Tag Archives: Netflix

Message from the King (2017): Netflix Makes a Revenge Flick

     “Message from the King” is a film that had a lot of potential and could have been great, but doesn’t quite get there. Revenge thrillers are hard to do, I enjoy them but in the last few years the only ones that really stand out to me are the “John Wick” films and this film isn’t that. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic, he really is the only one holding this film up, which is sad because there is so much potential as he is a South African in Los Angeles and all the differences in culture or history and similarities were just dropped. So before I get into spoilers, I recommend it if you like revenge films but there is not much else to keep you here. It isn’t bad but it isn’t good.

The film was directed by Fabrice Du Welz and written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell who produced it along with David Lancaster and Simon Cornwell.

The story involves Jacob King (Chadwick Boseman) traveling from South Africa to Los Angeles to find his sister. When he finds out what happened to her his revenge quest begins as he hunts down those responsible for what happened.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Chadwick Boseman – Boseman is the best part of this film. He plays a character who feels like a failure of a brother because he couldn’t take care of his siblings. There is also more going on with him too. After his sister’s torture and murder by the gang in Los Angeles he completes his revenge spree against the gang and we learn he is a cop in South Africa who hides his killing spree from his partners. This added more layers to the character and he was the only character whose motivation I really felt I knew, and that was entirely due to Boseman’s acting.

The Action – The action is solid and you feel a lot of the punches. It is honestly a shame there wasn’t more action as that would have strengthened the film overall. The action scenes stand out because they are at each major point in the story as his revenge spree completes.

The Cons: Many Great Actors No Characters – Luke Evans, Tom Felton and Alfred Molina are all in this playing different types of creeps involved with drugs, gangs and porn. Sadly I could not describe their characters to you as they are so poorly written. This was a missed opportunity as all 3 of these folks can act, I just didn’t see any character there, just plot devices to be destroyed by the protagonist.

I wish I had more to say about this film. There are a lot of decent actors in this (like Tom Felton and Luke Evans) but besides Boseman I’d have a hard time describing them or their motivations. This was a missed opportunity as any good revenge flick should have great villains that are more than evil for being evil or if they are, are at least fun in how awful they are. This film had none of that and would be a made for television movie if it hadn’t come out on Netflix. Again, if you like revenge flicks you’ll get some enjoyment, but beyond that I can’t recommend this film.

6 / 10 Solid action and Boseman keep it from being a complete failure.

“Ozark” Season 1 – An Amazing Story of Those Bound by Secrets and Damage

   “Ozark” is a great show. This is the type of show that takes aspects of “Breaking Bad” as far as the themes of crime, redemption and corruption mixed with the threat of the FBI and the Cartel and centers it around one family, who drives the action and shapes the drama of wherever they are. This is a show I’d seriously recommend and is once again proof that “Netflix” knows how to choose the right shows to make.

The series was created by Bill Dubuque and produced by Media Rights Capital.

The story centers around Martin Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial planner who ends in deep with the Cartel and must pay off his debt after his company’s money laundering scheme goes wrong. To save himself and wash the Cartel’s money he moves his family the Ozarks, but all is not as it appears to be as he upsets the balance of power that already exists as he races against time against both the FBI investigation and the Cartel.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Price of Secrets –  A major theme of this show is the price of secrets. Whether it is his wife’s affair and him holding back how long he knew about it, whether it is the truth behind the money he is investing in the Ozarks in order to have it washed and the people affected by this, or the FBI agent and his lover who by keeping in the dark leads to the destruction of his lover’s family and a failure of the initial investigation.

The Art of Mutually Assured Destruction – M.A.D. is a major theme of this show as so much of it is Martin keeping different powers happy, as they know he could end them just as he knows they could end him. We see this in the threat heroin dealers who run crime area called the Snells and them working things out with the Cartel, and also the Langmores, whose father pulls the strings from prison and wants Martin’s money. The reason Wendy and Martin don’t split up after everything is they are both in on it too. They are both guilty so neither will turn on the other as both more than anything want to protect the kids. This threat that the different powers face, especially the Byrds is a huge part of what creates the drama that drives the story and Martin and Wendy’s creation of scenarios where there is some level of M.A.D. against those would harm them.

The Small Push to Corruption – A major theme in the story is the small push to corruption as Martin resists his company working with Del (the leader of the Cartel in the area) until he eventually decides he wants nice things as does his wife. They know Del is dangerous but for both of them the payoff of more wins out as we see them embrace the corruption that leads up to the action that kicks off the show.

