Nomadland

Nomadland

Life is brief and all too long, together or apart

dir: Chloe Zhao

2020

Nomadland is a beautiful, sad film. I have no doubt it’s about something to the people that made it, but mostly, it just seems to be about a woman with no home who drives around, does odd jobs, and meets a few people.

Imagine trying to sell that idea to a studio, to get them to make your film.

Well, it helps if the person is Frances McDormand who read the book by Jessica Bruder, and thought “this would be a good movie with me in it”, and she was not wrong, because she’s rarely wrong. She’s been a tremendous actor for decades, but she’s not as beloved by the media as the Streeps and, I dunno, the Cate Blanchetts of the world because she doesn’t seem to give as much of a shit about the fanciful stuff around the movies versus the movies themselves.

If a person was being uncharitable one could argue being married to a Coen Brother is an incredible advantage in such a ruthless world of cinematic shenanigans. You might argue that’s how she got her first Oscar, but that doesn’t explain the other two, or all the great roles she’s assayed, in pretty much everything she’s ever done. Plus she was great in Fargo independent of who directed it.

The keen intensity she brings to most of her roles is directed elsewhere here. Her character of Fern exists, does things, has a backstory, but she’s not really the protagonist of this story. This story doesn’t need or have a singular protagonist. She does things, a bunch of things, and talks to a bunch of people, but she underplays everything in a way that people confuse with naturalism or underacting, which, if ever you’ve seen non-actors act whenever a camera is on, we should know is anything but easy.

Her character has lost her husband of however many years, but she’s also lost her home, her sense of place, any feeling of a safe harbor in the world. The town she lived in disappeared not because of her husband’s death, but because the town itself died when the one business shut down. The town of Empire, Nevada, is a real place, and all that’s referred to actually happened. A town with a population of 750 fell to zero when US Gypsum closed the mine. No mine, no reason for the town to exist.

Rating:

Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

Rarely have I wanted every character to die in a movie

dir: Josh Ruben

2021

Werewolves Within. Is a film. That exists. And I watched it. But I am not proud.

It stars the delightful Sam Richardson who is just about the nicest sonofabitch you’ve ever seen in any medium. His guiding light in life seems to be Mr Rogers, with all the niceness and tweeness that conveys.

He plays a forest ranger or something similar, who moves to a town called Beaverfield that seems to only have 11 other people in it. Something mysterious seems to be going on in the town which will force all or most of them into the confines of a hotel, where maybe they’ll be picked off one by one?

I think, despite the werewolf theme and horror elements it was intended to be a snappy and light kind of comedy with a smidge of social commentary? I don’t if that’s the case because I didn’t really find any of it that funny, like not even smile funny.

Problems with my approach: I saw it on my own; I saw it stone cold sober; I was already in something of an impatient mood and kept wanting to turn it off or watch something else or compulsively check my phone. And that’s despite the fact that I thought most of the people here are great performers who’ve delighted me in other stuff.

As characters start to die, I found I didn’t really care, because it was impossible to care about any of them. One character is always getting handsy with the ladies around who aren’t his wife, and of course we would want him to die, but when his handsy hand gets ripped off I felt kinda bored.

What it really feels like is a premise without a great idea on how to stretch things out? It feels really belaboured, like, pointlessly meandering all over the place, and almost winking at us with its arbitrary pointlessness. And that would be okay if it was fun along the way.

As in, at one point all the remaining people decide they need to stick together in the hotel. So they do so. Until they decide, well actually, let’s all just fuck off to our own homes, and then they do so. And you’re like “the fuck didn’t you do that half an hour ago?”

Rating:

Lorelei

Lorelei

Young love, ages like a poisonous wine

dir: Sabrina Doyle

2021

I did not know what to except with this movie, and it totally delivered on that uncertainty.

Set mostly in a tiny town in the Pacific North West, this is a fairly grim story about people who had hopes and dreams when they were young, but life came along and crushed them, but they kept on living, so, now what do we do?

People on the lowest rungs of society, especially in gleefully capitalistic wonderlands like the States, don’t really have as much of a chance to pursue their “dreams” as all the motivational self-help boilerplate statements would lead us to believe. Working hard and making sacrifices doesn’t make you Jeffrey Bezos. Jeffrey Bezos could sit in the corner of a darkened room motionless, unblinking all day long and still “makes” millions per second, more than any of his employees who could work twenty four hours a day and never take a bathroom break could make over their entire lives.

Those who grow up in a small Oregon town, who get involved with drugs, crime from a young age, having kids way too early, well, the system isn’t designed to let them get anywhere with all the will and hard work in the world. The system needs them to stay isolated and desperate so there’s no upward pressure on wages, and they’ll work themselves to death for peanuts, and that there proves how well the system works.

Wayland (a phenomenal Pablo Schreiber) has just been released from prison. He’s done hard time for 15 years. He wasn’t unfairly or unjustly incarcerated. He isn’t vowing revenge on the cops or on some criminal enemy. He committed a serious crime, got caught, kept his mouth shut, and that was that. His crew, his family, a bikie gang called The Night Horsemen, as in, presumably, the Night Horsemen of the Apocalypse (unless they all met at pony club at a very young age, brought together by their love of all things equestrian), are there to greet him and welcome him home.

Rating:

Lucky

Lucky

Luck ain't got nothing to do with it

dir: Natasha Kermani

2021

I have, this past year, sat through so many takes on Groundhog Day that it was inevitable that there would be a horror take on it as well, and here it is.

May (Brea Grant) is a self-help author whose books seem to have the message that you’re on your own, no-one else is going to help you (including her) so get your shit together and look after yourself.

Why anyone would need to buy multiple books to realise such an obvious but cold fact is the only real mystery here. Her books don’t seem to be selling that well anymore, which, granted, means she needs to shift her message. She takes her box of remaindered copies to her car in some underground garage, and something happens, but the camera cuts away.

Later on, in the middle of the night she awakes to noises downstairs. Some man appears from nowhere and attacks her and her husband. She is really freaked out, her husband less so, who bizarrely seems to think this has happened forever, and will happen again. People are hurt. The assailant disappears. The cops are…unhelpful.

And the whole process repeats itself again and again.

Is it a loop? Is some supernatural force at play? Is May hallucinating everything? Is someone terrorising her, gaslighting her? It seems like people are dying, like people are being severely hurt. There’s blood on the carpets and the walls. But no bodies. Whenever she is lucky enough to stab, bash, throw down the stairs or otherwise do stuff to The Man (Hunter C. Smith) that would otherwise kill a mortal human being, no body is ever left behind.

It’s…perplexing. She is convinced something terrible and strange is happening to her, but the world doesn’t seem to agree. The cops especially are baffling. They return, every day and night, to the same house where windows have been smashed in and blood has splashed all over the place, and they seek to placate the alleged victim without believing or helping her in any way.

Cops can’t help you; you’ve got to help yourself.

May’s husband goes missing, for a long period of time, and most of the cops’ questions align around “So did you husband do it, why would your husband do it, what did you do to make your husband do it, it’s your fault your husband did it” etc. The disappearance is…strange. It points to something that happened, something that either May feels guilty about or that someone should feel guilty about.

Rating:

Free Guy

Free Guy

Oh look it's generic Guy in his generic Tie, looking so
generically Fly

dir: Shawn Levy

2021

Free Guy is the recent update to The Truman Show that you never knew you wanted and probably aren’t going to enjoy that much anyway. It does have the benefit of not having Jim Carrey in it.

On a different hand entirely, you may find Ryan Reynolds even more annoying that Carrey in his SMOKIN’ prime, in which case you are never going to watch this flick and why would you care anyway?

Yes, this is perennial fratboy Reynolds’ gig, in which he is in almost every scene and talks to us, the lucky audience, in voiceover, constantly. This is literally one of those movies where if the main character isn’t on screen, any other character is talking about him. He is the one who wakes up in the same place, dresses the same way, experiences the same day every day for our amusement

The city in which he lives, being Free City, is like something out of a computer game. Specifically, it’s a very violent but cartoonishly so game, in which there are two classes of people from Guy’s perspective. Oh yeah, the main guy played by Reynolds is called Guy, or Blue-Shirt Guy. How generic, you might think. Anyway, there are the regular shmoes like Guy, and then there are cool people who wear sunglasses and commit all the crimes and have what seems like agency and self-determination.

Guy wants to have self-determination and agency too. He has a best friend called Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), but Buddy doesn’t aspire to anything. Every time the bank in which he works is attacked by robbers, he drops his gun belt to the floor and lies on the ground, as does Guy, who is a teller in that bank.

I don’t know that it’s that much of a spoiler to mention that this is a game, and these “characters” are what are generally referred to as NPCs or Non-Player Characters, and that the people with sunglasses are avatars for actual people in the “real” world who play this game.

