Tag Archives: Netflix

Opening the doors of perception: Netflix’s brilliant and undefinable The OA Part II

When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.

Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.

Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.

With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.

-Nate Hill

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SBIFF: Sam Elliot on his first Oscar nomination and being texting buddies with Bradley Cooper.

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

“I’m most intrigued by how you remember all that shit? It is just astounding to me,” joked Sam Elliot with his token southern drawl to TMC’s Dave Karger who moderated the Virtuoso awards at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Elliot, along with John David Washington, Claire Foy, Richard E. Grant and many more were honored with the prestigious award as the awards season campaign comes to a close. Elliot was the flagship honoree, saving his Q&A for last.

“He’s the most brilliant director I’ve ever worked with,” he said speaking of Bradley Cooper, who after their initial meeting, became text message buddies and that is how the two communicated all the way up until filming. Elliot was concerned that he was going to be unable to film his role in A Star is Born, due to his commitment to Netflix’s The Ranch, a four-camera sitcom that is filmed before a live audience that has a lot of moving pieces. Elliot expressed his concern to Cooper via text message and Cooper instantly replied: “I’m not going to let you go. We are going to work it out.”

Filming for The Ranch ended on a Wednesday and the following Friday Cooper arranged for a set to be constructed in the parking lot of the Greek Theatre in LA, where they filmed their first scene together, the emotional brother v brother moment where Cooper punches Elliot and knocks him to the ground. Elliot did not once say “Lady Gaga”, instead he referred to her as “Stefani” and spoke of her very affectionately.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images for SBIFF

The first time he saw the film in its full cut was at its premiere in Toronto, recalling how he was weeping throughout the film and was surprised at how much screen time he had in the final cut because when he had seen the rough cuts prior, his role was reduced substantially. Backstage, before the Q&A at TIFF, Stefani came up to him and asked if he was okay because he was still crying because he was so affected by the film.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Elliot candidly said about his first Academy Award nomination as the audience of over two thousand people erupted in thunderous applause. “Awards are great. Awards are a wonderful thing, but it’s all about the work.” Elliot turns his phone off at night and was awakened by his wife, Kathrine Ross, at seven-thirty in the morning the day nominations were announced. When asked by the moderator what it was like for his wife to be the one to tell him, Elliot instantly responded, “it was pretty cool.”

At the close of the evening, Elliot was asked what film came out this year that he thought that everyone should see, after thinking for a moment he said Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman and said that the film is very important and more relevant now than the period for which it took place. He was also asked what accent he thinks would be impossible for him to do, where he quickly quipped “anything that isn’t a south-western accent.”

 

34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG
SANTA BARBARA, CA – FEBRUARY 05: Sam Elliot speaks onstage at the Virtuosos Award Presented By UGG during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 5, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Sam Elliot is effortlessly cool. He’s been a cinematic mainstay for five decades. He’s been a lifeguard, the President’s chief of staff, and countless cowboys and military brass. After all this time Elliot has been awarded a Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nomination for his finest role to date. He may not win the gold, and that is okay because Sam Elliot will always be Sam Elliot.

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting Of Hill House

Netflix has been knocking it out of the park with their originals this year, and Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House is no exception. Flanagan is the man behind 2013’s brilliant psychological opus Oculus and last year’s stellar Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game, he’s been cutting his teeth and proving solid mettle in the horror genre for years now, and with this one he’s given the freedom of long form storytelling to give us a supremely chilling, deeply depressing yet surprisingly cathartic and effective piece of frightmare bliss than any horror fan will love. Based on a book by Shirley Jackson, I can’t speak for faithfulness to source material here but I can say that this is powerful, thoughtful and frequently terrifying stuff, a haunted house tale interwoven with rich, deep family drama and complicated psychological aspects that makes for an invigorating, if nerve exhausting experience.

From the first night the Crain family moves into vast, ornate Hill House mansion right up until the final, fateful night Mr. Crain packs up his five children and flees the estate without Mrs. Crain, they are relentlessly plagued by ghosts, spectres, bumps in the night, haunting visions and things you can’t even describe. The film flashes back between the children’s stressful childhood having to spend a year or so in the house, and to the present time where they have somewhat gone their separate ways and all have inner demons to face, stemming right back to their experience there. Did their mother really get overtaken by malevolent spirits, or did she simply lose mind? Why didn’t their father tell them anything about what he saw in the mysterious red room moments before he evacuated them in a panic? What was real and what wasn’t? Will they be able to overcome the residual trauma of these painful, scarring events and carry on into the light of their adult lives, or will the darkness envelop them as it did their poor mother? It’s a complex, dense story that goes way beyond simple haunted house motifs and cuts a direct line to the essential using the blueprint of a horror film, and that makes it something special.

