Netflix

REVIEW: The Wrong Missy

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 90 minutes
Director: Tyler Spindel

At what point do you stop blaming others for the unreasonable expectations that you have placed on them? This is where I currently find myself with Happy Madison Productions—the production studio founded by Adam Sandler, and that brought you comedy classics like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. (I hope you can recognize my sarcasm)…

Happy Madison Productions (HMP) is an enigma in Hollywood. Its existence is a testament to the notion that there really is an audience for every movie (audience size being negligible). The ‘Paul Blart’ movies just felt like a low point for the production studio, for Kevin James, for myself for watching them, and just for the whole world in general—but these movies somehow continue to make money, and I somehow still feel interested any time they release a new comedy. I don’t consider myself masochistic in the least bit, but I’m not sure how else to explain this bizarre sense of hope I feel with new Happy Madison movies, knowing full well that I’m not going to enjoy them.

Adam Sandler invested in himself and in his career dreams, and it’s safe to say that his return on investment has paid off and continues to do so. Now, my intention is not to come off as a “hater.” I never want to disparage anyone from liking the type of movies they like. No one should feel guilty for liking any HMP movie. To prove that I’m serious, here is a (small) list of the HMP movies that I genuinely do enjoy: 50 First Dates, Bedtime Stories, Grown Ups, and Murder Mystery.

The Wrong Missy is the latest comedy movie produced by HMP. The film stars David Spade and Lauren Lapkus, and is directed by Tyler Spindel. This is the second Netflix Original movie directed by Spindel while also starring Spade. They first teamed up for the 2018 movie, Father of the Year. The Wrong Missy tells the story of Tim Morris (David Spade), a man spurred by love lost and betrayal of past relationships. After a blind-date gone very bad with Melissa or ‘Missy’ (Lauren Lapkus), Tim has decided that if he is destined to find love, love will find him. While at the airport catching a flight for a business trip, Tim runs into another traveler, Melissa (Molly Sims) and accidentally swaps bags. This mixup causes both individuals to miss their flight, and end up together sharing a (non-alcoholic) drink at a bar. The pair hit it off instantly and Tim believes that love has found him once more. They exchange some kisses and their phone numbers fully expecting to see each other again.

David Spade and Lauren Lapkus in a scene of The Wrong Missy | NETFLIX

But what could go wrong with having two phone numbers from two different Melissas stored in your phone? Apparently, A LOT. Not that anyone has actually every texted the wrong person on accident…I mean that never happens, am I right? So as Tim plans for his big company retreat in Hawaii, his friend Nate (Nick Swardson) convinces Tim to invite Melissa, but “The Wrong Missy” shows up at the airport and accompanies Tim on this work trip in paradise instead.

The story is full of familiar relationship tropes, and quirky circumstances that make for an easy watch. David Spade’s character is fairly sympathetic, and one you can’t help but root for. This movie had all the potential for an easy watching rom-com that would have had mass appeal, especially for a Netflix Original. But alas, this is a Happy Madison Production, and vulgarity, stupidity, and laziness all have to be at the core of their movies, and The Wrong Melissa is no exception. Lauren Lapkus has the chops to be a good comedic actress. She was pretty good in Between the Two Ferns: The Movie, and she has flashes of comedic talent in this movie, but the overuse of sexual obsession, and no regard for any type of social behavioral norms will just leave you rolling your eyes more than laughing.

Spade (like Adam Sandler) is a very specific kind of comedy actor, and most definitely has his fans. His character is straightforward, and plays like most every other character he’s played in other movies. It just really frustrates me that he continues to star in these kinds of movies, when I truly believe that he has the ability and the opportunity to break out of the mold. But if this is the mold that he enjoys, maybe these are the movies that he will always be destined for.