The thing is, though, at least at first, all the other NPCs stick to their stock scripts. They are very limited in their programming. They have no hopes or aspirations.

But not Guy. Like Wall-E in the Pixar flick of the same name, something magical has happened over time that has raised the humble program to something more complex. But like Emmett in The LEGO Movie, he’s the generically everyman Everyman who exists in a constructed world not of his making for the amusement or therapy of someone else within the movie. Media within media.

That is, if you can accept the concept of Ryan Reynolds as a generic everyman character, which I don’t think anyone can.

Rating:

Old

Old

Sun protection is important because the sun hates us

dir: M Night Shyamalan

2021

I don’t think there is a three part name that inspires more dread than M. Night Shyamalan. Either that or derisive laughter, take your pick.

Every time he has a new film come out people fall over themselves to say “it’s finally a return to form for the director of The Sixth Sense”, and every time they’re wrong. Every time Shyamalan makes another movie he finds new ways to make actors sound like speaking in human languages with human words is an almost impossible feat.

Dialogue so bone-headed, so ripe that it defies the best efforts of even decent actors, let alone crappy ones. This film Old is really delightful, no, it really is. It’s about a family, and some other people, who go to a beach, and the beach ages people really quickly. Like, a day is like 50 years.

So when the flick starts, you have a mother saying to her tween daughter “Oh, you have such a lovely voice, I can’t wait for you to grow up”, because little does she know that by the end of the day, her daughter will be collecting a pension.

From the perspective of what happens on the beach, it’s actually well done, sort of. The mystery is actually mysterious for much of the flick’s length. It gives you time to wonder as to what’s actually going on, whether there’s a cautionary tale aspect to it, like, appreciate what you’ve got in the present instead of living in the past or the future (a fighting couple actually say this in dialogue to each other), or don’t take your kids on a holiday as part of a ruse in order to tell them at the end of the holiday that their parents are separating.

I mean, worst holiday ever, unless you want your parents to separate, in which case, yay?

You wonder if the people running the resort on this immaculate island are like Mr Rourke on Fantasy Island, giving people what they think they want, only to see the folly of their grasping greed or how the path not taken is way worse than the trodden one, for it all to be revealed as a dream at the end, the dreamer relieved that the bad things didn’t actually happen, returning chastened to their regular life.

No. It’s none of that. It’s an explanation so bad, so terrible that I laughed out loud. I didn’t send the abbreviation to someone in a text message, I actually shook my head and guffawed, and said out loud “M. Night Shyamalan, how do you keep getting to make movies?”

Rating:

Candyman

Candyman 2021

Don't say his name, he just wants the attention so he can
murderise more people

dir: Nia DaCosta

2021

Such a shame. I’m not angry or sad, just a bit disappointed.

I utterly adore the original Candyman. I think it’s one of the classic horror flicks of the era, and a classic in its own right. Seriously! I’m not even kidding or being facetious, or calling it a guilty pleasure or anything like that.

And I acknowledge that there are problematic elements to it, not least of which is the fact that it was based on a story by (pasty) British horror writer Clive Barker, and directed by (pasty) British director Bernard Rose, and that despite being set in Chicago at notorious projects / public housing known as Cabrini-Green, the main character was (pasty) Virginia Madsen.

There’s nothing wrong with being pasty. There are a lot of things wrong with being a pastie, or even a pastry, because you will get eaten, and I’ve never thought pasties are that great. In fact, I have always loathed them. But that’s not important right now; what is important is that Virginia Madsen was pretty great in Candyman., and has always been pretty great in everything she’s ever done.

But a story like this… remade today, it can’t be centered around a WASP academic trying to track down an urban myth and finding horror, brutality and death at the hands of a supernatural spectre.

Instead it’s centered around an African-American couple who live in the hoity toity kinds of bougie apartments that have replaced the demolished towers of Cabrini Green with loft refurbs and tasteful copper lighting. Although… holy fuck, they’re not really that different from a middle class academic with research and tenure on her mind.

If anything, they’re somehow even worse. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Paris) are a painter and a gallery director respectively. Ew. Gross. We’ve replaced the pretentiousness of academia with the even somehow worse pretentiousness of the art scene. They struggle for relevance in an art world that is only even barely polite to their faces. Just in case you were wondering, yes, rich white people in the art world can be just as racist as your man down the pub who’s just asking questions and going to anti-lockdown rallies and doing their own research about virus treatments.

Rating:

The Card Counter

Card Counter

So broody and intense, you can fill up two hours with it

dir: Paul Schrader

2021

Yeesh. Like, I’m sure a lot of other directors fuck up the endings of their films, but holy fuck does this go off the rails.

Although, being honest, it’s not really on decent rails before it falls off of them and into a ravine abundant with mediocrity and yet somehow still empty.

It’s such a shame, because I love Oscar Isaac. He’s usually dependably great in what he does. He does okay for much of the flick, but the film feels so flimsy after a while, giving him a heavily weighted and freighted character who doesn’t really have anything to do and to whom nothing believable happens.

And then he flies back to his home planet, never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s that abrupt. Either they completely ran out of money or they just didn’t know how to end things.

That in itself would be fascinating, in terms of how you can run out of money when your budget is probably miniscule as it is. There are times when Isaac’s character is wearing what I’m pretty sure is Target brand clothing, and there’s no real story reason for it, so the times when he’s wearing decent clothing I’m assuming he’s wearing his own stuff.

There is something serious, something important the flick is trying to do, or at least it’s pretending it’s about serious and weighty subjects. The main character, who tells people his name is William Tell, is a very cold, very robotic person who counts cards at low rent casinos. He’s not trying to make a bundle; he’s just trying to make modest winnings, and then move on.

He doles out his story to us, the audience, by writing in a journal and then telling us things in voice over. His writing is neither profound nor overly revealing, and all it does is imply to us that this very shut down man still has thoughts percolating in that noggin of his.

The weight that he carries is that he was in the military, and was stationed at some place like Abu Ghraib where US personnel, contractors or otherwise, tortured and tormented people for intel, for revenge, for shits and giggles.

He wasn’t one of the victims – he was one of the torturers.

But I guess there’s the argument that torturers can also carry the burden of the trauma they inflicted. There are other flicks, even ones I’ve seen recently, which look at what impact execution has on people, not just the victims, but on society, including those who the state compels to end the lives of others. The Iranian flick I’m thinking of, There Is No Evil, was a brilliant and affecting examination of the topic.

The Card Counter isn’t even vaguely in the same ballpark, at least, not to me. William Tell was jailed for his crimes. He lives a life that seems strange to the observer, but we never really get a sense of why he lives like this, what it means to him, until a character sees one of the odd things he does, being, that he travels from cheap motel to cheap motel and brings his own sheets.

That bit makes perfect sense. But what he does is wrap those sheets around the furniture, and it’s not because of germophobia, which I would otherwise completely understand, but because he needs the space to be monochromatic, to perhaps make him feel like he’s back in jail.

Okay, so he doesn’t feel like he has paid enough for what he did, he needs to suffer more.

Rating:

Pig

Pig

It's true that there are few real things for us to care about in
this life. But why oh why, for me, did it have to be movies?

dir: Michael Sarnoski

2021

Pig is an amazing film, in that it’s amazing to believe that of the twenty or so movies Nicolas Cage still makes a year, very occasionally there will be an okay one, an almost better than okay one. Pig is surprising for that reason, if no other.

It’s a simple enough premise, but it’s the same premise taken to absurd lengths that underpins other far more violent flicks where the death of a pet or the loss of an animal is an excuse to kill a bunch of people. The action in John Wick kicks off with the shooting of a dog. The Rover with Guy Pearce has a man kill a whole bunch of people in a post-collapse landscape because he wants to get his dead dog back.

Pig has a guy searching for his pig, which has been stolen. But it’s not used as an excuse to kill a whole bunch of people. While there is a small amount of violence in the film, it is visited upon the protagonist, rather than him visiting righteous vengeance upon others. It subverts not only the expected path for these kinds of films, but for Nicolas Cage films in general.

I’ve heard tell, quite often, that Portland, Oregon is an odd place, and this film doesn’t make it seem any less weird. The main character, Rob (Cage) and his odyssey through the curious culinary underworld of Portland is a journey of a broken, barely speaking man who looks like he’s been destroyed by life. The pig was his only companion, and with whom he sought out truffles, which he gave to Amir (Alex Wolff) in exchange for food basics. They lived in a shack in the woods, somewhere near the Willamette River. How do I know it’s the Willamette River? They talk about the Willamette all the fucking time. Considering that I even know about the Willamette River mostly due to the Wildwood novels written by Colin Meloy of The Decemberists fame, I get the feeling there’s not much else going on there other than the river and rare culinary treats.