Flanagan is fascinated by themes of mental illness and the ambiguity that lies there, and as he did with Oculus, he makes it a little bit tough to see where the vague line between psychosis and actual supernatural forces is drawn, letting the audience ponder what is actually real to some degree. Certainly the house is haunted for real, it’s too convenient that an entire seven person family would show symptoms that extreme, but how much did the house really do, and how much is in the shattered perceptions of these tormented folks? I love the complexity and challenges we get as a viewer there and can’t wait to see what Flanagan does next in his career to build upon these themes.

Now the big question: Is it scary? Oh my yes. I’m not easily rattled by horror but this has some of the most blood freezing moments of inspired ghostly terror I’ve seen, and a few that made me walk away and go find one of the cats or the dog to hold as I made the well thought out decision to watch most of this at night while I was alone in the house. From a scuttling zombie in a dumb waiter shaft, floating spirits that roam hallways peering in doors and looking under beds, the freaky ass ‘Bent Neck Lady’, giant dogs and all sorts of other stuff, this house is packed to the brim with terror. It’s also relentless, like you don’t even get that much of a break between scares and before the family can launch another heated, dramatic argument there’s already some leering ghoul or screeching apparition on their heels, even when they’re grown up and far from the house. They’re well staged, unexpected scares too, some of them reaching that chilling point where you genuinely wish you didn’t see what you just saw because you know you’ll lose sleep.

The cast is carefully chosen and all give beautiful work, but the standout has to be Carla Gugino in a difficult role as Mrs. Crain, loving mother, troubled woman and fallen angel. Carla did a showstopper in Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game last year and tops it here with an intense, passionate turn that echoes Jack Torrence while showing the aching confusion of a broken mind in crystal clear fashion. Henry Thomas does his best as Mr. Crain but they saddled him with unnatural blue contact lenses that make him look more like one of the ghosts than a human father, while Timothy Hutton fares excellently as the older version of him. The children are all vividly drawn, both in childhood and grown up later, brought to life by a talented bunch including Michael Huisman, McKenna Grace, Violet McGraw, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Julian Hilliard, Oliver Jackson Cohen, Elizabeth Reeser, Kate Siegel and Paxton Singleton.

Flanagan has shown true innovation here as a storyteller, deliberately editing together the narrative like a fractured patchwork quilt of scenes, starting some and doubling back to them a few episodes later so they tie in a certain way and show you a new angle on a character you wouldn’t have surmised, bringing things from a tactical, developed slow burn to a hair raising all out finale that shows us every ghost the house has to offer, but more importantly those that exist in the psyche of each family member, and the relationship between them. Cinematographer Michael Fimognari strives to use cuts seldom and hold the shots as long as possible, creating some dynamic, flowing camera work that captures things succinctly without any frenetic nonsense or hectic motion. The show samples everything from David Lynch style sound design, Stanley Kubrick visuals a lá The Shining, The Conjuring esque retro vibes, Stephen King trippy cerebral narratives and more, but it’s definitely a distinct piece all its own, from an original voice of horror that disarms, affects and scares no end. This is the kind of horror I love seeing, where the scares are used to illuminate and say something about the characters, because if you don’t care about them once the ghosts start coming out, well then the story has lost you in cheap parlour tricks. Flanagan knows this, and doesn’t let anyone off easy with his arresting, unexpected story. Brilliant stuff.

-Nate Hill

BLINDING ACTION: The Making of BLINDSIDED: THE GAME by Kent Hill

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It’s funny how the fates play their hand. Not long before I hand completed the interviews for this piece, I found I had been gifted the opportunity to interview Phillip Noyce, who happens to have directed BLIND FURY – a film that was both the inspiration behind and the film that came to mind when I first heard about Blindsided: The Game. And what a film! Walter is a seemingly unassuming guy who likes his peace and serenity – and his warm apple pie. His daily life, to the voyeur, would appear idyllic – that is until he decides to visit his local convenience store at the wrong time. A gang of stand-over men are looking for payment on a debt owed by the proprietor, and Walter’s friend. You know something is rotten in Denmark, and Walter looks as though he is the kinda guy to let sleeping dogs lie. No way! Like Josey Wales before him, Walter is the man, the hero who’ll always double back for a friend. That’s when the ACTION begins….

