Welcome once again to "Video IRL," where several of our editors talk about what they've been watching in their spare time. This month we're checking out Netflix's big release from the past week that isn't The Defenders with What Happened to Monday? as well as a surprisingly heartwarming indie movie called The Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Meanwhile Contributing Writer Rob LeFebvre fell in love with the family in Netflix's series Atypical, and Saqib Shah looks at Guy Ritchie's King Arthur as a reason for optimism instead of just a box office bomb.
What Happened to Monday?
Senior News Editor
Along with The Defenders (quick review: There are hallway fights, and no one respects Iron Fist), Netflix released a new sci-fi movie last week featuring Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) playing seven identical sisters. What Happened to Monday? invites the viewer into a dystopian future where food shortages have been dealt with; however, a consequence is that multiple births are suddenly common, resulting in a government-enforced system of one child per family. As a result, the girls' existence is a secret: They're each named for a day of the week and all share the single public identity of Karen Settman.
To go into much more detail would invite spoilers, but the sci-fi plot quickly gives way to an emotional roller coaster of an action-thriller. With so many characters to play, Rapace is on-screen constantly and like Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, manages to give each sister a unique feel -- despite the precious little time we spend with them individually -- that goes beyond simple hair and makeup changes. The movie also stars Willem Defoe and Glenn Close, although they're also not quite given the time to develop their characters emotionally, and I wish we could see more of them.
As a result, it's a movie that is certainly good enough to watch once on Netflix but can't carry its concept toward any broader conversation of the themes touched on or hinted at. If you want to see some validation of a view on things like GMOs and dealing with overpopulation or birth defects you'll likely walk away feeling the same as you did before, because the film never takes a side or provides a particularly unique viewpoint. Whether or not you agree with them, movies like Idiocracy or Children of Men have a point, which What Happened to Monday? is ultimately lacking.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Video Producer / Host
I queued up the delightful movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople a few weeks ago after a rare trip over to Hulu's movies tab, totally unprepared for how delighted I was about to become by this film.
Set in the wilds of New Zealand, it features a wannabe tough-guy foster kid and his mostly unwilling caretaker. It begins when our unlikely hero, Ricky Baker, gets dumped at his last home before the foster system gives up on him. The first scene sets it up so well: A hip-hop styled, overweight preteen gets out of the back of a police car at a derelict farm that last saw better days 30 years before. His caretaker, Bella Faulkner (Rima Te Wiata), runs out to greet him in a sweater with a large cat face on it, frizzy hair flying, and we're off.
Now, I'm going to level with you. If you don't like being charmed silly by lovable weirdos, this film will not be your thing. But for me, it has all the quirky surprise moments of my actual "if I could only re-watch one movie" pick, A Very Long Engagement, rounding the humor out with adventure in the beautiful outdoors.
The scenery is stunning (have you ever seen Lord of the Rings?), and we begin to experience it on Ricky's level when he decides to run away after Bella's husband sneers at him over the dinner table. So, the husband. Everyone's favorite Jurassic Park star, Sam Neill, plays Hector -- the grunting and irritable outdoorsman who wishes Ricky would just leave him alone.
The laughs in the beginning of the film are ingeniously layered over one another from second to second, from Ricky saying the rapper Tupac is his best friend to Bella killing a pig to Ricky's horror. Unfortunately for Hector, who hates this new interloper in his life, and Ricky, who was finally beginning to trust that he was safe, Bella dies suddenly early in the movie. The evil-genius foster agent Paula (Rachel House) insists on collecting Ricky from the home he's grown to love, so he sets off into the bush, determined to evade the terrible group foster home he knows he'll be dumped at next. From that moment, you're rooting for his success, because he's right: Ricky's tender heart would be ripped apart at a new home.
Hector goes on to find him, and soon enough they're on the run when hunters misunderstand Ricky and think he's been molested by Hector. In true caper style, the two then craftily evade a bumbling police force that can't seem to pin them down. I'll ignore tired movie tropes all day if more underdog films can charm as well as this one does.
Taika Waititi directed Hunt for the Wilderpeople and also did most of the adaption from the book it's based on. It's obvious when you see how in love with the subjects the crew and cast must have been, to do such an outstanding job. The film lifted me right out of my life, which is overly saturated in reality and shocking news these days -- and dropped me right beside the sweetest foster kid who's ever spray-painted a building. Thank goodness.
