Monthly Archives: December 2011

12 Days of Netflix Finds: Jericho

Jericho

Genre:  Television/Drama/Suspense
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Lost, Dollhouse, Cloverfield
Special Warnings: Violence, a little gore, ‘end of the world’ themes that might upset some

Holy crap, it’s the final day of Netflix Finds (for now)!  For those who’ve been devoted in checking out my posts, thank you! I love you and write for your enjoyment on the days where I just want to be lazy and, well, watch Netflix.

For our final installment of 2011, I thought we’d end with a bang – as in, nuclear explosion.

Jericho is a television series more notorious for the fan devotion to keeping it alive than the content itself, which is a serious fucking shame.  I’m not done with this one yet, but it’s one of fiance’s favourite shows ever, and it’s a show I wish I’d watched hella sooner.

Jericho is Lost set in midwestern America, all in all – only less smoke monsters and flashbacks, and more conspiracy/political intrigue.  Skeet Ulrich (my 90s crush – nomm!) shines here as Jake Green, the black sheep son of Jericho’s mayor who slips into town to snag a few bucks from an inheritance, but never makes it back to his sunny home.  Why’s that?  Oh, you know, just a nuclear BOMB going off!

Yeah: Jericho pulls a Lost and shit gets real.

Jake makes it back to his hometown, and suddenly, the black sheep is the brave leader that no one realized he could be, beneath the criminal mischief and running away from everyone he ever knew and all that.  Need to hide from fallout? Jake’ll hide you safely in a mine, even if he has to blow up the entrance to seal you in from the elements.  Yeah, Skeet is bad-ass.

I don’t want to spoiler you too much, but there is a LOT of “tangled web we weave” madness that unfolds with every passing episode.  Mystery supply drops, incommunicado government, relationship triangles and army mercenary types… and the first season’s not even done!

While some might argue that Lost already did this story, there’s a lot that Jericho gets right/does a little better.  For starters, it’s so much easier to keep track of the characters and their subplots in Jericho.  The storytelling is more linear, and there are definite main characters and definite secondaries.  Jericho also calls for less suspended belief, and is more generous with answering mysteries – at least in part – than Lost ever was.  And I love Lost, so don’t get me wrong.  Jericho is doing something different here, beneath the surface, and it is great at it.

The best part about Jericho, I think, is that it’s believable: I can see this actually happening.  Add in the awesome writing of Stephen Chbosky (yes, he of The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and the fuck-awesome acting of Ulrich, Gerald McRaney and Lennie James (more recently seen in The Walking Dead and Hung), and you’re set for a weekend of marathoning.

Visit Jericho; this ain’t Dorothy’s Kansas, Toto.

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: After.Life

After.Life

Genre:  Suspense/Drama
Rating:  4/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Soul Survivors, Identity, The Jacket; people who would have liked I Know Who Killed Me if the dialogue and acting were way better;
Special Warnings: Lots of scenes in a funeral home – may bring out the squick in you

My girl boner for Christina Ricci is the primary reason I decided to give this film a go when it popped up as a new addition to the Netflix Canada collection.  I heart Christina forever.  But there’s plenty more reasons to give After.Life a play.

Ricci plays Anna Taylor, a teacher with a detachment towards life, including her devoted boyfriend Paul (Justin Long).  As Paul prepares to propose to his beloved Anna, her paranoia and disbelief that he (or anyone) could ever love her leads to her rushing out, assuming he is having an affair or leaving her.  Driving recklessly, Anna crashes her car – and ‘awakens’ on the table in the funeral home.  Liam Neeson informs her that she is dead, and he will help her cross over as he has done many times with many other lingering souls.

Obviously, Anna doesn’t take this news well.

Also unable to cope, Paul refuses to believe Anna is gone, an emotional breakdown only fueled by everyone refusing to let him see her body (he is not family, legally, and her mother has barred him access, blaming him for ruining her daughter’s life).  The more he persists in trying to push past Eliot’s locked doors and thin explanations, the more he begins to wonder, as Anna herself does:  is she really dead at all?

