Private Greatness: David Fincher’s ‘Mank’

This week, Hollywood is abuzz about HBO Max’s assault on theatrical windows. It is perhaps the greatest threat yet to cinema as we know it, in a year that had already been most unkind to older forms of entertainment, giving streaming platforms even more of an upperhand — a shot in the arm they really didn’t need.

This week also sees the premiere of a feature film made for Netflix by David Fincher, an executive producer and the first episodic director of House Of Cards, which kicked off the platform’s reign as the king of original streaming content and sent the film market slowly but surely moving toward the home viewing experience. Fincher, one of cinema’s most celebrated auteurs, is already quite cozy with the streaming giant; in addition to House Of Cards, he’s executive produced two seasons of the stellar psychological horror series Mindhunter, and directed seven episodes. Fincher is known for his Kubrickian control behind the camera — a meticulous attention to detail, shooting take after take until he gets it right. You might expect him to be a purist like Christopher Nolan, another lauded technical craftsman whose Tenet — made for Warner Bros., under the same umbrella that owns HBO Max — ceremoniously flopped in theaters this summer, proving Nolan’s usual pied piper effect was no match for a catastrophic pandemic that had most moviegoers wisely deciding to consume their entertainment safely at home. Nolan has been one of the last defenders of the old school theatrical experience, shooting on film, showing up on IMAX screens. But he’ll need to find a new home if he’s to stick to his guns, for no Warner Bros. feature will debut exclusively in theaters any time soon.

Meanwhile, over at Netflix, Fincher has been given all the autonomy an auteur could ask for. Mank looks and sounds like a film from Hollywood’s golden age, the classics that were shot on film and played exclusively in theaters. In 2020, you can’t make a movie like that anymore — not even Nolan, one of the last men who could, has that guarantee anymore. But if you play by the streamers’ rules, you can make a pretty good facsimile of the movies that made a name for Warner Bros. and Paramount and Universal — the movies those studios won’t make anymore. How ironic, that the same day many decry as the Day the Movies Died, their well-preserved corpse shows up alive and well over at Netflix, ready to tap dance its way through awards season.

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What’s Good: 12 Netflix Picks

greta-gerwig-20th-century-womenThere’s a lot of disagreement in the air these days, in case you haven’t noticed. The one thing everyone can agree on right now is that streaming entertainment is our lord and savior, a recently elevated equivalent to food, shelter, and oxygen in our current hierarchy of needs, and we need some goddamn more of it to get us through the night.

Streaming platforms are up to the task. There’s a dizzying amount of content available. Only some of it is good. So, to help you clear through the clutter, I’m offering my top 12 recommendations for what to watch on Netflix.

These aren’t the most obvious recommendations. (Do you really need me to tell you that Tootsie and Taxi Driver are worth your time? I hope not!) I’m also not here to tell you to watch Tiger King, because you did that already. (And I hope you’re ashamed of yourself.)

These are the films you may or may not have seen, may or may not even know about, that earn my stamp of approval for both quality and entertainment value.

charlie-tahan-super-dark-times1. SUPER DARK TIMES

(Drama / Thriller)

Four teens decide to mess around with a super deadly katana sword, and in the process, one of them makes a super big mistake, resulting in the titular super dark times. Set in the latter half of the 90s, this low-key thriller is one part coming-of-age drama, another part Stephen King. It’s sort of like Stranger Things, but super dark.

steven-yuen-burning2. BURNING 

(Drama / Mystery)

Lee Chang Dong’s slow-burn thriller has as much to say about class disparity in South Korea as recent Best Picture winner Parasite, and in its own subtle way, is equally sinister. It’s something like a slow-burn spin on The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Raúl Castillo and Isaiah Kristian on the set of We the Animals3. WE THE ANIMALS

(Coming of Age Drama)

A Puerto Rican-American boy grows distant from his working class parents and troublemaking brothers as he awakens to his burgeoning homosexuality. Like the novella it’s based on, it’s achingly emotional.

other-people-molly-shannon-jesse-plemons4. OTHER PEOPLE

(Dramedy)

An aspiring SNL writer (Jesse Plemons) finds his life plan derailed when his mom (Molly Shannon) gets diagnosed with cancer. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

krisha-fairchild5. KRISHA

(Family Drama)

A substance abuser with a troubled past returns home for Thanksgiving dinner clean and sober — but her family’s distrust threatens to send her spiraling out of control once again. Trey Edward Shults used his own family members as actors, and shot in their own house — with a tiny budget and shooting schedule. A master class on how to get the most out of minimal resources.

frances-ha-greta-gerwig6. FRANCES HA

(Dramedy)

Frances Halladay (Greta Gerwig) is a lovable mess of a millennial, trying to make it in the Big City. It isn’t going well. Harkens back to the finest moments of Woody Allen’s heyday, but without the skeezy subtext.

anna-paquin-jesse-eisenberg_the_squid_and_the_whale7. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE

(Dramedy)

Before he teamed up with Gerwig, Noah Baumbach’s calling card was this spiky 2005 divorce dramedy, starring Jesse Eisenberg as a teen torn between his narcissistic parents (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels) during their split.

michael-fassbender-kodi-smit-mcphee-slow-west-shaving8. SLOW WEST 

(Drama / Western)

An idealistic young Scottish immigrant pursues the girl of his dreams in the American West, guided by Irish bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender). Slow West doesn’t star American actors, wasn’t shot in the United States, and is unlike any Western you’ve ever seen — especially by the time we get to the climax’s brutal final showdown.

Enemy_sarah-gadon-jake-gyllehaal9. ENEMY

(Mystery)

A college professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) spots his doppelganger in a movie, driving an obsession with the background actor (also Jake Gyllenhaal) who looks exactly like him. It unfolds in a nightmarish, increasingly surreal Toronto that is undergoing a serious case of arachnophobia. Two Jakes are better than one.

emma-watson-bling-ring-alexis-neiers-lip-gloss10. THE BLING RING

(Dramedy)

The bonkers true story of listless upper-middle-class teens who target homes of celebs like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan for robbery makes for a fizzy little crime caper and even better social commentary. Sofia Coppola’s satire of 2000s tabloid frenzy has only gotten sharper over the past few years, and Emma Watson gives a career-best turn as the biggest fame whore of the bunch.

place-beyond-the-pines-ryan-gosling-hot-sexy-tattoos-eva-mendes11. THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

(Crime Drama)

What begins as a darkly romantic crime saga evolves into something else entirely, exploring the unspoken bonds that link men on either side of the law, or across time and generations. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper alternately anchor the drama, with Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Mahershala Ali, and Ray Liotta rounding out a stellar cast in smaller roles.

20th-century-women12. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN

(Dramedy)

Somehow I ended up with quite a few male-centric coming-of-age tales on this list. Mike Mills’ undersung follow-up to the acclaimed Beginners is another, but the boy protagonist takes a backseat to three dynamic women in his life, played by Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig. If that’s not enough to hook you, that’s your problem.

*

Also Streaming on Netflix and Highly Recommended: A Single Man, A Most Violent Year, Rosemary’s Baby, Pan’s Labyrinth, Taxi Driver, Tootsie, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Molly’s Game, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The First Wives Club, There Will Be Blood

Irish Goodbye: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

THE-IRISHMANBelieve it or not, it’s been nearly 30 years since Martin Scorsese made GoodFellas, one of the auteur’s least disputed masterpieces. The film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture. Joe Pesci won Best Supporting Actor.

Scorsese’s name has been mentioned in a lot of film criticism lately, and not just because he’s teamed up with streaming giant Netflix to make the year’s premier awards season juggernaut. (And not just because he’s been lightly dissing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, either.) Todd Phillips’ controversial, ultra-divisive Joker is a knowing homage to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy. (Scorsese is credited as an Executive Producer of Joker, too.) It’s fascinating, and more than a little depressing, to realize that the only way a major studio would back a gritty drama about a violent misanthrope today is to wrap it up in comic book mythos. Are adult dramas dead? Is Joker the death knell of real cinema? Maybe!

So thank God for Netflix, the unlikely savior of good, old-fashioned adult-oriented epics on the big screen.

For now, anyway.

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Orphan Is The New Bad: The Best Fucking TV Of 2013

best-tv-of-2013And now it’s time to talk TV.

I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, compared to the average American. The number of reality shows I watch regularly — or ever, unless I’m a captive audience — is zero. (Yes, this includes all housewives from any given location, dynasties related to any fowl, and anything that could make me hungry.) I don’t currently watch any network dramas — I gave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a brief whirl, but only because Joss Whedon’s name was on it.

So am I the foremost person to put forth a definitive list of the best television of 2013? No, but I’m doing it anyway. And before you complain about their absences — I don’t watch The Good Wife. I’ve seen only the first two episodes of Scandal. I have yet to check out Masters Of Sex. And I have no interest in The Walking Dead. Have we covered your faves?

Still, I like to think that the cream of the crop pretty much rises up to wherever I am. If it’s really good, I’ll find it. I do subscribe to HBO, by the way, so you’ll find a disproportionate amount of their programming in my year-end list. (Then again, that’s true of most TV kudos. HBO is just good!)

So. From red weddings to blue meth, from black orphans to white girls in orange jumpsuits, here’s the best of 2013 on TV, according to me.

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‘Orange’ Juicy: Netflix Is The New Showtime

ORANGE-is-the-new-BLACK-taystee-crazy-eyes-piperYes, I’m talking about it too.

If you’re a twenty- or thirty-something with access to the internet, I find it hard to imagine that you’ve escaped hearing anything about Orange Is The New Black, the newest Netflix Original Series that has, as per the service’s M.O., dumped all 13 episodes of its first season online ready for immediate binge-watching. And oh, how that binging has occurred.

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Well Played, Netflix: ‘House Of Cards’ Chapters 1-3

(Originally posted on Justin + 7.)

HOUSE-OF-CARDSI figured I’d be writing something about the Oscars today, as I normally would do a few days before the big show, but since I have been covering them since the nominees were announced anyway — and particularly heavily this week — I have almost nothing left to say. (Plus, I’m still in denial about a few of the big winners.)

So let’s talk about TV. TV? Well, it’s sort of TV. Now movies are being released on VOD, meaning you watch them on television. And Netflix released House Of Cards Season One in its entirety all at once, like a movie. So what’s the difference between movies and TV anymore? Is there one? Or is House Of Cards just one long-ass movie?

Continue reading “Well Played, Netflix: ‘House Of Cards’ Chapters 1-3”