The Wrong Missy has its moments of charm and laughs, but ultimately is hindered by literally everything else this movie does to try to be edgy and irreverent. I know that this movie will appeal to life-long Spade fans, and fans of Happy Madison Productions. But for me, I’m left wondering why I still hold out hope for these movies.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: 18 Presents

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 115 minutes
Director: Francesco Amato

I have never been to Italy nor lost a close family relative to a terminal illness, but I do have a mother and, like her, I am a crier. Watching 18 Presents accompanied by my mother late at night on Mother’s Day was a recipe for disaster, especially when the real-life inspiration for the film is revealed. If you’re looking for something to turn your tear ducts into sprinklers and don’t mind reading subtitles, you’ve come to the right place.

The premise is this: Elisa (played by Italian actress Vittoria Puccini) is pregnant with a baby girl when she finds out that she has terminal cancer. Knowing that the progression of the illness would likely result in her dying during the child’s infancy, the mother-to-be decides to buy her unborn child 18 presents: one for every birthday until she becomes an adult. Sure, it might be hard to shop for someone you’ve never met, but isn’t it the thought that counts? Apparently not. Her now grown daughter, Anna (Italian actress Benedetta Porcaroli), actually hates these gifts from her mother, and her dad has to force her to open them, even as early as her 5th birthday. By 18, Anna has become a Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice) look-a-like with a far worse attitude and talent for self-destruction. I literally hated her. In the notes I made while watching the film, I wrote, “There is just no redeeming this character.” The biggest compliment I can give 18 Presents is that it proved me wrong: by the end, I forgave Anna, and couldn’t find it in me to hate her even the slightest. I remain impressed by this unexpected redemption. 

As the plot progresses, and thanks to some extraordinary circumstances, Anna gets to meet her mother and relive the last few months of her life beside her. Thus, there are plenty of scenes of mother and daughter interacting whilst simultaneously longing for a past/future that will never occur. These moments are genuinely sweet and get you right in the feels. The ending had me sending twin waterfalls down my cheeks, not unlike the emoji titled “loudly crying face 😭” (though it should be noted that my tears were silently dignified and not noisy). 

Vittoria Puccini and Benedetta Porcaroli in a scene of 18 Presents | NETFLIX

My quibbles are petty, but still I will quibble. First, I felt like Italy was another planet, or at least a world the Kardashians would find more relatable than I would. For instance, what would you do if you accidentally locked yourself out of your house? When I was growing up, that meant my Mom busted out the crowbar and boosted me through one of the windows so I could get in and unlock the door from the inside. I guess that makes me a trashy American, because this film would have you believe that the only sensible thing to do when locked out is rent a penthouse for the night, complete with a pool, and simply wait until morning to call a locksmith. Second, when Elisa is in her cancer support group, her suggestion of buying eighteen gifts for her unborn daughter is met with awkward silence and sideways glances (while other members are discussing their sexual promiscuity and whether they should have their cremated ashes converted into diamonds). In fact, everybody acts like the idea of a mother trying to substitute her presence with presents for her daughter’s birthdays is insane and awful. At one point it’s suggested that Anna is unfairly burdened by these gifts from her dead mother. I guess that’s just how the other half lives; burdened by too many gifts and slumming it in penthouses. It made me feel sorry for Italians.

18 Presents is the brain-child of daytime soap opera and Hallmark with an affinity for the F-word and cigarettes. Though it has its virtues, I have a hard time universally recommending a tear-jerker unless it is almost above reproach. This movie has its audience, and cry-fests are necessary evils in their time and season, but it lacks any “must-see” qualities. Considering how hard it is these days to acquire tissues, maybe go with something on Sam Cooley’sUltimate Feel-Good Movie list” instead. 

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Tigertail

NETFLIX
Rated: PG
Run Time: 91 minutes
Director: Alan Yang

May is a special month for me as it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Essentially, it’s a time to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian-Americans towards the United States. When deciding on what film I wanted to review in May I tried to keep this special month in mind, and luckily Netflix had the hookup with their release of the film Tigertail. Directed by Alan Yang, who worked on the fantastic Netflix show Master of None, Tigertail tells the story of Pin-Jui: starting with his childhood in Taiwan and leading to his adulthood as an American immigrant. 

