At one point in time, Netflix’s film library was a haven for film fans. At the push of a button were an entire wealth of movies spanning an entire spectrum of tastes. Unfortunately, this set-up was not meant to last. As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan once said, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Netflix has recently changed their business model from focusing on amassing numerous extensive streaming licenses to instead pushing their own content on subscribers. While their original content is genuinely pretty entertaining, what they’re pushing out are films I’m more inclined to see. For every PeeWee’s Big Holiday, we see the exodus of classics like The Shawshank Redemption and modern marvels like 2012’s The Master. Don’t misunderstand me, Netflix still has an expansive film library, however the films they do have won’t be there for very long. The Back To The Future Trilogy was only on Netflix for about three months before joining the ranks of so many of our former Netflix standbys. This new model definitely contributes to keeping the library constantly diverse, but it limits your viewing experience considerably. Unfortunately it seems that we must acquiesce to this new world order of Originals over Classics, as Netflix has said they plan to release one thousand hours of original content in 2017. The question is: is their original content any good?
Let’s take a brief look at five very different original films from Netflix and see how they stack up. I figure we’ll start with the worst one and work our way up from there, how’s that sound?
Wow. To be honest, watching this film was the most negative experience I’ve had since subscribing to Netflix. It should be noted that I have not been a fan of anything Adam Sandler has done since The Wedding Singer. (I have not seen all of his films, but I’ve seen enough to deter me.) Was I destined to hate this movie? Probably, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt. But I went in with an open mind. I heard about Adam Sandler signing a multi-picture deal with Netflix and was curious to see what became of it. What did become of it? Not much. The Do-Over is what I would describe as dismal. Nothing in the movie is interesting. Nothing. I did not laugh once; neither genuinely nor sardonically. If you were to tell me that Netflix had made a film entailing Adam Sandler and David Spade faking their own deaths and then embarking on a gun-blazing adventure to discover the cure for cancer, I would probably assume that it’d be a laugh-a-minute breakneck action adventure extravaganza. It’s not. If it is anything, it is incredibly boring. The film plods along from scene to scene as a sad-looking Adam Sandler fails to even attempt to entertain us. To be honest, I had completely forgotten that I had seen this film until while researching this post I stumbled across it once again. If you are a fan of Adam Sandler post-2006, you might find something worthwhile in this film. Operative word being might. However, if you, like me, struggle to find any merit in the likes of “Grown-Ups” or “Just Go With It,” save yourself the doldrums and endeavor to watch something else.
The Do-Over: D-
It seems almost unjust to follow up something so disappointing as The Do-Over with something that I enjoyed so much more. One thing that Netflix’s most recent original film has over The Do-Over, is it’s actually funny. Funny if you like Christopher Guest that is. I was introduced to Mr. Guest’s comedy a few months ago when I saw Best In Show for the first tine and instantly fell in love. So when I saw that Mascots was coming out, I got genuinely excited. Upon watching the film, I found myself genuinely entertained. A lot of the jokes hit with the aid of some of Comedy’s most underrated finest: Ed Beagley Jr., Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Don Lake and Jane Lynch. However, as much as the show made me laugh, it never really made me laugh. There weren’t any true comedy set pieces like you would want from a movie. With the exception of a brilliant scene involving a conversation with a midget, most of the scenes are pretty quiet. That’s forgivable, as Christopher Guest has never been much for the big comedic spectacles and his style has always served him well. But in today’s modern age, I can’t help but feel that Mascots would’ve served better as a miniseries instead of a film. But alas, if you are a fan of Best In Show, you will enjoy Mascots as they are similar to a fault. Mascots, while occasionally standing out in its own right, follows many of the same beats as its predecessor. But, if you’re looking for a simple and enjoyable time, this one will definitely be worth a shot.
The Fundamentals of Caring
What exactly is The Fundamentals of Caring? Is it a road movie or a mentor movie? Well it’s really both. This film slipped under the radar of most as it didn’t exactly have the flash and substance of most things that grab people’s attention via the Netflix thumbnail. Following the story of an ordinary caregiver who wants to help his caregivee experience a little sense of adventure before its too late, The Fundamentals of Caring offers a bit of a shake-up from the norm of modern cinema, offering a quiet road movie between three genuinely entertaining characters, Paul Rudd as the first time caregiver, Craig Roberts as the young disabled man, and in a surprisingly honest and likeable performance, Selena Gomez as the teenage runaway who tags along for the ride. This film doesn’t try too hard to make you like the characters, nor does it try to make you feel extraneously sympathetic for our hero’s inevitable fate. If there’s one word that I would use to describe The Fundamentals of Caring, it would be “sweet.” This is without a doubt a sweet movie. It’s pretty lighthearted, while still being “about something” as it were. I suppose my biggest complaint is that once it ended, I didn’t feel like I had watched a movie. If anything it felt like a three-episode arch of a really good television show that’d be returning for another season. I guess I left craving just a little bit more, which might be more of a testament to the characters than a detriment to the film-making process. If the film had had just a little more substance, it would break into A-rank territory, but unfortunately it just isn’t there yet. It’s still a good watch though, if for nothing other than Paul Rudd’s performance.
The Fundamentals of Caring: B+
The Little Prince
Now we’re getting into greatness territory. It’s no secret that I love animated films, but unfortunately too many of them are becoming all cut from the same mold. Rarely do studios allow animators to really take risks and do something different. This is where the freedom of Netflix can actually be put to good use, as The Little Prince is one of the most creative animated films I’ve seen in a long time. Save for Kubo of course. The film is an adaptation of the classic French children’s story, framing the story of The Little Prince in a heartwarming tale of a little girl, suppressed by the burdens of our corporate world, being led to discover the beauty of life with the help of her eccentric neighbor, voiced brilliantly by the incomparable Jeff Bridges. During the scenes that are adapted from the book, the filmmakers use an interesting paper-based stop motion style before shifting back to traditional 3D animation with the story of “the real world.” A film that captures the magic of adolescence in a way unlike anything else, The Little Prince is a jubilant adventure that will not fail to put a smile on your face. I have watched it twice at this point, and in both viewings I just fell absolutely in love with the story. If Netflix released more content like this, I would probably change my tune about their original library.
The Little Prince: A
Beasts of No Nation
It’s a little disjointing to go from The Little Prince to Beasts of No Nation, a hard drama about children being made to fight in the civil war of an unspecified African Nation, yet it is appropriate as this is the best original film Netflix has produced yet. Watching this movie is a little like reading a really interesting article in some magazine about the arduous experiences of people in third world countries. It’s insightful and intriguing, but in a really honest and difficult fashion. As this story would be brutal if it were about an adult, it is made doubly impactful as it is a view into the life of a young boy who is pushed to limits that most grown men would never dream of. Directed with a masterful eye by Cary Fukunaga, this movie never lets the audience off the hook, taking you from one engrossing scene to the next, never stopping to make up for the mania you’ve just experienced. With an adept script and Oscar-caliber acting, not just from young Abraham Attah asthe protagonist, but also in the form of Idris Elba’s showstopping performance as the vile commandant, this is the sort of movie that you wouldn’t hesitate to pay the price of a ticket to see on the big screen. This is what all Netflix Originals need to be. A movie that you would’ve watched anyway, regardless of whether or not it was given to you “for free.” If all of Netflix’s original movies were this good, I would never complain about them replacing the classics with stories they’ve curated themselves. I just hope we get more Beasts and Little Princes in those 1000 hours and less Do-Overs.
Beasts of No Nation: A+
Images: The Little Prince, The Do-Over, Mascots, The Fundamentals of Caring, The Little Prince and Beasts of No Nation. All original films from Netflix.