Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those who wish to see performances with lead characters
who don't have lips that look inflated beyond safe levels
should look elsewhere for their entertainment

dir: Taylor Sheridan

2021

This film… makes no sense. Angelina Jolie being in this film makes not much sense at all.

She is there, as in, you can’t miss the fact that she’s in the film, but she doesn’t really do much of anything. And there’s so much else happening around her, and being done by other people, that you wonder why we’re spending any time with her and her weird feline features.

So, wow, what a title. Those Who Wish Me Dead seems like it’s been truncated, like it’s missing Can Go Fuck Themselves or something similar. The “Those” of the title are two lethal hitmen played by Aidan Gillen (of Lord Bailish / Littlefinger in Game of Thrones fame) and Nicholas Hoult (of, uh, About a Boy fame?) Both have played monsters in other flicks or shows, but here they play cold government goon sociopaths that have no problems murdering entire families, torturing pregnant women or starting fires that can kill any number of people.

In some ways, because we spend so much time watching them work, it’s like they’re the main characters, it’s just that we really don’t want them to succeed. After killing whole bunches of people, their objective ultimately is to kill a kid that’s running around a forest in Montana.

And if they can kill a whole bunch of other people along the way, they’re cool with that.

They don’t start the fire in the forest to kill the kid, but to distract law enforcement, which, I dunno, doesn’t seem very bright. Almost everything they do, which is intended to cover up some government shenanigans, makes it seem like it would just make government shenanigans even more obvious. The fire, I would have thought, would just bring more attention to what they’re doing. Killing all these people in ultra-professional-killer ways would just make it look like a bunch of government goons killed a bunch of people to cover something up, not, like, the opposite of that.

But what would I know. The fire at least gives Angelina Jolie an excuse to shout “Fire, Fire!” in a not-at-all crowded theatre, and to point her pouty lips at the conflagration’s wall of flame.

Rating:

Night of the Kings

La Nuit des rois

Most people have to lie just to avoid facing up to their
responsibilities or the repercussions of their own actions.
He has to lie just to stay alive! No pressure, you go, king

La Nuit des Rois

dir: Philippe Lacôte

2021

I had heard this film was good, but even I’m a bit surprised.

I know what the flick sounds like – young chap turns up to prison in the middle of a jungle in the tiny African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, and looks pretty scared.

He should be. It’s like no other prison I’ve ever seen.

I’m going to indulge in what seems like a bit of fat-shaming, but that’s not really what it is. Especially since I look like Jack Black before he found fame and fortune and personal trainers. There are only two overweight chaps in this whole prison: the warden Nivaquine (Issaka Sawadogo) and Barbè Noire (Steve Tientcheu). Both are big men, both are older, but only one is considered the king of MACA prison. Barbè Noire, despite that being a nickname, and French for Blackbeard, as in the pirate, is just as much called his other title, being Dangôro.

This prison has rules. Every prison has rules, but this one’s rules are tinged with the vaguely mystical: if its ailing king grows weak, he is obligated to top himself, so that a new king can take his place. Except when there is a red moon. If a red moon is to appear, the Dangôro can choose a Roman, as in, a storyteller, to tell a story on that night, thus buying himself some more time.

It is very unclear what the rules are around the telling of the story, or what the storyteller is meant to do. If the crowd doesn’t like the story, presumably the storytelling can come to a premature end. If the crowd are entranced by it, the storyteller gets more time to tell more of a story. But if they run out of story before the sun rises, they will end up on a metal hook, up a flight of stairs, and it looks like a painful way to die.

Again, I know what a story set in a prison sounds like, murder everywhere, abuse by prisoners and guards alike, brutality and sadism and hypermasculinity and all that, and while elements of that appear here, they’re not the bread and butter of the story. It’s really about watching the terrified and desperate Roman (Bakary Koné) try to spin a tale, as many tales, as many versions of tales as he can before he loses the crowd and before the night ends.