Rob, as he’s known, takes a beating from two shady characters who pilfer the pig. Rob then embarks on his journey to getting the pig back by going towards a place he has avoided for over a decade. He only goes to the kinds of places that are somehow tied to the food services industry, but more on the exotic produce and ingredients side. In such an imagined world, a truffle finding pig of high quality would be extremely valuable, and everyone would somehow know about it.

Where I live, if I had a pig, and someone stole it, and then I wandered around the local restaurants and markets grunting about my pig, most likely I wouldn’t find the pig, and people wouldn’t answer my questions, and I’d probably get arrested. There isn’t much visual disparity between how I generally appear at my best and Cage’s character appears at his worst, but my name doesn’t carry the weight that his character’s does here.

Rating:

Malignant

Malignant

Dario Argento must be spinning in his grave. Quick, someone
kill him so he can spin in his grave already!

dir: James Wan

2021

Well, well, well, if it isn’t the most bonkers horror flick of 2021.

Nothing will top this, not this year. The virus could mutate into something that attacks people on public transport with fangs and teeth, or that slits throats at family gatherings or makes ivermectin shoot out of people’s noses, and it still won’t be as insane / dumb / manic as what happens in this flick.

Australia’s Own James Wan has been making massive blockbustery monstrosities for years now, but his heart seems to belong to the horror genre. I guess once you’ve directed so many Saws and Conjurings and Annabelles, there’s strengths you believe you have as a director that you want to play to. He pulls out all the stops trying to maximise the virtuosity of the incredible camerawork in the service of a flick where someone or something just kills a bunch of people in gruesome and specific ways.

He’s not pretending that he reinvented the genre: he’s specifically proceeding in the ways that seem to honour Dario Argento and the other Italian hacks that birthed the misbegotten child of giallo cinema into an unwilling and unsuspecting world.

And before I proceed any further, let me clarify that Argento was and still remains the hackiest of hacks ever. He has made films so terrible that I shudder just remembering them. But he made a few okay ones. Suspiria may be a classic, but I would say that Malignant probably draws from the Profundo Rosso / Deep Red and Tenebrae side of things rather than the supernatural ones, but hey, it’s not like it matters. Even Argento would probably never had twists as bonkers as this flick does.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant, and has a terrible, shitty, violent husband who won’t be around long enough to matter, and nor will I even record his name or the actor’s either, such was my disgust with him. The important thing to note is that he assaults his heavily pregnant wife by bashing her head against a wall.

He is soon dead, and very violently dead at that, and Madison loses the baby. She tells her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) how desperately she wanted a child in order to have a biological connection to someone.

For, you see, Madison was…adopted!

Huh. It’s meant to be a surprise to Sydney, but not to us because we saw a bit at the beginning of the film that presumably Sydney hasn’t seen yet. On video tape no less. Video tape aesthetics play a surprisingly big role in this flick. The camera even goes into the workings of a VHS player at some point. I’m not sure why. Does anyone even have VHS players any more? And if so why? Are they waiting for tapes to become cool again the way vinyl has?

No, it’s to remind us of a time when the way most of us brought horror into our lives wasn’t from being born into shitty families or even shittier circumstances, but from hiring tapes from places, bringing them home, closing the blinds, and watching people do unspeakable stuff for 90 or so minutes.

Rating:

Supernova

Supernova

Who wouldn't want to be cuddled by these wonderful old men?

dir: Harry Macqueen

2021

Oh boy. I felt like watching something human and intimate after enduring the shitshow that was Annette a couple of nights ago, and so I chose to watch this, knowing full well what it was about.

Let’s just say I got what I wanted, in spades and truckloads.

It’s a really simple story. No bells and whistles. If you can watch an old gay couple squabbling about minor things at first, poking fun gently the way two old curmudgeons who still love each other might, and travelling around the English countryside, then this could be your jam.

At least for about half an hour.

Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth) have been together for decades, and, no, this isn’t a flick about past infidelities or heartbreak; one of them is a bit ill, and so there’s a bit of a victory lap feel to their travels. Tusker, being an American writer, is still working on a novel. Sam is a former concert pianist, and this trip is a prelude to him taking to the stage again after many years off of it.

They have an RV, and are meandering their way through what I’m guessing is the Lake District, but Tusker, despite his wry humour, is struggling with dementia. Neither Tusker nor Sam are that old (both actors are 60, but that doesn’t mean their characters are meant to be the same age), but dementia doesn’t see a number: it just sees an opportunity to ruins many people’s lives.

He hasn’t lost all his words yet or motor function skills, but he feels its breath on his shoulder, and dreads what’s to come. Sam is cheery, and prefers not to face it at first, but also thinks / feels / hopes he’s prepared for what’s coming.

He knows, and some of us know, that it is difficult to look after someone whose body and mind betraying them, but in this case it’s also going to be coupled with the fact that Tusker will eventually not recognise his beloved anymore, let alone himself. Tusker is still a fucking smartarse, though. There’s a brief bit early on where he deliberately and gratingly embarrasses Sam when a waitress seems to recognise him from the telly, and Tusker adamantly insists that Same has to give her an autograph.

At this stage of the flick, because we have no idea who “Sam” is in the scheme of things, I wasn’t really sure what was going on, on the off chance that the waitress was a real waitress, and maybe wondered if “Sam” was that actor who played the brooding Mr Darcy a bunch of times.

But nah. Under questioning from a mortified Sam, Tusker admits that when he does it, it’s probably supremely irritating to Sam, but at least half the time he finds it immensely funny.

Well, that makes it all right then.

It’s only after that point that they explain (to us) through dialogue that Sam is a pianist of some renown, and that their trip together will culminate in a concert. Although, really, it’s not the concert Sam is concerned with, it’s the plan he has for how the two of them are to live afterwards.

He has one plan, being something like assisted living, with Sam doing the bulk of the high level care, as it’s called, with some help as well.

Tusker has his own plan, but hasn’t shared it as yet, but it’s there, sitting patiently like a hidden blade.

Rating:

Annette

Annette

A Movie... that makes drowning at sea seem preferable
compared to having to watch any more of... the movie!

dir: Leos Carax

2021

I… well, this was never going to go well for me, though I did have optimism at first, fool that I am.

I liked some songs by Sparks from, um, many decades ago, at least the ones that were covered by other people. So knowing that the Mael Brothers wrote all the music and even appear in the film was…not exactly an enticement, but at least a point of interest. With the Edgar Wright doco that came out about them a couple of months ago, it implies this has been a big year for them. So congrats to them.

I know nothing about Leos Carax other than that he exists, makes movies, and has a cool name. I do remember that he brought out a flick called Holy Motors a bunch of years ago, which had Kylie Minogue in it, but the novelty never proved compelling enough for me to track down a copy and watch it.

It is unlikely that I will be delving into Carax’s back catalogue based on Annette. I can’t say whether it’s a shitty film or a shitty musical or not, because others are better placed to judge such things. What I can say is that I found Annette profoundly uninteresting, unengaging and unpersuasive, and I was not moved by it at all. I’m usually a sucker for these kinds of things, but not this time. So I can’t say “it’s a bad movie”, even though I’m really tempted to. I can say, though, that I really, really didn’t enjoy watching it.

I even find myself fascinated by Adam Driver in general, and he seems to be in almost everything that is made these days, and even that didn’t do much for me here. It kinda almost starts off promising with Driver decked out like a boxer about to start a match, except he’s a stand up getting ready to attack a crowd, the so called Ape of God. He, being Henry McHenry spends his time, so he tells us, trying to kill the audience.

He is in love with an opera singer (Marion Cotillard) who every night dies on stage for her audiences. No matter the opera, because seemingly she plays the lead of a different opera every other night, she dies, because every opera needs some woman to die in the end.

They tell us they are very much in love. We know this because they sing a song that says they are so much in love. In fact, that’s all the song says “we love each other so much” with no other lyrics, and they sing it over and over, even during sweaty, bony, very pale sex scenes. So I guess they must be in love or something.

The other key pointers to what is happening in their lives is some celeb chasing tv gossip program, which cares enough about this famous couple that it would signpost all the important things that happen in their lives: when they get married, when they have a kid, when they go on an ill-advised yacht trip into the middle of the ocean.

Rating:

Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity

Just to reassure you, there's no nakedness in the flick, which
is a shame for John Boyega fans, but he's definitely singular

dir: Chase Palmer

2021

This film was actually made. I cannot believe it. Few books have ever looked less likely to end up as movies.

When I first heard A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava was going to be made into a movie starring John Boyega, I thought, no fucking way. I should probably phrase that a bit more elegantly – I thought – that sounds unlikely.

This isn’t to brag, but I’ve read the book, and it was quite a memorable book. It is also a massive fucking book. It’s 864 pages. It’s the kind of book you would use to kill a giant Galapagos tortoise with if you really needed to, for whatever reason. One of the most memorable, mainly because it had so little to do with anything else that happened in the story, sections was the feverish writing about boxer Wilfred Benitez. People in the boxer’s life, who like him, probably never will write as much about him as Sergio De La Pava did.

It was insane, the book was insane. He didn’t just throw in the kitchen sink, he threw in thousands of kitchen sinks, of all different shapes, sizes and qualities. Since it was initially self-published, there was no editor to tell him not to put in every single thing he’d ever thought of and written down.

I read it at a time when it seemed important to read these massive American novels because reading is like lifting weights, as in, if you’re not reading hefty tomes like Infinite Jest or The Recognitions or Mason & Dixon, or Underworld or Atlas Shrugged, do you even read, bro? Now I can happily let these monstrosities slide by me, because perversely I don’t have as much time to read books working from home.

For the screenplay here they’ve lifted the bare bones of the plot from two things: Casi’s work as a public defender in New York, which are soul-crushing excerpts and absurd experiences from the life of the author himself who’s done the job, and a surreal crime heist plot that came across as something fantastical even within the confines of the book.

Also, the protagonist of the book, I’m pretty sure, had been rendered completely insane. The protagonist of the film, ably played by John Boyega as a somehow still idealistic lawyer fighting for the rights of people the legal system is designed to crush, is not anywhere near as insane as the one in the book. Much of the book has an air of unreality, in that unlikely or impossible things happen, and we’re not entirely sure whether the protagonist is just hallucinating them. For most of the book I was convinced that Casi’s friend / fiend Dane (played in the film by Bill Skarsgard) was a Tyler Durdan alter ego delusion of Casi’s, a shadow self who followed Casi’s urges in directions he couldn’t consciously allow himself to go.

There’s none of that high falutin’ crap here. There’s Casi, there’s Dane, there’s an ex-con called Leah (Olivia Cooke) who works at the Dept of Motor Vehicles, there’s a bunch of salty crims, and there’s a massive stash of heroin that everyone wants, including the Mexican cartels and a crime organization run by Hasidic Jews, headed by The Gollum (Kyle Mooney).

I mean, that perhaps sounds insane on paper, but that is so reduced, so minimal compared to the maximalist insanity of the novel. In the book the fear induced by an almost mythical Mexican enforcer called Ballena, or The Whale, is such that his very massive presence is enough to warp space and time around him. I guess that sounds a bit like a “yo mama” joke.

Rating:

Minari

Minari

Here's one I prepared for you earlier

dir: Lee Isaac Chung

2020

The Immigrant Song. It’s an old tale, told very differently, country to country. Especially when it’s Led Zeppelin, which is I guess about singing about Vikings or something?

Anyway, Minari is a version of the immigrant story, the ‘new’ American version of that story told more with an eye towards depicting a family’s remembrances growing up, rather than talking up the American Dream.

The American Dream had long asserted that if the tired, the hungry, the poor huddled masses of the world’s wretched refuse just got to the country’s shores, and worked monstrously hard for less than minimum wage for several decades, not only would they eventually prosper, but they would get so successful their kids would grow up pudgy, lazy and entitled. In recent years that’s changed to “fuck off we’re closed”, build this wall, build that wall, buy more guns, dying on the job for peanuts is noble, and the virus isn’t real.

This story is unusual in that it’s not about the success that comes from working hard, taking risks, having good luck but grit and determination as well. It’s not a parable or a cautionary tale. It’s the story of a person born into a Korean-American family in California, and the family moves to rural Arkansas because of the father’s dream of a more meaningful life.

I have no doubt that, over the long term, the family survived and thrived, through hard work and sacrifice and all of that, because the little boy depicted here clearly grew up to become the person who wrote and directed this movie, since while it’s semi-autobiographical it’s also clearly, deeply personal. Plus the “David” here went on to study biology at Yale, but chose not to enter medicine and instead became a film director.

That must have taken a lot of hard work, on everyone’s part. But that is not what the flick is about, almost perversely. You can imagine producers, or studio people, hearing early versions of the script saying “yeah, well, you’d get more arses on seats if we can sell it as ‘hard-working immigrants deal with racism and eventually shut up their detractors by opening franchise Korean barbecue company and swimming in pools of money’, don’t you think?”

Because this flick is from the perspective of the family’s youngest member, the immigrant struggle and yearning for success and credibility means little compared to the a) restrictions David lives under because of problems with his heart, and more importantly b) the incredible stress the family was under as the father tried to achieve his goals while they lived like trolls under a bridge.

Rating:

Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby

Healthy and empowering all at once, naturally

dir: Emma Seligman

2021

Films can be funny and excruciating: It’s a whole sub-genre of comedy, sometimes called cringe comedy. I am not so great with it, because movies about the comedy of social awkwardness / the cringe can render me contorted and tormented and incapable of appreciating any aspects of the production if I’m twitching on the ground with my fingers over my eyes.

Shiva Baby isn’t cringe-comedy per se, but it is fucking excruciating in ways that are sometimes pretty funny. What’s funniest for me is not the film itself, but what prompted me to watch and review it.

I had already heard about the flick when it had played festivals and received some pretty positive reviews. One thing that stuck out to me, that gave me a bit of pause, is that there were a fair few male reviewers making the case that the film’s “sex positive” main character was a refreshing change (not entirely clear from what), and that they appreciated the nuanced take on millennials and their approach towards the contemporary complexity of sex and relationships in this brave new digital age.

That kind of shit rings all sorts of alarm bells for me.

In a different context, I was reading a review not just of this movie, but of another, in an actual, physical magazine. You remember them? They had glossy photos and rectangular pages and you had to sit there and absorb the words instead of scrolling to the end for the “too long, didn’t read” summary.

In this magazine the reviewer, also male, lamented the existence of, and the job requirement for them to review, the latest Fast and Furious 9 movie. In this contemporary world where millions have lost their lives to a virus, millions more have lost their livelihoods and safety, lamenting the fact you have to sit there for a couple of hours and watch some nonsense, and then write about it, is the height, the very fucking pinnacle of privileged luxury.

Beyond that he lamented living in a world where FF9 is vastly more popular, more enjoyed by the filthy masses than, you guessed it, films like Shiva Baby.

That Shiva Baby exists in the same kind of world that can also produce Fast and Furious films is why this world is such a rich tapestry of different experiences and ideas. That less than 1% of the same people that will see FF9 will ever see a flick like Shiva Baby is perhaps sad, but more people perhaps can relate to the adventures of lunatics with cars in space than with a young Jewish woman in New York who doesn’t know what to do with her life and who thinks extracting cash from a sugardaddy is empowering and a path to self-knowledge.

Which is sad, I guess, and probably what that reviewer was getting at, since most of us probably have more in common with the main character here than we do with Vin Diesel or John Cena and whatever characters they might play.

Rating:

Another Round

Druk

To alcohol - the cause of, and almost never the solution to,
all of life's problems

dir: Thomas Vinterberg

2020

One could think that alcohol has had a good enough run for long enough that it wouldn’t really need to be celebrated in cinematic form, but Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and his cast of Danish legends (well, at least Mads Mikkelsen is well known) choose to highlight the many highs and precious few lows of drinking in this here cinematical enterprise.

I am very conflicted about this flick. I get that it’s not really about drinking, or alcohol, per se. It’s more about the malaise of middle-age, of not being present to the people around you, of feeling bored and disconnected. But it also presents the consumption of alcohol as a mostly joyous experience with very few side-effects beyond greatness.

Drinking in Danish culture seems bonkers, as depicted here. The film starts with a huge bunch of what I assumed were uni kids, but they’re actually in high school, lugging around crates of beer and playing yacht race-type games which involve sculling booze and running, two things that shouldn’t really go together. The high energy raucous start, which involves the kids carrying on like pork chops on public transport and handcuffing a transport guard to a railing, makes underage drinking look like a lot of fun.

That is strongly contrasted with the energy exhibited by their teachers. Martin (the magnificent Mads Mikkelsen) is so listless and drained of interest in his own subject, which is history, that he cannot maintain the thread of his thoughts, or give a shit about what the kids are learning from him. He brings this same energy to every other aspect of his life. He’s checked out from his kids, he’s checked out from his wife, and seems to have no interest in anything other than continuing the drudgery of daily doleful domestics and doing the bare minimum in the classroom.

A co-worker called Nikolaj (Magnus Milang) has a birthday dinner planned, so Martin and two other colleagues, Peter (Lars Ranthe) and Tommy (Thomas B Larsen) go to a fancy shmancy restaurant where they give you shots of vodka with your caviar and perfectly paired wines with your meal.