You might find yourself, as I did, waiting for something to happen. When Walter reveals his secret however, you’ll marvel and the grace, fluidity and devastating ability that the film’s hero has been keeping under his hat. The ensuing war which Walter wages with the movie’s antagonists is fierce – with a satisfying resolution.

I think the only thing I wasn’t happy about after watching Blindsided is that it ended – ’cause I, for one, wanted more. So it was an honor and a privilege to sit down with the filmmakers behind this veritable dynamo – this indie action gem waiting in the wings.

Blindsided: The Game pays homage to classic action films like Zatoichi and Blind Fury not only in its protagonist Walter, a blind swordsman, but also in that the film places heavy emphasis on storytelling combined with great action. This is no surprise with Clayton J. Barber in the director’s seat, who comes with over 20 years of experience as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood. Leading man Eric Jacobus plays Walter, a lovable cook who’s an expert gambler and swordsman. The character is the amalgamation of Jacobus’s 18-year career as a comedic action performer in the indie film arena. Director Clayton J. Barber is pushing the boundaries of modern action entertainment by bridging Hollywood with the indie action film world.

Barber notes that, “Eric Jacobus came from the indie action film realm. He was like a punk rocker of the action genre using raw film-making. We’re bridging these worlds together to create a totally new kind of action experience.” Jacobus echoes Barber’s sentiments: “Indie action guys have all the tools they need to showcase their skills, but the element of storytelling still has to be there. Clayton’s that storyteller who knows action. This is our Le Samurai.”

Barber and Jacobus aren’t the only stuntmen involved in Blindsided: The Game. The film features an ensemble of action stars and stunt performers both behind and in front of the camera. Roger Yuan, a veteran action star featured in action films such as Shanghai Noon and this year’s Accident Man, who plays the shopkeeper Gordon, also choreographed one of the film’s major fight scenes. Producer David William No (Altered Carbon from Netflix, and Matrix Reloaded) acts as a knife-wielding card shark and goes toe to toe with Jacobus in the climax. Veteran stunt performer Joe Bucaro (xXx, Iron Man) plays the ruthless gang leader Sal, Nicholas Verdi (Close Range, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Nico and acted as director of photography, and Sal’s enforcer is played by Luke LaFontaine (Savage Dog, Master and Commander) who also served as the sword fight coordinator.

Production company, JB Productions, is dedicated to delivering strong storytelling and first-rate action, created by people who truly understand action. Barber says, “This is a new approach to action film-making. Blindsided: The Game is the perfect collaboration for us, and we hired great stunt performers to play the lead roles and even work behind the camera with us because we wanted to work with folks who knew action. That’s the brand people are buying into, and we’re always looking to build that brand by collaborating with talent both in America and overseas.”   Jacobus and Barber previously collaborated on the hit short films Rope A Dope and Rope A Dope 2: Revenge of the Martial Arts Mafia. Blindsided: The Game is an expansion of the 2017 short film Blindsided, which was the first title under the Jacobus / Barber (JB) Productions banner. Blindsided was released to much acclaim, with fans craving a conclusion to the story. Blindsided: The Game replays the entirety of the original Blindsided and carries the story to completion, capping the film off at the length of a TV pilot.

Jacobus and Barber are confident that Blindsided: The Game will fulfil fans’ desires for a complete film. Blindsided: The Game will be free to stream on YouTube NOW!