No one is really on his side, and everything seems stacked against him, and I’m sure most of the prison don’t care whether he lives or dies, but I guess we care. The sole non-Ivory Coast person in the prison, called Silence (legendary brutish looking French actor Denis Lavant) breaks his silence in order to tell the kid that he has to play for time and stretch out what little material he has. Everyone else, including the ailing king, want to see him fail, because sacrificing him gives the king another day.

Rating:

False Positive

Positive False

Is that injection... going to make my hair flat forever?

dir: John Lee

2021

This movie sounds like a lot of things.

First of all, it sounds like a parody of a thriller, with a title that sounds like one of the movie titles they parodied in Seinfeld. No shit, I distinctly remember there was a movie the crew really wanted to see called Prognosis Negative.

Second, they take an actor and comedian famous for her curly black hair, being Ilana Glazer, and give her this ironed down wig look in a pretense of WASPy normality. I’m pretty sure it’s a wig. Although, I say “famous for”, but I guess people who didn’t watch the charming and chaotic Broad City, in which Ilana and Abbi Jacobson ruled might have no idea who she is. But why would you take someone so funny and give them nothing funny to do? Who is your imagined audience for this? Anxious potential parents?

Presumably they’re watching this for Justin Theroux. Or maybe they’re big fans of Pierce Brosnan?

Third, they take a well known horror concept (a woman giving over her body to an alien parasite, otherwise known as a baby), and freaking out for the whole pregnancy thinking people are out to hurt her or the baby, but invert it because a) she is paranoid and delusional but b) they are out to get her. And it gives every reviewer over forty an excuse to mention Rosemary’s Baby, but in my case it's only to say Roman Polanski is still a piece of shit.

The movie starts with Lucy (Ilana Glazer) walking down a street, covered in blood, so we can easily assume that something not quite right is going to be happening to her.

But then we presumably cut to the past, where she and her already creepy husband are trying and failing to get her pregnant. He’s a doctor of some description, and she’s a successful marketing type person who her colleagues are in awe of (up until the moment where her pregnancy is seen as a reason to push her to the side). She actually says at one point “I could be one of those women that actually has it all”. Has anyone in the history of grand set ups to have everything fall down around them ever said anything different?

There’s the level to engage with such a story in a way that is relatable and human: those of us in couples who’ve tried to have kids and lost them, or persisted and lost them again, or eventually had them after nine months of torment for the mother (followed by another year of no sleep), only to have not everything go like clockwork, or the house look like a White Woman’s Instagram page.

Then there are the unlucky people who’ve had to follow the more fraught route of donors, of fertility treatments and IVF, of very expensive treatments, losing them again and again, feeling like it was all for nothing if you don’t at least get a baby at the end of it. It’s the sunk cost fallacy of gambling addiction applied to having children, and it’s terrifying to consider.

That’s the stage Lucy and Adrian are at when they turn to the immediately creepy Dr Hindle (Brosnan), who has a perfectly polite and paternalistic manner meant to put people at ease, but, honestly, even if the soundtrack wasn’t signalling to us that something off was happening, his weird dialogue would leave us in no doubt.

From the get go he’s saying stuff about how he’s put a part of himself in so many people, and how he’s a part of all these families going forward, and how he’s so awesome he just wishes he could clone himself, and it’s the only bit of this horror set up that comes from real life, in that he’s telling us openly what he’s planning on doing: impregnating all these desperate women with his genetic material.

It’s…ew. It’s so wrong. I’m not even going to pretend I was a genius for figuring that out right from the start, but it was disgustingly obvious, and we were meant to think it, because Lucy does too.

Rating:

In The Heights

In the Heights

I await the sequel about Heidelberg Heights and all the
wonderful people who live there, hop to it, Lin Manuel.

dir: Jon M. Chu

2021

I’m not…the target audience for musicals, that should be fairly obvious. I have been trying to finish watching Cats for over a year in order to review it, and I haven’t been able to complete it, despite trying over 20 times to get through it. When I die and go to hell, among the many other torments available and specially designed for me, Mamma Mia will be playing loudly and on a loop.