Atypical, a new Netflix series that centers on a young man with autism, pulled me in for four hours in a row one evening, even though I'm not a binge-watcher by nature. And while I've spent a lot of time with individuals on the spectrum, teaching and socializing with people who have a wide range of abilities and needs for support, what makes Atypical resonate for me isn't just the main character of the show. Sure, it's lovely to see Sam portrayed warmly and authentically by Keir Gilchrist as he tries to navigate the social scene of dating and everyday life. It's also a big deal to watch a television show about a family that's been dealing with an autism diagnosis and the day-to-day realities of raising a child with the disorder. The humor is pretty fantastic too; the funny situations and witty banter among all the characters is a highlight of each half-hour episode.
And yes, I found myself with tears in my eyes during several poignant moments: the father who believes he can't ever be close to a son who doesn't reach out emotionally. The over-invested mother who feels useless when her children find independence and age-appropriate relationships outside the family, and the younger sister who has to take a backseat to the genuine needs of her brother.
Ultimately, though, what gets me is the display of human warmth that lies beneath every interaction in Atypical. Even the mean girls who tease track-star Casey, Sam's sophomore sister, feel bad about their bullying at some point. Mom and Dad, played pitch-perfectly by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport, who argue and disagree while dealing with issues of infidelity and abandonment, honestly care about each other; their son, Sam; and daughter, Casey, played to perfection by Brigette Lundy-Paine. Everyone is doing their best to do the right thing, even if it hurts.
I fell in love with this family, this world and the way everyone tries a little harder to be a better person. It's how I'd like the world to be, and Atypical has given me a lovely four hours of just that. Of course, there are some criticisms of the show that can't be ignored, like the less-than-diverse cast, a focus on the higher end of the autism spectrum and a family with a higher socioeconomic status than many others dealing with difficult situations. Still, it's a fantastically written show with tons of potential. Atypical never preaches, even while it does its best to remain accurate and authentic to the subject matter. What it does best is show how one family is dealing with life, through the lens of a son with autism. It's a great bunch of people to spend time with.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
I recently sat down to watch Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Like most people, I'd skipped it at the cinema, but this particular night I was in the mood for something big and dumb. It met my criteria and even exceeded it. It also convinced me that Ritchie is the right bloke to direct Disney's live-action Aladdin.
I was as surprised as everyone else when the Brit director landed the Disney gig. However, Ritchie's latest shares a bunch of similarities with the iconic animation. Like Aladdin's eponymous hero, Ritchie's Arthur starts off as a street urchin. Both characters also possess the virtues required to obtain the magical objects that alter their fate. In Arthur's case it's the sword Excalibur; in Aladdin's it's the lamp. And they both must face off against a treacherous villain with demonic powers. Throw in King Arthur's CGI beasts (including a giant snake) and you can see why Disney came knocking.
Granted, I'm taking this way too seriously. Don't get me wrong, King Arthur is a mess. It packs more (murky) CGI than all of Ritchie's previous efforts combined. And none of it makes up for its drudging pace. Worst of all, the characterization falls flat. Charlie Hunnam's "born king" is supposed to be a lovable rogue, but the weak script (bereft of humor) constantly lets him down.
Despite its flaws, I sat through King Arthur and was relatively entertained. It helps to go in with lowered expectations, of course. In the hours and days that followed, I kept thinking back to it. I recalled the quick cuts, slo-mo and colorful voice-overs - - all trademarks of a Guy Ritchie film. It's surprising to see how much of himself Ritchie injects into an otherwise by-the-numbers Hollywood flick. His quirks served to remind me of how he could bring Aladdin's genie to life.
Will Smith will reportedly attempt to fill Robin Williams' shoes in the remake. And they're pretty big shoes to fill. Williams' memorable performance was quite simply groundbreaking for its time. He stole every scene -- flitting between personalities and impersonations -- to deliver a tour de force in voice acting. It was so good that the Golden Globes even felt compelled to give Williams a special achievement award. At the least, Ritchie's hyperkinetic style may suit the film's larger-than-life genie.
I still have my reservations about Disney's surefire blockbuster. Smith is a safe bet, but it would have been interesting to see the studio take a risk (Mindy Kaling or Queen Latifah spring to mind as alternatives). It's also hard to ignore that Ritchie's King Arthur tanked at the box office. Nonetheless, he's proved time and again that his style is versatile enough to fit the blockbuster mold. If everything goes according to plan, Ritchie may well follow up his latest bomb with a billion-dollar hit.
"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.