Binge-r #130: After Life + Triple Frontier
AFTER LIFE S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
In After Life, the tepid new Netflix comedy series from Ricky Gervais, the friends and acquaintances of depressed widower Tony (writer/director Gervais), loyally support him even after he’s taken to saying whatever he wants, resulting in a deluge of insults and destructive promptings. Admirers of Gervais could be forgiven for feeling they’ve made a similar sacrifice: the comic strain that started with The Office and reached excruciating heights with Extras has petered out in recent years, with the wan Netflix movie Special Correspondents and then a desultory return to his Office character with David Brent: Life on the Road, a film that revealed Gervais’ sentimental streak even as he tried to recapture his original cringe.
“There’s no advantage to being nice and thoughtful and caring,” Tony tells his brother-in-law, Matt (Tom Basden), who runs the small town British newspaper where Tony verbals his co-workers and writes community coverage. But the concept doesn’t make a case for any disadvantages to Tony’s approach, which has him abusing strangers and offering nihilistic advice. Most people get annoyed with him but no worse, and Tony never offers truly cutting testimony to those he knows. It would have illuminated the character – and asked more of Gervais as an actor – if Tony hadn’t been such a top bloke prior, but the first episode opens with video testimony from his last wife affirming his good, and thus undeserving, nature.
Even as it lines up a way towards redemption for Tony, starting with his chats on a cemetery bench with a fellow visitor of the dead (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton), After Life is worryingly trite in its depiction of depression and self-harm situations, has lacklustre direction, and some of the most banal and predictable music placement you can imagine. What works is the everyday comic mishaps of Tony’s professional life, which has him writing a story about a local man whose water-stained wall looks like Kenneth Branagh or seeing off a regular visitor so desperate for coverage that he turns up with what he claims is Freddie Mercury’s tooth. Of course, if you want a workplace comedy from Ricky Gervais, chances are you’ve already seen the best there is.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
Triple Frontier (Netflix, 2019, 125 minutes): The story of a group of former American Special Forces operatives who return to South America – the title refers to the remote junction of the Brazilian, Argentinean, and Paraguayan borders – to illegally rob a narco lord of his cash, Triple Frontier is a handsome, widescreen film about being tarnished and reduced by greed. As with its spiritual predecessor, John Huston’s 1948 classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, getting the loot is difficult, but keeping it is grimly self-destructive. It’s also a terrific showcase for Oscar Isaac, an actor who can hold unsettling and contradictory beliefs within reach, whose world-weary instigator Santiago hatches the plan and cajoles comrades Tom (Ben Affleck), William (Charlie Hunnam), Ben (Garrett Hedlund), and Francisco (Pedro Pascal) to join him. With its flashes of warrior philosophising and expert set-pieces, this is the most conventional film director J.C. Chandor (All is Lost, A Most Violent Year) has made, but it’s studded with regret and images that clarify the moral corruption the gang’s score brings as they fight to escape with it. There are no clean getaways in this astute drama.
New on Netflix: The Descendants (2011, 115 minutes) is filmmaker Alexander Payne doing what he always does – a bittersweet comic drama about a man at a turning point, improved by George Clooney and Shailene Woodley; An above average action-thriller, Safe House (2012, 114 minutes) has CIA rookie Ryan Reynolds trying to keep Denzel Washington’s master spy alive when they’re pursued by assassins.
New on SBS on Demand: Headlined by exemplary performances from Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo, A United Kingdom (2016, 107 minutes) tells the real life story of the heir to an African kingdom who in the 1940s marries a white woman from England. It’s a solid historic romance whose points about institutionalised racism and xenophobic fear are more contemporary than period.
New on Stan: The Falcon and the Snowman (1985, 132 minutes) is a compelling study of personal faith and national betrayal, with Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn as young men who sold U.S. secrets to the Soviets; Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come (2016, 98 minutes) is a French showcase for Isabelle Huppert, one of the finest screen actors alive, who plays a woman whose certainties disappear to reveal new possibilities.
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