The outlook for the reopening of cinemas remains uncertain with local operators worried about the supply of new Hollywood features. Many major attractions have been delayed until late this year or even next year. Production of new movies is also in abeyance, leaving a hiatus of popular box office fare.
The good news is that the disrupted French Film Festival will resume once the all-clear is given, while options for home entertainment have widened to include some online festivals.
Netflix said it added 15.8 million subscribers in the March quarter, lifting its total to 183 million. This would include a large proportion of New Zealand households.
Netflix is well ahead of its nearest rival, Walt Disney, which, since the launch of Disney Plus, has topped 50 million.
While consumers have plenty of choice, most of it is made up of back catalogues and TV series. Local cinemas that have branched into streaming are generally not offering new big-screen movies.
Neither is Disney, which so far has streamed only one new release, Onward, without waiting for cinemas to reopen.
Meanwhile, Netflix is bolstered by its global reach and attractive deals with established film-makers. In the past month, it has kept up a steady stream of new movies that would appeal to all but the most discerning cinema audiences.
One example is the high-octane thriller Extraction, which follows others in the genre such as Code 8 and Michael Bay’s 6 Underground, released in December.
Bay specialises in car chases and explosions, which don’t come cheap, just as exotic locations don’t. The reported budget for 6 Underground was $US150 million.
Extraction has all these in spades, and comes from Joe and Anthony Russo, who produced and directed Marvel’s Avengers and Captain America series.
They match Bay’s stunning car chase opening in 6 Underground with a 1917-style near single-shot 15-minute sequence set in the crowded streets of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh (actually filmed in Thailand).
These and other action scenes are directed by Sam Hargrave, who steps into the key role from his stunt work on the Avengers movies and Atomic Blonde.
The plot about rescuing the son of a jailed Indian drug lord from his Bangladeshi rival is mostly a vehicle for one-man army Chris Hemsworth (Thor) to dispatch all and sundry.
While car crashes and grenades are the stuff of these movies, the high body counts in the fire-fights are becoming tiresome. No one should have to believe one man – and some lucky coincidences – can dispose of dozens of army and police, particularly when they have armoured vehicles and mortars.
Fortunately, Extraction has much else to recommend it, including Hemsworth’s bonding with Rudhraksh Jaiswal as the abducted teen. The award-winning Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani provides timely backup as the hero’s recruiter and minder, while India’s Randeep Hooda adds complexity in a deceptive role that keeps the hero guessing.
Netflix rating: 15+. 116 minutes
United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello died in a Baghdad suicide attack in August 2003, soon after the United States-led invasion. Famed for his skills in handling global hotspots and fluent in five languages, the Brazilian immediately positioned himself against – some might say undermined – the occupying forces that overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime. The narrative is told in flashback as Mello lies in the rubble of the Canal Hotel awaiting rescue. This spans his earlier assignments, including deals with the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea (Cambodia) and the anti-Indonesian rebels in Timor Leste. The personal side recounts his affair with an Argentinian economist, Carolina Larriera, and separation from his Paris-based family. Director Greg Barker was already familiar with Mello’s story, having made a straight documentary in 2009. Footage from this is interleaved with the recreated drama. The leads, played by Wagner Moura and Ana de Armas (Knives Out), help glamorise events to Mello’s benefit, while also making a political point about why Iraq eventually proved such a disaster.
Netflix rating: 13+.118 minutes.
Rising High (Betonrausch)
Germany’s reputation as a place where business is largely respected takes a hit in this “Wolf of Wall Street” account of the rise and fall of a corrupt property developer. Told to a journalist by the protagonist in flashback, it starts with the renting of penthouses in Berlin to Bulgarian migrant workers. The scam widens to include a bank officer and a petty criminal. They live the high life on other people’s money until it falls apart, along the way indicating that trust in the German business environment looks easily exploited. Reality may be different and this could explain the criminal trio’s lack of credibility. David Kross is best-suited for his boyish roles (such as The Reader, War Horse, The Keeper and Balloon) than as a ruthless entrepreneur. His crooked partner (Frederick Lau) is ill-suited for any boardroom, while the banker and later Kross’s wife (Janina Uhse) is an unlikely thief, who is too smart to be a victim herself.
Netflix rating: 16+. 93 minutes.
The Plagues of Breslau (Plagi Breslau)
Crime thrillers from the Nordic region lifted the genre to a new level of graphic realism. Now it’s the turn of eastern Europeans to demonstrate their forensic ingenuity. Though steeped in an 18th century fable, with serial killings at the same time each day of high-ranking officials for alleged sins, the plot recalls David Finchley’s Se7en (1995). The difference is that two mature women lead the investigation – a harried local detective (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) and her superior from Warsaw (Daria Widawska). The setting is Wroclaw, formerly Breslau in pre-1945 Germany. Like the Polish TV series The Mire (also on Netflix), it has quirky characters from the Soviet era, including a heavy-drinking prosecutor and frustrated TV reporter. Director Patryk Vega is noted for gang-related thrillers that, judging by the titles, indicate his audiences have a high tolerance factor.
Netflix rating: 18+. 93 minutes.