Wheatley is a brilliant filmmaker but, when the second Mrs. de Winter announces that everything she’s been through is worth it because she’s found love, you don’t believe her and you don’t get the feeling that, deep down, Wheatley believes her either.  Instead, it’s hard not to feel that this version of Rebecca is a romance that doesn’t believe in love.  It’s interesting but it’s not particularly satisfying.

Horror(-ish) Film Review: Hubie Halloween (dir by Steven Brill)


“Oh my God!” I said as I looked at what was new on Netflix, “A Halloween movie starring the guy from Uncut Gems!?  THIS IS GOING TO BE INTENSE!”

Of course, as I’m sure you already guessed, Hubie Halloween might as well be taking place in a totally different universe from Uncut GemsUncut Gems was an intense drama that starred Adam Sandler as a man so self-destructive that he literally seems to spend the entire movie just daring death to reach out and take him.  Hubie Halloween, on the other hand, is fairly laid back comedy featuring Adam Sandler playing yet another well-meaning manchild.  The film features supporting performances from all the usual Happy Madison suspects, like Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows, Ben Stiller, Maya Rudolph, Keenan Thompson, and Colin Quinn.  It’s sentimental and it’s about thirty minute too long and the humor is often juvenile but also frequently funny.

Adam Sandler plays Hubie, who lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his mother (June Squibb).  Hubie is the town eccentric, the type of guy who thinks that he’s protecting the entire town but who mostly just gets on everyone’s nerves.  A lot of people make fun of Hubie (who they call Pubie).  Pete Landolfa (Ray Liotta) may be mourning the recent death of his father but he still finds time to toss Hubie into an open grave.  Not even Father Dave (Michael Chiklis) has much sympathy for Hubie.  Hubie is the type of guy who goes down to the local school to give a speech on Halloween safety, just for the students (and teachers) to respond by throwing all of their food at him.

One of the few people who is nice to Hubie is his new neighbor, Walter Lambert (Steve Buscemi).  However, Hubie suspects that Walter might be a werewolf and when people start to disappear over the course of Halloween, Hubie suspects that Walter’s responsible.  Meanwhile, the police (represented by a heavily bearded Kevin James) thinks that it might be Hubie, seeing as how everyone who has disappeared is also someone who has bullied him.

Then again, Richie Hartman (Rob Schneider) has just escaped from the local mental institution.  Could he possibly have something to do with the mysterious happenings in Salem!?

When Adam Sandler won his Indie Spirit Award for Uncut Gems, he infamously announced that, if he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, he would get back at the Academy by making the worst film of all time.  Well, Sandler was snubbed the Academy.  (Though Sandler deserved that nomination — and probably nominations for The Meyerowtiz Stories, Funny People, and Punch-Drunk Love as well — it’s pretty obvious that the Academy is never going to nominate the star of That’s My Boy and Jack and Jill.)  However, Hubie Halloween is certainly not the worst film ever made.  It’s actually a rather likable and sweet-natured comedy, one in which the humor is definitely juvenile but, in contrast to some of the other Happy Madison comedies, never really mean-spirited.  In many ways, it’s a perfect Netflix film.  It’s good enough to keep you entertained while, at the same time, you don’t necessarily have to really pay attention to every minute of the film to get it.  It’s the epitome of the type of film that you can watch while doing something else.

One of the main complaints that’s always lodged against Sandler is that he primarily just makes movies so that he can hang out with his friends and get paid for it.  There’s a certain amount of truth to that statement and that, more than anything, explains why Sandler’s filmography tends to be so frustratingly uneven.  The cast of Hubie Halloween looks like they had a lot of fun making it.  Fortunately, in this case, that sense of fun actually translates onto the screen.  Steve Buscemi, June Squibb, and particularly Ray Liotta all seem to be having a ball getting to parody their own dramatic images.

Admittedly, Hubie Halloween is not a film that sticks with you.  It won’t make you laugh as much as Happy Gilmore and it won’t leave you stunned like Uncut Gems.  But, for what it is, it’s just likable enough to be entertaining.

 

International Horror Film: The Paramedic (dir by Carles Torras)


Eh, who cares?

