Being a hero does not always mean wearing a cape or fighting off foes with superhuman strength. For some individuals they become the heroes of their own stories simply by demonstrating uncharacteristic bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. They face something horrifyingly daunting but pressing forwards nonetheless. That is the case for a determined young woman in Netflix’s original mini-series, Unorthodox.
The four part program packs quite a bit of drama and emotion into such a short viewing time. The story centers on Esty, a young woman residing in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York City’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Perhaps Ultra-Orthodox doesn’t do justice to the fundamentalist nature of her situation. Though the community exists in Brooklyn and the United States of America, she and other women have limited freedom and limited options due to the patriarchal nature of their lives. Her prison has no physical bars, but she is trapped by tradition and a sense of obligation that has been instilled in her for her whole life. The rabbi is the ultimate authority, and Esty enters into an arranged marriage as women are essentially relegated to being child bearers. Their sole functions are to increase the numbers of the community and keep their husbands happy.
What would happen if Jesus Christ returned to earth today? It is a philosophical question that some people may ponder as an interesting hypothetical debate, but Netflix’s new series, Messiah explores that in its ten episode first season. For those looking for an intriguing quarantine binge, keep reading!
The series opens with a mysterious man preaching to a crowd in Damascus, Syria as it comes under attack. A sandstorm envelops the city and deters the attack, and many people come to believe that the man is a prophetic figure responsible for miraculously saving them. Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi), as he comes to be known, remains an enigma throughout the entire series. He never explicitly comes out and states, “I am the messiah,” and he likewise does not deny it. As he comes to the attention of CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan) as a possible cult or terrorist leader, Al-Masih just becomes more and more of a mystery. He has an uncanny ability to read people and get into their heads, and every episode swings back and forth like a pendulum around one central question: Is this just a very convincing con man, or is he an actual miracle worker and the son of God?
You may have noticed by now that I am a fan of Netflix. That is partially because a number of years ago I cut the cord and realized paying $100 a month for cable that I mostly scrolled through was futile. More often, though, I find that Netflix seems to have a knack for either finding or producing compelling original gems, both in standalone movies and series that can entertain us for years. One of their most recent films, The Laundromat, provides an entertaining and horrifying glimpse into the tangled web of financial scams that spans the globe.
While the film often strikes a whimsical tone, it is an embellished and over the top version of events related to the very real Panama Papers scandal. In short, a law firm based in Panama, Mossack Fonseca, helped thousands of wealthy and questionable clients shelter money in offshore accounts and shell corporations. The intricate connections among individuals and dishonest businesses lead to a kind of domino effect that hit small businesses and individuals alike.
If you’re like me and have never tried psychedelic drugs, a fine substitute would be Netflix’s new original movie, Horse Girl. The film straddles different genres with pleasing, albeit confusing, results.
Horse Girl’s star, Alison Brie, plays the socially awkward young woman who works at an arts and crafts store. Brie—who has starred in Mad Men and Community—shines and stands in stark contrast to the glamour of some of her previous roles. Brie’s Sarah is socially inept and obsessed with a horse she rode as a child. While also making braided anklets and bracelets the way an eleven-year-old might.
Cracks soon begin to emerge in Sarah’s dull routine as her behavior and imagination begin to run wild. Initially, this seems to be innocuous, perhaps some kind of sleepwalking, until the incidents become more and more bizarre; Waking up blocks from home in the middle of the night with her pajamas on backwards, abandoning her car in the middle of traffic, and vivid hallucinations. These hallucinations are of alien abductions, and start to blur the line between make-believe and reality as she obsesses over whether or not they are in fact paranormal in nature.
Just about every year, a new horror film is unrealistically touted as being “the scariest movie ever made.” While they typically never live up to such hype, many can still contain positive results — 2015’s entry in the battle for horror’s throne, The Witch, immediately comes to mind. This year’s model is Paco Plaza’s Spanish possession horror, Veronica, which flourishes with some nice camerawork and interesting visuals, as well as the added benefit of being (loosely) based on a supposedly “true” story. It’s rather unfortunate, however, that Veronica ultimately lacks a unique enough premise and compelling narrative, while absolutely struggling to produce any real scares. I’m left honestly confused by the high praise and viral sensation surrounding its recent addition to Netflix’s constantly expanding lineup.
