Netflix’s Tiger King – A Few (Introductory) Thoughts

I’ve seen a LOT online about a documentary on Netflix called Tiger King. Even so, when I would notice the “poster” on Netflix, I always thought it looked ridiculous. It appeared as some sort of a mockumentary–I assumed it couldn’t be real.

However, I listen to a radio program called The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and they could not stop talking about how absolutely nuts Tiger King actually is. I generally agree with LeBatard on a variety of subjects, so his opinion motivated me to give it a chance.

I’m only three episodes in, but this has got to be the wildest show that I’ve ever experienced. I simply cannot believe it’s real, yet it has to be due to all of the actual news footage included–decades of legitimate news footage. I’m pretty cynical about these kinds of things, but they show local news vignettes, appearances on late night television like Jay Leno and David Letterman, actual legal documents, newspaper clippings, real magazine covers, archived Internet footage. It’s quite convincing.

The documentary essentially details the lives and “zoos” of several different people that have a particular fondness for big cats. After three episodes, I’ve come to realize they are all insane in their own way, they are all criminals in at least some capacity, and they all yield the strange charisma of a cult leader. Two of them are obsessed with destroying the other, and it certainly seems like they are on a collision course.

Listen, this is not high art. While I do believe the documentary is well made with excellent pacing and superb edits, this is an absolute circus. It’s pure spectacle.

I have no idea where this train wreck is going, and I can’t look away.

If you’re looking for a new binge, I haven’t seen anything else quite like this.

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Netflix’s Dracula – A Few Thoughts

I watched this show on Netflix in early January when it debuted. It had two things going for it that definitely got my attention.

First of all, it looked to be dealing with the real Dracula–Bram Stoker’s Dracula–my Dracula. Secondly, it was created and written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the talented creators behind my favorite versions of Doctor Who and Sherlock.

The show had some good buzz. Critics were saying the first episode was genuinely scary, and it was! It had some quirky, funny moments, to be sure, but that first episode absolutely dabbled in the horrific and grotesque.

Somewhere throughout the three episode series, though, it became … campy? I still got a kick out of it, but it felt less scary and more wacky. There were some clever twists and turns, but the end of the series didn’t leave me particularly impressed.

Probably its greatest assets were the lead actors–Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Bang plays Dracula and Wells plays Sister Agatha, as well as [REDACTED]. These two had incredible chemistry together and were a lot of fun to watch.

I can’t say I’m excited for a second season of this particular Dracula adaptation. I’m not sure I would watch it, honestly.

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Netflix’s Locke & Key – A Few Thoughts

I’m a big fan of IDW’s series entitled Locke & Key. Written by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), this title was a little bit horror, a little bit fantasy, a little bit family saga, and a whole lot of charm. Besides the captivating writing, it also benefited from a nice blend of the cartoonish and the Gothic from artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

When I heard Netflix planned to make a series out of it, I got very excited. After a few starts and stops in production, it finally got made.

I actually watched this series after it released several weeks ago. I’ve had some time to think it over and … it’s not great.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it–I did. But I’m also a fan, you see. I’m not completely objective about Locke & Key. While I thought it looked great and had nice pacing, it just failed to capture the magic of the comic series.

This is primarily because of the actors. The acting just never quite clicked for me. I didn’t ever enter that space where I forgot that I watched people acting. They didn’t become the characters, and that’s a problem with a story like this.

Also, the show didn’t commit to its actual identity. It frankly tried to play too nicely. I think it hoped to capture the Stranger Things crowd, but Locke & Key is not Stranger Things. It’s far more violent, graphic, and intense. The themes are more mature, and the consequences more severe. I love Stranger Things, but they shouldn’t operate on the same frequency. As it stands, Locke & Key came off more like a bland imitation, which is a real shame.

Of course, I want you to watch Locke & Key because I want more of it on Netflix. It’s not too late to course correct. Like I said, it looked beautiful, and they moved along at just the right speed. They just need to get comfortable in their own skin and maybe bring in an acting coach.

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Moon – A Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to watch Moon for a really, really long time. (After all, it came out in 2009.) For some reason, I never knew quite enough about it to warrant devoting an entire evening.

Recently, I saw a list of the top science fiction movies on Netflix. I can’t remember what website I saw this on, but Moon topped the chart. That, coupled with the extra time we all now have, prompted me to finally give it a chance.

At barely over an hour and a half, Moon came in at just the right amount of time. The premise is both simple and complex. Sam Rockwell plays a man in the near future supervising a large moon station that’s responsible for mining helium and sending it back to Earth. He is the sole human in the station, though he does have an artificially intelligent robot called GERTY that is tasked with preserving his health and maintaining the station’s mechanics. Because of a persistent malfunction with the station’s live stream capabilities, Sam is completely cut off from his wife and child. However, the end of his three-year contract is only two weeks away, and Sam could not be happier to get back home. As you might expect, a complication arises, one that threatens both Sam’s homecoming but also the entire understanding of his existence.

Sam Rockwell, who plays the aptly named “Sam,” is always fantastic. I could be wrong, but I think this is the first starring role that I’ve ever seen him in. He is likable, vulnerable, and–most importantly–charismatic. To watch a movie featuring virtually one actor … well, it takes a special person to pull off that role.

I also appreciated the mystery of Moon. A strange occurrence happens early in the film, and from that moment on, Moon keeps you guessing. It’s a quiet movie with moments of intense action, but it’s never boring. The special effects, by the way, are exquisite.