As a young man Pin-Jui has big dreams. He works the rice fields making a meager wage and longs to live a life where he no longer has to worry about his financial situation, and so he can retire and take care of his mother. This desire leads him to accept his boss’s offer of an arranged marriage and also a chance at a new life in New York City. But this comes at a cost as he must leave all he knows behind—including his childhood love, Yuan.

Tigertail’s story structure bounces between Pin-Jui’s past life and his present. When the story takes place in the past the color palette of the film pertains rich, strong hues, while the present is desaturated and dull; the sets also have a very distinct look for each time period. However, the structure hamstrings the film—I ended up confused as to where the film was taking place, and it becomes further complicated as the present storyline is shared with Pin-Jui’s daughter Angela (played by Christine Ko), and shares her strained relationship with her father and fiancé.

Christine Ko and Tzi Ma in a scene of Tigertail |NETFLIX

Pin-Jui is a deeply flawed character (which I admired), and when he told his daughter that “crying is for the weak” it struck me to the core: he isn’t a cruel character but rather a tragic one. He sacrificed all he loved to chase the American Dream, something that he thought would solve his problems, but the cost of that dream is in the emotional consequences. Pin-Jui is played by the excellent Tzi Ma and I could really feel his struggles. He lets you see someone who’s been taught to keep his emotions bottled up and when he finally tries to let them out he fumbles so hard it’s difficult to watch—it reminded me a lot of my own father.

Despite my issues with the film’s editing and pacing, the story was something I very strongly resonated with; being the son of Asian immigrants, there was a lot I could reflect back on. When I was younger I always thought my parents were too hard on me, and they always pushed me so hard to succeed to the point where I would be incredibly frustrated. Looking back and reflecting after watching this film I understand why they pushed me so much: they simply didn’t want me to struggle and suffer like they did when they were younger. Tigertail is a wonderful story about the cost of starting a new life and the pain of leaving your life behind to start something new. It is an introspective film and a very personal act of love, showing how important it is to honor and respect those that sacrifice what they hold dear so that the next generation can succeed.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Horse Girl

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 103 minutes
Director: Jeff Baena

My recent run of movies that I’ve chosen to review have been, in a word, torturous. The continuation of movie theater closures during the Coronavirus pandemic has kept our choice of new movies very limited. Netflix seems to have been totally unaffected with releasing new movies in 2020. Their audience is already built in with over 100 million subscribers tuning into their Netflix Original content. Of course, their new movie and T.V. series productions have been impacted, but that is new content for 2021.

Netflix is such a fascinating, modern studio that I hope one day goes full meta and makes a docu-series of itself. “Netflix Presents: The Making of Netflix, a Netflix Original.” They’ve completely changed the game as it relates to how we consume our video content. They’ve disrupted the “norm” of the old Hollywood guard, and the industry will never be the same. Netflix has given opportunity to up-and-coming filmmakers, producers, writers, etc. that otherwise would not have that same opportunity when dealing with the larger movie studios. And with the risk-taking approach that has built Netflix into the giant that it is, comes the tares mixed in with the wheat.

I came across Horse Girl while browsing new content on Netflix. Nothing about it seemed remarkable, but this was a new movie released in 2020, and at the time, that was enough of a reason for me to watch it. At first glance, the only actor I recognized in the movie was Molly Shannon (a SNL staple during my adolescence) but after a little research I realized that I was familiar with some of the work that the lead actress, Alison Brie, had done (The Disaster Artist, The Post, The Lego Movie 2). Brie co-wrote the script for Horse Girl along with Director, Jeff Baena, and the film was screened earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Baena and Brie also worked together on The Little Hours which debuted back in 2017. Unfortunately, after watching Horse Girl, any new project with Baena and Brie’s names attached to it is something I will likley avoid.

