Christopher Meir from Netflix Original Movies Reviewed is back with a recap of Netflix’s original movie releases in February.
After a relatively quiet month in January, Netflix released a total of fourteen movies in February (in the US market). In the traditional film business, January is a dumping ground for all the movies not good enough to be released during Christmas and that dumping typically continues into February, with the exception of films intended for viewing around Valentine’s Day.
Plenty of romance films to choose from
For all of its posturing as a disruptor of the old way of doing things, Netflix’s release strategies for its American films largely follows this old-fashioned pattern. The holiday highlight this year was undoubtedly the much-anticipated sequel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, P.S. I Still Love You, which amongst other things boasted an even longer title than the original. That original, as we all know by now, was Netflix’s biggest teen rom-com hit to date. Its sequel did what many sequels do: it reunited all our favorite characters and essentially found ways to tell the exact same story over again. So it was that Kravinsky and Lara Jean fell in love again, even if it was never really clear to me why they had to split up in the first place. I was sort of “meh” on the film as a whole, but the franchise’s fan base seems pleased enough with it and Netflix had already promised the third film, so there is more Lara Jean on the way.
Netflix packaged this sweet, upbeat teen rom-com with a more maudlin story of doomed teen romance in All the Bright Places. While this film featured more than its fair share of teen clichés and problematic treatment of teen suicide, it nonetheless features a great pair of leads in Justice Smith and Elle Fanning. These two are the real “bright places” in a story that otherwise might have been as grim and dreary as its Indiana setting.
The romcoms and teen stories continue in the international section below, but it is worth also highlighting Netflix’s family film efforts this month, both of which were attached to well-known franchises. One of these was a new Pokémon film, Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, which has been getting mixed reviews. (Not being a huge fan of the franchise, I am reluctant to wade in on this myself.) The other was the newest film from Aardman Animations and their Shaun the Sheep franchise, this film titled Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon. While not quite to the standard of the first film in the series, this is nonetheless a hugely enjoyable slapstick adventure in which a cute new alien joins the cast of lovable and mischievous farm animals. The only downside of this particular film is that it is only available is selected territories on Netflix, but if you happen to live in the US or Latin America, this is one to check out for sure.
The annual February dumping ground strikes again
It is when we get to Netflix’s more upscale, adult-oriented openings that we are reminded that February is at least in part a dumping ground. With very little publicity, the company dropped The Coldest Game, a would-be spy and chess drama set during the Cold War. The film is actually a Polish production, but it was made in English, giving rise to a poorly written script that somehow complements perfectly the cheap knockoff feel that permeates the rest of the film, a film that could not be saved by the efforts of Sinner star Bill Pullman.
Another dud that was barely promoted by Netflix was The Last Thing He Wanted, a woefully bad period thriller that was made by Dee Rees (of Mudbound fame) and which featured an A-list cast, including Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck. Somehow, these elements combined to form what for me was the worst film of the month, a film that was lacking in pretty much every aspect of the art form. Netflix seemed to see this one coming when the film received poor reviews at Sundance. In the run-up to its release on the service, Last Thing went curiously underpromoted and didn’t even turn up in “coming to Netflix” publicity for the month.
Another disappointment was Horse Girl, an Alison Brie star vehicle that never really gets going. Like The Last Thing, the film premiered at Sundance and was quickly released on to the service. The film has at its core two things going for it that Last Thing didn’t have: a great star turn at its center and some artistic ambition. Unfortunately, Brie’s acting skills couldn’t overcome director Jeff Baena’s inability to find a creative way to depict madness or to care about Brie’s character.
If you’re looking for a feel-good rom-com, for me the best one this month wasn’t To All the Boys 2 but instead the German film Isi & Ossi, which also happens to be the first film that Netflix has made from scratch in that country. While not straying all that far from the clichés of the genre – Isi is a rich, but an unhappy girl and Ossi is a poor boy with a good heart, you know where it goes from there – the film nevertheless does the formula well. Moreover, it has a great central duo in Lisa Vicari (who also appears in Dark) and Dennis Mojen, who have great chemistry together and good comic chops as well.
The Indian film Yeh Ballet likewise attempts to breathe life into the clichés of youth cinema, this time using the dance film genre and two boys from the lower rungs of Mumbai’s class and religious hierarchies. The film has its heart in the right place, trying to show hope in the direst circumstances and trying to provide a timely message of religious acceptance in India, but it can never stop seeming like a poor knockoff of Billy Elliot. And one other major problem is that Julian Sands is just plain unwatchable as the film’s white savior figure.
Netflix released two Spanish films that coincidentally or not dealt in different ways with the legacy of the country’s Civil War. The first of these was The (Silent) War, which tried to use its remote wilderness locations and 1940s setting to make something resembling a Western. Unfortunately, the script never comes together and much of the action is fairly poor and ultimately not very interesting. The Endless Trench, in contrast, uses a claustrophobic story of a man forced to remain hidden in his own home for more than thirty years after the war as a metaphor for the country’s suffering under the tensions that marked the years of the Franco dictatorship. It is also a very well-acted, suspenseful and genuinely epic film that justly received a number of nominations at Spain’s Goya awards this year.
Other films released by Netflix this month included the German arthouse hit (on its domestic theatrical release) System Crasher (another grim youth-themed film) and the Mexican comedy Grandma’s Wedding, which is the latest in a local comedy franchise.
The only documentary feature released this month was The Road to Roma, which is essentially a DVD extra to promote the Criterion release of Cuarón’s film.
Best Film: Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
Worst Film and Biggest Disappointment: The Last Thing He Wanted
Hidden Gem: The Endless Trench
What was your favorite Netflix Original film in February? Let us know in the comments below!