As I said, you can stream Moon on Netflix right now. I’ve read that another movie available on Netflix, Mute, is a sequel of sorts to Moon. I’ll have to check that one out soon and let you know my thoughts.

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The Witcher – A Few Thoughts

I finished this Netflix series several weeks ago and needed some time to wrap my head around it. After some days passed, I realized that I was really, really, really overthinking this show.

The Witcher is an enjoyable watch in the way that peeling dried glue from your fingertips is enjoyable. There’s no real purpose behind it, it doesn’t seem to accomplish much of anything, but man, is it ever fun.

That’s the operative word — fun. The Witcher doesn’t have particularly great special effects, the story is convoluted at best, the acting is mostly regulated to a series of grunts and scowls, yet it’s somehow a rollicking good time.

If you find yourself with some extra time, give it a shot. Beware, there is some pretty graphic nudity from time to time, so make sure the little ones aren’t around. Furthermore, the violence is never overtly gory, the language is about on par with most “mature” themed shows, and there’s even a pretty catchy song you might get stuck in your head.

You’ll know within twenty minutes if the show is for you or not. It doesn’t get any better, but it also doesn’t get any worse.

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Triple Frontier – A Movie Review

Triple Frontier is an action-packed film that kept me both anxious and very entertained.

The premise is that Oscar Isaac’s character is working as a security contractor who trains foreign armies and police.  He’s been after a particular drug lord for quite a while, but can never quite pin him down.  Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal play men who once belonged to Isaac’s unit, a band of brothers.  They are all retired from the military, and they are all down on their luck with little to show for their service.

Isaac’s character propositions them to help  him take down this drug lord by amassing intelligence regarding his stronghold.  They can each make a large sum of money doing so.  What is initially supposed to be a simple recon mission turns into a flat-out burglary.  From there, the unit must try to escape the drug lord’s men through the jungles of Columbia, through Peru, and over the Andes Mountains while carrying very, very large amounts of cash.

While Triple Frontier kept me on the edge of my seat throughout due to action and an ever-present danger, I also thought it said something provocative about soldiers who give everything to their country with nothing to show for it.  Who can blame these warriors for taking desperate actions to try to help their families, their friends, and even themselves?  The ethical dilemmas presented in this movie will make quite an impact, I assure you.

Furthermore, I found the locations beautiful and lush.  Most of the film was shot in Hawaii and Colombia, so these jungles and mountains are authentic.  The scope of the film is magnificent with some truly breathtaking scenes.

Best of all, though, was the cast.  I actually felt like these men had a bond between them.  Affleck, Hedlund, and Hunnam were fine, but Pascal and Isaac were the heart and soul of this movie.  Oscar Isaac gets better with every movie I see him in, and Triple Frontier is no exception.

Though very violent and laden with profanities, Triple Frontier kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish.  If you’re looking for an action movie with some authentic emotional beats, this one won’t disappoint.

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Velvet Buzzsaw – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a gloriously weird movie that’s a little funny, a little scary, a little tongue-in-cheek, and a little masterful, check out the Netflix original film called Velvet Buzzsaw.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Morf Vandewalt, a prestigious art critic with the world at his feet.  He’s in love with Josephina, played by Zawe Ashton.  Josephina is trying to climb her way to the top of the art gallery industry as she works for Rene Russo’s Rhodora Haze.  Yes, these names are fantastic.

After her neighbor dies, Josephina discovers that the deceased had an apartment full of original art.  Morf declares the man a modern day master and urges Josephina to sell it through Haze’s gallery.

Soon, though, strange things begin to happen involving the departed’s art, and that’s when the scares begin.

Velvet Buzzsaw is a whole lot of things, but it’s also never just one thing.  Well, it is one thing — entertaining.  I have to be honest, this movie kept me engaged from start to finish.  It’s so strange that it’s flat-out unpredictable.  Is it good?  I thought so, but I wouldn’t dare to argue with someone who told me they didn’t like it.  You certainly have to be in the right mood for Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s definitely one of the more unique films that I’ve seen of late.

I will say this though, Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely disappeared in his role as Morf Vadewalt.  His performance alone made this film worth watching.  With incessant fidgeting, a biting sense of humor, an impeccably odd sense of fashion, and a mesmerizing speech cadence, Morf leaped off the screen.  Though there’s no hero in this movie, Morf is as close as we get (which is not very close).

I also loved seeing Rene Russo again.  Her character, Rhodora Haze, once belonged to a punk rock band called–you guessed it–Velvet Buzzsaw.  Russo got to really strut her stuff playing an entirely unlikable, manipulative, evil businesswoman who gets a thrill in taking no prisoners.

By the way, there are also very fun performances in this movie from John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Daveed Diggs, and Natalia Dryer (from Stranger Things).

In the end, Velvet Buzzsaw seems to exist in a world that has existed for quite some time.  The characters all have history with one another, and other than some fleeting references, the movie is not overly concerned with catching you up.  Nor is the film terribly worried about explaining what the hell is going on.  Once the art starts killing people, it doesn’t follow any particular rules or adhere to any specific logic.  If you buy the dead artist’s work, sell his work, look at his work, or even find yourself near his work … your life is in grave danger.  Heck, sometime’s it’s not even his art that gets in on the act.   (Did anyone else love Hoboman?  He’s the real star of this movie.)

If you’re looking for some inimitable performances, a wondrously quirky plot, and a bizarrely good time, I totally recommend Velvet Buzzsaw.  It’s got to be the best of what it is … I’m just still not sure what it is.

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