Horse Girl tells the story of a socially awkward and isolated woman named Sarah, who continually loses her grip on reality. Sarah has been deeply affected by her mother’s suicide the year before, and the loss of her horse to new owners. She spends her time between her job at a crafts store, and watching a supernatural crime show. Even with the help of her roommate, Nikki (played by Debby Ryan) who sets Sarah up on a date and encourages her to be more social, Sarah continues to plunge deeper and deeper into a schizophrenic state.

Alison Brie in a scene of Horse Girl | NETFLIX

A series of very bizarre events, that leave me struggling for words to even attempt to explain, intensify as the film goes on. Events that make you wonder what the writers were thinking or experiencing that made them come to the conclusion that these were good ideas and something people would want to see in a film. In all honesty, I really struggled to even get through the film. I’ve never experienced the use of psychedelic drugs, so it’s unfair for me to compare the experience I had while watching this movie, but other explanations seem to be lacking. From bizarre fantasy sex scenes, to dreams of random strangers and then seeing those strangers in real life, to alien abductions, the movie seems to have the tools to be an interesting story, and somewhat engaging film, but will end up leaving you completely dazed and confused as to what this movie even is.

In all good conscience I cannot recommend this movie in the least bit. There are so many other new Netflix Originals that are worth your time (see: Spencer Confidential or Extraction), that Horse Girl should be the last thing you consider turning on before exploring other options.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Extraction

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 117 minutes
Director: Sam Hargrave

After experiencing weeks of relentless Facebook ads, I decided to sign up for six-weeks-free of Chris Hemsworth’s workout app. It’s been fairly successful at putting distance between me and the COVID-15 (like “the freshman 15”… no?), but I don’t look like Thor yet, and there is not nearly enough of him in it. He’s all over the ads, but he is nowhere to be found when the action starts and it’s time to do push-ups.

The same cannot be said for his newest film, a Netflix Original titled, Extraction. Playing a mercenary tasked with rescuing the kidnapped son of a drug-lord, Hemsworth wreaks havoc in this film—killing his enemies with guns, grenades, cars, furniture, architecture, and his own musculature. His character, Tyler Rake, even uses a rake at one point to dispatch an unfortunate enemy. His rescue of Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswa)—and subsequent escape—take them through jungles, rivers, and crowded cityscapes, keeping the landscape fresh and full of new obstacles and things to hit people with. Naturally, the extraction goes awry and Rake must decide if this job is just a job for him or something more.

A lot of effort went into this film and it shows. The action sequences are awesome, feeling visceral and real without shaking the camera like a maraca. It’s easy to appreciate the top-of-the-line physicality and coordination of hand-to-hand combat by Hemsworth and a whole slew of stuntmen. The director, Sam Hargrave, is a stuntman himself, and performed a few risky maneuvers with camera in hand to get the shots he wanted. There’s an 11-minute “continuous” shot action sequence that is brilliantly captured and incredible to watch. The film as a whole is held under a tide of grit and violence and rarely comes up for air, and even those brief respites are home to heavy conversation. Maybe it’s because Rake’s objective was escape and protection rather than vengeance or mass destruction, but this film felt less indulgent or gratuitous than other movies I’ve seen recently.

Chris Hemsworth and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in a scene of Extraction | NETFLIX

What keeps Extraction from becoming “Call of Duty: The Movie” is the exploration of relationships between fathers and sons, men and boys. Granted, it is an action movie with a triple-digit death toll, so don’t expect ocean-level depth here, but the theme gives enough weight to the movie to keep you interested. Whatever patterns the fathers (or father figures) set, the sons tend to follow, including those of violence, trauma, and vengeance. Tyler Rake is haunted by the loss of his son and this shows in his treatment of Ovi and the child soldiers he encounters. Armed with a natural Australian accent and significant athleticism, Hemsworth is compelling as Rake, capitalizing on the opportunity to portray trauma and loss when it’s not played for laughs. He’s backed by an intriguing and talented supporting cast, among whom Nik Khan (played by Golshifteh Farahani), is my personal favorite.