Although imperfect, After.Life is worth seeing for two reasons:  1) Liam Neeson is creepy as fuck, which was so jarring to me – in a good way; and 2) beneath the storyline, there’s an excellent thought process on living and dying, communicated predominantly through Eliot’s discussions with Anna as he prepares her to accept her death and move on.  It’s a thinking movie that perhaps gets lost beneath the suspense on the surface for some, and a better movie than the reviews suggest.

How do you die when you’re already dead?

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High

Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High

Genre:  Television/Drama/Teen
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Saved By The Bell, Beverly Hills 90210, and their ilk
Special Warnings: Episodes dealing with depression, suicide, anorexia, drug/substance abuse, sexual assault (obvious from descriptions)

For Canadians of Gen X, it’s impossible to meet one not familiar with the kids of Degrassi.  For some of us (like me), teachers showed episodes of this critically lauded show in class as teaching moments/reprieves on the last day of class before holidays.  Joey Jeremiah? Our Zach Morris.  Hell, Kevin Smith loved the show so much, he named the infamous Caitlin of Clerks after Degrassi’s Caitlin Ryan.

Degrassi is your typical “lesson of the week” teen show in its structure, but it still works so well that I found myself marathoning both old series recently in a week’s time.  The difference is in the kids themselves:  these young actors aren’t polished adults playing teens; they’re playing themselves, awkwardness and all.  There is continuity over the series, but mostly, we are treated to a spotlight of a character each episode as he/she deals with a serious issue.  What also endears here is the lack of a laugh track minimizing their lives; instead, these kids face serious issues, screw up, face consequences that sometimes endure, and still have parents bugging them for good grades.  Everyone does not get a shiny new car for their sweet sixteen; these kids buy their own after working jobs.  Condoms break, and pregnancies happen.  Even ableism is handled in an episode of Degrassi High, where well-meaning girls don’t invite their wheelchair-bound friend because they “know” a theatre isn’t accessible and what a shame, only to be confronted angrily that “not inviting me and assuming what I can and can’t do is as bad as places that aren’t accessible – I’m a person”.

The shows are shot in the late 80s-early 90s, so the fashion is fricking hilarious, but the show is impressive for how far it’s willing to go.  Gay characters?  Abortion clinics and protesters? Degrassi has it.  The show is sex-positive while still encouraging, through the thoughts of its teens, to at least wait for someone you care about and be safe about it.

Oh, and they did the caffeine pill abuse before Bell’s infamous Jessie meltdown.  True facts.

Degrassi was a voice for the youth of its time, demonstrating that they were more competent and adult than mainstream media gave them credit for, but also still vulnerable and prone to mistakes.  It endures for being easy to relate to.  Put on your jelly bracelets and tune in, and remember your teens with a laugh (and maybe a tear or two).

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: Brick

Brick

Genre:  Mystery/Modern Film Noir/Dark Dramedy
Rating:  4/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Cruel Intentions, Veronica Mars, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Breaking Bad, Gossip Girl
Special Warnings: Drug use, violence

Brick kept coming up in our recommended films for weeks; I suspect it was the run I did on rating suspense films and watching B-grade horror that did it.  Upon noticing the cast, I decided it was worth a go on the promise of their talent; luckily, it paid off.

Brick is a modern film noir-esque mystery set in the world of high school, much like season one of Veronica Mars.  The dialogue stands out as somewhat anachronistic or simply ‘off’ for a group of teenagers, but it’s a calculated approach that works most of the time.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant in this movie as Brendan Frye, a loner high schooler whose life shifts drastically when his ex-girlfriend (and still crush) turns up dead.  Understanding that the police will never unravel the mystery of how she came to die, Frye sets out to do it himself, manuevering his way into the seedy drug world of the spoiled brats among his peers, prying out the clues that will lead him to Emily’s killer, and why she made a desperate phone call to Brendan shortly before her demise.

This film will be a bit of an acquired taste; the storyline shifts all over in the same fashion as Go, and the stylistic elements will either intrigue or irritate you.  But the movie is worth seeing for Gordon-Levitt’s performance alone.  Intelligent, darkly sarcastic and able to take a beating without missing a sleuthy beat, he steals the entire show.  Settle in with a tall drink, and lose yourself in the seedy world of Brick.