Martin is polite, but not really connecting, he’s also not drinking because…it’s a school night? The other guys drink heartily, feast and carouse. Nikolaj, whose birthday it is, and who I think teaches psychology, proposes two things. One, that Martin is lacking in self-confidence and joy, which he makes some noises about but basically accepts, and two, that deliberately misinterpreting a joke from someone who actually exists, being Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skarderud, who suggested that people have a 0.05 blood alcohol deficiency which needs to be corrected by drinking small amounts of booze regularly, should be their role model.

Rating:

Zola

@Zola

I regret saying yes now too

dir: Janicza Bravo

2021

I think Zola could be the most stressful film I’ve watched all year. I’m not that keen on stressful movies at the moment, and had I known I probably wouldn’t have submitted myself to this kind of scuzzy rollercoaster ride through what could be the dumbest state in all of the US.

But I guess it has other virtues, too.

You haven’t seen many films based on a string of 148 tweets, but if you have, here is another one. The point of this story is that a woman had a terrible experience trusting some dingbats, and this is the story that unfolded. She at least lived to tweet about the ordeal, some others weren’t as lucky.

Taylour Paige stars as the Zola of the title. Instead of playing French writer Emil Zola, author of classic novel Germinal outlining the misery of poor coal miners and their miserable families, she instead plays a waitress who is befriended by someone she possibly shouldn’t have befriended. Stefani (Riley Keough) is a white sex worker chaperoned around by her pimp X (Colman Domingo), whose technique in bringing Zola into their orbit consists of calling her “bitch” affectionately at either the beginning of or end of each sentence that she speaks. For lack of a better descriptor, Stefani talks “black”, and somehow that isn’t a red flag to Zola, who’s African-American.

Almost everything Zola says, either out loud or in voice over narration to us, is taken from the tweet storm originally birthed out into the world back in 2015. Paige delivers all this truncated dialogue with minimum inflection and maximum venom.

She has been friends with Stefani for about a day before she is lured into travelling a long way to Florida from Detroit. I don’t know heaps about US geography, but I know enough to know that Detroit is in Michigan, and borders Canada, and Florida is at the other end of the map, dangling its way into the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a long-arsed car ride.

What’s worse is that, as sketchy as this all seems, and as mistrustful as Zola seems right from the start, none of that stops her from getting sucked into a maelstrom of bad decisions and worse intentions. Nominally it’s about earning some money, making bank, but Zola doesn’t even seem to be that interested in that.

Some of us, in our youth, have experiences that we had with people we barely knew but thought we connected with, people you’ve met at a bar or club or night out. Substances might have been involved. Anyway, against your better judgement, you find yourself on the other side of town in a car full of people you know nothing about, and you might have that moment like “what the fuck am I doing here?”, and that can be before the driver hits 200km per hour or someone drops a gun out of the sunroof and before the cops get involved.

Rating:

The Green Knight

Green Knight

Don't you... forget about me, don't don't don't don't

dir: David Lowery

2021

I didn’t really get this flick. A bunch of reviewers liked the fuck out of it, and praised it as one of the most visionary flicks of the year, but I was mostly baffled by it.

Based on a story written 600 years ago or so, this would seem to be the odd kind of quest film where the hero, who starts off a callow and debauched piece of shit, pretty much gets nothing right for two hours on the path to fame and fortune, and gets nothing in return. Maybe had I been in a different mood its perversity would have greatly appealed to me, but I was in the mood I was in, and I can’t change that. Maybe subsequent viewings will give me different thoughts and feelings about it, but at the moment it leaves me pretty cold.

I like to hope that it isn’t because I’d formed a picture in my head of what it was going to be like, or what it “should” have been like instead. Though long a fan of stuff like Excalibur and the Arthurian legend stuff, at least when I was a kid, I wasn’t expecting it to be a straight retelling or a ginned-up contemporary take on sword and sorcery epics and such. I think Dev Patel is extraordinary in almost everything he does, and he’s probably perfect in the role. It’s just that the bafflement he wears on his face for all of the flick is the same bafflement I feel having watched it.

When the story opens, Gawain (Patel) wakes up hungover next to his working girl lover, Essel (Alicia Vikander). He spends his days drinking and his nights fucking, which is probably what the good Lord intended when us humans were intelligently designed. But it’s Christmas, and he has to go spend time with his uncle, who happens to be king (Sean Harris).

The king laments that he does not know his nephew, and the nephew pretty much points out “not much to know, haven’t really done anything yet”, probably with a bit of shame in his voice.

But lo, who appears in the king’s hall, wanting to play a Christmas game, but the Green Knight! He passes a note saying he wants to play a game where someone strikes him, and then in a year’s time, he gets to return the blow to the person who did it. Plus they get to keep his massive axe, presumably for a year. The knight is, like, a tree in the shape of a man, so he’s not a normal looking person.

Wanting to impress his uncle, Gawain wants to play, lops off the knight’s head, and thinks “instant legend!” But then the knight picks up his head, and says “see you in a year”, and off he goes.

Rating:

Ema

Ema

Just pray that none of her plans include you, even if you
die happy

dir: Pablo Larraín

2020

This film…is definitely something.

I am guessing this was filmed way, way before the coronavirus was on the horizon. The main reason for this is while I don’t know how Chile has fared over the last couple of years with the pandemic, I’m assuming having this many scenes of stacks of people dancing together, or, alternately, this many simulated lesbian orgies probably is pretty difficult these days under covid-worksafe protocols.

Ema is the main character here, which is pretty obvious I guess since the film is called Ema. As played by Mariana Di Girolamo, Ema is a sociopath who is very determined to get her way in life. She seems, from beginning to end, to really want a certain outcome to occur, and also that she is capable of bending everything around her into a particular shape through sheer force of will.

And through the power of dance. And, um, probably sex.

Right at the start the flick is calculated to make the audience loathe Ema and her husband Gaston (Gael García Bernal: Mexico’s greatest export other than cocaine). See, there are often dramas about people trying to have kids, or adopt kids, or save kids etc. Few dramas start with a tremendously fucked up couple who’ve just GIVEN BACK a kid they had previously adopted.

The kid, Polo (Christían Suárez), doesn’t play much of a part in the actual film, but it is his absence that fuels all the terrible things Ema does over the course of the movie. Wait, that’s not accurate. Ema fuels all the terrible things she does during the course of the movie because she is Ema. There are a bunch of things with flamethrowers and fire hoses that she does as well that I’m pretty sure have nothing to do with Polo, but you never know.

Ema is married to Gaston, and they tear strips off of each other about giving the kid up, each blaming the other. Ema may be a sociopath, but giving the kid up seems upsetting to her. She might actually care about the kid, but the way she mostly treats people implies they are all pawns on a chessboard, and she’s a queen, so when something she once wanted and then briefly didn’t want is taken away from her, the infantile mind demands the toy be returned.

Rating:

Reminiscence

Reminiscence

If only there was enough booze on the planet to forget this
fucking monstrosity

dir: Lisa Joy

2021

This flick is so terrible, releasing it during this current stage (of the endless stages) of the pandemic seems even more cruel. Weren’t we suffering in lockdown enough?

Reminiscence is terrible in ways that I thought science fiction flicks had stopped being around 15 years ago. It uses imagined technology to represent people’s memories, and sets the story some time in the future where climate change has swamped coastal cities, and the higher temperatures mean people sleep during the day and mostly work at night.

But then it has people wearing suits, natty hats and ties to make it look like the 1950s, and has people walking around during the day like it’s no big deal. And while, where this is mostly set in a Miami made to look like Venice, with canals and boats and such, other times to show the dreadful impact of anthropogenic climate change, they show streets that are just a bit wet, and old fossil fuel based cars driving around like… nothing has happened.

The protagonist is always wearing a long coat and tie, loosened, around his neck in presumably 50 degree temperatures. A woman he becomes obsessed with sings jazz songs in jazz clubs, like there are jazz clubs in the 2050s, probably thanks to the work Ryan Gosling did in La La Land saving the obscure art form from oblivion.

Like, jazz clubs, straight out of the past, still exist, in the future. I was surprised not to see chimney sweeps, shoeshine boys, newsagents or internet cafes.

It’s a very traditional noir / detective kind of story with a few sci fi elements, which is stuff that can work well even in these mishmashed misbegotten kinds of lazy stories. The first Sin City flick was the absolute embodiment of all of these noir clichés, and worked in ways this flick never comes close to.

The femme fatale literally wears red when she first walks into Nick’s office. Nick is played by Hugh Jackman, who in other flicks has given credible performances with believable motivations and personality. None of that is present here, at all. There’s a scene at the three quarter mark where something really “bad” happens, where he tries to emote a lot of emotion and I found myself laughing uncontrollably.