The third act is probably the biggest let-down of the film.  The action ramps up, but in doing so ceases to be impressive and becomes a lot of faceless, unending CPU’s falling victim to our hero’s inability to miss or run out of bullets. The ending was semi-satisfying and didn’t leave me bitter or upset. Brutal, bloody, and bombastic, Extraction can’t be described as a good time, but I do think it’s a good movie. As far as Netflix originals go, it’s nearing top tier. If you happen to be craving Jason Bourne or John Wick, add this to your queue; especially if you like Chris Hemsworth or want to support stuntman directors. After all, it’s more enjoyable than push-ups.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Coffee & Kareem

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 88 minutes
Director: Michael Dowse

Alright everyone, if you need a good chuckle and have an hour-and-a-half to take your mind off of your current stresses, then Coffee & Kareem will satisfy those needs. I found myself laughing at a line of Ed Helms’ character within the first five minutes, so that had me excited for the comedy to unfold. I was definitely drawn to the movie for Ed Helms. I am a huge fan of The Office and love his character, Andy Bernard. I was also interested to see how they would comment on police brutality and race—which I’d say the film did an okay job of addressing.

Coffee & Kareem was directed by Michael Dowse, who has directed a couple of other comedies, such as Stuber and Take Me Home Tonight. Coffee & Kareem takes place around a cop named Officer Coffee (Ed Helms) and a young tween named Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh). Coffee is a goofball character: he definitely gave off an “If Andy Bernard was a cop instead of working at Dunder Mifflin” vibe. His silly almost-innocent persona was my favorite part of the movie. The movie was littered with crass and over-the-top humor, but the parts that had me laughing the most were the super silly and cheesy jokes. 

The film also had some physical comedic moments that definitely had me laughing. Helms and Gardenhigh had great chemistry and played the buddy-cop trope together in an entertaining way. While the movie had me laughing, it also had me shaking my head at some of the commentary and absolutely ridiculous events. But hey, I was not expecting every event in this comedy to drive the story forwards with finesse and care, so it is almost what I expected with a modern comedy.

Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Little Gardenhigh and Ed Helms appear in a scene of Coffee & Kareem | NETFLIX

Overall, Coffee & Kareem made me laughing throughout its entirety, which is what I look for in a comedy. It also had a fun supporting cast; Taraji P Henson as Kareem’s mother, and Betty Gilpin (from Netflix’s Glow) as a detective, were especially enjoyable to watch. Taraji P. Henson is a versatile actress and really delivers in comedies, like this one and What Men Want. A fun little detail I enjoyed as well was David Alan Grier playing Captain Hill; you might recall him as the cop Bentley in Jumanji! Again, if you’re looking for a little distraction and don’t mind some ludicrous events for the sake of a good chuckle, give this movie a watch!

Coffee & Kareem is available streaming on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: The Platform

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 94 minutes
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

I’ll have you all know that I had no plans to review this film. The plan was to review Mulan—a nice pleasant Disney film remake where I would sit down, relax, and enjoy a nice evening at the theater. However, because of the current circumstances in the world I ended up at home, watching The Platform—a movie I had never even heard of and yet made me so tense and wound up that I stayed up most of the night thinking about it. So buckle up your seatbelts friends: I’m going to explain to you why you absolutely need to carve time out of your day to watch The Platform.

Originally premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, The Platform is a Spanish film with a very simple premise; it takes place in a dystopian future in a single location—a prison.  The prison is rather peculiar as it is called a “Vertical Self-Management Center,” meaning that the prisoners are held in what is essentially a skyscraper with endless floors, each with a large hole in the center. The prisoners are each assigned a floor and a roommate, and at the end of the month they are randomly assigned a new floor. Why does the floor number matter? I’m glad you asked. At a random point in the day a platform (filled with more food than you could ever imagine) floats down from the top floor all the way to the bottom via the holes. Each pair of prisoners is given a small amount of time to “eat their fill” before the platform moves down into the next floor… But if only it were that simple.

