This column tends to be about things you should watch on Netflix. We don’t care for Ricky Gervais’ latest attempted movie film — in fact, we think it’s another depressingly toothless slog from someone who sometimes has nothing but fangs. But it’s too big to ignore, and so we have to be honest: Ricky Gervais has proven once again that, while he’s (sometimes) great with TV, he has no clue what to do with cinema.
Like “The Invention of Lying,” he takes a rich, nasty subject — here, two radio journos (Gervais and Eric Bana) who have to fake reports from war-torn Ecuador after they miss their flight — and does next to nothing with it. Even the banter between the stars is on autopilot, which is all the more despairing since Bana, before he was hired by Hollywood as a manly rent-a-hunk, cut his teeth as one of Australia’s comedy gods. (Apparently no one in this hemisphere has seen his terrifying-hilarious turn in 2000’s “Chopper,” which is a turn for the history books.) Only Vera Farmiga, as a borderline-sexist harpy profiting on Gervais’ plight, manages more than a faint smile.
Your relatively small big-screen TV — or, ye gods, your laptop — is no place to view Kelly Reichardt’s hyper-minimalist indie Western. It’s a film lousy with drawn-out stretches of not much at all: an all-star cast of Manifest Destiny types plodding exhausted across arid landscapes on rickety wagons, perhaps never to arrive at anything but early death. In a theater, where the attention is more likely to be drawn to the screen, it’s hypnotic. At home there’s always your phone. So, if you must, draw the drapes, turn off your lights and your gizmos, and drink in the beautiful despair.
The director of “Gremlins” does a movie about destructive action figures: How you screw this up? By “you,” we don’t mean Joe Dante himself, who turned in another hilarious, delirious and nasty piece of subversive popcorn-art. We mean the people of 1998, who treated it with a shrug before tossing it into humanity’s memory bin. This is by no means as iconic as “Gremlins,” but it’s as fleet-footed as it is scathing, replacing cackling, Looney Tunes-y beasties with sentient, equally destructive army toys, who prove gung-ho about laying waste to the American suburbs in order to save it. What part of this doesn’t sound awesome?