“Really, Lisa Marie?  That’s going to be your entire review of this film?  Three words?”

Listen, I’ve been wanting to use those three words for a while.  Do you think it’s easy to come up with 500 words about every stupid movie that you see, especially when it’s not exactly a movie that really holds your attention?  Considering the importance that entertainment plays in our lives and the fact that there actually are good and interesting films being made, dismissing a forgettable film with “Eh, who cares?” is not only justifiable but it’s also perhaps the most honest review that one can give.

“Haven’t you always said that every film deserves a review?”

I may believe that but I’ve never been stupid enough to paint myself into a corner by saying it.

“Well, why don’t you at least tell everyone what the movie is about?”

Goddammit.

“Lisa Marie….”

Okay, okay.  It’s a Spanish film about this paramedic named Angel Hernandez (Mario Casas).  He’s a jerk, a total believer in all of that machismo bullshit.  He spends all of his time talking about how smarter he is than everyone else and he has a girlfriend named Vane (Déborah François).  They’re trying to have a baby but Angel has a low sperm count.  Angel refuses to tell Vane this because, to him, that would make him less of a man.

“So, it’s a film about toxic masculinity.”

Eh.  Kinda.  Anyway, as a result of an accident, Angel is confined to a wheelchair.  He doesn’t take it well.  He expects Vane to wait on him hand-and-foot while he does stuff like spy on her and hack her laptop.  Eventually, Vane leaves him for Ricardo (Guillermo Pfening) so Angel starts stalking her and, after he discovers that Ricardo has gotten her pregnant, Angel kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his apartment.  He gives her an engagement ring that he stole from a patient and starts talking about how they’re going to get married and how they’re going to raise the child.

“It sounds like a Lifetime movie.”

It is kind of but …. eh.  A Lifetime movie would be more fun.  This is just another boring movie where a loser kidnaps a woman and holds her prisoner in his apartment while killing anyone who comes close to discovering her.  You would think that the villain being in a wheelchair would at least add some sort of curiosity value to the film but it’s all so predictable that it’s hard to care.  Hence, my original review.

“Were the actors at least any good?”

I guess.  I’ll give Mario Casas all the credit in the world.  He did a good job of bringing a really loathsome character to life.  I mean, everyone has had to deal with someone like Angel Hernandez at some point in their life.  Anyone who has ever been told that they don’t really understand what they need or what they want will be able to relate to what Vane goes through.

“So, the film wasn’t all bad.”

No, it wasn’t all bad but at the same time, there was nothing particularly surprising about it either.  I was never surprised by anything that happened.  It’s just kind of there.  You watch it and you shrug and you say….

“….eh, who cares?”

You got it.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Girl on the Third Floor (dir by Travis Stevens)


The 2019 film, Girl on the Third Floor, tells the story of Dan Koch (Phil Brooks), a former criminal who says that he’s trying to turn his life around.  Phil is married to Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and they’ve not only got a baby on the way, they’ve also got a new house!  It’s a surprisingly big house and you have to kind of wonder why no one else has bought it.  Maybe it’s because there’s an Episcopalian church right across the street.  That definitely would have kept me from moving in.

Still, despite the presence of Anglicans in the neighborhood, Phil moves into the house.  He wants to get the house ready before his pregnant wife comes out to join him.  Helping Phil out are his dog Cooper and his best friend, Milo (Travis Delgado).  Ellie (Karen Woditsch), the rather judgmental pastor who lives in the church, also comes by and visits.

Of course, any old house is going to have its issues.  There’s the mysterious sludge that pours out of the walls.  There’s the mysterious marbles that keep rolling through the house.  There’s the mysterious bumps in the nights and the fact that Cooper seems to be weary of the new home.  Dogs can always pick up on evil.  Of course, along with being a bit of an idiot, Don is too busy banging his new neighbor, Sarah (Sarah Brooks), to notice.