The femme fatale is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who would be great if she was playing a poorly programmed android, but she isn’t, she’s meant to be playing a human woman. I joke about this because the writer director of this monstrosity has worked on the recent tv series Westworld, which I have watched and which is also way better than anything in these wasted two hours.

Rating:

There Is No Evil

Sheytan vojud nadarad

This title may not be entirely accurate, in that there probably
is plenty of evil. Don't believe them!

(شیطان وجود ندارد‎, Sheytân vojūd nadârad)

dir: Mohammad Rasoulof

2020

This is an amazing film. I find it hard to believe that it is exists.

I have not seen every Iranian flick, I’ve probably only seen about twenty in my life, but I’ve never seen one that so explicitly comments on how appalling living in such a regime is, that being the one in place since the Islamic Revolution, and the rule of the Ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guards.

I’ve seen stuff produced outside of Iran, by people who don’t have to fear being locked up or executed, because they have no intention of going back, and hopefully no family members for the authorities to punish. But something like this…

I think the director has been in jail numerous times, for some reason the Revolutionary Guard courts keep finding new reasons to jail him, ban him from making films, ban him from leaving Iran, so, honestly, this is a fucked up way to live and work.

It’s a long film. A very long arsed film, two and a half hours, which is longer that most people can handle if there aren’t explosions and the world ending or being reborn. It needs to be that long, though.

There are four parts to the story, as in, four different sections that are connected thematically but otherwise are independent of each other. They are all about pretty much the same thing: that a state that does evil to its own citizens makes all its citizens morally culpable, because it otherwise doesn’t allow them to live.

The first section is the most baffling, until the brutal punchline, which brings a horrifying clarity to what we’ve been watching. It is exactly 30 minutes long. Within those 30 minutes, we watch a guy go about his day. Heshmat (Ehsan Mirhosseini) is just a boring middle-aged guy. Balding, paunchy, drives a shitty car. He picks up his wife and listens to her complain about a bunch of stuff, gossip about another woman. They go to the bank, where his wife has to go in and take money out for him.

The whole time she’s in the bank, he’s double parked in this awkward spot, constantly in people’s way, apologetic, moving his car back and forth to let people through.

They pick up their kid from school, who the dad totally spoils (she is such a brat!), do a bunch of shopping, and then visit the guy’s mum, where they do chores, make her dinner, make sure she’s looked after.

They then have dinner at some pizza place, as demanded by the daughter, where the mum, like a lot of mums in cultures across the world, tries to convince them to eat something healthier, when father and daughter just want to chow down on pizza.

They get home, the guy has a shower, takes some medication, falls asleep like a log.

We even have a scene where he dyes his wife’s hair, because she wanted her highlights touched up before they go to a wedding tomorrow.

You may be asking yourself, what is the goddamn purpose of all of this? This sounds like the most boring bullshit I’ve ever heard of in my whole fucking life! If I wanted to watch a boring person go about their day I’d watch myself, somehow, doing all the same stuff just not in downtown Tehran.

Rating:

The Greenhouse

Greenhouse 2021

It's all ever so mysterious! Until it's not

dir: Thomas Wilson-White

2021

The Greenhouse is a beautiful, loving, lyrical, melancholy flick for much of its running time. When it’s working, it works beautifully. When it falls apart, it hurts.

It’s one thing to have a metaphorical concept that illuminates the way in which some people become trapped in their own pasts, in their memories, in their grief and regrets. It’s another to make it literal, and turn it into a pretty silly reverse-Narnia type situation where people are randomly jumping into and out of doors and car boots.

I don’t want to emphasise the silly aspects, because then this review would ignore all the elements of the story and performances that work so very well in this movie.

The first plus is filming the majority of this flick at some amazing country property in Jervis Bay, which seems to have everything you could ever hope for (from a gorgeous rural scenery perspective at least), and more. This house contained a big family, of two mums and a bunch of kids, and grand views.

One of the mums, and one of the kids, still live there, but in some painful ways they are ghosts haunting their own house. Beth (phenomenal Jane Watt) is the kid who stayed behind, who didn’t move to the big smoke, who resents her other siblings for having moved on and embiggened their lives. There is a 60th birthday party for their mum coming up, and as always Beth feels like she needs to organise everything and control everything, because that’s her appointed role.

Even though, amongst the siblings, there is little obvious difference in age between them, I’m guessing Beth is the eldest (which brings its own pressures), then Raf (Joel Horwood) is second, and is a nurse or a doctor, I think, then Drew (Shiv Palekar) and Doonie (Kirsty Marillier) who’s some kind of TV star in the Big Smoke. All three have something going on in their lives.

Doonie, much to the ridicule of the others, is on some cheesy and crappy cop drama where every line of dialogue is a one liner, and it’s called Jurisdiction. The rest of the family, even the mum, mock it mercilessly, but they still feel obligated to watch it.

Whether the other siblings are successful or not is not really the lens through which to look at things, at least from Beth’s perspective. That they have lives or relationships or meaning is irrelevant. Even if they sit on a couch somewhere watching repeats of Bachelor episodes in between smoking menthol cigarettes, the important thing (to resent) is that they got out.

Only Beth stayed behind, with the remaining mum (Camilla Ah Kin). You see, these kids grew up with 2 mums, both of whom they loved, but one of whom died a couple of years ago. That mum, Lillian (Rhondda Findleton), and more importantly, her absence creates a wound in the landscape and in the lives of the two left behind.

Grief is vast. It’s not for me to put limits on it, or borders. For Beth it seems to be all consuming, but no emotion that complex can ever just be about losing someone. It takes a while to see the enormity of why the wound is so deep in Beth’s life.

In the process of trying to insist to her brother Drew that he is NOT to bring his new boyfriend to the 60th, Beth bumps into an old friend briefly in town, Lauren (Harriet Gordon-Anderson). When she sees her, though, while on her phone with Drew, she practically leaps behind her car to not be seen.

I can relate to that. Hate bumping into people unexpectedly. It’s the worst thing in the world, and, back when it used to happen, back when I walked around in a world where people bumped into people they knew by accident in a city or a town, I would sometimes stand there with my mouth opening and closing being unable to form words or sentences in a coherent manner, at least for several minutes or hours.

But Beth seems even less happy to see Lauren than that. Ouch, clearly some complicated history there. Beth’s relationship with everyone seems pretty complicated, but it makes it even less easy for us that the flick jumps around in time so much.

And yet even then I wasn’t ready for how much it was going to mess with a narrative fractured in time. Holy shit how it messes with it.

Rating:

Gaia

Gaia

Gaia's back, and she wants that $20 you owe her

dir: Jaco Bouwer

2021

Last year I watched a documentary about fungi and mushrooms, and about something called the mycelial network, and about how extraordinary these organisms are, and how interlinked. Other than stunning visuals, it also implied mushrooms etc are the solution to pretty much all of life’s problems.

I think the people behind this flick also saw the same documentary, but they came away with a completely different impression and motivation: sure, the mycelial network is cool and all, but what if it hated humanity and technology, and could make people into weird mushroom / human hybrids?

Now that’s a quality premise. Two rangers, Gabi and Winston (Monique Rockman and Anthony Oseyemi) canoe deeper into a forest. Gabi has a drone she operates to buzz around and do stuff. Someone attacks the drone, and she determines that she has to go get it, which is the first and last mistake.

Clearly these people have never seen Apocalypse Now, because it’s underlined that whenever you’re in a jungle or forest, don’t ever get off the boat.

Because you will probably die, and probably also suffer a lot before hand. On her travels to retrieve her tech, Gabi steps on a trap and gets a stake staked through her foot.

This is painful, and a further lesson to not get off the boat. Winston, despite the fact that it’s night time now, also gets off the boat and searches for Gabi when he hears her scream.

He is doomed almost immediately, because there’s something in this forest, something not quite right.

There are two other people that we glimpse, very skinny, almost emaciated, covered in mud. Loincloths, too. They have bows and arrows, and they’re the ones who set the trap that hit Gabi.

When Gabi crawls to the shack these goons live in, you think at first – she’s in trouble, because she’s Goldilocks, and they’re clearly two of the bears. The third bear, being the mama bear, is missing, ironically enough.

She’s dead, but she’s still around.

Rating:

This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection

Burial Resurrection

Why can't it be both, when it's more likely to be neither?

dir: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

2020

People live and do stuff in places you’ve never heard of and never imagined. Films are a reminder of that fact, occasionally. This is also the exact kind of flick I used to go to the Melbourne International Film Festival to see – something you’d never get anywhere else. And since this year’s festival, like last years, is completely digital and online, I thought I’d avail myself of some of its treasures.