The Victory of Small Acts of Good – Even with how dark the show is, there are still small acts of good. Ruth Langmore tries to kill Martin at first under orders from her dad but ends up growing attached to the Byrdes and saves them. We also see how the small acts of the family risking for one another bring them closer together. Even though things look bad at the end as the Snells kill Del and the Cartel now has them on their blacklist, their is finally love and with Ruth almost as an adopted family member now, they’ve grown and aren’t as alone and isolated as before.

Okay: Del’s Ending – Del is played by Esai Morales, who played Joseph Adama in “Caprica.” He is an amazing actor and even though his death advances the threat of the Cartel and turns the Ozarks into a warzone, I still really liked his character and wanted him around, at least for another season as he was both likable and threatening, and it is hard to get that in shows like this…as even “Breaking Bad” only ever achieved it with Mike and Gus. Keeping him alive, even as a prisoner, would have made this issue a pro.

The FBI – I liked the FBI agents and the fact that they were lovers, but I never felt like they had anything on the people around them. They wanted Ruth and Martin so they could take out Del but in the end they gain nothing since the Snells kill Del and Ruth never admits to trying to kill Martin and in the end the Byrde’s cover for her too. I wish they could have been more of a threat as the DEA in “Breaking Bad” feels like just as big of force as the Cartel in that show. I still thought the FBI was used okay, but as of this season, they weren’t a pro.

This was another great Netflix series that I’d highly recommend. If you enjoyed “Breaking Bad” chances are you will enjoy this too as it is cut from the same cloth and tackles a lot of similar things as far as what darkness humans are capable of, as well as what it takes to get someone to the point of corruption, or to turn away from it. For me the main issues were the FBI arc felt incomplete (Glad they have more seasons) and Del’s ending was okay for keeping things in the Ozarks, but it should not have ended in his death. That actor is amazing and the constant threat his character brought, mixed with his reasonableness made him compelling. Lets see where the story goes from here as Del’s boss is still out there as is Ruth’s father, both of who will play a part as future threats for our protagonists.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 3 – Great New Characters and Reveals

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” has yet to go wrong. Last season may have dragged a little bit, but each episode has payed off and even the moments of anime tonal dissodance are at this point gone (they were in Season 1 and 2, not 3). For non-spoiler thoughts, check out this season if you are already watching. You’ll meet Prince Lotor and his amazing generals and all our heroes get some amazing development, and you’ll learn about the really cool origins of Voltron. Seriously, should check out this season.

The story picks up where we left off with Shiro missing and the Black Lion needing a new leader and Prince Lotor coming out of exile to lead his people after his father has been put into a coma after the last battle. From here our heroes must find a new team dynamic and figure out Prince Lotor’s plot and stop it.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The New Paladins – With the disappearance of Shiro we have a change in the Paladins! Keith gets the Black Lion, Lance gets his Red Lion and Princess Allura becomes the new paladin over the Blue Lion. It is so cool seeing them figure things out as Keith feels inadequate and his quickness to anger is something he has to temper before they start winning battles. The Prince is always one step ahead of him too which is another issue he is always facing as Allura is also facing the change of becoming a Paladin and the new role it brings her.

Prince Lotor and his Generals – Lotor and his generals are awesome! All of his generals are women and each of them is some type of rogue. They don’t really have other soldiers and they don’t need them. They capture a town without any soldiers present and show how a special elite force is better at achieving ends than a small force. Each of them is Part Galran but none of them are full blooded as far as we know, making them an outlier of the Galra Empire. His overall end is to conquer all the universes using the overwhelming power of Quintessence, at least that is the Galra Empire’s goal. Prince Lotor doesn’t kill (from what we have seen) so may have another agenda separate from that of his father and mother.

Origins of Voltron – Voltron was created by Princess Allura’s father when they discover a comet from another universe that could give infinite power. Emperor Zarkon who was friend’s with Allura’s father falls in love with the alchemist who is experimenting on the substance. Eventually a creature from another universe is brought through and breaks out leading to the Lions and Voltron first being used. After this Zarkon and Alfor having a falling out until he  tricks them into opening up the portal once more (the portal that is destroying his home planet). He does this to resurrect his wife who we later learn becomes Witch Haggar (She was an alchemist from Alfor’s people) they are both believed dead until the Quintessence brings them back to life and the Galra Empire makes war on the galaxy once more to gather Quintessence in order to conquer all, as the last episode ends with Haggar bringing the Emperor out of his coma too as she remembers the history that the episode recounts (that begins with Coran telling the Paladins the origins of Voltron).

