• Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

In many ways, Netflix is in the same position that Google was in about twenty years ago: They’re a brand name synonymous with what they do, but they’re still better known as a brand name than for anything they actually create. Ultimately, they’re mostly perceived as a middleman for someone else’s products and IP.

Part of the problem is that Netflix built their success by overwhelming their user base with quantity. Keep the audience binging so they’ll either find more of what they like or keep cycling through everything they hate until they find something they like. Put simply, they wanted to be YouTube and now they want to be Hollywood.

Tough to blame them when even YouTube doesn’t want to be YouTube anymore. Though I question the wisdom of trying to gain status as a major Hollywood studio when the likes of Disney, WB, Sony, and Paramount are going through such dire straits. But I digress.

The point is that even though Netflix is on top of the streaming world, they’re battling significant headwinds by the very nature of their business model. They still suck at promoting their shows and movies, even and especially when they manage to get a movie that’s genuinely good. Hand to God, I could swear I’ve done more on this blog to promote Moxie than Netflix itself ever did!

Their in-house TV shows are well-received while most of their in-house movies feel like bland filler. (Remember, Nimona was picked up from another studio after it was practically finished, so that doesn’t count.) Sure, Maestro and Rustin got a few Oscar nominations, but I don’t hear anyone saying “Wow, Netflix did such a great job with those movies!” And hell, that’s not even getting started on the ongoing credibility issue with online streaming in general, as Netflix and its worthy competitors jack up monthly fees, pump in more ads, and crack down on password sharing even as exclusive content gets erased without warning.

And what solution did Netflix find for all this? Well, they did what WB/DC couldn’t and hired Dan Lin to wright the ship. Time will tell whether this accomplishes anything — God knows the last time they lured somebody away from DC Studios hasn’t worked out very well for them. But in the meantime, we’ve got another year or two of the previous status quo left in the pipeline.

So here we are with Spaceman, the latest in Netflix’s standing business arrangement with Adam Sandler. Yet the film was directed by Johan Renck, perhaps best known as the director of the goddamn “Chernobyl” miniseries. Our story is set in a parallel universe, such that the Czech Republic and South Korea are now the two foremost spacefaring nations of the world, and they’re both racing to investigate a strange purple cloud that suddenly appeared near Jupiter. Sandler plays Jakub, a cosmonaut six months into a year-long solo mission out to claim the new cloud for the Czech Republic.

We catch up with Jakub after he’s been isolated in zero gravity for half a year, the noisy malfunctioning equipment means he hasn’t slept in however long, and he’s got a pregnant wife back home (Lenka, played by Carey Mulligan) who’s quickly losing patience with him.

So, what we’ve got here is a movie about a protagonist losing his mind while dealing with the stress and isolation of life in deep space. It’s a movie about human connection by way of a main character who could very well be the loneliest man alive. All well and good. Tried and true material.

Too bad none of it works. Why? Well, let’s start with the giant spider.

Paul Dano voices Hanus, a giant spider who suddenly appears to Jakub out of nowhere. The plot leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether Hanus really is a giant alien spider with an interest in studying the “skinny human” (Hanus never refers to Jakub by any other name, it’s always just “skinny human”), or maybe Jakub has gone completely delirious and he’s hallucinating the giant talking CGI spider.

The ambiguity might have worked if Hanus was more of a sporadic and mysterious presence, like Frank the Bunny in Donnie Darko. Instead, what we’ve got here is a live human protagonist going through the typical “awkward meetup – burgeoning friendship – nasty breakup – reconciliation – tearjerker death” arc with a CGI cartoon character. The spider is such a constant presence, with such deeply personal and intimate interactions with our human lead, all the mystery and intrigue is sucked right out of the character.

To repeat, this is Adam Sandler going on an adventure with a giant CGI spider, the whole movie is about the both of them learning to become the best of friends… and this isn’t a comedy.

The live-action/cartoon character contrast is a classic tried-and-true formula for a lighthearted comedy (as with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Paul, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movies…), and the filmmakers are trying to use it for a psychological thriller. Not only that, the filmmakers are trying so desperately hard to make a deep existential drama that all the actors whisper their lines, the flashbacks are shot in this bullshit fish-eye lens, and all comic relief has been aggressively drained from this inherently comedic premise.

Of course the other big issue is Adam Sandler himself. Folks, I get that everyone likes Adam Sandler and we all want to see him succeed. We had his “overgrown man-baby” phase when we needed it, that schtick is no longer viable, and the world would be a better place if Sandler could age artistically into something else. He’s a genuinely talented actor, he seems like a really sweet guy that everyone wants to work with, he doesn’t get into legal trouble or go around offending anybody… I promise, I get it. But we’re pushing him too hard and too fast.

I’ve gone on record saying that Uncut Gems was overrated, and it becomes increasingly obvious with hindsight that blowing so much smoke up his ass for that movie was a mistake. After that movie, it’s like we’ve all bought into the delusion that Sandler is an Oscar-caliber actor. Sorry, but no. He’s talented, but not to that extent. He’s never going to be one of the all-time greats, and a heady psychological drama like this one is way too far out of his lane.

This becomes increasingly obvious in pairing him with Carey Mulligan. This role is so deep into Mulligan’s wheelhouse that it looks like she’s barely even trying. Except for when she’s on the screen with Sandler, and a romantic pairing between Adam Sandler and Carey Mulligan turns out to be laughably improbable as it sounds. Granted, this would hardly be the first time we’ve seen Adam Sandler opposite a woman far and away out of his league, but again, those were all comedies.

Sandler is clearly putting in his best effort here, but with all due respect, he wasn’t the right guy for this part. That said, at least his presence here is something interesting. Bradley Cooper or Channing Tatum (a credited producer here, I kid you not) might’ve been more comfortable with the role, to the point where the end result would’ve been wholly unremarkable. And even then, they’d still have to share a screen with an imaginary giant spider and play their heartfelt friendship arc totally straight. They’d still have to deal with a director who has all his actors deliver their lines in po-faced whispers, shooting every scene with no energy or comic relief whatsoever.

As with so much of Netflix’s cinematic output — most especially their awards contenders — Spaceman feels like an algorithm’s idea of what arthouse cinema is. It’s like somebody tried to make another adaptation of Solaris, armed with nothing but the relevant Wikipedia pages. Yes, there’s a lot of potentially great stuff in here about loneliness and shame and the need for human connection, but it’s hard for me to appreciate all that when there are so many baffling choices here.

It’s a bad movie, but at least it’s an intriguing kind of bad. It’s honestly kind of adorable how the film takes itself seriously to an extent that isn’t remotely earned. I genuinely want to know who thought Adam Sandler was ready for a role like this. I want to know who in the nine hells thought the classic “boy and his dog” formula with a giant CGI spider was a viable framework for an intellectual drama. Literally everything about Johan Renck’s direction makes me want to know why he made the choices he did, why anyone thought he was the best choice for this, and how he could’ve fallen so hard after the critically acclaimed “Chernobyl”.

I’d be interested to see if this would be any more fun watching while stoned. If anyone is so inclined to try that experiment, please leave a comment and let me know how that went. Otherwise, this is yet another failed experiment to get lost in the infinite pile of Netflix content.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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