a cornucopia of movies and TV series for a minimal monthly charge, is a craps
shoot, a spin of the roulette wheel, what winning or losing card emerges from the
banker’s baccarat shoe.
unreels, European or American, is a series of initial credits: Widget
Cinema….in association with Piglet Productions….A Floyd Floozy Film….in
cooperation with the Film Board of Patagonia….A Wholesome Fare Film…..a Cayman
Island Entertainment Production….together with Melody Lane LLC…..in partnership
with Howling Banshees Studios….Handcrafted Cinema Company….and on and on, each
with its own animated graphics. One almost falls asleep waiting for the cast
and directorial credits. For a person who grew up with the MGM lion, the
Columbia lady, Paramount’s Mount Everest, and even the British Rank/Ealing
Studios muscle man hitting a giant gong, and other signature production credits,
the parade of entities responsible for most of the movies offered by Netflix is
disconcerting. But, apparently that’s “progress.”
entities vanish like puffballs, or go airborne like dandelion seeds, or roll
out of sight like tumbleweeds? Are they intertwined tax dodges, or cinematic
pyramid schemes? I have yet to see a single “associated with” name reappear
in the credits of any of the independent productions. Major producers, such as
TriStar with its white Pegasus, limit such credits to one or two before introducing
the major producer. And the older MGM and RKO credits, for example, put the
“associated” entities in parenthetical positions somewhere around the
major studio’s name. One never really notices them.
appraisals of a handful of Netflix’s offerings.
2012, as the German-Jewish author of The
Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and Eichmann
in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil ( 1963). This “docudrama” of her conflict
with other Jews about the true nature of the men behind the Holocaust
highlights her struggles as she attends Adolf Eichmann’s trial. She was not
prepared for the bitter opposition to her covering the trial for The New
Yorker, and was ostracized by many of her best friends. This is definitely
worth watching qua docudrama, with
great chunks of Arendt’s life left out or merely shown in passing, such as her
affair with Martin
Heidegger, the Nazi intellectual.
a deceptive title because it has little or nothing to do with God or masters. The
title is nowhere explained in the film. The phrase was an early anarchist slogan
coined by French anarchist Auguste Blanqui in 1880. However, the film is just a
very well done “docudrama” of the early years of the FBI’s first
director (then known as the Bureau of Investigation), William Flynn, ably portrayed
by David Strathairn, and is set chiefly in 1919. It chronicles the detective work of Flynn
before he was appointed B.O.I. director. When he stepped down after two years at
the post, he was succeeded by J. Edgar Hoover. The story begins with his trying
to determine who is responsible for a series of package bombs left on the
doorsteps of prominent Boston men or mailed to them.
then blends into the story of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian anarchists
convicted of murdering a guard during a heist (not true to the actual event, as
portrayed in the film), and later executed, and Attorney General A. Mitchell
Palmer/J. Edgar Hoover’s raids
that purportedly netted some 10,000 new immigrants to be deported. Flynn
abruptly (and incredibly) becomes a champion of the immigrants and an enemy of Palmer.
Spain), The Last Days, from 2013,
is a low-key end-of-the-world film. It follows the search of a Barcelona
computer geek, Marc, for his pregnant girlfriend, Julia. A mysterious but
unnamed virus has caused everyone everywhere to suffer from agoraphobia, or a
fear of being outdoors or in open spaces. Civilization is at an end. I don’t
know how good and bad acting are measured in Spain, but there was too much
intense staring that conveyed nothing and too many emotional Latin outbursts of
anger to suit my tastes for drama.
end: It’s an environmentalist attack on Western technology and
“consumerism.” Marc finds his girlfriend; they camp out in an
abandoned clinic. Time passes. They have a boy. He grows into a teenager. When
he goes off with a gang of other kids on an unknown quest, Marc and Julia,
looking as young as ever and none the worse for wear, wave goodbye, as the
group wends its way through a part of Barcelona whose buildings are smothered
with more vines than it took Harvard to grow in one and a half centuries. Ah,
the good life! How idyllic! Living on collected rainwater and on an indoor
vegetable garden. You see, Marc and Julia still can’t go outside without going
wobbly and woozy. Their ears would bleed, they would lose consciousness, and
folklore in Thale, released in 2012.