The prison is not only home to criminals but prisoners by choice—such is the case of the main character, Goreng. He has opted to spend six months in this prison to obtain a college degree (wouldn’t that be nice) and to finally finish Don Quixote. His roommate, Trimagasi, however, is a cold-blooded killer, convicted of murdering an immigrant. While Goreng is optimistic seeing this as a good opportunity to further himself, Trimagasi is anything but. He explains to Goreng, “There are three types of people: those at the top, those at the bottom, and those who fall.” A real pleasant roommate, right? He lectures Goreng on the ways of how this prison operates: show no mercy to those beneath you, and hate those above you.

Prisoners shown easting in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

The message of The Platform is anything but subtle. Director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia delivers the point of his movie so heavy-handed that it felt more like a slap in the face. In fact, one of the characters even gives it away as they say, “If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone,” and therein lies the true nature of this film. A message about human nature and the nature of capitalism. The prisoners at the top of the prison get their pick of the finest delicacies: Kobe beef, duck, cake, and champagne. But as the platform moves down those on the 40th floor can only eat picked-at meat covered in the saliva of others. While those on the 80th floor find nothing but bones and filth, leaving a chain of selfishness, frustration and hate.

Earlier today while I was at the grocery store I walked down the toilet paper aisle and saw nothing but barren shelves. We live in a strange time, and people are afraid. I kept thinking about that one line from this film—“If everyone only took what they needed there would be enough for everyone”— and it resonated with me how relevant this movie is in this day and age. The Platform begs the question, in the face of survival, are we selfish or compassionate? If we’re at the top, do we care about those beneath us?

Alexandra Masangkay looks up from her cell in a scene of The Platform | NETFLIX

To wrap things up I enjoyed the hell out of this film. However, it is not a film for the faint of heart—it is gory, it is violent, and it is gross. If you are squeamish do not even attempt to watch this film. The movie also struggles from a weak third act. For a movie that started out so strong I was disappointed at how the third act felt like it had a total lack of direction. Lastly, the ending is very open ended and ambiguous. A lot is left open for interpretation and that may frustrate viewers. However, if you can push things aside I think you will enjoy The Platform. It is one of the most unique horror films I have seen in a long time. It doesn’t scare you with ghosts, serial slashers, or demonic possessions; opting to horrify you in the worst way: showing you the ugliest side of human nature. It is a brutal allegory of class warfare and the inequalities of the world showing what greed and selfishness does to the human condition in a sickening way.

The Platform is available streaming on Netflix.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Lost Girls

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 95 minutes
Director: Liz Garbus

The first image you see in the newest Netflix original movie, Lost Girls, pretty much sets the mood right off the bat: text with a black backdrop saying “An Unsolved American Murder Mystery”… Welp, this should be a great time. For comparison, Zodiac (2007) is one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time, and it ends in perhaps a suggestive yet ambiguous fashion. But even then, that film knew not to plaster the lack of resolution from the very top. It had plenty of stunning cast members, superb storytelling and dialogue, and relentless tension. The story itself constituted a globally renowned case that struck fear and uncertainty to everyone in California. At the very least it had more than enough entertaining authenticity of a bygone decade. Between all of this, it never had me looking at the clock or anxious that I wouldn’t get all the answers. Lost Girls just didn’t have any of these elements in enough abundance to make it stand out amongst the sea of Netflix Original-forgettables. That isn’t to say it’s bad! Trust me, there are enough full-blown Netflix bombs to have their own category.

This movie did feature decent performances from Amy Ryan (The Office) and Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit). The skillful cinematography was as dark and harrowing as the story itself, and there was some meaningful dialogue on social classes, police corruption (or just incompetence), and America’s ambivalence toward a victim that isn’t stain-free—that alone makes me think it deserves the semi-decent reviews it’s gotten so far. But at the same time, the movie struggles with poor acting from many of the smaller roles. It’s a story that just doesn’t have quite enough meat to be the engaging crime thriller we need it to be—or at least enough to prevent us from counting the seconds till we can have this checked off and then watch something newly added to Netflix, like Jerry Maguire or Pan’s Labyrinth (WOULD RECOMMEND). During a week as bleak and uncertain as this, who needs a movie this bleak and uncertain?

