Tag Archives: netflix

TV Review – The Punisher

Guns, guns, and more guns.

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s “The Punisher.”

When I was a kid, it was common for nerds to gravitate towards more realistic super heroes.  Batman was popular because he was a human without any supernatural powers.

Nerds in the know knew that as cool as the Caped Crusader was, Frank Castle aka “The Punisher” was the more (perhaps the most) realistic superhero.  Arguably, advanced wealth, and the ability to train all day, travel the world to learn new techniques, fund new technologies and figure out how to subdue criminals with non-lethal bat kicks only to hang them forty stories up in the air by a bat rope hooked to one end of a gargoyle with the other end to their underpants is pretty damn spectacular.

In short, it’s unlikely you’ll ever obtain Bruce Wayne’s wealth and if you did, it’s unlikely you’d be able to develop the science defying goodies he wields.

The Punisher, on the other hand, has one super power (of sorts.)  He’s extremely pissed off over the death of his family, leading to an eternal “I don’t give a f%%k” attitude.

Batman might knock out a crook with a batarang.  The Punisher will just buy an epic shit ton of guns off the black market and blow the crooks away.

I remember as a kid wondering why super heroes always go to elaborate lengths to save villains and bring them in safe and sound only for the criminal to escape and wreak havoc again.  Whoever invented “The Punisher” realized that clearly, the only way to stop a criminal from being evil again is to dispense with some hot lead justice.

I mean, for all the blowback Batman got for being a vigilante acting outside the law, the Dark Knight at least left the crooks tied up for the cops to arrest and the justice system to put on trial.  If you were an alleged criminal, you at least had a chance to go before the judge and argue that Batman got the wrong guy.  The Punisher has no checks and balances system.  If it turns out he ganked the wrong dude, the wrong dude remains dead.

Anyway, enough of that nerdery.  After three film versions, Netflix seems to have captured the essence of this fan favorite.  Jon Bernthal (fans of “The Walking Dead” know him as Shane) plays the ultimate sullen, sad-sack tough guy.  We are spared a detailed origin story, though newbs are spoon fed just enough of what they need to know about what drove Frank to become a gun toting one-man crime stopper.

In this version, it’s been six months since Frank took out the crew who killed his wife and daughter.  Somehow he thought that would be enough for him to move on be he can’t.  There’s a hole inside him and it can only be filled with dead bad guys.

Batman sends his baddies to Arkham.  Superman gives his baddies a stern talking to.  Spider-Man gums up evildoers in a web but Frank…Frank just shoots them.  That’s it.

After “Agents of Shield” I lost hope for a good Marvel TV show, but this series has renewed it.  Good show, Netflix.  Good show.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Does Frank even count as a superhero?  Discuss in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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Movie Review – The Polka King (2018)

Ziggy Zaggy Ziggy Zaggy, Oi Oi Oi!

Grab your accordion and hold onto your wallet, 3.5 readers.  BQB here with a review of “The Polka King.”

Netflix is at it again, adding a new film to its repertoire, this time a comedy biopic of Jan Lewan, the Polka King of Pennsylvania who built his empire on a Ponzi scheme.  SPOILERS abound in this review.  I mean, it’s based on a real life case, though honestly, I’d never heard of it until I saw this film.

Jack Black plays the titular character.  At first, Lewan’s story is the stuff that the American dream is made of.  He was an immigrant from Poland who moves to America, works every disgusting job there is, from janitor to dishwasher.  In time, he marries Marla (Jenny Slate) and starts a polka band.  Regular polka shows become the go-to event in town and Lewan capitalizes on the publicity to promote a variety of business enterprises, from a Polish gift shop to a guided European tour business.

On the surface, it all seems too good to be true.  Loving wife, adorable son, a business empire based on his love of Polka music and even a grammy nomination.  Alas, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

To fund his various ventures, Jan takes “investments” in the form of promissory notes from his adoring fans, all who love and trust him.  Lewan is charming and affable.  He oozes positive energy, helps people find the best possible version of themselves and is considered a pillar of his community.  Unfortunately, this causes his investors to keep dumping money into his enterprise, money that he doesn’t have a chance at paying back.