Set in Madrid circa 1991, Veronica centers around a 15-year-old girl — can you guess what her name is? Following the sudden death of her father, Veronica (Sandra Escacena) is left to take on the role of caretaker for her three young siblings, Antoñito, Lucia, and Irene, as her single mother works her days away in order to support them. One day, as her classmates and teachers at the Catholic school she attends are viewing a solar eclipse from the school’s roof, Veronica and a couple friends take the opportunity to hastily perform a seance via Ouija board, away from the watchful eye of authority figures. Veronica hopes to contact her father, but the entity that answers her call is something much more sinister.
Netflix’s first big foray into blockbuster filmmaking, Bright, comes courtesy of End of Watch director David Ayer, Chronicle scribe Max Landis, and prominently stars the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith. I’ve previously enjoyed the works of these three men, but haven’t felt quite right in recent years regarding each of their respective output in the industry. I mean, Ayer was also responsible for the absolutely reprehensible Suicide Squad from last year, Landis is now potentially (and perhaps unsurprisingly) a piece of human garbage, and Will Smith hasn’t made a truly good film since The Pursuit of Happyness all the way back in 2006 (I Am Legend is alright too, but that’s also 10 years old now). After viewing Bright, I may have to reconsider the quickly fading fandom I have for any of the people responsible in the making of this movie (except in regards to Landis, because if what is coming out about him is actually true, then there will be no reconsidering — only regret). What I’m trying to tell you, is that Bright really is as bad as all of the critics are saying it is.
But let’s start with the little that Bright does get right, shall we? Well, the film actually introduces a compelling enough premise; one in which the lore in fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings aren’t only relegated to the Middle Ages, and have instead been fast-forwarded to a present-day Los Angeles that’s not too dissimilar to our very own version. Of course, what makes the film stand out is that this world inhabits humans among orcs, elves, and fairies, as well as the magic that come with them. In one of the film’s only noteworthy pieces of dialogue, we are even presented with the idea of a great, millennia-old war having been fought between the humans and the mythological creatures that still live beside them today. When you realize that this single, seemingly throwaway line is among the only notable pieces of dialogue in this thing — outside of the many quotable bad ones — you can truly begin to understand why Bright is as awful as it is.
Attributing any more praise to the excellent first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things is basically impossible for me. When I originally wrote about it late last summer — following a binge in which I devoured it in its entirety within a 24-hour period — I declared the show “the best television [I’d] watched all year.” Since, I’ve only grown to better appreciate and love that original season over re-watches and discussions, but even more so now in light of the very recent release of its lackluster follow-up. While the new, monstrously-anticipated sequel is dubbed Stranger Things 2,perhaps a more accurate title would be Stranger Things 1.5.
To be fair, I still managed to consume Stranger Things 1.5’sStranger Things 2’s nine episodes within a day, and I was never disinterested in seeing it through to its underwhelming conclusion. Perhaps my increasing inclination to browse social media during the season’s second half is most succinctly indicative of my feelings on Stranger Things 2 as a whole. The first half is fine, good even, effectively unfolding a genuinely interesting narrative over its first few episodes with the same lovable cast as before, adding a number of potentially engaging side characters into the mix at the start.
The latter episodes, however, have nearly soured me on the entire experience. The original season was almost entirely derivative of fan-favorite 80s films to its own benefit. Being 80s kids themselves, The Duffer Brothers plucked out the best concepts and characters ranging from King’s horror novels to Carpenter’s sci-fi flicks to Hughes’ teen movies, all in order to construct their own story that’s nearly on par with the best the 80s had to offer. In comparison, Stranger Things 2 outright fails in this regard, barely becoming more than just a monotonous retread of its predecessor without building upon its countless inspirations.