Don, if you haven’t guessed, is a bit of a jerk.  Even though he swears that he feels guilty for cheating on his wife, he still does it.  When his friends mysteriously disappear while helping out around the house, Don doesn’t make much of an effort to find them.  When Don thinks that there’s a chance his wife might find out what’s been going on at the house, he goes to extreme methods to try to cover everything up.  Don thinks that he can control every situation but Sarah and the House both appear to be intent to prove him wrong.

Girl on the Third Floor is a deliberately-paced …. well, I guess you’d call it a haunted house story.  I was tempted to call it a ghost story but the film is frequently ambiguous as to whether or not the house is haunted by ghosts or by something far worse.  Eventually, we do learn a bit about the house’s past but Girl on the Third Floor is at its best when it leaves you wondering what exactly is going on.  Not all questions have to be answered, especially not in a horror movie.  In fact, the key to most successful horror tales is the knowledge that some questions will never be answered, no matter how effort we put in to  searching for a solution.

Phil Brooks, who wrestled under the name CM Punk, is well-cast as the frequently brutish Don.  Brooks convinces us that he does want to be a better person while also showing that he doesn’t really have the inner strength necessary to do so.  Trieste Kelly Dunn also does a good job as Don’s wife, who seems like she really does deserve better.  Not surprisingly, the film is stolen by Sarah Brooks as the mysterious neighbor.  Not only does she get to wear all the best clothes but she also gets all of the best lines and her confidence that Don will fail whatever test she puts before him is both chilling and understandable.

Despite being a little bit slow-paced (especially early on in the film), Girl on the Third Floor has enough atmosphere to hold one’s attention and the final third of the film is enjoyably surreal.  Girl on the Third Floor is currently on Netflix.  Watch it the next time you’re wondering whether or not to start a home improvement project.

 

Here’s The Trailer For The Trial Of The Chicago 7!


The Trial of Chicago 7 has been on the Oscar radars of several observers ever since this year began.  Not only does it have a big-name cast but some feel that, in telling the story of the trial of a group of protesters, the film is well-positioned to take advantage of the current political zeitgeist.

Or something like that.  To be honest, I just like using the word “zeitgeist.”

To be absolutely honest, the fact that Aaron Sorkin is involved in this just makes me cringe.  This is exactly the type of project that will probably bring out his worst instincts as both a writer and a director.  Will the film feature any prominent female characters and, if so, how much time will be devoted to them being put in their place by the witty men of Sorkin Land?  I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.

Anyway, here’s the trailer.  The film will be coming out on Netflix sometimes this year.

Here’s The Trailer For Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca!


Ben Wheatley is one of the most interesting directors working today.  As I’ve stated many times, I consider A Field In England to be one of the best films of the last ten years.

Wheatley’s next film is going to be an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic tale, Rebecca!  Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of du Maurier’s novel was named the Best Picture of 1940.  Wheatley’s version has been described as a “modern” updating of the classic story.

Rebecca will be released on Netflix on October 21st and it will star Lily James, Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas in the roles that were previously played by Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson.  Here’s the trailer:

The Things You Find On Netflix: Tread (dir by Paul Solet)


On June 4th, 2004, the small town of Granby, Colorado was briefly the center of the nation’s attention.

On that day, an armor-plated bulldozer rumbled down the streets of Granby.  The driver of the bulldozer was a local business owner named Marvin Heemeyer.  Heemeyer, who had previously been at the center of a zoning controversy, spent two hours driving the bulldozer through various buildings in Granby.  He destroyed the muffler shop that he had once owned.  He destroyed a nearby concrete plant.  He drove through the Granby City Hall.  He smashed the bulldozer through the offices of the local newspaper.  He demolished the home of a family who he felt had conspired against him.  He took out a hardware store.  For two hours, the police chased him, firing their weapons at the bulldozer and discovering that nothing could slow him down.  In fact, it wasn’t until one of the bulldozers’ treads dropped into the hardware store’s basement that the rampage stopped,  Unable to free the tread, Marvin Heemeyer committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Before he went on his rampage, Heemeyer recorded himself talking about why he was going to do what he did.  He mailed those tapes to his brother in South Dakota a few hours before getting in the bulldozer.  His brother later turned those tapes over to the FBI.  In the tapes, Heemeyer discussed what he felt was years of harassment by the Granby town council and the zoning board.  He described himself as being an “American patriot” and he even went so far as to say that he felt his rampage was predestined.  He also went on to express amazement that he was able to spend two years openly modifying the bulldozer and turning it into a tank without anyone asking him what was going on.  He also made clear that when he entered the bulldozer for the last time, he knew that he was never going to leave it.  He truly was going on a suicide mission.

Those tapes are at the center of Tread, a documentary about Marvin Heemeyer and his 2004 rampage.  The film alternates between people discussing their memories of Marvin and that day and the taped voice of Marvin himself attempting to explain his motivations.  Almost everyone who is interviewed talks about what a friendly and genuinely nice person Marvin seemed to be.  Even though Marvin spent two years planning his rampage, no one — not even his girlfriend — appeared to suspect a thing.  Even in the weeks directly before his rampage, Marvin was making plans for the summer.  One friend of Marvin’s does speculate that Marvin spent “too much time alone.”

As many people interviewed point out, Marvin was, by most measures, a successful businessman.  He had a reputation for being the best welder in the county and he opened up a muffler shop in a building that he bought for $44,000.  He later sold that building for $400,000.  However, as the tapes reveal, Marvin didn’t view selling his shop for a profit as being a success.  Instead, he viewed as something that he was forced to do by the town council and their refusal to side with him in a zoning dispute that he had with the manufacturers of a concrete plant.  Marvin felt that the town was ruled by one family and that family was conspiring against him and singling him out for harassment.

I’m about as anti-government as they come so my natural instinct, when Tread began, was to be sympathetic to Marvin’s anger, if not his solution.  And, having now watched the documentary, I still have no doubt that Marvin probably was, to an extent, targeted by the zoning board and the town council.  The fact of the matter is that it’s rare that people don’t let the least amount of power go to their head.  That’s especially true when it comes to small towns.  There seems to be a natural pettiness that comes along with having power.  That’s true regardless of whether you’re the mayor of a small town in Colorado or the governor of a state like …. oh, I don’t know, let’s just say Michigan and New Jersey.  At the same time, when you listen to Marvin’s voice on tapes, it’s obvious that there was more going on in Marvin’s head than just anger over the zoning dispute.  When Marvin talks about how God obviously wanted him to modify the bulldozer and use it to destroy the town, you realize that, if it hadn’t been the zoning dispute, it probably would have been something else.  Marvin comes across as time bomb while the town leaders come across as being the people who unknowingly lit the fuse.

I have to admit that, until I watched this documentary, I had never heard of him but a simple Google search revealed that, in the years following his death, Marvin Heemeyer has gone on to become a hero to certain anti-government activists.  Though it’s been 16 years since he unleashed his bulldozer on the town of Granby, his story still feels relevant today.  There’s still a lot of angry people out there and, if anything, the people in power have gotten even more heavy-handed and arbitrary in their behavior today than they were in 2004.  That said, if you’re looking for a film that either vilifies or blindly celebrates Marvin Heemeyer, Tread is not that film.  Overall, Tread portrays Marvin Heemeyer as being a complicated man who, in the town of Granby, found the perfect reason (or, depending on how much sympathy you may or may not have for him, excuse) to strike out.

It’s currently available on Netflix.

TV Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 3.3 “Chapter Twenty-Three: Heavy Is The Crown” (dir by Alex Pillai)


What’s this?, you ask.  Just now, you’re finally getting around to reviewing Chapter 23 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina?

Admittedly, it has taken me a while.  The third season or third part or whatever the Hell you want to call it of this show was released on Netflix all the way back in January.  That’s a long time ago even by normal standards.  In May of 2020 (this is May, right?), January seems as if it might as well have been a decade ago.  You remember what the world was like in January — Iowa caucuses, open movie theaters, strong economy, and no social distancing — and it feels like some sort of lost age.  Case reviewed the first two episodes of Sabrina‘s third season back in February.  I was supposed to review episodes three and four as soon as I got back from my vacation in March.  Of course, as soon as I got back, the entire world went into lockdown and it was easy to get distracted from the latest Greendale drama.