In truth, Jan’s businesses aren’t making money at all.  They are more or less fronts for an increasingly complicated “rob Peter to pay Paul” operation.  Jan offers his investors a ridiculous, unheard of 12 percent rate of return, but rather than pay them back with money he has actually earned, he just keeps borrowing money from new dupes, and uses the newly borrowed notes to pay back the older ones.  In short, he was the Madoff of Polka.

Jack Black does well in this role and brings a lot of heart to it.  In the film, Jan comes across as a bit of a naïve fool, a dummy who thought it was perfectly fine to keep borrowing and borrowing into infinity.  At least, he appears that way at first, but as the film moves on, he delves deeper and deeper into more treacherous behavior.  Fame and success are like drugs.  He wants to be popular and famous and loved and the constant borrowing allows that to happen.

My main criticism is there is a lot of focus on how Lewan suffers as a result of his scheme.  True, I’m sure he did suffer but to be fair, the film might have shined more light on how his scheme hurt others, especially elderly retirees who trusted Jan with their life savings.  At one point, an elderly couple who lost their money is made out as if they are villains for hating on Lewan (i.e. Lewan’s mother-in-law shouts at them that they were greedy for thinking a 12 percent return on an investment could ever be real.)  It may be true that people who would give tons of money to a Polka player in the hopes of a huge payday aren’t too bright but at the same time, Lewan was lovable and came off as trustworthy so at the end of the day, Lewan was wrong for taking advantage of the trust placed in him.

Jenny Slate is great as Marla, Lewan’s beauty queen wife who stands by her man at first but over time, seeks to have her own piece of the pie, to have her own fame and fortune.  Jacki Weaver stars as Lewan’s battle axe mother-in-law who is irritatingly yet accurately vocal about her suspicions regarding Lewan’s business dealings.

Jason Schwartzmann rounds out the cast as Lewan’s friend and band mate, Mickey Pizzazz, a buddy who is torn.  He’s grateful to Lewan for saving him from a lifetime of working at Radio Shack by giving him a job as a musician that pays a living wage, but at the same time, he suspects chicanery.

Ironically, J.B. Smoove, the comedian known for playing larger than life, “Don’t give a F” characters like Leon on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” serves as the voice of reason in this film.  Smoove plays Ron Edwards, a securities and exchange commission agent who initially lets Lewan off with a warning in the early days of the scheme when it could all be cast aside as a simple misunderstanding only to hunt him down when his operation blows up.  While I would hate to see Smoove drop his comedy, this turn shows he does have some range and could be tapped to play more serious characters in the future.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Is Comedy Dying? Dave Chapelle’s Angry Fan in His New Netflix Special

Hey 3.5 readers.

Dave Chapelle’s latest Netflix special just dropped and as usual, it’s funny as hell.  This man is one of my longtime favorites, and he’s actually getting better with age, bringing a lot of experience and wisdom to his comedy.

I’ve been keeping track of the death of comedy for awhile now.  It’s unfortunate, but the masses are losing their sense of humor, opting to adopt the outrage culture instead.

In his special, Dave talks about his own concerns that people are just getting too sensitive and that’s having a negative impact on comedy.  He talks about one show he did where an Asian woman and her Mexican husband attended.  The woman was pregnant, he said “the baby will be the hardest working baby ever” – ironically, a complimentary joke saying Asians and Mexicans work hard, yet the woman stormed off and later wrote stern letter to his promoter asking that he stop promoting Chapelle.

Sigh.  Even the great Dave Chapelle is worried about the future of comedy.  The next generation of comedians is going to have it tough.

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Movie Review – Bright (2017)

Orcs, elves and humans, oh my!

BQB here with a review of the fantasy buddy cop thriller, Bright.

Netflix continues to wage war on conventional cinema, streaming a summer blockbuster type movie, helmed by veteran sci-fi action star Will Smith.

BQB here with a review of the fantasy buddy cop thriller, Bright.

Netflix continues to wage war on conventional cinema, streaming a summer blockbuster type movie, helmed by veteran sci-fi action star Will Smith.

In alternate world of this film, humans, orcs and elves co-exist in the modern world of today.  Despite historic tensions due to past conflicts, the three races try, more or less, to get along, though biases and suspicions continue.

Life is not easy for Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), an orc cop who straddles the lines of two worlds and is hated by the residents of both of them.  Orcs, relegated to being impoverished, inner city dwelling second class citizens, despise him because he’s a cop and orcs feel that cops unfairly target them.  Cue scene of an orc getting wailed on in a savage act of police brutality.

Humans aren’t found of Jakoby either.  Orcs, according to human sensibilities, aren’t pleasant to look at and they took the wrong side in an ancient war.  They basically view him as an untrustworthy animal.

Jakoby is just Jakoby, a normal dude who, despite his orc-ish appearance, is just trying to make it in the world.  He likes burritos and giving his partner health tips and other dorky things.  But depending who you ask, he’s a pussy (according to the orcs) or a beast (according to the humans.)

Ward (Will Smith), has an equally tough time as Jakoby’s partner.  On the one hand, human cops demand that he find a way to trip the orc up and run him off the force.  On the other, he feels that bond of loyalty that any cop feels towards his partner.

Against this backdrop, an elf bright (i.e. a rare user of magic, Lucy Fry as “Tikka”) is on the run and in possession of a magic wand.  In this world, a wand is considered the equivalent of a loose nuclear weapon, something that if it were to fall in the wrong hands, could be used to unleash death and destruction.

The wand is valuable as it can grant whoever wields it untold power, so naturally, the various groups who want it begin stacking up.  Mexican and orcish gangsters, corrupt cops, Federal agents and rogue elves all hunt Jakoby and Ward as they seek to off the dynamic duo and abscond with the wand.

I have to say, the negative reviews of this film are undeserved.  Here’s the deal.  THIS FILM IS <GASP> ORIGINAL!  It’s a new idea.  It’s fresh.  It features a childish concept (i.e. orcs and elves and magic) and infuses it with adult themes (i.e. swears, over the top violence, gunfights and lots and lots of naked titties.)

A Hollywood suit would have been within his rights to put the kibosh on this project for fear that it wouldn’t find an audience.  Kids who like magic can’t come and adults who like violence and titties might be turned off by magic.

But this film is good and it proves that Netflix will persevere as an outlet for films that are original, experimental, on the edge and can’t find a home elsewhere.

The film serves as an interesting vehicle for dialog about racial issues.  Ironically, the main human in the film, Ward, a black man, must fight his own internal biases against orcs (he was once shot by one so now trusts none of them) in order to save the day with his orc parter.

Good writing.  A lot of showing instead of telling.  Good world building.  The rules have been established so sequels are entirely possible.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Movie Review – Death Note (2017)

OMG, 3.5 readers.  OMG.  Y’all got to drop whatever you are doing (unless you are reading this fine blog) and watch this movie post haste.

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s original movie, “Death Note.”

OMG.  It’s witty.  It’s smart.  It’s original.  It’s a clever idea.  Who knew that such a film was still possible to make in Hollywood?

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a typical moody, angst ridden teen, down in the dumps over the untimely death of his mother, which causes him to act out and get in trouble in school.  All this changes when he obtains a mysterious notebook dubbed, “Death Note.”

As Light quickly learns, it is possible for him to write a name and the method of death down in the book and bam – the person named will die in that way.  Initially, Light wields his power on a school bully, but quickly graduates to bigger prey.

The young lad realizes the “Death Note” has been misused by previous owners for petty acts of revenge, but in his hands, he can use it to change the world for the better.  He takes on the moniker “Kira” and summarily executes the world’s most infamous dictators, criminals and villains.

No one is sure how all these baddies are dying, but to the untrained eyes of the masses, it looks like the work of a clever serial killer.  Little do they know it’s the work of a high school kid and a demon with a dark sense of humor.

Some worship Kira and approve of the justice he’s doling out.  Others, like the eccentric private detective known simply as “L” (Lakeith Stanfield) and even Light’s own police officer father (Shea Whigham) see Kira as a dangerous vigilante who can’t be allowed to operate outside the law.

Ownership of the “Death Note” includes the assistance of a rather nasty advisor in the form of Ryuk, a spikey, wild-eyed demon voiced by Willem Dafoe.  As we all know, demons aren’t the best creatures to strike a deal with as they always find a loophole to exploit, and Ryuk is no exception.  Ryuk’s presence in the film is subtle yet understated, coming in and out at just the right times, sometimes to strike fear in our hearts when he toys with Light, other times to act as comic relief when he heckles the boy.  Ultimately, Ryuk is the one who dispenses the death that Light writes about, so these two are stuck together, for better or worse.

Rounding out the cast is Light’s girlfriend Mia (Margaret Qualley) who, let’s face it, like most women, might be good or evil.  It’s up to Light to find out.

Honestly, it’s rare for me to offer up such fawning praise for a movie but this one really deserves it.  It’s so fresh and new and witty that it gets a standing ovation from me, especially in an era when Hollywood is just spoonfeeding us the same old, tired, recycled drek.

If anyone from Netflix is reading this blog (maybe a Netflix exec is one of my 3.5 readers?) I want to ask them, nay, beg them to turn this movie into a full blown series.  There’s a whole formula as to how the “Death Note” book works, the rules of what the owner is allowed to do and not do and the possibilities for people to use the book for good or evil are limitless…so, yeah, if Netflix were to turn this into a series I would watch the ever living shit out of it.

Yes, I know it’s ironic that I’m lampooning Hollywood for making sequels but, yeah…in this case…this movie was really good…and I want more.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.

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BQB’s Classic Movie Reviews – The Police Academy Movies

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here.

I used to love these movies as a kid, so I caught the original on Netflix.  Have to say, not as funny as an adult though still mildly humorous.

A lot of dated humor.  For example, one of the evil cadets calls Officer Hooks, an African American woman with a mousey demeanor and squeaky voice a “dumb jigaboo” which is about as old as a racially derogatory word as you might find.

In response, Officer Hightower, aka super tall and strong football player Bubba Smith, personally picks up the evil cadet’s squad car and turns it over onto the roof.  It’s a nice scene, awesome that he stands up for Hooks, especially because the evil Lt. Harris lets him know if he does he’s out of the academy.  But he does it anyway, the moral being sometimes you have to stand up for what is right, consequences be damned.  Hightower knows his career as an officer will be over, but he must stand up for his friend and put a bully in his place.

Sucks to hear the word “jigaboo” in a movie but cool to see a man stand up for his friend. That was probably the most thought provoking part of an otherwise incredibly dumb movie.

My main takeaway is that I’m getting old.  When I was a kid, all these cops seemed like cool adults having fun.  Now, they all look like kids to me.

Also, Michael Winslow’s sound effects are awesome.

The second one is actually funnier than the first.  I don’t remember the others.

Check them out, 3.5.  The first is on netflix.

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TV Review – House of Cards – Season 5

As they say in Gaffney, this review is for people who have been watching the show from the beginning and are all caught up.  Otherwise, the SPOILERS will ruin it for you.

BQB here with a review of “House of Cards-Season 5.”

I thought this show had jumped the shark a couple seasons back where Frank and the fictional Russian President had a personal showdown in the desert but I was wrong.  The shark not only jumped this season, it did backflips.

Here are my observations:

#1 – Surprise Murders/Attacks

The show got a lot of bang for its buck when Frank tossed Zoe in front of that moving subway car with literally no warning.  It made for great, disturbing viewing and heightened the stakes, letting you know the show could turn on the drop of a time.

Sadly, now they always seem to be trying to recreate that moment.  Frank pushes Kathy down a flight of stairs at random in the midst of a conversation with her.  Claire kills Yates with her vagina.  Speaking of…

#2 – Claire Did Not Kill a Man with Her Vagina

I thought maybe she had as Yates died mid coitus.  Maybe she had some sort of top secret CIA device inside her cooter but nope, it was poison (in his drink, not in the vagina.)  Still, another surprise murder.  I mean, not really because Yates had threatened the Underwoods and that’s never a good move for your health but I think the sex part was to trick you into thinking Claire was going to let him off the hook but nope, she just wanted one more turn on that penis before Yates bit the big one.

#3 – Elysium Fields

I had mixed thoughts on that.  First, it was funny.  Second, I think we all assume the rich and powerful get together to divide up and rule the country/world but still, to see it unfold brought the show to a different place.  It was creative and fun though.

#4 – Claire Becomes Vice-President/President

I never really bought that.  It could happen but usually if the First Lady is an asset, they just keep her and put her out there more and then try to add a VP who is also an asset.  In other words, if someone is on your team and scoring points for you, then you’ve got them, so you just add another person to score points.