This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection is probably the first film from Lesotho that you may have heard of. I can’t recall ever seeing another film made or set there. And, for some people, this could be the first time they’ve heard of a place called Lesotho.

I’m not pretending I’m a geography nerd, but I have heard of the place before. It’s entirely enclosed by South Africa, but it’s its own nation, or kingdom or something. Unlike the Vatican it doesn’t have a pope, but it probably has a king, which is like a pope, just less preachy.

But this flick isn’t really about Lesotho. It’s about a woman who loses her faith in (the Christian) God, and does not regain it. She loses her faith in the idea that life has meaning, or that suffering has a purpose.

And, above all else, she refuses.

Mantoa (Mary Twala, who died soon after making the film, which is surprisingly fitting) has not lived an easy life. She is old, and has lost husband, sons, daughters and even grandchildren to death. She had a son left, and she waits for him to return home just before Christmas, from the mines where he works, but we never get to meet him, for he is now dead, too.

He was the last thread connecting her to the world. The consolations of pious words from the local priest, the support of the other villagers don’t really give her anything. She has, in her view, nothing left to live for. So she puts on her fanciest dress, and waits for Death.

Death refuses to take her, in a final irony. So she waits, and waits, with nothing to do.

The village chief, who, unsurprisingly, is a large, well-fed, comfortable-looking man surrounded by people who look like they’ve been starving most of their lives, tells everyone that the government will soon be flooding the valley in which they live; the valley in which their dead are buried. That they will have to leave the only homes they have ever known, and move to the city, and they’re not going to get a cent for their troubles, because they never owned the land they lived on, because it was the king’s land anyway.

Ah, progress. For the good of the nation, for progress to happen, people’s lives have to be erased, to make way for the new. One of Mantoa’s neighbours speaks of something his father once said about progress: Whenever man says the word, they point an accusatory finger at Nature, claiming that the only way forward is through dominating it.

Rating:

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad 2021

This looks fun, especially if you're trapped in a lockdown
and can't go anywhere

dir: James Gunn

2021

Every review of this starts with “the first one was pretty shit”, and, indeed, Suicide Squad was pretty shit. Who knew just making another one with many of the same characters, adding a “The” to the front, and setting most of it in daylight would make a profound difference to so many people?

The Suicide Squad is not really that much better than its predecessor. It looks better, because it probably had a bigger budget. It benefits from James Gunn’s brutish, comedic sensibilities, but it also suffers from them too. It employs the (what I think of as lazy) technique of doubling back and explaining something that happened a few minutes ago in order to explain how a person right now probably isn’t going to be murdered by the person standing over them., which became tedious 4 Guy Ritchie films ago.

It has massive action set pieces that don’t really feel that real, a villain who’s controlling the squad, who’s somehow worse than the threats they’re facing (Viola Davis, with all the venom and cold fury you’d expect and demand), way too many characters who are thankfully whittled down quickly to a core group, a strangely generic island nation in the Caribbean or off the coast of South America, and plenty of splatter and humour.

We watch the core business of this Dirty Dozen construct occur pretty quickly right from the start: a group of crims is put together, has an explosive inserted into their brains which can be exploded if they don’t follow orders or try to flee, they try to do the mission, then almost all of them die.

And then of course the credits start, to the tune of The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died”, and the credits are basically a raucous In Memoriam for a bunch of dickheads who died within seconds of the movie starting, and who (in most cases) we will never see again.

Of this group (yes, I am going to belabor several points, why do you ask?), there is Pete Davidson, of Saturday Night Live fame, playing one of the “villians” called Blackguard. When I heard that Davidson was going to be in a Suicide Squad movie, and that so were thirty or more other people as well, I guessed pretty easily that he would be dead within minutes.

If the flick can be said to be surprising, it’s that it takes even less than that! Way to go Pete! Your post-SNL career is off to a great start.

It then backtracks to show us another completely different team being set up, with a different leader, and a similar objective, but, really, are they the main team, and the other is the distraction? It’s hard to tell. The people running stuff, under Amanda Waller’s direction, seem both good at their jobs of running black ops, but also kinda half-arsed and haphazard, as in almost random in their bad choices.

The leader of the ‘real’ group is called Bloodsport (Idris Elba), which is pretty much a generic name so generic that I keep having to remind myself what the name was by looking it up. And I have a passing familiarity with DC comics, so it shouldn’t be so hard. And yet it is.

Rating:

Boss Level

Boss Level

You cannot kill that which refuses to stay dead, like
Mel Gibson's career. Every time you hear someone
blabbering on about 'cancel culture', remind them
that this supreme piece of shit is still get working

dir: Joe Carnahan

2021

Ugh. No-one told me there would be any Mel Gibson in this. Should have checked beforehand.

Nothing good comes from having Gibson in your flicks any more. At least they’ve abandoned trying to “redeem” his heroic image, and just have him playing awful villains, like we now know he is in real life.

No, the hero here is played by Frank Grillo. Grillo looks like some of the guys I went to high school with, crossed with the kinds of guys you see hanging around the front of protein supplement selling places. Also, they’re often smoking when they do that, and, these days, you also see them at the front of anti-lockdown, anti-vacc protests, complaining about what the government is making people put into their bodies.

Grillo usually plays villains in stuff, most recently in the Marvel monstrosities, but even though he looks like the kind of guy who’d fuck your grandmother, they sometimes put him forward as a heroic type.

I don’t buy it. And here he’s the front and centre hero, and we’re meant to believe he wouldn’t punch a baby penguin in the face?

This is the most recent in a long line of Groundhog Day variations, with more of an action / blow-uppy emphasis. There are more variants of Groundhog Day than there are of the coronavirus, and the action ones are something of a Delta variant, one could say. Edge of Tomorrow was probably the best of the action-y ones, but that can’t stop people from trying again and again, unfortunately.

This one not only has a sci-fi explanation for what’s happening, it uses the aesthetics and concepts of ye olde video games as well. For a long while I thought what was actually happening was that a character, being the hero, was realising somehow that he was a character in a video game, repeating the same sequences and facing the same enemies game after game after game. As trite as I thought that was while watching it, when it’s revealed that the character and this artificial seeming, flat yet cartoony world is actually the “real” world, and the generic hero with the square jaw and the generic backstory is meant to be a real person fighting ‘real’ assassins with swords and helicopter gun ships and such I thought “Somehow that feels even more fake”.

Roy’s days are numbered as “attempts”, and they all start at 7am with an assassin’s machete narrowly missing his head. He kills that guy, and then has to survive something with a helicopter, and then goes out into the world, and more people try to kill him, and he searches for meaning.

He survives up to a certain point, dies, and repeats. If he forgets his timing at any stage, he dies early. Doesn’t know what’s going on, doesn’t know how to enquire about his existence or vary things significantly. Or at least that’s what he keeps telling us, because the fucking voiceover narration never fucking ends.

He remembers previous things, or starts sussing out other elements of what might be happening, but of course it’s within the format of a flick where he’s only going to finally solve things with the final playthrough, so to speak. Like all these Groundhog Day ripoffs, the point is generally about a shitty person realising there’s more to life than being shitty, and so they learn all they can about the people around them, learn to be helpful and selfless, and then become enlightened or something.

Roy has to realise that he knows very little about Egyptian mythology, or quantum physics, or sword fighting, and only through mastering those will he be able to kill Colonel Fuckface (Mel Gibson) and his goons.

Rating:

Moxie!

Moxie!

We're all in this together, until we aren't, then it's every
girl for herself

dir: Amy Poehler

2021

Moxie sounds like something from the olden days, like something you used to put in a car during Prohibition, if you could afford one, and if the Mafia allowed you to drive. It’s used in dialogue by an older (compared to the protagonists) person, and severely mocked by those who hear it. And yet it becomes the title of this film and the zine the main character Vivian (Hadley Robinson) makes to combat the sexism and misogyny she sees at her school.

I don’t know if you can argue that it all comes about in an entirely organic manner, but really, how much does that matter. Upon the first day of her new school year, she’s wondering about what matters to her and what she cares about. Turns out, not much. She looks to others to tell her what should matter to her, because she doesn’t yet know what to care about.

That’s fair enough. She and her BFF Claudia (Lauren Tsai) know about stuff and care about stuff, but they’re wallflowers at their high school, and more the kind of people who just want to get through rather than stand out and become targets for shitheads and bullies.

A new starter at the school, being Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) is targeted by the captain of the football team, who is the appointed god-king of this place, and it’s either because she’s African-American or because she tried to defy the established canon of American Literature, and disliked being interrupted by the jerk Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) when criticising the fact that The Great Gatsby is still being taught in schools like no other books have ever been written.

