Will Netflix distribution eventually replace traditional theaterical distribution? Part of me hopes not, but I had to admit it was kind-of nice watching five original movies in a single day for less than the price of one outrageous $15 L.A. ticket. I’m one of the biggest defenders of movie theaters out there, and I know it would be disastrous for most indie-films not to get a theaterical release (where they make most of their money). Still, theaters don’t make it easy to love them between high-pricing and forced reserved seating. Fortunately for them, Netflix is still working out quality kinks, and nowhere is that more apparent than this collection of movies, mixing higher-end prestige with dumb comedies.
The Incredible Jessica James…I won’t even try to hide my love of Jessica Williams, but I was curious to see if she could shed her “Daily Show” persona for feature film acting. She doesn’t really but what’s surprising about this movie is how adaptable that is into a new type of movie star. I also wouldn’t have expected the hang-dog, affably morose Chris O’Dowd to be such a perfect on-screen partner for Williams, but the two generate undeniable chemistry. Their scenes are the best thing in the movie, which is sometimes in danger of drowning in millennial cliches–dialogue like “You’re all queens…or however you choose to identify,” plot action is triggered by unfollowing an ex on Instagram or graphic baby shower gifts designed to fight the patriarchy, and character jobs include designer cellphone cases, food photographer, or an App designed to keep you from talking to your parents. Grade: B+
Naked…This Marlon Wayans comedy involves a man who keeps waking up in an elevator naked on his wedding day, and has to relive that afternoon over and over until he gets it right. You feel the screenwriters just threw darts at a board to decide which movies to rip-off and landed on “Groundhog Day,” “Bridesmaids,” and “Some stupid Marlon Wayans comedy from the 90’s.” It’s dated, unfunny, and–to be honest–a lot more boring than you’d expect. There’s not many scenes that even try for the go-for-broke R-rated desperation of the “Scary Movie” franchise, and that’s because this is supposed to be a somewhat serious, old-school movie about lasting marriages. You halfway expect Madea to show up by the end, to teach “the kids” about proper values. And it’s rare that a movie contains not just one negative portrayal of an interracial couple (Scott Foley plays Regina Hall’s smug ex), but two (Eliza Coupe plays Marlon’s crazy, sabotaging ex). Grade: F
Sandy Wexler…Adam Sandler’s Netflix deal has produced some real turds so far, like “The Ridiculous Six,” and the even worse “The Do-Over” which was my runner-up for worst film of the year when it came out. If you take that into account, “Sandy Wexler” looks like “Citizen Kane,” even though it’s also a dumb comedy, but this time it’s set in the world of Hollywood managers, with Sandler’s “Sandy” the closest thing to a fully-fleshed out character he’s created in ages. Sandy may be annoying and mostly incompetent, but he finds a salvation of sorts discovering Jennifer Hudson’s late-90’s superstar singer, clearly in the Whitney Houston mold. And even though the film holds a bizarre amount of 90’s nostalgia–every wash-up of that period from Weird Al to Vanilla Ice makes a cameo–since I’m tired of seeing movies like “Naked” shit on IR couples, Sandler and Hudson’s sweet, lowkey romance was especially welcome. Grade: B- [From a D- to a B- in only 3 films. At this rate, Sandler will create something of “Punch Drunk Love” level quality in only five years.]
Deidra & Laney Rob a Train…Somehow or another, this film has bamboozled its way into a near-100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but why on Earth would critics rubber-stamp a film that plays like “Breaking Bad” if remade by the cast of a Nickelodeon show? Why would they be okay with a film that a G-rated Shane Dawson might’ve directed? It’s all dopey set-ups, cheesy performances, and a plot that is not really family friendly (it is about young girls robbing trains to get their mom out of jail) but is clearly aimed at a demographic that would be in hog-heaven watching live-action Disney channel shows. If you like watching very expensive looking YouTube movies, you might fall for this, but for everyone else, it’ll probably be a struggle. Grade: C
To the Bone…This film about an anorexic girl trying a new treatment before she literally starves herself to death means very well. It’s intentions are so good, that you may not even notice that it doesn’t really dig that deep into its characters or their treatment. We keep hearing that the treatment is “radical” but not really seeing Keanu Reeves chic-rebel doctor doing much of anything. He seems to feel traditional therapy is a waste of time when it doesn’t produce first-session results, and prefers walking through art exhibits. I would’ve liked a more radical approach to the filmmaking—which sometimes feels more like a TV show that feels it has unlimited time to hang out with these characters—but it’s never less than watchable, and Lilly Collins commits to this role in a way I haven’t seen from her before. Grade: B