#5 – Frank Frames Himself

That was way out of left field and total bullshit.  The whole premise of the show is that Frank does evil shit and then does more evil shit to get himself off the hook, that if you are willing to do the most evil shit then you will always win in politics.  He loves power and his own ego so that he’d somehow be willing to hand his wife the presidency and take a powder while she rules seems highly unlikely.

#6 – Claire Acknowledges the Audience

Frank has always had his little asides, breaking the fourth wall to let us in on what he’s up to.  Now Claire is doing it, so to me, that seems like the show is moving towards a final showdown between Frank and Claire.  I kind of yearn for the early days when Frank was the boss and Claire his evil consigliere.  That dynamic just seemed to make more sense.

#7 “I’m Fucking You Because I Hate You”

That lady whose husband died so Frank could have his liver knew Doug did it all along and had sex with him because she hated him?  Please.  I’ve had women completely dump me and abandon all contact because I left the toilet seat up or forgot to wash a dish so I can’t imagine the vengeance a woman would have if a liver was involved.

8 – Real TV Reporters

Does it ever bother you when real TV reporters make cameos in which they “report” on Frank?  If they’re able to act that well, makes you wonder how much of the real news involves acting.

9 – It’s getting boring.

I try not to get too deep into the weeds on some of the more complex conspiracy theories.  At this point if they say it happened then it happened.  I can’t keep track of it all.

10 – It should wrap up soon.

I feel like they’ve gone as far as they can go.  It should probably end with Claire besting Frank or maybe they both take each other out in one last Mr and Mrs Smith style battle royale to the finish.

Your thoughts, 3.5 readers?

 

 

 

 

 

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TV Review – GLOW

Alison Brie’s boobs!  Alison Brie’s boobs!

“Community” fans rejoice!  “Annie’s boobs” are finally on screen!

BQB here with a review of the new Netflix comedy/drama “GLOW.”

There was a period of several years where I would watch Alison Brie play it straight as a young, suffering wife to a philandering scoundrel on “Mad Men” only to flip the channel and watch her play perky, nerdy overachiever Annie on “Community.”

Now, it’s like she’s all grown up…and showing her boobs.

“GLOW” is the tale of the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” the cheap and cheesy 1980s all female wrestling show, where scantily clad women would put on stupid costumes, speak in politically incorrect accents, make jokes that would totally not fly today, body slam the crap out of each other and do their best Hulk Hogan with boobs impression.

It’s the 1980s, so think big hair and yuppies galore as the flower children of the past are gone and money grubbing social climbers have taken their place.

Alison Brie stars as Ruth, a down and out actress who has moved from Omaha to LA.  She’s classically trained and has appeared in a number of plays, but can’t get a paying acting job to save her life and is facing all kinds of financial woes.

Enter GLOW – a new wrestling show directed by B-movie, super crappy horror film director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) who revels in showing how little he cares about this project and how deeply below him he deems it.  Maron puts his comic skills on display as he occasionally takes cocaine snorting breaks to ridicule the ladies, tell them how ugly, stupid and useless they are, etc.

When Ruth auditions, she too believes the show is beneath her but faced with either calling it quits on her dreams of fame or getting in the ring and rolling around with the gals, she chooses the latter and a star is born.

I have only watched the first episode thus far, but it caught my interest, so I will keep watching. While I am a fan of Jenji Kohan, this show seems to take a different turn from the snappy one liners of Weeds and Orange is the New Black.  The show features a darker, subtle, understated form of comedy and it’s more of a dramatic period piece than anything else.

I know from Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler, professional wrestling isn’t all it is cracked out to be.  Sure, it may be “fake” but there’s a lot of physical activity going into those pratfalls and body slams.  It takes a toll on the body and the slightest mistake can leave a person badly injured.  I think that angle will be explored as we delve deeper into the show.

I never really watched “GLOW” as a kid.  I was aware of it but for whatever reason, never checked it out.  I was only a little kid during the 1980s and Hulk Hogan vs. the Iron Shiek captivated me.  I stuck with men’s wrestling all through high school, even in the Hulkster’s evil NWO days.  I was aware of women wrestlers and lady wrestlers would occasionally stop by to duke it out on men’s wrestling but overall, I guess GLOW was one of those things that escaped me.

