by MIKE ORLOCK
In a recent interview with NBC commemorating the release of their best Oscar-winning film The French connection Fifty years ago, director William Friedkin hypothesized that within a few years the movie industry would grow from 30,000 screens to around 1,000. The only films receiving theatrical releases, in his opinion, would be superhero movies. Everything else would be streamed on Netflix, Amazon, or HBO.
If he’s right, movies like his – a gritty crime drama with arguably the greatest chase streak in movie history – would premiere on a smartphone or smart TV. I watched The French connection recently on my 42 inch HDTV, and the film holds up surprisingly well. However, much of my enjoyment came from the indirect memory of seeing him for the first time in a dark theater. The sounds and sights engulfed me in a way that watching a movie in the palm of my hand never could and probably never will.
Still, Friedkin might be on to something. Last month, three major films were made for the small screen: a stylish, revisionist western with a prominent black cast; an apocalyptic sci-fi drama starring Tom Hanks in Oscar mode; and a romantic comedy starring The Rock, Wonder Woman and Deadpool which, at $ 160 million, is Netflix’s most expensive film production ever. While each of these films received a limited theatrical release in order to qualify for the Academy’s end-of-year exam, they were designed to be streamed and attract a shipment of new subscribers.
The Western R-rated The more they fall (Netflix), directed by British musical impresario Jeymes Samuel, offers us a dream color palette in a story that is both historical and Hollywood. Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo and LaKeith Stanfield are the headliners, playing variations of real characters (outlaw Rufus Buck, cowboy Nat Love, diva of the saloon Stagecoach Mary, bank robber Treacherous Trudy Smith, legendary lawyer Bass Reeves and gunslinger Cherokee Bill, respectively) from the post-Civil War West.
They are entangled in a story of revenge that seems to have been torn from the pages of a dime western. Nat Love wants to kill the man who killed his parents when he was a child. This man, Rufus Buck, has just escaped from prison and intends to take revenge on the people of Redwood, who fired him and stole the money he stole. He gathers his gang of cutthroat and gunslingers to take over the city until he gets what is his. Bass Reeves is the lawyer on his trail, leading a motley gang to bring Buck to justice, dead or alive.
There are a lot of shootouts, showdowns and robberies, led with style and lightness by Samuels, who cut his teeth making video clips and obviously knows where to place the camera to keep the action popping. It gets quality performances from actors who seem to like to pull away from each other, dressing up in the kind of Hollywood western that they grew up watching. The The more they fall is pretty darn fun.
Bullfinch (PG-13) is Apple TV’s most ambitious film to date. This glimpse into an apocalyptic world scorched by solar flares stars Tom Hanks and – well, Tom Hanks. That’s it. He has a stray dog named Goodyear, a computerized roller gadget called Dewey that acts like R2D2, and a goofy robot named Jeff (voiced in robotic parlance by Caleb Henry Jones) that Finch designed to take care of Goodyear after that Finch left this deadly envelope.
Director Miguel Sapochnik, working from a script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, presents a visually stunning world that is as barren as anything in Dune. The first half of the film (the better half) takes place in what was once Saint-Louis.
When Finch ventures into the safety of his bunker to search for canned goods and dog food, he must wear a spacesuit to protect himself from 150-degree temperatures and deadly UV rays. An electrical storm that threatens to destroy his power supply sends him and his surrogate family rushing to San Francisco.
However, when the story hits the road, the film encounters a few potholes. Sapochnik expresses sentiment in almost every scene as Finch prepares his unsightly offspring to literally head for an uncertain future. Hanks does his best to keep things real. I can’t think of another actor who could pull off this kind of performance without drowning in pathos. Bullfinch worth watching just because of it.
Red Notice (PG-13) teams up with three of the friendliest movie stars working today – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot and Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds – in a stylish jewelry heist that takes Care to remind us just about all the jewelry heist movies ever seen before. In fact, it references so many other films, including pulp Fiction, that you might need to revise your cinematic story to get all the jokes.
Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Skyscraper, Central intelligence) has easy contact with actors and a knack for comedy. He lets his cast members be themselves: Reynolds riffs endlessly with taunts; Gadot is gorgeous in everything she wears; and The Rock runs through every scene like a force of nature.
The story, as it stands, involves three priceless eggs that Mark Antony had made for his beloved Cleopatra and which the three stars intend to fly under each other. The action jumps from Rome to Bali via Russia and back, before concluding in the jungles of South America, but the locations are like the plot: there just to justify the budget.
Red Notice is fun, but barely worth the $ 160 million it cost to bring it to our TV screens. Netflix should ask for a refund.
In Another Life, Mike Orlock wrote movie reviews for the Reporter / Progress Chicago western suburbs newspapers. He also taught high school English, coached basketball, and wrote three books of poetry. He is currently the Door County Poet Laureate.