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking

The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking

Genre:  Family/Comedy
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Kids and kids at heart
Special Warnings: None

I freaking love this movie; as a child, I watched it at least once every few months, and never tired of it.  Whimsical, hilarious and cheeky, it’s a new-gen Mary Poppins, only with a little girl slipping into town and changing the lives of two children.

Pippi is a precocious young girl, sailing the seas with her pirate father and having a grand time of it.  When a storm separates Pippi and her beloved dad, she does as he has told her and heads to Villa Villekulla with her horse, Alfonso, and pet monkey, Mr. Nilsson to await his return.  The Villa, believed by local children to be haunted, is suddenly alive with games and songs, enchanting over neighbouring children Tommy and Annika.  While their mother feels Pippi is innocent enough, the town begins to take a narrow-minded stance, aiming to throw Pippi into foster care and make a “proper” little girl of her.  But they have no idea what they’re getting into…

This is one of those movies that truly captures what it’s like to be a kid, to have a vivid imagination and, most importantly, to dream big and believe in yourself.  The timid Tommy and Annika emerge bolder and more confident, while Pippi appreciates why being a little civilized might not be so bad – but only a little, of course.  It’s full of laughter and heart and PIRATES.  C’mon!  You gotta watch it.

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: Big Cat Diary

Big Cat Diary

Genre:  Television/Documentary – Nature
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Animal/nature lovers; families
Special Warnings: None

For Christmas Day, I thought I’d throw out something family-friendly that I happen to love a lot:  Big Cat Diary.  Perfect for kids of all ages, particularly those who love cats, the show follows around lion prides, cheetahs, and leopards on an African reserve, showing their fight to survive, raise their cubs, and thrive.  Each season tends to focus on a new animal/animals, although there are frequent recurring stars – mainly, the cats that are more camera crew-friendly.  One particular cheetah loves to use the jeeps as a perch for spotting prey, and also tends to want to “mark” her narrator on a daily basis, which is hilarious.

The show is realistic, though; animals die, and not only the prey.  In one horrifying episode, cubs are assaulted by stomping, angry elephants.  The fact that this show doesn’t shy away from the truth of the animals’ lives in Africa is what makes it stellar.  The whole series is like a mini-soap opera of animals, really, but in a good way.

Kitties!

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd

Genre:  Television/Comedy
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of The Big Bang Theory; fans of geeky humour; computer nerds; fans of The Office/Clerks/other “damn the man” slacker comedies; Brit-Comedy fans
Special Warnings: Definitely not for little kids (it’ll go over their heads a lot anyway)

I often look at the top recommended titles for our Netflix account and am utterly baffled by their algorithms.  Titles come up that have nothing to do with our watch preferences, or are a great deal like something we’ve just trashed.  But sometimes, Netflix scores a goal; The IT Crowd is one such success story.

Half my DNA is British, so we checked this show out pretty quickly, quickly discovering it was hilarious – so much so that we devoured all 3 available seasons in a couple of days.

The premise: Jen is in desperate need of a job – a good one – but her resume is a little lacklustre.  Spotting a job involving IT – something she’s clueless about – at Reynholm Industries, she decides to fudge her skills and interview anyway.  To her credit, she sweet talks her way into a great job; unfortunately, it’s head of the IT Department, and resident geeks Roy and Moss see right through her.  But just as she needs them to explain the internet to her, they need her to show them how to relate to the rest of their coworkers, and perhaps earn a little respect from their grungy basement home.

Filled with computer-speak gags, The IT Crowd features all of the hilarity of The Big Bang Theory tucked into the IT world.  Moss truly makes the show with his social ineptitude wrapped in a lovable package; I just adore him, and I’m not the only one, given the brilliant Texts From Moss Tumblr that blends the best of TFLN with stills of the show. But maybe you should see for yourself just how much fun The IT Crowd can be?

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12 Days of Netflix Finds: UHF

UHF

Genre:  Comedy
Rating:  4.5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Weird Al, Seinfeld’s Kramer; people who enjoy feel-good yet goofy humour-loaded films (particularly the 80s flicks ie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; people who enjoy light movies with a deeper message if you want it/no message if you prefer it
Special Warnings: None

I clapped like a little girl when this film showed up in the New Additions section of Netflix a while back.  It’s one of those movies that I love because it never tries to be more than it is, and it’s damn good at what it’s trying to do.  Plus, Weird Al Yankovic is a genius.