But as long as it features Annie’s boobs I will keep watching.

What I liked about the first episode the most is it seems like it will be a show about losers who are tired of losing and fighting desperately to become winners.  We see Ruth living a life of absurdity as a budding actress, waiting in audition rooms filled with candidates all vying to play a secretary on a TV show with a five second line.  We see her paying the little money she has for acting lessons from a teacher who keeps falling asleep during her performance.

We see Sam on the tail end of his directing career, down and out, cast aside from making the movies he loved, directing a bunch of crazy women as they beat the crap out of each other.

Neither Sam or Ruth think GLOW is worthy of them…but they both see this as their last shot to do something worthwhile with their lives, so they are going to fight for it.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Writing Choices – Orange is the New Black and Polarizing Social Issues

Hey 3.5 readers.

BQB here with another installment of “Writing Choices.”

If you’re like me, you look forward to OITNB’s return in June every year on Netflix.  It’s been a guilty pleasure for me for a long time now.  Hard to believe the fifth season started streaming yesterday.

I have only watched the first episode of the fifth season so I can’t give you any new spoilers and would appreciate you not giving me any.

That’s ok because I actually want to talk about the last episode of Season 4.

Police shootings and/or fatalities in police custody have been in the news a lot lately in the past few years.  This topic is often polarizing.  One side usually says something like, “There’s no excuse when people die in police custody so throw the cops in jail!”  and then the other side is all like, “You have no idea how hard it is to be a police officer, what with the split second, life or death decisions that they have to make every day.  You could never do it yourself so stop being so hard on the police.”

Is it possible that there are times when an accident happens and no one is at fault?

Case in point, and LOOK AWAY BECAUSE A BIG SPOILER IS COMING, at the end of Season 4, dies while being pinned to the floor by CO Bayley.  We’re never really given a clear explanation as to how the death happened.  Basically, he holds her down and after a short time, she’s not moving or breathing anymore.

Tragic.  Sad.  The public demands someone to blame.  The company that oversees the prison immediately wants a scapegoat to present to the public.  At first, they demand Warden Caputo get on TV and portray Poussey in a negative light, that she was a bad egg, out of control, etc.

Caputo won’t do that so then the company shifts gears and demands that Caputo throw Bayley under the bus.  They find an old photo of Bayley dressed up as Rambo for Halloween and want to portray him as some kind of violent, militaristic nut job.

Caputo refuses to do that either.  Instead, he goes on TV and gives his take – that the prison is overcrowded, understaffed, and that a young officer who was barely trained was thrown into a situation he had no idea what to do with and a tragic accident happened.

Caputo’s explanation satisfies no one, especially a public that tends to see issues as black and white and demands that a villain be strung up anytime something goes wrong, but he is convinced he made the right call.

In a flashback episode, we see CO Bayley and Poussey at an earlier time, before they ended up at Litchfield as an officer and an inmate, respectively.  Bayley is a recent high school graduate and a total doofus who has just been fired from an ice cream parlor job for giving free ice cream to girls he likes.  Poussey is young and care free as well.

Bayley and his buddies and Poussey and her friends go on an outing to New York City.  In one fleeting scene, Bayley and Poussey pass each other on the street, neither noticing the other because they had yet to meet and had no reason to recognize each other but the point was clear – life may seem great now but you never know when it will take a turn for the worse.  You’re out there today, trying to live your life, trying to make the most of it but then, wham, it could all come crashing down in an instant.

But the other meaning behind this scene – they were both young, dumb kids.  Poussey was doing her best until she made a mistake that landed her in prison.  Bayley was trying to do his best, getting a job at a prison in the hopes of supporting himself, restraining an inmate as he was ordered to do except he did it wrong…life is good, until you screw up, and then it isn’t.

Poussey never set out to become a convict.  Bayley’s life long dream wasn’t to kill someone.  Somehow, shitty things just happen and shitty results happen.

Overall, I felt Season 4 of OITNB handled this very polarizing issue in a way that was fair to all sides.  Perhaps there are times when a tragedy happens and there isn’t someone who can be clearly pointed to as the villain.

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Movie Review – War Machine (2017)

War!  Bureaucracy!  Red tape!

BQB here with a review of Netflix’s new film, War Machine.