Okay/Cons: Too Short – I would say this was perfect season but I wanted more time with Lotor and his generals or more time with Haggar. These were missed development opportunities that only exist because the season is only 7 episodes long, when really this season needed at least 8 or 9. It is still a great season, but this keeps it from perfection. 

This was easily one of the best seasons of the show so far as the new enemy and team make-up gave us tons of character development and helped shape things leading into the most likely finale, as by the end of the season we know what the Galra Empire wants and how it got to be the way it is, as well as what our heroes still need to face internally in order to overcome this final challenge. This was a season that I couldn’t stop watching and is by far one of the best shows to come out on Netflix. I can’t wait to see how they wrap the story up and would watch spinoffs in this universe as the characters and politics keep me coming back.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 Would have been perfect if more time had been spent developing the Paladins and Lotor further.

 

“Frontier” Season 1 – A Good Start to the Trade and Political Drama of the 1700s

“Frontier” is  a show whose premise I loved and whose story has a lot of potential to be extremely great. There are a few things that keep it from being great though and those are the cliffhanger ending and the main protagonist and villain just aren’t all that complex and because the focus is on them and not the more interesting characters it brings the story down and keeps it from a great Season 1.

The story of “Frontier” takes place in Canada as the Kree, Americans, French, Scottish and English Hudson Bay Company vay for control of the Fur Trade in the area. Beneath of all this the story follows Michael Smyth (Landon Laboiron) an Irishman from England who is blackmailed by Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) into becoming a spy against Declan Harp (Jason Mamoa), a half-Kree warrior seeking revenge against Benton and the Hudson Bay Company.

Slight SPOILERS

The Pros: The Factions – There are a lot of factions in this show and that is what makes it so interesting. You have Kree who want trade and those who want war, you have the brothers and one of the brother’s wives representing the Scots, you have Lord Benton and the Hudson Bay Company and his Captain Chesterfield who is his protector and enforcer and Grace and her Ale House which she uses to broker information and work her way into the fur trade as well, while helping Declan Harp on his revenge quest as well as an American faction causing chaos and trying to gain control over the area too.

The Ale House – The Ale House is one of the most interesting places on the show as here secrets are revealed and we see it as the only true women run faction in the area after the Kree leader is overthrown by her son. Seeing them navigate a world where women are treated like dirt is fascinating and Grace is a way more compelling character than Michael or Lord Benton as she leans good but is ruthless and shows how she has survived and thrived.

Declan Harp – Jason Mamoa’s Declan Harp is amazing! This is a man who lost everything to Lord Benton when his family was murdered by him after he joined the Kree and looked out for Native interests (his mother’s side of his family) and from this we see why he is so lost in revenge. This arc is still open though as in the end he escapes death (he does this a few times) but as far as we know, Lord Benton is still alive after the chaos.

Okay: The Protagonist and main Villain – Michael and Lord Benton are acted well but written flatly. Benton is just a misogynistic, racist, greedy man and Michael is just the idealist boy wanting to save his girlfriend who finds a higher calling in Declan’s cause. Both of them could have been given so much more complexity.

The Cons: Cliffhanger Ending – The Cliffhanger ending is really what brings the story down the most. The writer’s didn’t know if they’d get a Season 2 (Which they did thankfully) so leaving it open ended just made it so all the work and loss and fighting meant nothing. The factions are still aligned and though some maybe battered, we haven’t seen anything really change. We aren’t shown any solid change outside of Michael joining Declan over his girlfriend and even within that Lord Benton was implied to be still alive. For all the setup over the 6 episodes, there needed to be solid payoff.

This is a good start to a series that has so much potential. I love the fact that we see the different reasons that different factions have for wanting to join or fight the Hudson Bay Company and how complicated the politics get as each of the faction’s leaders vay for control of the trade even as other aspects of the war blind them to that or do things that hurt their own factions cause. I’m glad this show got renewed for a Season 2, this like “Dark Matter” is another good show coming out of Canada and one I highly recommend.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10 Cliffhanger and predictable protagonist brought it down but still a good start to what could become an unforgettable series.