UHF tells the story of George Newman (Yankovic), a slacker dreamer who loses minimum wage job after job due to his daydreaming ways.  Specifically, George is obsessed with TV – think the classics:  Beverly Hillbillies; Leave It To Beaver; The Addams Family.  When George’s uncle wins a flailing local TV station in a poker game, his aunt convinces him to let George run it.  After all, it’s already a sinking ship of debt; how much worse can George make it?

Although things start rocky, George’s decision to have his janitor hosts a children’s show for a night turns the station into an overnight success.  Soon, little ol’ channel 62 is thriving – outdoing a rival VHF station.  And the owner of channel 8 will not stand for it… and will destroy channel 62, at any cost.

Filled with parodies, offbeat humour and a “little guy can make it” feel, UHF is a movie that makes you smile and laugh, and as a bonus, it’s family friendly.  Throw this on TV over the holidays and revel in the stellar cast.

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12 Days Of Netflix Finds: Being Erica

Being Erica

Genre:  Television/Dramedy
Rating:  5/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Back To The Future; women (and men) experiencing a “how the hell did my life end up like this?” crisis (or relate well to the feeling); fans of “protagonist keeps making things worse to hilarious effect” storylines
Special Warnings: None

I have to admit that when I first saw the massive advertising blitz in the subway system for Being Erica years ago, the concept seemed cheesy and hokey in the press pictures.  Given that the CBC has been on a bit of a failtastic run for a while now, I also had little faith when I realized it was their baby.

Then, I threw my back out and was sentenced to a week of bedrest.  Being bored to tears, without cable, and having read a review that indicated the show was far more stellar than the pilot had demonstrated, I threw up my hands and said, “Fuck it!” and loaded up CBC’s website (awesome, because it allows you to watch whole seasons of shows).

I devoured the entire first season of Being Erica in a few days.

Like Dollhouse, you need to get past the first few episodes with this one.  They’re not terrible – Erin Karpluk immediately shines and reels you in as Erica Strange, the woebegone heroine of the series, while Michael Riley is her brilliant sarcastic counterpart as Dr. Tom.  It’s just that after the first two episodes, the show truly hits its stride, and digs its way into your heart.

The premise:  what if you could go back in time and undo the regrets that have ruined your life, destroyed your dreams, or just made you miserable?  What if this gift was a form of therapy, a way to become the person you always wished you could be?  This is the gift offered to Erica, after the worst day of her life (and seriously, it is shit-tastic; it plays out in the first ten minutes of the series).  Erica’s got a monster list of regrets, and Dr. Tom has alllll the time in the world.  But is it really better to do what you wish you’d done – and will it change anything at all in the present?

The cast is stellar for this series, and the writing is pitch-perfect.  Karpluk and Riley really make the show special, though; lesser actors could have never made the characters so genuine and lovable.  You want Erica to succeed, to shine.  You want someone like Dr. Tom on your side.

Seriously, one of my favourite TV shows of all-time here, right up with my precious Buffy and Lost.  Watch it.  Now.

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12 Days Of Netflix Finds: Choose

Choose

Genre:  Suspense/Thriller
Rating:  4/5 Stars
Recommended To:  Fans of Saw; fans of horror/suspense
Special Warnings: Graphic violence; violence against women

Choose is a film I stumbled onto while browsing late at night, the IFC logo catching my eye.  Their films are hit and miss, but usually enjoyable, so I gave this one a go.

Fiona, a graduate student in journalism, lost her mother years ago to suicide; her police officer father lovingly jokes about them being enemies by profession, but is very protective of Fiona.  When a new case emerges, involving a young girl who is made to choose which of her parents the killer will murder before her, Fiona investigates, much to her father’s dismay.  It only grows as other victims are targeted, and the killer reaches out to Fiona, hinting that all is not what it seems…

This film is fun:  the premise is interesting, the scenes appropriately gruesome, and the acting isn’t terrible, either. If you’re a fan of this genre, you’ll guess at the ending about halfway through, but it’s still enjoyable to finish.  My only complaint is that the ending is sort of hokey at times, and somewhat WTF, but it’s still a great way to pass a few hours.

Now, choose

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