Mitchell probably hasn’t read it. Guys like Mitchell don’t need to read. But he hears a person of colour criticising the canon, he has to defend it, like he’d probably reflexively need to defend Confederate flags and vaccine conspiracy theories. He’s just out here, exercising his freedom of speech, asking the questions the others don’t have the courage to ask, is all.

How Mitchell behaves is appalling, and over the course of the flick this mediocre piece of shit keeps getting away with and being enabled by everyone, just because he’s the captain of the football team. It’s not even a remotely successful football team, but the hierarchy established in this ecosystem dictates that the male Captain of Any Football Team = Way Better than Anyone Else.

But the focus isn’t really on Mitchell. He’s not a character that matters (though he commits much evil). It’s the people around Mitchell, the system around Mitchell that enables him and never even tries to gently recommend he not be so much of a piece of shit that matters.

And, at least at first, Vivian doesn’t even see that she’s part of it. Even after watching and hearing Mitchell be awful towards Lucy, everything the school has taught he to say and think comes to the fore: she tells Lucy to just keep her head down, go with the flow, and then maybe Mitchell will move on to presumably threaten and sexually harass someone else.

Lucy, who makes her case to the principal of the fucking school (Marcia Gay Harden), is told there is no case for Mitchell to answer, and reporting it would be a lot of paperwork, but nevertheless, she persists. She tells Vivian there is no reason for her to keep her head down and modify her behaviour.

She is going to keep her head up.

Rating:

Oxygene

Oxygen

Despite all her rage she's still just a rat in a cage

dir: Alexandre Aja

2021

How strange. This flick pretty much occurs in one location, with one actor. There are images of other people, and a couple of voices, but really we, like she, are trapped in place.

I guess we’re all trapped in place when we’re in a cinema (or at least what I remember about cinemas from 100 years ago, 1 covid year = 100 calendar years), but for this I was trapped on my couch as the captive audience for this Netflix Exclusive!

And I found it pretty compelling. I mean, I do get a little claustrophobic watching things like this (another great example is the Ryan Reynold’s flick Buried, that’s kinda and kinda completely not similar), but I think you’re supposed to, just like the character. This starts with the simple premise that these kinds of flicks often start with: person wakes up in a box that it appears they can’t escape from, and oxygen is running out.

The person here (Melanie Laurent) is French, so presumably everything that transpires is happening to a French person, including a disembodied voice that talks to her in the flat emotionless tones of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Mathieu Amalric) which also speaks French.

The inside of the box looks pretty high tech-ish, so we can assume that the future is possibly French? Tres chic! The men will all be boorish sexist pigs and the women classy and sexually confident?

Um, we can do better.

The additional problem the lady here has upon waking is that she is wrapped up in a whole bunch of stuff, with wrappings, and masks and cannulas and straps and all sorts of things, but also doesn’t remember who she is, or why she might be in such a contraption. The disembodied voice, let’s call it Milo, for whatever reason, answers some questions put to it, but not others. There are limits to what information it can access or tell the occupant of the box / pod / super high tech coffin.

It can’t tell her her name. It can’t tell her why she’s there, it also can’t release her from the box. But what it can do is tell her that the oxygen supply to the sealed pod is depleting rapidly, and she coincidentally only has about as much time to escape as the film seems to have remaining in its running time.

Convenient, that.

The woman in the box might not know who she is or why she’s there (has she angered some kind of high tech serial killer / kidnapper? Was she dying and was she put in the box to keep her alive? Is this some kind of state-sanctioned punishment for her crimes against humanity?), but she has that believably human drive to survive. She pieces together whatever she can find out, and however far she can reach within the pod in order to try absolutely everything in order to either escape or survive.

Rating:

Sun Children

Khorshid

None so blind as those who won't see, none so
alone as those underground

Khorshid

dir: Majid Majidi

2020

Life is a constant, unending struggle in the films of Majid Majidi. I haven’t seen all of them, but I’ve seen enough to know that, in his flicks, poor people struggle and struggle and get barely anything for their troubles. There is no nobility in struggling, and there is barely if any karmic reward coming down the pipeline for everything they go through.

The approach that he has taken in all his films, including here, isn’t one of trying to make grander points about inequality and Iranian society in explicit or polemic terms – you can easily infer all of that, but he doesn’t have characters come out directly and say how unfair everything is and how things should be different.

Majidi has been making movies for years, movies which get seen overseas at festivals and such, and get released in arthouse cinemas, but he’s not political, which is why he hasn’t been arrested by the Revolutionary Guard or the morality police for crimes against Iran, unlike some other directors. Directors who live there don’t have the freedom to criticize the regime, and Majidi isn’t that kind of director, unlike, say, Jafar Panahi, who spent years in jail and under house arrest, and can’t leave Iran and isn’t allowed to make movies ever again.

No, the pricks in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance probably think Majidi is perfect because he never gets political. Thing is, though, like the phrase goes, trying to be apolitical is being political.

It’s not like his films are saccharine mawkish products either. They are harsh in their depiction of what life is like for poor people in Iran, especially children. And a flick that shows how shitty life is for kids in a major city is an indictment of that city and that country, even if thankfully the authorities don’t see it that way.

Ali (Rouhollah Zamani) is a brawling, ruthless force of nature, even at twelve. His mother is institutionalised, and his father is dead. He has a crew of three other chaps, all of whom have lost a parent at least, usually to heroin addiction. I cannot imagine what it must be like as a heroin addict in Iran – a place where they hang you for looking at a picture of the Ayatollah funny or for pointing out that some beards look dumb. I can’t imagine the regime takes an empathetic, harm minimisation approach to addiction, but you never know.

That is the world these particular kids live in – hand to mouth, always looking to scam, taking orders for stuff to steal, always on the make.

The flick starts with the kids trying to steal luxury tyres from a luxury vehicle, something they’ve clearly done before, but the job goes wrong when the lookout gets busted by a security guard. When Ali sees his tiny friend at risk of being grabbed by this jerk, the jerk being a full grown-arse man, Ali takes him on and takes him down temporarily, as he and Abolfazi (Abolfazi Shirzad) abscond. The law would be tough on either of them, but Abolfazi is an Afghani refugee, and it would be even worse for him and his family.

I never thought about it, honestly, that there would be a large population of Afghani refugees in Iran because of the various wars, Taliban etc, and that they would be a shaky, oppressed minority, but the flick has a fair few scenes of Iranians acting like cruel dolts towards people of that background.

Fucking hell, who does catch a break in this world?

Rating:

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Quo Vadis, Aida?

And no it's not Elizabeth Moss, just FYI

dir: Jasmila Zbanic

2021

This is some pretty heavy stuff to deal with. This happened in the mid-90s, which isn’t that long ago. For some reason, at least for me, it’s easy to forget that at a time when I was going to gigs and staying up all night arguing about pop culture bullshit with friends drunk out of our minds, there was a war in Europe, and people were being slaughtered just for being who they were.

This is a true story in the sense that there is a town called Srebrenica in Bosnia / Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia. And the Serbian army slaughtered a whole bunch of Bosnian Muslims there, for no other reason than that they were Bosnian Muslims.

And there are two armies depicted in this, but only one of them is killing people, and it’s the Serbian one. The other army is made up of Dutch soldiers, some of whom are wearing shorts. Some of them have big moustaches, but mostly they’re not very intimidating. They are there as United Nations peacekeepers. They are running a refugee camp, because the Serbian army has been terrorising all the villages and towns around Srebrenica, and many of those who weren’t killed fled hoping the UN would look after them.

It remains one of the great tragedies of the last half of last century, up there with Rwanda as well I guess.

This flick is so matter-of-fact about what happened, about how desperate these people were to survive, how there was no magical solution, and how the vast majority of them didn’t have a chance.

The main character, as one could guess from the title, which is Latin for “Where are you going, Aida?” is Aida (Jasna Đuričić), who speaks English and Serbian, I guess. She is a Bosnian Muslim, and she has a husband and two grown up boys. She helps as a translator with the peacekeepers, even though she doesn’t speak Dutch, but they do speak English.

When the film starts, after a long pan from right to left of Aida and her family, Aida is translating to the Dutch the concerns of the mayor of Srebrenica, who is worried that the Serbian army is getting ever closer. The Dutch commander assures him that the army won’t enter the town, because they have said to them that if they enter the town, NATO will bomb them. There keep being variations on phrases like “in no uncertain terms” and “this is a UN resolution”, but it ultimately means nothing, and the terrified and angry mayor knows it.

Aida is not a person with power in this situation. The most she is able to do is chat to people in different languages, and try to save her three men.

The Dutch aren’t interested, really, in saving anyone. The Serbian army no longer cares about appearances, as it is determined to get what they think of as revenge. So it’s down to Aida to desperately scramble about to find a way to avoid the inevitable.

Rating:

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