ERIC JACOBUS

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CLAYTON J. BARBER

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DAVID WILLIAM NO

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LUKE LaFONTAINE

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WATCH THE FILM NOW…

Netflix’s The End Of The Fucking World

Netflix’s new original show The End Of The Fucking World is impossible to really describe until you go binge it for yourself, which isn’t a tough task, considering it’s only eighth episodes, each twenty minutes or so in length. It’s a dark comedy, a road movie, a love story, a pseudo coming of age tale and everything in between, seen through a sardonic yet heartfelt lens, wicked sharp acting that’ll have you laughing in stitches when it’s not hitting you in the feels, and the beautifully blunt script to back it up. James (Alex Lawther) is a stoic seventeen year old who is fairly certain that he’s a psychopath. He’s killed all manner of household pets and local wildlife, but plans to graduate to something bigger very soon. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is a mouthy little thing, also seventeen, with a monumental attitude problem and enough social dysfunction to fill an auditorium.They’re an odd pair, and hit the road together after James literally decks his father in he face and steals his car. This isn’t your average love story, road flick or black comedy though, which is a good thing. Mad at their families and willing to get prickly with anyone who crosses their path, these two are an odd suited pair and an electrifying couple of protagonists to spend four hours with. I could outline more of the plot but then I’d be shedding unneeded light on a beautifully unpredictable, often scary, achingly sweet and altogether unique turn of events that land with an arc that has to be seen to be believed. Out across rural England their joyride leads them, and into shenanigans ranging from puzzling to endearing to downright disturbing (there’s both a serial killer and a molester involved, but not in ways you might expect). Lawthon and Barden are two uncanny finds, bringing teenage awkwardness, earned warmth and hilarious delivery to every facet of their work. If this is a tick on the barometer for the steady uphill direction that Netflix is heading in with their originals, keep at it. Oh and please please please give us another season of this, because I’m already in withdrawal.

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game


Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game is exactly what horror/thrillers should aspire to be: devilishly well written, engagingly acted, crisply directed and scary enough to wake the dead. Presented on the Netflix platform with their trademark lack of marketing (they tend to hurl out content willy nilly, sans fanfare), it’s just shown up and is already one of the best horror films I’ve seen all year. Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood give encore performances and the best work of their careers as a couple who make their way to a cottage in the country, trying to spice up the ol’ marriage. When Brucie has a nice heart attack mid-foreplay (he popped a few of those magic blue pills), Carla is stuck handcuffed to the bed in the middle of nowhere, with no one for company except a mangy stray dog that begins to take chunks out of dead Bruce. So begins a fiercely internal, visceral psychological survival story, a brutal chamber piece that delves into her twisted childhood, troubled marriage and churns forth a tale to curl the pain on the cabin walls. There’s hallucinations, inner monologues, squirm-inducing gore, elliptical mind games and a pseudo-twist ending that had me shuddering into the couch. Gugino has never been more intense, believable or varied in her work, turning this character into something potent and tangible, bringing her past trauma and fight for survival to screaming life. Greenwood is smart, witty and so darkly funny it’s tough now to picture him as the stoic, emotionally shut off archetype he usually has embodied before this film. Additional work from ET’s now eerily grown up Henry Thomas and Twin Peak’s ginormous Carel Stryucken (terrifying here) adds class and distinction. The show belongs to Carla and Bruce, and what a show they put on, feasting on the rich, textured dialogue and playing sandbox in the story that uses depth, character and genuine menace to lasso us right in. In a year that’s seen at least one King novel unforgivably bastardized, and one other given the solid yet flawed and incomplete treatment, it’s reassuring to find one that comes up pretty much perfect in every way. Kudos to Netflix, the two leads and everyone else involved. 
-Nate Hill

Netflix Original Content: GET ME ROGER STONE

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Netflix’s newest arrival, GET ME ROGER STONE, is the best and most important political documentary since THE WAR ROOM. The film showcases the flamboyant and unapologetic architect of not only the Trump presidency but also the transformation of the Republican Party post Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Stone is proudly candid as he recounts and fully embraces his insane political power. He cut his teeth at nineteen when he got caught up in the Watergate scandal, from that point forward he became a champion in the dark shadow world of lobbying. It was during the 1980 presidential campaign that Stone met his future mentor, Roy Cohn.

What you see is what you get with Stone. He doesn’t really care about policy, the truth, or America. He wants to yield unmatched power and accrue as much money as he possibly can. He was behind the 2000 Florida recount debacle, the plethora of sexual misconduct allegations of Bill Clinton in the 90’s. He brought down former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, and he is the man responsible for not only Trump’s brand but building his political base and capital.

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While most of the things Stone has said and done are pretty much awful, you can’t help but be amazed by his awesome power. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He wants power and money and more power and more money. And he’ll be the first to tell you that.

Much like Trump, Stone is a showman and absolutely revels in the attention he gets. Good or bad, he doesn’t care. As Stone proudly proclaims, “it’s better to be infamous than not to be talked about at all.” Regardless of your political affiliation, or your personal feelings regarding Stone, you cannot deny that the guy is an absolute genius.

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GET ME ROGER STONE is currently streaming on Netflix.