Tuesday, February 13, 2018

“From Horses to Flying Cars: The Original Programming You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

“From Horses to Flying Cars: The Original Programming You Might Be Missing on NETFLIX”

(2017, TV-MA, 7 episodes approx. 52 min. each, NETFLIX ORIGINALS/EXHIBIT A)

Not that I want them to, but this series alone would be worth Netflix raising their prices again.  It used to be you could only get brave, stark shows on cable.  For the longest time, HBO was the biggest frontrunner in quality programming.  But with “Godless”, the streaming service (which should really be referred to as an “entertainment provider”; surely they provide enough diverse programming to be labeled as such) proves that there is no genre they cannot master.  Jack O’Connell (UNBROKEN, “Skins”) stars as Roy Goode, an outlaw in the 1800’s on the run from an even bigger and badder outlaw by the name of Frank Griffin.  Seems Roy stole some of Frank’s loot—and one of his limbs—and Frank wants some old west retribution.  Standing in the way of their confrontation is the small mining town of La Belle, which is populated mostly by women whose husbands died in the nearby mine.  There is talent aplenty here; Scoot McNairy plays troubled sheriff Bill McNue, Merritt Wever his sister (who happens to be in love with a prostitute turned school marm), and Kim Coates of “Sons of Anarchy” fame as muscle hired by a new mining company.  But the biggest scene stealer is Jeff Daniels as irreparable villain Frank Griffin.  His character is a man whose religious beliefs make him inarguably just in his need for vengeance.  He doesn’t see bad in anything he does, and is fearless because his God makes him so.  “I’ve seen my death,” he says on multiple occasions, “and this ain’t it.”  Powerful performances all around, and with a script written and directed by Scott Frank—the same brain behind MINORITY REPORT and LOGAN—I look forward to whatever his next project may be.  This is a mini-series, kids—there probably will not be a second season.  Not that one is necessary, but with a cast and writing this strong, one can always hope.

(2018, TV-MA, 102 minutes, NETFLIX/BAD ROBOT)

Enough with the bad rap already.  This little gem doesn’t feel all that little, and even though it gets ahead of itself sometimes, it’s still an entertaining ride.  With earth facing a globally damning energy crisis, a crew aboard a space station attempt to create an alternative energy source—and wind up causing a catastrophe with horrific consequences.  Yes, it ties neatly into the other CLOVERFIELD films, and not necessarily in ways you would think.  The cast does an excellent job at making you believe their desperate situation, although sometimes the directing and the script can seem a tad lazy.  But this film is far from horrible; there are some truly hilarious moments (intentional, by the way), and some others that show a bit of bravery in the filmmaking.  Someone did their scientific research, and it shows in some of the smarter and tenser scenes here.  How many movies show you the effect space has on water (and it ain’t pretty)?  There is no laziness when it comes to the physics and realities of space in this production, making this a cut above some other science fiction flicks out there.

(2018, TV-MA, 10 episodes approx. 59 minutes each, NETFLIX/SKYDANCE)

Enough with the comparisons to BLADE RUNNER already!  Honestly, it would be easier to count how many science fiction projects have been released since that iconic film’s debut in 1982 that weren’t influenced by it.  Ridley Scott created something fresh, original, and damned near perfect—who wouldn’t be influenced by it?  This series takes those influences (of which there are really only a few) and whittles them down to nods that accentuate the storytelling.  In the distant future, no one has to experience total death any more due to being able to scientifically transfer their consciousness to another body (referred to as “sleeves” in the show).  So when a “terrorist” is loaded into a fresh body after a centuries-long prison sentence for the sole purpose of solving a rich man’s “murder”, no one should be pointing at the flying cars and screaming “RIP OFF!”.  Seriously.  There are enough fresh ideas here to make you want to watch.  The show is not perfect; it did take two episodes for me to get fully vested, but the show teeters on information overload in those first 120 minutes.  But taking the mindset of episodic television (a cast of regular characters who serve single purposes) helps ground the show a bit.  It is also a bit heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with the female characters; although one of the leads is a tough female cop, the secondary characters seem too frail and exploited.  In other words, lots and lots of boobs.  There are guy parts on display as well, but, well, each boob has a twin, so, yeah: outnumbered.  The cast is led by Joel Kinnaman (SUICIDE SQUAD) and James Purefoy (“The Following”), and Martha Higareda is that aforementioned officer of the law.  But Chris Conner as the AI hotel “Poe” may be an example of casting genius—he is funny, intelligent (kinda has to be, he’s a computer program…), and has a thoughtfulness about him that nearly belies his un-humanity.  I feel I must also mention the heart of the show, Ato Essandoh’s grieving father Vernon Elliot; his struggle to “save” his daughter is wrenching at times, and gives this show a sly heart which reverberates throughout the story.  The other cast member to keep an eye on is Matt Biedel—thanks to the transferring of consciousnesses, this guy gets to go from street thug to Hispanic grandmother to Russian gangster, all within the span of three episodes.  Yes, it’s that kind of show.  Go watch it!

-- T.S. Kummelman

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