It’s one of the greatest questions of modern times – is the order in which you place films in your Netflix queue victim to the luck of the drawl or is there a definitive art to this endeavor?
Sometimes I place movies in my queue I feel I need to watch just to say I watched them (even an amateur film critic like myself has to keep up with the latest releases no matter how bad I know they will be) or that I know will be gleefully awful (hello to you, my laugh-out-loud friend, Hobo With a Shotgun). But for the most part, I’m pretty selective in my choices and I try to find a balance in how I order my queue so that I have a steady and proportional stream of “I know these will suck” entries mixed with highly anticipated new releases and classics I’ve been long overdue to uncover.
Lately I’ve been struck with a series of disappointments that serendipitously found their way to the top of my queue. First, there was Of Gods and Men. Don’t get me wrong – this was a “noble film” based on true events surrounding a French monastery’s reaction to the Algerian conflict of the 1990’s that was well crafted and well acted, but I just didn’t connect with the religious nature of the story and found myself disconnected throughout its run-time. The film had come highly recommended, so I was especially annoyed I couldn’t find a way to appreciate the film beyond its noble but shortsighted attempt at drama.
Next up was a nearly indiscernible double-feature: two star-vehicles trying to recapture the past success of other films that found moderate success at the box-office but were completely inept. On one hand, there was the Matt Damon vehicle, The Adjustment Bureau, which attempted to cash in on Inception‘s success. The opening moments were nearly incoherent, the direction and sound design slapdash, and the romance at its core hackneyed, despite adequate efforts from Damon and Emily Blunt. On the other hand was the Liam Neeson vehicle, Unknown, which foolishly tried to copy the success of the god-awful Taken. It was a bit more polished than The Adjustment Bureau but no less silly and embarrassing. Both films had preposterous set-ups that if cleverly done had potential for entertainment, but were so idiotically executed as to be rendered banal, and I fell asleep during both films not caring at all how predictably they would end.
It seemed a cruel twist of fate that this series of disappointments would reach the top of my queue one after another…a stretch of bad luck the went all the way back to the artsy/trashy Korean serial-killer/revenge flick I Saw the Devil – one of the most abhorrent and despicable excuses for film I’ve seen in many moons. It was so distasteful, I couldn’t even bear to watch the whole thing. Whereas the equally execrable but more watchable Hobo with a Shotgun at least knew that this kind of dreck should be done tongue-in-cheek, I Saw the Devil represents the worst type of film: a complete piece of shit that tries to convince you it’s art.
But then the Netflix gods smiled down upon me with two films reaching the top of my queue that I had little hope for but surprised and delighted me on every level – behold the massively appealing Rango and Source Code.
First up is Rango – an animated star-vehicle for the over-exposed and worrisome Johnny Depp. What I keep forgetting is that this film’s director, Gore Verbinski, is the best mainstream subversive director parading as a hack working in Hollywood today. Essentially this tale of a pet lizard who dreams of acting and gets lost in the desert only to come across an Old-West town full of animals looking for water and a hero is Chinatown by way of The Coen Brothers melded with Shrek and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s an animated film for adults and films buffs, though kids will love all the funny action set pieces and amazingly detailed visuals.
How can you not like a film where tall tales are shared around the campfire by a bunch of varmints saying lines like the following?
One time I coughed up an entire tribe of pygmies. They started lookin’ at me funny.
I remember them! Really nice bunch of people!
I once found a human spinal column in my fecal matter…
I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, and the pieces of riotous dialogue combined with astounding visuals make this…yes…dare I say it…dare I who loathes animation in general spare for the occasional Pixar entry…yes…you heard it here first at The Spin…I’m going on record…Rango is one of the best films of the year.
Which brings us to…one of the best films of the year…Source Code.
I am no fan of Jake Gy-the-man-with-too-many-a’s-and-l’s-in-his-name. But, hey, put in him a high-concept sci-fi thriller (remember how tolerable he was in Donnie Darko?) and things might work out. Director Duncan Jones (who previously did Moon) seems to be filling the gap left by Christopher Nolan when he’s off making Batman films. Source Code is a Hitchcockian gimmick thriller with sci-fi implications: think Strangers on a Train mixed with Groundhog Day by way of Twelve Monkeys. What makes Source Code so special is the economical nature of its gimmick (Jakey-poo has only eight minutes each time to thwart a terrorist attack and save his paramour – the lovely Michelle Monaghan) and its slim run-time. It’s slick, polished, expertly paced and utterly riveting. And best of all, it manages to make something that could easily come across as silly – a hopeful closing coda about the choices we make and the destinies we create – seem just as thrilling and wholly organic. Duncan Jones has his ducks in a row, and he shoots them down with the type of aplomb usually reserved for your most skilled and experienced of populist entertainers.
And maybe that’s the master plan of the matrix that is one’s Netflix queue. No matter how skilled you are in your choices, no matter how careful you are in your ordering, no matter how strategic or how balanced…sometimes it’s a string of really bad films that need to come your way one after another exploding like bombs on a train to make you realize just how special those diamonds in the rough really are.
- Rango – 8.5/10
- Source Code – 8.5/10
- Of Gods and Men – 6/10
- The Adjustment Bureau – 4/10
- Unknown – 4/10
- Hobo With a Shotgun – 3/10
- I Saw the Devil – 0/10