Based on the book, “The Operators” by Michael Hastings, this film is a dark comedy, satirizing the sheer absurdity modern warfare, not to mention the unenviable positions of those whose efforts to win are backseat driven every step of the way.

Brad Pitt plays General Glenn McMahon, a fictionalized version of General Stanley McChrystal, whose own efforts to cut through a sea of red tape eventually culminated in a Rolling Stone article that proved to be his undoing.

In 2009, McMahon is put in charge of Afghanistan.  The dirty secret no one speaks about or is even willing to admit is that he is expected to maintain the status quo and lose gracefully.  In fact, at the start of the film, McMahon is brought into a room of DC bigwigs who urge him to do a tour of the country and provide them with an assessment of what is needed but then within the same breath, they tell him he’d better not find that he needs more troops.

In other words, the days when great warriors like Eisenhower and Patton could write a check that DC would cash are over.  The warriors aren’t really in charge now.  The whole operation is second and third guessed by bureaucratic bean counting civilians who’ve never seen a battlefield in their entire lives.

With an almost Colombo-esque style of disarming charm, McMahon attempts to cut through the red tape that is slowing him and his team down.  Along the way, he steps on many a toe, but comes across as so humble and down to earth that the bigwigs whose toes were stepped on aren’t sure it was unintentional.  McMahon tapping aimlessly on his keyboard, feigning incompetence with technology in order to avoid listening to a DC bureaucrat’s orders via Skype come to mind.

This is a big role for Brad Pitt.  Hollywood’s quintessential leading man, an actor that has spent his life maintaining a top of the line physical appearance, playing parts that make the ladies swoon, gets a douse of McMahon style humility himself.

This is the first time I’ve seen him play someone with gray hair, someone who is admittedly older and too busy to hide the fact with an army of stylists.  Pitt plays McMahon as a gruff and grizzled old soldier, a man with a hand that has been mangled, who walks as though his body is in pain from years of being pushed to the limit.

Even more surprisingly, Pitt’s character has an age appropriate wife, Jeannie (Meg Tilly). Seeing Pitt snuggle up to a gray haired woman who is light years from looking like Angelina Jolie is nothing I thought I’d ever see on film.  Yet, in doing so, Pitt pulls off some of the best acting of his career, namely, convincing us that he could love a woman his age.

This is also a big film for Netflix.  The Internet streaming service spent $60 million on this film and it shows.  The result is a movie that could have been screened in movie theaters across the country had they chosen to go that route.  Brad Pitt is, by my best estimate, the biggest star Netflix has ever recruited for one of its original productions, thus proving that this company is in the movie game to win it, and the future of film is streaming.

For me, that’s a dubious prospect as I love the experience of going to see a film in a theater, though lately I wonder if saving cinema is not a cause as lost as Afghanistan.

Overall, the film asks a lot of questions and paints modern warfare in a not so rose colored light.  Bottomline – these days it sucks to be a man in uniform.  You’re expected to win, but you’re also told by bureaucrats to lose, except they don’t use the “l” word.  They won’t come right out and tell you they want you to lose, just that you should not ask for all the things you need to win.  You should essentially rubber stamp their losing plans and act like you can’t tell their plans are going to lose.

Meanwhile on the battlefield, soldiers are torn between their inner need to, you know, shoot at people who are shooting at them in order to live another day.  Yet, DC has made it clear that screw-ups (i.e. accidentally shooting a civilian) will not be tolerated and punished severely.

Ultimately, the film lampoons the idea of counter-insurgency, or the idea that men from a foreign land with guns can somehow talk the locals into siding with them against the bad man with guns that are already there.  In one heartbreaking scene, McMahon addresses residents of a territory that US forces have taken control of that he’s there to help build roads, build jobs, to protect them and so on.  A villager informs the General that all sounds great, but he has no doubt the US will eventually cut and run and when they do, the bad guys will destroy all the infrastructure that was built and punish the villagers for cooperating with the US troops.

Between desk jockeys trying to manage something they can’t comprehend, the media turning real stories of war into trashy tabloid TV and a clash of cultures (is it really wise for America to assume that they can turn third world wastelands into smaller versions of America?), the film leaves the viewer with the sad feeling that modern wars may, in fact, may never be winnable again.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  Stream it on Netflix.

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