Netflix Quick Hits – ‘BARRY’, ‘SPECTRAL’ and ‘THE WAILING’


Preston Barta // Editor

Not rated, 104 minutes.
Director: Vikram Gandhi
Cast: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason MitchellEllar ColtraneJenna ElfmanLinus RoacheAvi Nash and Ashley Judd

It’s only natural that cinema explores the Preezy of the United Steezy before he exits the White House. We had a glorious exploration of the man while on his first date with future First Lady Michelle in the hot summer of 1989 in SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU… and now we have the Netflix produced BARRY, which goes back even further in the decade (1981-82) to his days as a student at Columbia University.

Of the two titles, which are difficult not to compare and contrast, SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU is the superior film, offering more depth purely through conversations and nuances. This is especially apparent in the story’s focus on the complicated relationship between Barack and his late father, who passed away during a car accident in Kenya. During one conversation with Michelle, where she says, “Every father has unfinished business; that’s why they have sons,” do we learn more than BARRY ever dives into. It just goes to show you sometimes less truly is more.

Alright, enough favoring one over the other. BARRY does get a few things right, primarily the committed performance from newcomer Devon Terrell, who gracefully fills in the big shoes of Barack. (Obama, as you could probably guess, went by Barry to fit more into his surroundings.) Like SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU’s Parker Sawyers, Terrell doesn’t give himself completely over to sounding 100% like the Obama we know today. He plays him more reserved and sows the seeds for the cadence we’ve come to know — while he does have a friend/roommate (Avi Nash) in the film that does a full-on impression of him that sounds more like POTUS.

The story itself is not the most terrifying (as in bad for film) snapshot in Obama’s life. It’s the part of his life where we see the earliest signs of him going from a young man into the politically-driven individual who wants to bring about change. The only issue is BARRY seems occasionally bored with the material, sometimes getting repetitive and avoiding digging deeper into some of the obstacles he faced in those years of his life.

In all, it’s worthy of watching to know more about him, but it’s not the best thing Netflix has produced thus far. (It also completely wastes Ellar Coltrane — this being his first performance after the 12-year epic, titled BOYHOOD.) Be that as it may, it’s a step in the right direction, say after a few network spills of the Adam Sandler vicinity.

Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Director: Nic Mathieu
Cast: James Badge Dale, Emily Mortimer, Bruce GreenwoodMax MartiniCory HardrictClayne Crawford and Stephen Root

Netflix keeps churning out the original content as they grow into a company bigger than its home-viewing business model. Whether it’s movies or TV shows, it goes without saying that they release so many new titles, that they are picky with what they market. Sure, the trades will mention something in production, but there are only so many titles their customers can keep up with for their queue.

Recently, Netflix released an original flick called SPECTRAL, and it is one of those that just happened upon us as we searched for new titles. Set during a fictional Moldovan War, there is an invisible force killing soldiers all over town. General Orland (Bruce Greenwood) calls on DARPA researcher Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale) to help CIA expert Fran Madison (Emily Mortimer) and Delta Force find the entity, as he invented the military’s hyperspectral imaging eyewear. But it quickly becomes clear that they have no idea what they’re dealing with as the ranks get decimated.

Part of SPECTRAL’s charm is that it is straightforward in its approach; this is the problem, how do we survive to fix said problem. While they realize the purpose of these apparitions/humanoids, it becomes clear that they can’t stop them with conventional weapons. Here is where the movie finds its own creativity, between creating a myth of “ghosts of war” to putting a scientific explanation to use. The spirits have a nice look, with movement tracing and swift destruction, and Nic Mathieu does well for his directorial debut. Save for some obvious problems with sound editing, the movie holds its own for a fun, entertaining couple of hours.

Jared McMillan // Film Critic

Not rated, 156 minutes.
Director: Hong-jin Na
Cast: Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Do-won KwakSo-yeon JangHan-Cheol JoHwan-hee Kim and Jun Kunimura

While 2016 has been a resurgence in horror domestically, there has always been an outlet for fans of the genre internationally. No matter the nation of origin, we all know the universal language of horror is mainly a cautionary tale. One of the countries responsible for putting out inventive horror over the past decade is South Korea. Their latest entry, THE WAILING, is a ghost story that reflects a detective’s struggle to maintain his sanity while his daughter fights for her life.

The movie starts out with mysterious deaths plaguing the village of Goksung. The investigation is headed by Officer Jong-Goo (Do-won Kwak), who is introduced to us as a lazy, bumbling type, incapable of tying his own shoes. Furthermore, he is bored with his life and even cheats on his wife without any attempt to hide it. Most of the town has decided it’s wild, poisonous mushrooms; Jong-Goo is told by a witness (Woo-hee Chun) that the Japanese man who recently moved to town is behind it, and that he is a ghost.

As Jong-Goo and others chase the lead of the Japanese villager, his daughter becomes possessed, exhibiting violent tendencies. As a last resort, they call on a shaman to rid the spirit and save their village. What seems to be a ghost story turns into an amalgam of different horror subgenres as a man battles for his daughter’s soul. Clocking in at over 2 hrs. 30 mins., director Hong-jin Na uses every minute to build tension and story until it reaches an unpredictable climax of good and evil. THE WAILING never feels stale and is a fantastic rollercoaster of mythical dread.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.