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Spenser Confidential

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Run Time: 111 minutes
Director: Peter Berg

I’ve often heard people compare Netflix’s original content selection model to “throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks,” which often seems to be a fairly accurate statement; especially if you’ve spent a good amount of time watching Netflix original content. There’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad. Spaghetti that’s stuck: Stranger Things, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Bright (I personally love this David Ayer movie), Daredevil, Murder Mystery, Grace and Frankie, Queer Eye, The Haunting of Hill House, Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, etc. That list is pretty long, and substantial. Netflix has really begun to hone in on their craft. But it’s been a bumpy road along the way. Spaghetti that has not stuck: Rim of the World, The Open House, Polar, How It Ends, The Titan, The After Party, Everything Sucks, Disjointed, etc. (If I called out any show that you’re a fan of, please do tell me why you like that show!) Here’s what I’m getting at: What happens if that spaghetti you threw against the wall stuck but is slowly sliding down, making its way to the floor? That’s exactly how I feel about Spenser Confidential. It’s really not that great of a movie, but it was free! (kind of)

Spenser Confidential (loosely based on the novel Wonderland by Ace Atkins) stars Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, and Bokeem Woodbine. The movie takes place in Boston, MA, where it was also shot and filmed. This is Mark Wahlberg in his natural habitat doing Mark Wahlberg things. I like Wahlberg. I’m not sure there’s a movie of his that I didn’t enjoy to a certain extent. And any time you go see a movie starring Wahlberg, you kind of already know what you’re going to get. Like many actors in the business, Wahlberg just plays himself. So it’s a good thing that he’s got a charismatic way about him, because without Wahlberg, this movie likely would have sunk like a rock in the Boston Harbor. Wahlberg plays Spenser, a disgraced Boston police officer, who has spent the last five years in prison for assaulting his superior in his own home. Spenser re-enters society after his five year prison stint with hopes of leaving Boston and starting his life over (Why as a truck driver living in Arizona? I’m still trying to figure that one out). Spenser has help acclimating back into society from his old fighting coach, Henry (played by Alan Arkin). Henry allows Spenser to live with him, where Henry is also mentoring and housing an up-and-coming fighter named Hawk (played by Winston Duke). Shortly after Spenser leaves prison, other Boston police officers are murdered, which sparks Spenser’s policing instincts to begin his own investigation into these suspicious murders.

The plot plays out in very familiar fashion. You’ve definitely seen this kind of movie before—think Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 16 Blocks, or The Other Guys—the buddy-cop action-comedy, but just not nearly as good or as memorable as those classics. Mark Wahlberg and Winston Duke make a really interesting pair; although, I wish Duke had more to do in this movie. Every time his character is given some light, he shines, but only long enough for the spotlight to be taken away, leaving you wanting more from him. Duke is a very talented actor; he was fantastic in Jordan Peele’s Us, and I’m ready for him to take on a true starring role. The more tense and serious moments of the movie are broken up well with bits of comedy from Spenser’s jilted lover, Cissy, who is not happy about the five years she’s spent alone waiting for Spenser to get out of prison. Cissy definitely plays the part of a strong, confident Bostonian woman: she takes what she wants when she wants, and is not scared to get her hands dirty. Wahlberg really is in his element playing an ex-cop in Boston. This is his city, and he feels right at home in this movie.

(From left to right) Winston Duke, Alan Arkin and Mark Wahlberg appear in a scene of Spenser Confidential | NETFLIX

Where the movie’s wheels fell off for me was the ending. It was far too predictable, and felt like a cheap way to end the movie. Corruption in law enforcement and local elected officials is not an uncommon story, but I always find myself eager to watch these kinds of movies. Maybe that’s because deep down we all know (or want to believe) that these kind of stories are real. We want to see that dirty underbelly of the city we’ve grown up in; we want to swing that door open as fast as we can and expose those filthy rats in the basement; we know they’re there—we just can’t see them. Movies like Spenser Confidential help to fill in the gaps of what we already suspect is happening in real life. So when the movie approaches the ending, and both my wife and I are audibly predicting what is going to happen, and then rolling our eyes when it does, it just feels cheap. Good thing this is a Netflix movie, which means we got to sit in the comfort of our own home, on our own couch, and just veg.