Plus, I have to be honest.  So far, for the most part, I just haven’t enjoyed Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  There have been a few tolerable episodes and Kiernan Shipka deserves to be a bigger star but the show itself often feels like a dead end.  The pace is often maddeningly slow and, other than Sabrina, almost all of the characters are rather flat and dull.  With the exception of Sabrina, everyone gets one defining trait and the show tends to beat viewers over the head with that trait.  As such, Aunt Zelda is always going to be arch and dismissive.  Hilda is always going to be naive and neurotic.  Ambrose is always going to decadent in the most boring ways possible.  Harvey is always going to be a dullard.  Roz is always going to be boring.  Beyond the one-dimensional characters, the whole look of the show bugs me.  Why does no one in Greendale ever turn on a light?  Why do I always have to strain my eyes trying to see what’s happening?  It gets frustrating.  Working up any enthusiasm to sit through another one of Sabrina’s adventures can be a struggle.

And yet, I will continue to watch the show because I do think that it has potential.  Now, to be honest, some of that is because the show is often so bad that it has nowhere to go but up.  But occasionally, there will be an interesting twist or a line of dialogue that doesn’t crash to the ground with a thud.  It doesn’t happen often but it does happen enough that I keep hoping Chilling Adventures will get things together.  My main hope is that, someday, the show will actually be worthy of Kiernan Shipka’s consistently excellent lead performance.

Just take the third episode of Part Three for example.  On the plus side, this episode features a trip to a wonderfully creepy carnival.  And even though the carnival itself is pretty obviously borrowed from Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, it’s still a lot of fun and effectively surreal and ominous.  However, to get to the carnival, we have to suffer through a lot of underlit drama featuring one-note characters.  We have to sit through Roz and Harvey having the least interesting relationship ever to appear in a Netflix drama.  We have to deal with Nick and his PSTD.  We have to deal with Miranda Otto delivering all of her lines in the same monotonous style.  We also have to sit through yet another quest.  In this case, Sabrina has to find three artifacts to hold onto the title of the ruler of Hell.  She manages to find Herod’s Crown but she still loses it to her rival for the throne, Prince Caliban.  So, I guess Sabrina is going to have to find the other two artifacts over the course of the season. I’d probably care more if Hell, as presented on this show, wasn’t so damn boring.  Presenting witchcraft as being tedious might make for an effective short film but making an entire series out of it is another thing all together.

And yet, Kiernan Shipka gives such a good performance in the lead role that you can almost overlook how annoying the show itself tends to be.  Shipka brings so much sincerity to her role that you want Sabrina to succeed.  I just wish the show was more often worthy of the talents of its star.

Oh well.  Fear not!  I actually liked the episode that came after this one.  I’ll be rewatching and reviewing it soon!

 

 

Short Film Review: What Did Jack Do? (dir by David Lynch)


In a dark, black-and-white station, the train has been delayed.  Though we never actually see them, a waitress (Emily Stofle) says that there are cops swarming the station.  At a small table, a Capuchin monkey named Jack (voiced, according to the credits, by Jack Cruz) waits for his order.  A white-haired Detective (played by director David Lynch) takes a seat across from the monkey.  Both the Detective and the monkey are wearing dark suits.

The Detective and Jack have a conversation.  At first, it seems like they’re just tossing out random comments.  The Detective mentions farm animals and says that he knows why the chicken cross the road.  Jack says that he works as a pipe cleaner.  The Detective asks Jack if he’s ever been a card-carrying member of the communist party.  Jack avoids the question.

As the interrogation continues, we start to pick up on small patterns and a story emerges.  Jack is in love with a hen named Toototaban.  The Detective thinks that Jack murdered a musician named Max Clegg.  Jack says that it was probably the janitor.  The Detective is firm in his belief that Jack is guilty.  Jack is only interested in talking about how much he loved Tootataban.  He even sings a song about her and it’s about as touching as a song sung by a monkey in love with a chicken can be.