I’m not sure how I’d classify this entry, fantasy or horror. A pair of house
cleaners (Norwegian; they’re introduced scrubbing blood from a floor in a
private home; why, remained unexplained) discover a basement that turns out to
have been the research sanctum of a fellow who had captured a hulder,
or a woman with a cow’s tail.
that the two lead characters, the cleaners, played by Jon Sigve Skard and Erlend Nervold, are the sorriest excuses for
leading men I have ever seen. Skard doesn’t do much but look expressionless and
chew gum in between brief responses to his partner, while Nervold never loses
his look of trepidation and astonishment. The hulder, Thale, who
suddenly emerges from a trough, is played by the exquisite Silje Reinåmo, and
is mysterious enough to make one wonder what she’ll do to or with the two
intruders. Then some armed government men show up wanting to take over the hulder. Thale escapes, killing all the government
men, and cures Skard of cancer. Go figure. She retreats to the Norwegian woods
to try to join her wild sister hulders,
who run around naked and are dangerous. She can’t rejoin them, because her
captor had surgically and painfully removed her tail. She is an outcast.
seasons (2007-2011) of the British science fiction series, Primeval on
Netflix. Science fiction is a genre I’m no longer keen to spend time on anymore
because it’s usually PC balderdash about how man destroys the earth or man
being innately evil or flawed. Primeval
is about a crackerjack team that deals with “anomalies,” or rifts in
time that let loose dinosaurs, mammoths, beetles, and other nasty predators and
vermin on the present. The team’s job is to intercept the monsters and send
them back where they came from. They appear anywhere. The cast is good, much of
the plotting is tight, and it was a pleasure to discover actor Ben Miller, who
plays the nattily dressed and fastidious director of ARC, or the Anomaly
Research Center, and the team’s boss. He must have been an understudy for John
Cleese’s bungling hotelier Basil Fawlty of the comedy Fawlty Towers. His ironic asides are well-timed and spot-on. Another
pleasant discovery was Hannah Spearritt, a team member and a nimble sprite it’s
easy to develop a crush on.
monsters are far above the usual fare, but, as I’ve remarked in earlier
commentaries, CGI does not a story make. What surprised me was the main thread:
the motive of one of the characters, a villainous scientist played by Juliet
Aubrey, who it’s revealed in the end plans to go back far in time to the Rift
Valley in East Africa in order to slaughter the first hominids, so that mankind
does not evolve “to pollute the planet and despoil the earth and cause
global warming.” It’s a confession one won’t hear anywhere else, not even
in real life.
and poisons one tribe of ape men, but is done in before she can kill again by a
raptor that followed her through an anomaly. Had she succeeded in her plan, history
would have changed and she would have vanished along with everyone who ever
existed. Earth would have been pristinely absent of the human race. Asked about
this by another character trapped in the Pleistocene period, she answers that
it would be worth the price if it eliminated man.
another series (or movie) in which an environmentalist is a murderous villain.
Virtually all such movies and series offered by Netflix (and in the culture in
general) feature a “maverick,” unshaven environmentalism-friendly
“hero” who saves the day (and has marital problems). Or it’s an embittered
female geologist or the like who saves the day (and has boyfriend problems).
watched some of those other science fiction movies or series, but stopped the
moment the “hero” or “heroine” opened his mouth about man’s
alleged destructiveness, foolishness and recklessness. The “science”
in these atrocities is truly fictional, as much as is Al Gore’s or the EPA’s. While
the technical qualities of these films vary from low-budget, laughable awfulness
to big-budget extravagance, the message is always the same. Man is guilty for
his very existence.
side, a younger David Strathairn appears as the protagonist in 1998’s Evidence of Blood, Jackson Kinley,
a Noble Prize winning author of true crime books. Informed that his best friend
from their school days, the sheriff of a small Georgia town, has died and left
him everything, he returns and begins an investigation into the murder of a
young woman 40 years ago, following some cryptic clues in his late friend’s
home and elsewhere. The clues indicate
that the wrong man was found guilty of the murder (a verdict the man did not
protest) and subsequently executed. He meets resistance from the former prosecutor
and the man’s defense attorney, and also from the town’s retired chief of
police, who was a rookie cop at the time. He also becomes involved with the beguiling
daughter of the executed man, Dora Overton, played by Mary McDonnell, who
simply wants the truth. In the end, Kinley returns to the scene of the alleged
crime, and discovers that he was a
witness to it. The film plods along at a leisurely pace, but the story deserves
patience and is rewarding in the end.
dessert among Netflix’s offerings is Miss Fisher’s
Murder Mysteries, a 2012-2014 Australian TV series set in Melbourne in
the 1920’s, starring Essie Davis as Phryne
Fisher, a British heiress who resettles in Australia and decides to become an
investigator of murders. Her semi-nemesis is John Robinson, a police detective,
whom she helps solve crimes and who does not approve of her libertine, flapper
ways. As the ice melts between them they eventually become unofficial partners
in their work. Detective Robinson resists becoming enamored with Phryne Fisher
(he represses, in the beginning, an admiration for her unorthodoxy and
ingenuity, among her other assets) and implicitly surrenders to her irresistible
charms, so the possibility of a third season indicates a romantic liaison. The series
is based on the popular novels
of Kerry Greenwood. I have not read any of them (there are, to date, twenty-one
of them), but plan to order a few to see if they match the quality and spirit
of the TV series.
re-watching if only to observe the accumulation of clues that do not lead to the expected denouement,
while all the episodes of Miss Fisher’s
Murder Mysteries are worth watching over and over again, if only to escape
our own time.
In one convenient venue, Netflix offers a broad
perspective on the state of Western culture, of its esthetics, of its arts, and
of its past and future.