 

Okja (2017): Where Miyazaki Meets Horror

  “Okja” is a strange and wonderful film. This is a film that starts like a Miyazaki film and ends like horror movie and inbetween tries to political satire and be an all around adventure story. Did it work? Enough to the point that I did enjoy this film and recommend it. Netflix is getting better at putting out quality original work and this is a shining example of a great film of theirs that shows the streaming platform (and often times going cheap) can work for quality original works.

The film was directed by Bong Joon-Ho who co-wrote it along with Jon Ronson.  Bong Joon-Ho also was one of the seven producers on the film. The others were Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Seo Woo-Sik and Ted Sarandos.

The story involves the Mirando Corporation sending lab designed super pigs around the world to be raised by farmers in the best Pig Competition, where the winner will be crowned in 10 years. During that time Okja, one of the pigs is raised by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her Grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong). When the corporation returns and takes Okja Mija goes on a journey to save her friend and fights herself being manipulated by different political factions who want to use Okja to their own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Flawed Characters and Ego – Most of the minor characters in this are compelling in the ways their egos and drive them and make them flawed. There is Jay the leader of the Animal Liberation Front who believes in consent but ignores it for the overall aims in the end, there is Lucy Miranda who wants to make her company better than it is but not face the darker side of the slaughter house and there is the Grandfather who wants his granddaughter to have success but in the end misses how important Okja is to her. These characters make the narrative interesting.

Magical Realism – Giant Pigs created in a lab transported around the world for a Best Pig competition that will take place 10 years later, and one of them is raised by a little girl in the mountains…it is right out of a Miyazaki film and was part of what made this film so fun. I’ve always loved the fantasy in magical realism and this film captures that really well.

A Critique of Ideology over People – Both the ALF and Mirando Corp don’t care about people, only ideology. We see this in how Lucy’s sister turns on her, on the lying that K and Jay both do to Mija in order to serve their overall goals and in the end the hero of this film has no ideology and just wants to be with her pig Okja. This is the core theme of the piece and from that do good where you can as you are and don’t let ideology consume you.

The Cruelty of Factory Farms – The film is extremely against factory farming and you get to see all the parts of it as the Super Pigs get slaughtered and how their different parts go to the different areas of the supermarket. Mija sees this first hand at the end and it is really well done…this is when the film turns into a horror film as we see it all through Mija’s and Okja’s eyes.

The Cons: The Satire – The Corporation doesn’t feel like it is full of people and the ALF is so disconnected and all over the place that they are hard to take seriously as a force. This really brings down the satire as our villains become a bit too cartoonish, which hurts the satirical argument in play.

This is a flawed film that also manages to just be great. Certain characters feel like caricatures (the Mirando Corporate characters as a whole (except maybe Lucy) and some of the Animal Liberation Front Members) but this didn’t bring down my overall enjoyment film. This film is solidly great and now that I’ve watched this and “Snowpiercer,” I can’t wait to see what director Bong Joon-Ho does next.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Shimmer Lake (2017): A Mystery Told in Reverse

I have yet to see a truly great film that is a Netflix original. Almost always the films go from bad to decent, though this is the first one I’ve seen since “Beats of no Nation” that was truly good. “Shimmer Lake” is very Coenesque in execution but doesn’t quite rise to the farcical comedies that pervades most of the Coen works. It is this lack of humor that really brings it down and keeps it from becoming great, though it is still worth checking out.

The film was directed by Oren Uziel who also wrote the film, while being produced by Adam Saunders and Britton Rizzio.

The story a small town sheriff named Walker who is investigating a bank robbery that involves his brother and two ex-friends. The story is told in reverse.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a small town bank robbery that turns into something bigger (being told from when the crime is done and the outcome to how it came about) is really cool. The setup was a large part of what kept me watching because I was waiting to learn more the different characters and their relationships. Rainn Wilson has so much charisma and I think having him be one of the first characters we meet who is so connected to the incident really strengthened the film.

The Cons: The Point of the Characters – This is a story full of betrayal and reveals, and at times does have comedy and even real drama between characters before many of them go full evil. It is this full range of character actions and types that fail to be a theme that are the largest con of the film. This film needed a focus for the mystery to truly be more than simply good.

I wish there was more to say about this film, but this is a film that doesn’t really have a larger point. It is a thriller and mystery where the catch is how the story is told (mystery in reverse) versus the point and themes of the story. I’m avoiding spoilers since the reveal is one of the few reasons to see this film but I also found that because it lacked a larger farcical bent or any major theme that was consistent across the board makes it a story that I will recommend but do not consider great. This film strives to be a Coen film when it should have sought more of it’s own voice.

