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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What I've Been Watching on Netflix

I've been wanting to sit down and jot this down for a while...just some capsule reviews of the  half-a-dozen or so films I've watched on Netflix recently.

The Three Musketeers

A few years ago, I remember first watching the trailer for a new movie version of The Three Musketeers by the creative team behind the Resident Evil films.  I watched that trailer and though, "This looks so ridiculous and over the top...I must see it."  It was one of the first titles I looked up on Netflix.

And I was not disappointed.  It was ridiculous and over the top, but not so much that it got goofy.  Don't get me wrong, it was pretty ridiculous.  Milday de Winter becomes some kind of 17th Century Black Widow.  And steampunk airships.  Dear God.  Steampunk airships.  I can't believe they actually rip off the climax of The Wrath of Khan.  Replace starships and a nebula with steampunk airships and a storm cloud.

It's got a phenomenal cast, too.  Because it's the Resident Evil team, Milla Jovovich is Milday de Winter.  Christoph Waltz is perfectly cartoonishly villianous as Cardinal Richelu, with TV's Hannibal Mads Mikkelson making the perfect henchman in Rochefort.  Ray Stevenson kicks butt as Porthos, Luke Evans (Bard in the Hobbit films) is an upstanding Aramis, and James Cordon, aka that guy from those Doctor Who episodes, is the perfect comic relief as the Musketeers' servant, Planchett.

I found this one to be delightfully entertaining.  Perfect for a rainy afternoon. 

Total Recall

When I saw the first trailers for the 2012 remake of Total Recall, something about the whole endeavour seemed off to me.  Paul Verhoeven's late-1980s grit and grime was such a part of the look and feel of the original, that this remake looked a little too slick and polished for my tastes.  And that feeling just kind of hung over the whole film.

Don't get me wrong, I found the new dystopia they created rather interesting.  Rather than Mars, it now takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth.  After the ravages of war, only two regions on Earth remain livable:  the United Federation of Britain, which is the remains of Europe, and the Colony, which is the remains of Australia.  Travel between the two is possible via the Lift, a massive elevator that travels through the Earth's core. Rather than a rebellion fighting against the corporations that control Mars, it's the Colony fighting for independence from the UFB. 

Other than that, the story beats match up so closely with the original, you really start to wonder why they bothered with a remake.  There's an epic battle on an elevator.  There's a three-breasted hooker.  And yes, in the midsection, there's a fake-out where they try to convince Quaid that this is all a dream. 

Another thing that I liked was they beefed up the role of Quaid's wife, played by Sharon Stone in the original, and Kate Beckinsale in this remake.  Rather than kind of disappearing when Quaid's adventure begins, she actually becomes the leader of the agents hunting Quaid down, taking on the Kurtwood Smith role from the original.  It was a great way to keep her present for most of the film.

Yeah...it just kind of devolved into generic sci-fi action.  Good, but the original's still better.

Black Rain

This one piqued my interest when I saw it.  Many years ago when I was in Japan, this was a film talked about and discussed by my Japanese co-workers, as they found that, to gaijin like myself, it was their first exposure to "everyday" Japanese culture.  (i.e. not filtered through anime and Godzilla films).  That, and for my first few months, it seemed to be on NHK constantly.  It's also accredited to introducing the Yakuza - the Japanese mafia - to North American pop culture.

Michael Douglas plays Nick Conklin, a typical burnt out New York City police detective, currently up on corruption charges.  One day, he witnesses a murder in his local watering hole, and catches the Japanese man who did it.  Turns out this murderer is Sato, a high ranking Yakuza lieutenant,  and Conklin witnessed a Yakuza hit.  In order to get out of town for a few days, Conklin gets the job of escorting Sato back to Osaka for trial.  But, the Yakuza swindle this gaijin detective into releasing Sato to them.  Looking to save face (and, since he was on corruption charges, there's already accusations that the Yakuza bribed him), Conklin decides to stick around in Osaka and help the Osaka Police Department re-capture Sato. 

This is such a run-of-the-mill 1980s cop film, that the Osaka location doesn't do much to spice things up.  They try to play off rule-breaking Conklin and the by-the-book Osaka PD as being a culture clash, but no, it's the same "buddy cop" clash you've seen in every cop film.  I was expecting more culture clash, but no.  I was hoping for more from director Ridley Scott.  Yes, this is the same Ridley Scott who gave us Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator.

Men in Black 3

When I saw those first trailers for Men in Black 3, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought, "Really?  It's been 10 years since the last one...are people actually clamoring for this?"  And I also remember reading about it's trouble production.  They started filming without a finished screenplay.  It's been known to happen with these big blockbusters...but in making Men in Black 3, an incomplete script turned out to be such a big problem that they actually shut down filming for a few months to get it done.  But still, fond memories of the first two made me decide to check it out.

A brutal alien mercenary named Boris breaks out of the Men in Black's maximum security prison on the Moon, and since Agent K put him away 40 years ago, Boris swears vengeance.  Upon hearing this news, Agent K grows unusually despondent, and Agent J gets concerned.  When Agent J shows up at MiB HQ the next day, he receives quite a shock.  Turns out Agent K was killed in action 40 years ago, trying to apprehend Boris.  But Agent J remembers history playing out differently.  The only conclusion they reach is that Boris must have gone back in time and teamed up his younger self to kill K.  The only solution:  Agent J must go back in time and team up with the young Agent K to set the timeline right.

Of course, the joy in this is Josh Brolin playing the young Agent K.  With some make-up prosthetics and careful mimicry of Tommy Lee Jones' southern drawl, he is a young Tommy Lee Jones!  This does kind of become Agent K's origin story, as he goes from the freewheeling young man to the stoic, gruff agent we all know and love. 

There's some great new concepts, too, such as Griffin, an alien that K and J team up with in the past.  His people exist in five dimensions, allowing Griffin to see all possible timelines and advise K and J as to what they need to do to save the future.  Griffin also provides a movie-ending gag that's as good as the epic camera pull-back that ended the first movie.  Boris is a great alien, too, who seems to be nothing but a mass of scorpions masquerading as a human.

And the score!  Danny Elfman really delivers.  The first Men in Black film got Elfman his first Oscar nomination, and he's having a ball revisiting these themes.  

Very clever, a lot of fun, and a worthy addition to the Men in Black franchise.


I like trains.  But, they don't make a lot of movies about them.  So, when the 2010 film Unstoppable came along, all about trains, I was mildly curious.  Unstoppable has also become a sad note in film history, as it is the final film from legendary action director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Days of Thunder, True Romance) before his tragic suicide in 2012. 

Denzel Washington is Frank Barnes, a well-respected veteran train engineer.  Chris Pine is rookie conductor Will Colson, and they're thrown into their first job together.  But, some idiot yard engineers accidentally leave a train full of volatile chemicals idling, and the breaks fail, and we've got a runaway train.  The first half of the film is Barnes and Colson trying to beat the runaway train to a siding so they can safely get out of its way, while the railroad company tries a variety of half-assed schemes to stop it.  The second half, with Barnes and Colson now behind the runaway train, this puts them in a unique position to try and sneak up behind it, hitch on, and slam on the breaks to stop it. 

Washington and Pine are good together, as they do the typical seasoned veteran/rookie bickering.  And Rosario Dawson shows up, and she's pretty good too, as the yardmaster who tries to stop the train, and is the lone voice of common sense in these films as all the stuffed shirts attempt their half-assed, face-saving train-stopping plans. 

Great cast, some great train action scenes, and you've got Denzel and Captain Kirk.  It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a pretty enjoyable film. 

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