Now it comes to it: my recommendation. Like I stated earlier in this review, Spenser Confidential really isn’t that great of a movie, but I didn’t regret spending the 1 hour and 45 minutes it took to watch it. The reason I will give it a “Stream It” is because this is a Mark Wahlberg-starred movie, and he is able to do enough to keep the movie afloat. The only thing this movie will cost you is your time. So if you’ve got some time to spare, give Spenser Confidential a watch.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: All the Bright Places

NETFLIX
Rated: TV-MA
Run Time: 108 minutes
Director: Brett Haley

This is an exhausting review. From now on, I feel I can only review comedies. This is no happy-go-lucky review, but I hope you read through and leave your thoughts below, because if I’m going to talk about this, I don’t want to talk about it alone.

All the Bright Places is a Netflix adaptation of the young adult (YA) novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven. It follows Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) and Violet Markey (Elle Fanning)—a pair of Indiana teens who fall in love while completing a geography project (partner projects seem to have a 99% chance of creating romantic relationships in YA novels, but only a 1% chance in real life).  Violet is struggling with the death of her sister, and while Finch seems incredibly motivated to help her get out of her dark place, his own struggle is admitting that he needs bright places just as much as she does. The movie’s trailer would have you believe that you’re about to see a typical teen drama in the same vein as The Fault in our Stars. I feel like that’s pretty misleading considering the entire movie—from start to finish—is about suicide.

That isn’t a spoiler, because when you press “play” and the Netflix logo appears on your screen, the TV-MA icon appears in the top left corner with the words, “suicide, language.” Just as Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars films have a warning for those with photosensitive epilepsy, shouldn’t we also have warnings for those who might be triggered by portrayals of suicide and self-harm? I want to acknowledge that the effort made by Netflix to be responsible in these portrayals is the best part of the movie. They show students getting help by talking to parents, counselors, and support groups, while most films seem to be about how ineffective those resources are. They are careful not to place blame on the victims of suicide or the people who lose them. At the end of the movie there is a link to a site Netflix constructed with resources for anyone looking for help for themselves or for a loved one. They have come a long way since 13 Reasons Why, and I’m grateful for that.

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in a scene of All the Bright Places | NETFLIX

As the title suggests, there are bright places and moments throughout the film. I loved the “your turn” rock. For fear of spoiling too much of the story, I’ll suffice to say that it provides something that most movies portraying suicide do not: a sense that we have a responsibility to lift each other up, but we also have a responsibility to help ourselves; or at least, a personal responsibility to accept help when it’s offered. Moreover, that responsibility isn’t accompanied by blame or guilt; it’s made clear that everyone is trying their hardest and catharsis is possible. The leads are spot-on—both Elle Fanning’s laughter and tears are so genuine that they broke my heart. And if there were an Olympics for portraying emotions with facial expressions then Justice Smith would have Michael Phelps-level success. Unfortunately, their romantic relationship was the least convincing part of the film for me. It was supposed to be the center of the story, but its cutesy nature felt flimsy beside the tragic and painful subject matter. 

Ultimately, as a story, the movie falls flat for me. That’s so hard for me to admit; I wanted to see it succeed because of the obvious care and meticulous work that went into creating it. But I think I wanted something else from this film—I wanted the heart-breaking romance of A Star is Born, or the humorous honesty of Silver Linings Playbook, or the perspective-changing story of A Beautiful Mind, or, if all expectation could be blown out of the water, I wished I could have had something like the Anne Hathaway episode from Amazon’s Modern Love. I would recommend all of those 100 times, but not this one. I want to know how films can be better about addressing mental illnesses and suicidal feelings, so please comment below with movies you feel handle these heavy topics well, in addition to being powerful films.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

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