Final Score: 8 / 10 A solid mystery.

iBoy (2017): An Animesque Film That Explores Trauma and Healing

   “iBoy” is a decent film. It’s a made for Netflix film, which I’ve noticed has come to mean they are working with a limited budget, but this film makes the most of it by having a smaller cast, which leads to some great character exploration for our leads, as both of them are given arcs that have good payoff.

    The film was directed by Adam Randall, written by Joe Barton, Mark Denton and Jonny stockwood and produced by Gail Mutrux, Nate Bolotin, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill and Lucan Toh.

   The story takes place in London as lonely teenage boy Tom struggles to fit in and find purpose. With prompting from his friend he goes out with Lucy, a friend and long time crush. Sadly he arrives when her house is being attacked and she is being assaulted by faceless gang members. When he runs they shoot him leading to parts of his cell phone getting lodged into his brain. When he wakes he finds he has developed powers and begins to hunt down the men responsible as Lucy works through the trauma of all she went through.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world feels a lot like Gotham as the gangs are pretty powerful in this and you get the idea that they own city, which is why Tom becoming iBoy makes sense. I could have spent more time in this world given there are only 3 characters who really get explored.

The Special Effects – The special effects are cheap but effective and I like how they show what is on the screens of phones when iBoy is hacking devices or noticing the world around him. It gives the world a cyberpunk feel.

The Main Characters – The three main characters who get explored are really what carry the film. Maisie Williams is the strongest actress in this, while the guys work but aren’t nearly on her level or have her range. They still do a decent job with what they have to work with though.

Danny – Danny is in with the gangs and is Tom’s friend…we soon see it is a false friendship by the end as he sell’s Tom out for money to the leader of the gangs and was the one filming the rape of Lucy at the beginning (it is implied anyway). I wish he’d faced some sort of justice, as everyone else in the film does.

Tom – Tom is the nerdy outcast who develops confidence when he gets superpowers. He is very much a Peter Parker analogue, and he works in that way as it is going full vigilante that leads to him forgetting Lucy, the reason he went vigilante in the first place. In the end he comes back though and works with Lucy as it is together they take down the gangs as he discovers his full power (he can turn himself into an EMP beyond just hacking tech. and manipulating electricity).

Lucy – Maisie Williams is an amazing actress, and thankfully she isn’t exploited in this as her rape by the gang members could have ended there and Tom’s story be the only arc since he goes vigilante. Instead we see her face her fear of going outside, trusting people again and she even confronts the monsters who did it and lets them live, showing she’s better than them and that she isn’t a killer. Her story is the strongest in the entire film and unlike a lot of animes where she’d just become an object to inspire iBoy she is a fully realized character.

Healing from Trauma – The film shows that healing from trauma and abuse isn’t easy and takes time. Both Tom and Lucy (who experience very different types of trauma) find one another and in the end Lucy is the one who really goes through healing as Tom just gets obsessed in his rage until the end. This is a process that is different for everyone, but I found how they expressed arc to be powerful and empowering as she takes control of her life again and empowers those around her and herself.

Murder versus Mercy – Murder versus Mercy is a huge theme in this as everyone who is bad (the gangsters) are all killers. iBoy gets close at times and it is his walking close to this that the film presents as a negative as Lucy doesn’t want him to lose his soul either.

Okay: Tom’s Grandma – She writers erotic fiction and her daughter was a druggie and she is worried about Tom…I wish all of these things could have been explored more as she doesn’t feel like a fully realized character.

The Cons: The Big Bad – The guy is a one-dimensional dude who just wants power. The only unique thing about him is he wants to use iBoy to get his money back and become even more powerful. It is implied he might be Tom’s dad but it doesn’t go anywhere. He was really a waste of a character…the lesser gang members were too outside of Danny.

  This is a film worth checking out if if you like cyberpunk or super hero films as it very much captures both those genres. In many ways ti feels like an anime, as the main character is a recluse who gets special powers whose drive is a love interest until his obsession becomes his drive (reminded me a lesser Lelouch from “Code Geass”). Maisie Williams was the best part of this film though as her arc of healing is actually explored and she isn’t just an object to inspire Tom and his motivation. They are partners and that is what made the film enjoyable as the villains are pretty weak and aren’t very fleshed out.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10