The Summer of Josh Brolin Continues, on Netflix
Posted July 26, 2018 6:51 p.m. EDT
This is “The Summer of Josh Brolin,” proclaimed a recent New York Times profile of the actor by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. My colleague noted that with his prominent roles in two Marvel movies — playing the cosmic baddie Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” and the cyborg antihero Cable in “Deadpool 2” — Brolin became “the common denominator of two of the biggest blockbusters of a summer.”
So far, the combined domestic gross box office of the movies is more than a billion dollars. The international take is bigger. Let’s not forget a nonsuperhero movie, albeit one that is still a sequel, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” in which Brolin stars with Benicio Del Toro, doing very manly anti-drug-cartel stuff.
Would the Summer of Brolin be complete without a Netflix movie? We actually don’t have to ask that question because the Summer of Brolin does include a Netflix movie, the comedy “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter.” A film that delivers some pleasures the performer can reliably supply but not a lot more.
The movie is directed by Jody Hill from a script he wrote with John Carcieri and Danny McBride, who is also one of the movie’s co-stars. The three are best known for their work on the cable series “Eastbound and Down” and “Vice Principals,” comedies about comically hideous men doing dumb, awful things.
“Whitetail Deer Hunter” has a softer touch. Brolin plays Buck Ferguson, a celebrity hunter on a mission to reconnect with his young son and hopefully make a viral video chronicling their weekend of bonding in the North Carolina woods. “Fun … freedom … family values. The American tradition. And as always, hunter approved,” is how Buck’s videos kick off, complete with shots of the man himself flashing a low-IQ grin after downing a whitetail.
One of Brolin’s signature strengths as a performer is his ability to send up machismo while at the same time living up to a credible notion of conventional manliness. He gets to do that in “Deadpool 2” to an extent; in “Infinity War,” not so much; and in “Day of the Soldado,” a movie that is Very Serious About Serious Intense Stuff, not in the least. In “Whitetail Deer Hunter” he is all about that, and as such, he is the most consistently engaging feature of the movie. The plot points, from the estranged wife (Carrie Coon) and her potential new husband doting on her son, Jaden (Montana Jordan), in their McMansion to a final-third woodlands crisis, are beyond stale. McBride, as Buck’s sidekick, Don, plays crass cluelessness as is his custom.
“The only woman coming on this trip is Rosie Palm and her five sisters,” he exclaims to father and son, and later shows the kid some pornographic Polaroids. For all that, Don is a far more benign character than those McBride plays on the TV shows he makes with Hill. One wonders why “Whitetail Deer Hunter” chose such a relatively toothless route, but one doesn’t wonder too long, as it is the kind of movie you forget about 20 minutes after seeing it.
“King of Peking,” a new film from the Australian-born filmmaker Sam Voutas, who was raised in Beijing, debuted on Netflix on July 2. It’s a charming, breezy father-son story but also a diverting account of Chinese film and video culture in the 1990s. The movie opens with the image of a closed red curtain as, the narrator recounts, used to be de rigueur for movie palace screenings. But the main characters, known as Big Wong and Little Wong, have only a portable screen and a 16-millimeter projector when we first meet them.
Big Wong (Jun Zhao) and Little Wong (Wang Naixun) motor into a rural town on a Sunday; Big Wong tells a local resident that he and his son are a regular Riggs and Murtaugh, as in the classic buddy cop film “Lethal Weapon.” Little Wong collects dollars from residents and tweaks the boombox sound system. After sundown, they screen a ‘70s biker picture, which goes over pretty well until the projector catches fire. The father-son team has other problems: Big Wong and his wife are divorcing, and she’s not happy with her husband using their son for what she calls child labor. The movie follows the pair from scheme to scheme. While a janitor at a cut-rate movie house, Big Wong buys a DVD-duplicating machine and starts to thrive as a bootlegger, touting his “King of Peking Presents” discs. Father and son fight, make up and fight again. It all goes down easily and is most impressive in its depiction of the time and place. The bustle of the urban alleyways and the restiveness of the small towns come across credibly throughout.
Some new additions to Netflix can and will, however, increase your Barbra Streisand appreciation. When I reviewed the concert film “Barbra: The Music … The Mem’ries … The Magic,” last November, it was Netflix’s sole Streisand material. Netflix recently addressed that dearth by adding six television specials from Streisand’s career, including “My Name Is Barbra,” from 1965, and “Color Me Barbra,” from 1966, which took full advantage of a relatively new television technology — yes, you guessed it, color. Even if you are not a Streisand devotee, the time capsule or nostalgia value of these pieces is substantial.
As far as film goes, Netflix has snagged a significant one of Streisand’s: the 1976 romantic drama “A Star Is Born,” in which she stars with Kris Kristofferson. This is of interest not only because this version of the oft-iterated story is the model for the coming movie of the same name starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (also the new film’s director). It is also a new cut of the film, overseen by Streisand, not a director’s cut. Frank Pierson, who directed the tumultuous 1976 production, died in 2012.
Streisand, not just the movie’s star but one of its producers, has added footage that gives the film … more Barbra Streisand. Most notably, in one scene, her character, Esther, plays the song “Evergreen” on the guitar (composed by Streisand with lyrics by Paul Williams) for Kristofferson, who plays the drunkard rock star. It is an early version, without lyrics, and as Streisand intended, it emphasizes the songwriting talent of her character. (In the version shown at theaters, Kristofferson’s character is seen falling into a drunken sleep before Esther can play the song; here he attends to her enthusiastically before blacking out.) There is also an extension of the movie’s final song. These additions don’t change the tenor of the movie, which now has a time-capsule appeal all its own. The picture was written, in collaboration with Pierson, by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne (drawing on the outlines of the 1937 and 1954 versions before it), and it places Streisand in a rock music world she had not heretofore visited in her own career, despite her being in the same generation as the Beatles.
The movie’s contempt for the vestiges of the 1960s counterculture, exemplified by a space-cadet freelance journalist (who name-drops Rolling Stone magazine) played by Marta Heflin, is in keeping with the tone of Didion’s essays from California, and some observations she iterates in the documentary “The Center Cannot Hold.” There is a shot early in the movie of a child, about 4 years old, seemingly abandoned at a rock concert. I was reminded of an anecdote Didion tells of encountering a 5-year-old tripping on LSD in San Francisco. On the other hand, I could be reading too much into the movie, whose raison d'être was and remains Streisand.