Review: ‘Murder Mystery’ is one of the most Neflixy Netflix movies yet

[An edited version of this review was initially published on The Playlist, and can be viewed here.]

 

What most people might expect to be a source of endless riffing – or, at least, what I expected – in Netflix’s “Murder Mystery” is something the movie never really acknowledges, let alone uses as a punchline. Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, America’s eternal schmuck and its ageless beacon of beauty, playing a couple of 15 years? “Surely there’s gotta be some joke in there,” I kept thinking to myself over its 100ish minutes.

There isn’t, and in a movie that uses nimble meta fingers to play around with Agatha Christie tropes in contemporary Europe, I’m not sure whether the hesitancy to poke fun at “Murder Mystery’s” most eye-catching detail is a result of restraint or a missed opportunity to dive further into the goofier personality of a movie that has too many of them to ever feel cinematically unique.

Essentially, that mystery defines watching “Murder Mystery,” an experience that’s perhaps as amusing as we should expect, given its platform and lack of real surprise. Netflix has ushered in a world where the decision of what new movies to watch is as low-stakes as ever, and if “Murder Mystery” – a movie with lots of homicide and a couple on the run from the law in a foreign country – is triumphant about one thing, it’s its complete absence of stakes. Continue reading →

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Review: Coherence is no match for the Efron charm in Ted Bundy docudrama ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

For a story about a grotesque man who committed grotesque acts under the gilded, media-perpetuated sheen of confident innocence, there’s strangely little of explicitly grotesque nature to be found in Joe Berlinger’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.”

You certainly wouldn’t use “grotesque” to describe Zac Efron before watching him apply the ostensible charm of one of history’s most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy, in the new Netflix film. The casting is tongue-in-cheek, as well as an excellent decision on pretext alone; the former preteen heart throb (is he still?) has such an eerie resemblance to Bundy that it’ll make you want to compare family trees. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘High Flying Bird,’ stadiums are darkened, but the game goes on

Arena lights are off, locker rooms are empty and primetime TV slots are dotted with holes.

We don’t have to be told that explicitly in Steven Soderbergh’s confidently insightful new film “High Flying Bird”. Curiously empty New York City sidewalks and forlorn attitudes tell us what we need to know: Professional basketball games are at a standstill amid a lockout, something seemingly as inevitable as the rising sun or a Russell Westbrook triple-double grinding to a halt. (Translation: Team owners and players’ representatives can’t come to an agreement, putting on-court action on hold.)

But a whole new kind of battle is underway, one the film touts as “the game on top of the game.” And it’s a game that Soderbergh and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney take a magnifying glass to, exposing the centuries-old racial systems that labor relations in pro sports leagues are powered by.

In the hands of a director with trademark kinetic swagger and a screenwriter just two years removed from winning an Oscar for “Moonlight” and channeling his inner Aaron Sorkin, watching the politics of a basketball league (that is essentially the NBA in all but name) play out at a nonstop, infinite dribble is a joy. “High Flying Bird” is like being in a game of pickup where the stud you’re defending tells you exactly how he’s going to score on you, yet you’re still amazed when he pulls it off.

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Review: In ‘Velvet Buzzsaw,’ a painting is worth a thousand gallons of blood

In “Velvet Buzzsaw” – Dan Gilroy’s third film in five years after “Nightcrawler” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” – art is a destination for curious eyes, eager wallets and ostensibly deep critique.

It’s also, eventually, a channel for horror, bloodshed and shlock. The contrast isn’t accidental, and the transition happens nearly as fast as it took you to get to this paragraph from the one above.

The general absence of subtlety in Gilroy’s film, a contemporary art-market satire drunk with a few drops of cinematic absinthe, makes parts of “Nightcrawler” feel like a PBS documentary. For better or worse, hyperbole is a way of the world in “Velvet Buzzsaw,” and even more so as it reaches the realm of violence. “I think sober hasn’t been good for him,” Jake Gyllenhaal’s faux-elitist art critic utters at one point. “Velvet Buzzsaw” doesn’t think so either.

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Review: Netflix’s ‘Fyre’ is a party documentary if there ever was one

An edited version of this review originally appeared on thecriticalcritics.com, and can be viewed here.

The documentary genre experienced a bit of a resurgence in 2018. Capitalizing on that, Netflix is swooping in at the start of the year with another original deep-dive of their own, this one concentrated on the events leading up to, making up and resulting from 2017’s Fyre Festival fiasco.

And like the organizers of the now-infamous, titular luxury music festival in the days leading up to their tropical oblivion, Fyre has a lot of things on its mind.

You’re most likely familiar with the story — a 20-something entrepreneur and Ja Rule collaborate to put on the party of the decade to disastrous ends — and director Chris Smith knows it. Fyre begins with the assurance that if you clicked “Watch Now,” it’s not because you’re unfamiliar with the greatest party that never happened, as reads the film’s tagline (and world’s most concise obituary). It’s because we can’t wait to revel in watching a disaster unfold.

And unfold it does, in what is a story of superlatives, the kind of narrative aesthetic that exists as its own advertising campaign: Sky-high sums of money, the world’s most sought-after models, proclamations of “first time ever” and “never again.” It’s a party documentary if there ever was one, where the fun of watching and the twisted ecstasy of sharing in an increasing sense of disbelief is amplified with friends. Continue reading →