Tag Archives: Netflix movies

Survive and Advance

Society of the Snow

by George Wolf

2012’s The Impossible proved director J.A. Bayona could recreate a real life disaster with heart-racing precision, and then mine the intimate aftermath to find a touching depth.

Since then, he’s had his big screen mind on monsters, with results both miraculous (A Monster Calls) and mixed (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom). Now, Netflix’s Society of the Snow finds Bayona back in the true adventure business.

And his business in Society of the Snow is heartbreakingly, thrillingly, unbelievably good.

It’s the latest account of the 1972 Andes flight disaster, a legendary ordeal that has been detailed in several books and films over the last five decades plus. Bayona read Pablo Vierci’s “La Sociedad de la Nieve” while researching The Impossible, bought the rights soon after, and now teams with co-writers Bernat Vilaplana and Jaime Marques for a harrowing and fittingly reverent treatment.

Following Vierci’s lead, Bayona makes sure we get to know many of the members of the ill-fated Uruguayan rugby team, who were on their way to a long weekend in Chili when their plane – carrying 40 passengers and 5 crew members – went down among the snowy peaks.

After an introduction that endears the young men to us via enthusiastic friendship and youthful naïveté, Bayona pulls us into the crash experience with a spectacular, terrifying set piece almost guaranteed to whiten your knuckles and quicken your pulse.

It’s a stunner, as it should be, because it anchors the film in a survival mode that will be tested beyond what most people could ever imagine.

The ensemble cast, filled mainly with newcomers, is deeply affecting. The survivors will be pushed to their physical, moral and spiritual breaking points, and these young actors make sure not one exhausting second of it feels false.

Bayona and cinematographer Pedro Lugue present the Andes as a beautiful monster in its own right, capable of majesty and menace in equal measure. The smaller you feel, the better, so experience this one on the biggest screen you can find.

Forget what you know. Even if you’re aware of what these people went through, Society of the Snow will reframe the tale with a deeper level of humanity and courage. And should this legend be new to you, resist the urge to research until after you’ve seen Bayona’s take.

It’s one unforgettable journey.

Royal Pain

The Monkey King

by George Wolf

This year’s animated features have already wowed us with spiders and turtles, so why not monkeys?

Netflix gives it a go with the latest take on a well-loved story from Chinese literature, landing scattershot moments of humor and visual flair amid a rambling narrative grasping for anything to call its own.

Our titular Monkey King (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) is on a quest, too. After being born from a magical rock, his exuberance and ambition gets him exiled from his village for being an agent of chaos. The Immortals in Heaven insist on the rules of balance, and the little Monkey King just cannot follow them.

But Buddha himself (BD Wong) intercedes, telling the Jade Emperor (Hoon Lee) that a great destiny awaits the Monkey King. And once he is able to steal “Stick” (Nan Li), the all-powerful Grand Column of the undersea Dragon King (Bowen Yang), Monkey King sets out to vanquish 100 demons and earn his place among the highest Immortals.

The writing team of Rita Hsiao (Mulan, Toy Story 2), and Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman (Open Season, Brother Bear) sets effective stakes early on, but then struggles to give the tale an emotional anchor. We never really care that Monkey King is not being accepted because he doesn’t seem interested in earning it, even tossing aside the help of the earnest Lin (Jolie Haong-Rappaport), a wannabe assistant who he feels is beneath him.

Director Anthony Stacchi (Open Season, The Boxtrolls) gives the film an often frantic pace that doesn’t leave much room to breath. And when an action sequence or punch line does land, we’re quickly off to the next distraction, which is especially distracting when it’s an awkward musical number for the Dragon King that you’d swear was an A.I. re-working of The Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

There are pluses, including a wonderful voice cast, a vibrant, culturally rich animation pastiche and winking nods to the work of executive producer Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer). But disjointed character arcs and muddled motivations keep the film from crafting a coherent journey. and The Monkey King can never quite escape the chaos.

City of Ruins

Mosul

by Hope Madden

Matthew Michael Carnahan is a screenwriter unafraid to dive into the political. Though none of his films are classics, from the best (The Kingdom) to the worst (Lions for Lambs), all tell stories that combine governmental indecision with action in an attempt at cultural relevance.

As a rule, the success of his themes depends on the film’s director. So with Mosul, Carnahan has no one to blame but himself if it doesn’t work.

The film spends a single, tumultuous afternoon in the titular Iraqi city with the Nineveh province SWAT team, the only group to fight ISIS occupiers continuously from 2014 to 2017. Onscreen text clues us in to their successes, their legendary status, and their desperation to complete one last mission before ISIS finally flees the city.

En route to completing that mission, they hear gunfire and come to the aid of two standard issue uniformed police officers about to lose their lives in a standoff with ISIS. When all is said and done, one cop is on his way back to the other side of the city. The second, Kawa (Adam Bessa, Extraction), joins the rogue unit.

Carnahan shows surprising instincts when it comes to pacing. Rather than generating tension to be released with bursts of action, Mosul periodically punctuates the near-constant action with brief respites.

Carnahan knows how to make the most of these moments. We catch our breath for a glimpse of each of these men as men. The character building is brief and nearly everyone will die before we know their names, but thanks to touches that never feel scripted or heavy handed, the characters have the chance to be human.

The breathlessly paced slice of war torn life is grounded by two performances: Bessa and Suhail Dabbach, playing commanding officer Jasem. Kawa’s character evolves almost at the speed of light, turning in one afternoon from a wide-eyed, by the books police officer to an unrecognizable man with a mission.

Jasem is on the other side of that evolution and the veteran Iraqi actor makes you believe. A father figure who is simultaneously merciless and dangerously compassionate, he’s a bright and constant reminder of exactly why the unit fights.

Carnahan’s first time out behind the camera rushes at times. Kawa’s speedy transformation certainly strains credulity. But Mosul handles the political themes with a surprisingly light hand. It certainly keeps your attention and delivers eye-opening information without abandoning storytelling to do it.

He should keep directing his own movies.