Legend survives fictional life


The decline of Netflix is an example of Mark Twain’s saying that rumours of his death are greatly exaggerated. A drop in global subscriptions, due to a more competitive environment, was reversed in the company’s latest report. 

A more interesting aspect of Netflix’s future is whether it will embrace theatrical releases more widely. At present, only a handful of likely award winners go into cinemas, mainly because it’s a condition for getting Oscars. 

But there’s a more important reason for Netflix to think twice. Movies made by the five biggest Hollywood studios earned more than $US39 billion at the worldwide box office in the past five years (excluding the pandemic year of 2020).  

These revenues go to the likes of Disney and Warner Bros, which have their own streaming services. Netflix has apparently talked to Sony-owned Columbia about shortening the release time after a theatrical release to weeks rather than months. 

Viewers may be divided over Netflix’s philosophy or quantity over quality, but, if it does face lower subscription revenues, then making more movies of higher quality or appeal may be preferable. 

This week’s column features three Netflix original movies, all of which are superior to their equivalents showing in cinemas. 

Top of the list is Blonde, written and directed by Kiwi filmmaker Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly, Chopper), based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates about the reimagined life of Marilyn Monroe, aka Norma Jeane Baker. (A key theme is that Norma Jeane impersonates a character called Marilyn.) 

Oates is not the first celebrated author to attempt to explain the tragedy of Hollywood’s most famous star of her day, and how she died alone at only 36 in a drug coma. Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, Fred Lawrence Guiles, Ben Hecht (who co-wrote the autobiography), and Charles Casillo are among such authors. 

Blonde moves at a fast clip through the early years, noting her (fictional) threesome friendship with the sons of Edward G. Robinson and Charlie Chaplin (Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams, respectively), and her abusive and unhappy marriages to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). Worst of all are her relationships with President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) and movie mogul “Mr Z” (Darryl F. Zanuck played by David Warshofsky) . 

The dual characterisation of Marilyn/Norma as a victim of these men and her own lack of a father, are played with uncanny likeness by Cuba’s Ana de Armas (No Time to Die, Sergio, Knives Out) – creating a multi-layer of impersonation. 

Marilyn/Norma’s offscreen life is a constant search for her “Daddy”, and is not lacking in yuck factors, such as a forced abortion. Yet the unrelenting bleakness of the story is balanced by songs and scenes from some of her most famous movies, though even some of these are fakes. 

At the conclusion, the viewer may be left confused about whether any explanation of Monroe’s life is possible, or that her inner self beneath the legend can ever be revealed. 

Rating: R18. 166 minutes. 



French writer-director Romain Gavras packs so much in the opening 15 minutes, staged as a single take and set in a Paris police station, that everything after it is a comedown. Gavras, son of the acclaimed Greek director Costa-Gavras (Z, The Confession, State of Siege, Missing), also made The World is Yours, a crime thriller. The death of a boy in custody sparks an attack on the police station, with the stolen guns taken back to the Athena housing estate amid continuing street battles. The plot centres on the victim’s three brothers, one of whom is a decorated soldier (Dali Benssalah) and another a charismatic revolutionary leader (Sami Slimane). On the other side of the barricades is a nervous young policeman (Anthony Bajon), who just wants to survive and return home to his twin daughters. If this cocktail isn’t enough, a sociopathic terrorist (Alexis Manenti) has also taken refuge in the estate. 

Rating: R15. 99 minutes. 

(Amazon Studios) 

Liam Neeson is back in action mode as a hitman operating across the American-Mexican border at El Paso, also the setting for the pacesetting thriller Sicario (2015). The story is based on a Belgian novel, De Zaac Alzheimer (The Alzheimer Case), by Jef Geeraerts, and filmed in 2003. At 70, Neeson is following Jeff Bridges, who played a similarly memory-challenged fake priest in Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) at age 69. Both movies also have a teenage girl victim whom the old guys are trying to save. Guy Pearce is a law enforcer who is investigating child trafficking, and finds his job complicated by Neeson, who is being paid by a crime cartel boss (Monica Bellucci, in an English-speaking role). New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell, a Bond specialist (Golden Eye, Casino Royale), is on form, though some suggest it’s time for Neeson to give up his gunslinging for more sedate roles. 

Rating: R16. 113 minutes. 

Mr Harrigan’s Phone 

Like Neeson and Bridges, Donald Sutherland is still taking on important roles at an amazing 87. Among recent ones are Moonfall, The Burnt Orange Heresy and as billionaire J. Paul Getty in the 10-part series Trust (2018). The title role is also a reclusive and mean-spirited billionaire, who befriends a motherless boy (played as a child by Colin O’Brien and as a teen by Jaeden Martell). He reads Harrigan classic novels by Dickens, Conrad, Dostoevsky and even D.H. Lawrence. Set in 2003, just as the iPhone is taking hold, Harrigan still has the prescience and ruthlessness that made his fortune. He predicts an Internet-connected smart phone, given to him when a lottery ticket he gives the teenager pays off, will change the world of investing, and much else. After Harrigan dies, his phone continues to receive messages. This is a Stephen King story, so weird things start happening in the capable hands of writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Highwaymen, The Founder, Saving Mr Banks). 

Rating: Mature audiences. 106 minutes.     


Posted in ,

Nevil Gibson

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *