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A 90's gunslinger tale and a Tinseltown send-up from Ryan Murphy: This week’s best and biggest on Netflix

Check out Jordan Parker's 'The week's best and biggest on Netflix' every Friday on HalifaxToday.ca
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Check out Jordan Parker's 'The week's best and biggest on Netflix' every Friday on HalifaxToday.ca.

The Half Of It

Just as I was beginning to grow tired of the Netflix-produced romantic comedy formula, The Half Of It showed up and pulled me in entirely.

This is not your regular romance movie -- it's not your regular movie at all -- and for every well-worn cliche it embarks on, it packs a punch in a later scene.

Writer-director Alice Wu has created a film that's at times romantic, endearingly funny and intensely LGBTQ+ friendly and rewatchable that it's incredible she can sustain such a juggling act.

This perfectly pitched feature is about Ellie Chu, a quiet Asian girl living in a small, bible-thumping town who spends her free time running an essays-for-cash ring for her fellow students.

She has their money, but never their respect. So she's skeptical when jock Paul offers to pay her to write a love letter to Aster Flores, a girl from school he's never met but is confident he loves.

Sound familiar? It's been said that it's never about the plan, but about the execution of it, and The Half Of It never plays out the way you expect.

From the jump, the mature, grounded acting from Leah Lewis as Ellie brings a layered, graceful element to the proceedings. With another pair of inspired performances from Alexxis Lemire and Daniel Diemer, these characters are never cardboard cutouts.

While not everything in the film is smoothed out, neither is life. That's part of why I enjoyed this so much. The Half Of It is a resonant, funny film about tolerance, love, following your dreams and being true to yourself. There's more to this one than you'd ever expect, and it was such a welcome surprise.

4/5 Stars

The Quick And The Dead

They're few and far between, but director Sam Raimi's western The Quick And The Dead falls into the category of a blockbuster with a brain.

Sure, it's mostly just energetic fun, but the cinematography stylings, memorable performances and overall feel of the flick help it rise above your normal tentpoles.

Made in 1995, it plays like a cheesy B-movie spaghetti western with just enough gravitas that you have to take it more seriously than you'd expect.

This story about a female gunslinger who rides into a small town to take part in a dueling tournament -- and settle a decades-old score -- is so much fun to see play out.

The cast is perfect: Headlined by Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe and Gene Hackman, the pedigree of the talent is incredible, and they're all a joy to watch here.

But really, it's the character actors and supporting turns that surprise. A pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio is magnificent as a young shooter with something to prove. Sons Of Anarchy alum Mark Boone Junior, Saw's Jigsaw himself Tobin Bell, as well as Lance Henrikson, Keith David and Gary Sinise all pop up. 

It really is a genre fan's dream to watch all of them on-screen together, and director Raimi -- of Evil Dead and the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man fame -- gives us a western worth remembering.

4/5 Stars

The Willoughbys

This darkly funny Netflix original animated flick plays like a wonderful mix between Matilda and The Addams Family.

The Willoughby kids are raised -- hardly -- by two self-absorbed parents in a huge manor, but they often go without as the heads of house lavish each other in love and praise and leave the children out.

Convinced they'd be better suited to live on their own, they devise a dangerous vacation to get rid of their parents forever. They then find themselves trying to get by, and learn about the power of the family that's not bonded by blood, but the one you choose.

To call The Willoughbys weird is an understatement, but it's also pretty great entertainment. The voice cast, including Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, singer Alessia Cara and comedian Ricky Gervais is formidable.

It's off-kilter, sometimes a bit dark, and definitely not your normal kids flick. But for pre-teens and up, it's a whole lot of fun, and a deeply valuable meditation on what makes a family.

4/5 Stars

Tremors

Perhaps one of the best cheesy, guilty pleasure movies of all time, Tremors is an absolute trashy delight.

This horror-comedy about two redneck bumpkins who discover underground creatures that are killing townsfolk one by one has long been a film everyone stops to watch on cable, as if compelled, whenever it's on.

Like other creature flicks, the special effects aren't grand, the performances are sometimes cooky, and the plot is downright silly, but man, is this movie ever fun.

Director Ron Underwood was the director of the hit City Slickers, and also directed such stinkers as the career-ender Eddie Murphy space movie Pluto Nash. That one has its own strange cult following, but you really can't go wrong with Tremors.

With Fred Ward and a young, long-haired, tank-top wearing Kevin Bacon in the leads, they make an absolutely hilarious pair, and this film has spawned four sequels.

Do me a favour: Stick with the original, kick back, and just enjoy it for what it is. You'll be happy you did.

4/5 Stars

Hollywood

Ryan Murphy has been gracing our television screens with greatness for decades. The creator of Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, Glee, 9-1-1 and more has found a way to remain a part of the cultural zeitgeist forever.

He and co-creator Ian Brennan have an incredible, gorgeous and hugely entertaining hit on their hands with their new show Hollywood.

The Netflix original follows aspiring actors, writers and filmmakers ready to do anything to gain the spotlight in post-WWII Tinseltown.

Glee star Darren Criss, Dylan McDermott, Patti Lupone and Rob Reiner are familiar names among a sea of impressive newcomers, including Jake Picking, Jeremy Hope and David Corenswet.

The ensemble cast is incredible, with one standout I'm already tipping for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy nomination. With Hollywood, Jim Parsons has completely shed his odd, commercial bubble as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory with this daring performance. 

As venomous gay agent Henry Wilson, Parsons manages to embody this snake of a character, and is impossible to take your eyes off of.

Even if the show ends up not being for you, this is worth a full watch for Parsons, and Parsons alone.

4.5/5 Stars

Jordan Parker's weekly film reviews can be found on his blog, Parker & The Picture Shows. 


About the Author: Jordan Parker

Jordan Parker is a freelance journalist and runs entertainment firm Parker PR. He's been a movie nerd since he was old enough to walk.
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