What does it all amount too, this 17-minute noir film from David Lynch?  Who knows?  With an artist like Lynch, it’s always tempting to read too much into what you’re seeing.  I’m personally of the theory that many of Lynch’s most debated films and celebrated images were constructed with no particular logic beyond the fact that it would be an interesting film or a striking image.  Lynch is an artist who creates cinematic dreams and most dreams are simply a collection of random feelings and concerns.  It’s not until we start trying to piece it all together that we find any deeper meaning and that meaning is usually dependent on our own individual thoughts and obsessions.

What is What Did Jack Do about?  Personally, I think it’s about exactly what it says it’s about.  It’s about a detective interrogating a monkey in a train station.  Why is he interrogating a monkey?  Why not?  Why is the monkey in love with a hen?  Even Jack admits that part is weird but I guess it could happen.  Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about the why of it all.

Instead, just enjoy it for what it is, an intriguingly weird 17-minute film.  David Lynch has developed into a pretty good actor and he does a great job playing the law-and-order detective.  He delivers his dialogue in a rapid-fire, staccato manner.  Meanwhile, Jack is as crude as you would expect a monkey to be.  The film is both funny and also somewhat ominous.  That dark train station is full of shadows and, as you listen to the Detective and Jack try to outwit each other, it’s hard not to think about what might be lurking in the those shadows.

What Did Jack Do? has actually been around for a while.  Apparently, it was first screened in France way back in 2017.  (The copyright notice at the end of the film lists 2016.)  That said, it didn’t premiere in the United States until it showed up on Netflix back in January.  So, as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the best films of 2020 so far.  Be sure to watch it if you haven’t already.  Can you figure out what Jack did?

The Things You Find On Netflix: Sergio (dir by Greg Barker)


Sergio, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a biopic of the Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.  Sergio spent 34 years as a diplomat with the United Nations, going to some of the most dangerous places in the world and trying to negotiate with people who were determined to kill one another.  Sergio was so respected within the UN that he was seen as a likely candidate for Secretary-General.  Instead, in 2003, Sergio was killed in a terrorist attack while he was in Baghdad, observing the American occupation of Iraq.

Starring Wagner Moura in the title role, Sergio opens with Sergio arriving in Baghdad.  For the majority of the film, he’s buried in the rubble of his blown-up office, thinking about his past life while an American soldier (played, with quiet authority, by Garret Dillahunt) tries to dig him and his assistant, Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne) out.  Through the use of flashbacks, we watch as Sergio negotiates peace in East Timor and argues against the occupation of the Iraq.  We also watch as he meets and falls in love with Carolina (Ana de Armas), pursuing a passionate affair with her despite being married.

Sergio is a rather staid biopic.  If you’re expecting to see an Adam McKay-style screed about international diplomacy and American war crimes, that is not what this film is and we should be happy for that because, seriously, have you tried to watch The Big Short or Vice lately?  Instead, Sergio is more like a Jay Roach film without the attempts at humor.  It’s a blandly liberal biopic that is conventionally structured and a bit too convinced that the audience is going to automatically agree with its points.  Indeed, one of the film’s most glaring flaws is that it assumes that we’re all as enamored with the UN as it is.  Instead of making a case for why the UN should be taken seriously, Sergio just assumes that it is.

The other big problem with the film is that it’s just boring.  There’s nothing interesting about the film’s structure and, as portrayed in the rather bland script, both Sergio and Carolina come across as being ciphers.  We’re constantly told that Sergio is charismatic and controversial but we really don’t see much evidence of it.  The film itself doesn’t seem to know what made Sergio tick but what’s even worse is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in finding out.  There’s not much interest in digging into Sergio’s mind or his motives,  The film forgets that you can portray someone as a hero and celebrate their accomplishments without necessarily idealizing them.  With the exception of one or two scenes (and there is an effective moment where one of Sergio’s assistants does call him out for putting everyone’s life in danger by refusing to accept protection from the U.S. army), Sergio is portrayed in such an idealized that he comes across as being a bit dull.  Wagner Moura is an appealing actor but there’s no depth to his performance.  Meanwhile, Ana de Armas is reduced to playing the stock girlfriend with a social conscience role.

All that said, I almost feel guilty about not liking Sergio.  The film was made with good intentions but good intentions don’t necessarily translate to compelling storytelling.