I guess there are times when I’m able to unclench my jaw and relax into these strange musical – cinematic hybrids. I really enjoyed Hamilton when it came out last year (the film of the original cast performing on the stage, for Disney+), and that required no particular love of the genre or love of America’s Founding Fathers. And, despite never having been to the New York suburb of Washington Heights or having anything close to Latinx heritage, it’s not impossible for me to enjoy a song-and-dance extravaganza about a bunch of people who live in a vibrant, caring community.

It specifically honours the Caribbean, central American, South American and other permutations heritages of the people who make up what seems to be this most melting pot of melting pots, seeing in them the story that has played out for millennia across the world but in terms of the States the story of migrants aspiring to a better life for them and their families.

Which is the story of chumps everywhere, I guess. Many of these people are trapped within dreams, their own dreams, the dreams of their parents, parental expectations, community expectations, all of which can be pretty far from what real life brings on.

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) tells a story from what looks like a bar on the beaches of the Dominican Republic, to a bunch of snot-nosed kids. What story is he telling them? Well, it’s the story of how he followed his dreams, or his dad’s dreams, or someone else’s dreams. Anyway, most of the kids look bored, but the brightest of them, an eager girl, listens intently, about the events of one particular summer.

The bodega Usnavi runs with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) is a focal point of the neighbourhood, in that every other single character in the flick comes and goes from the bodega. Across the street is a car hire place(?) called Rosario’s which is also a focal point of the neighbourhood. There’s also a hair / nail salon place which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. Plus there’s also Abuela Claudia’s (Olga Merediz) apartment, which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. I think I’ve overused that particular construction, because I think you can see what I’m implying.

Rating:

Violation

Violation

Vengeance will absolutely be hers

dir: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli

2021

I wanted to watch a horror film last night, and did I watch a horrific film…

Violation is a pretty horrific descent into a story that brings no comfort or catharsis, and least I don’t think for the audience, even as it deals with someone getting revenge on someone for raping them.

I know, I know that sounds like a cheery subject for the whole family to sit around and watch, grandma too. It’s a curious sub-genre within horror, but this is… nothing like those other exploitation flicks, the most notorious of which is probably I Spit on Your Grave, and its sequel, I Spit on Your Gravy.

The central relationship in this story is between two sisters, Miriam and Greta (Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Anna Maguire), who have a somewhat salty manner with each other. They haven’t seen each other in a while, and Miriam and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) go out into the Canadian wilderness in order to stay with Greta and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Even though Miriam and Greta speak with English accents, they apparently grew up in Canada, and Dylan was a childhood friend to both of them prior to Greta and Dylan marrying.

Greta and Dylan seem happy together, happier at least than Miriam and Caleb seem to be. Miriam’s fractious relationship with her sister is also mirrored by the fact that she seems to have fraught relationships with every character. Though she gets along well enough with Dylan, and chats freely with him about all sorts of stuff.

You can kind of guess where this might be going, but even I, having read reviews of the flick after some film festival, possibly Toronto’s, am staggered by what happens in this flick.

Fucking Hell. Them Canadians…

It’s a horror flick in the sense that something absolutely horrible happens in the flick, and because the person whom it happens to cannot live with what happened, she enacts an all encompassing revenge that annihilates her betrayer, and we watch it. That’s disturbing and incredibly bleak.
I could get (even more) pretentious and argue that the title possibly doesn’t refer to what happens to Miriam (even though clearly it is a violation of her person, her autonomy, her body), but to not even being believed as to what happened. No-one believes her, least of all her sister, who assumes Miriam not only consented but seduced Dylan.

That is a violation, of the sisterly bond, if one existed. But the problem then even becomes that Dylan himself, prior to facing his fate, also doesn’t think he did anything wrong, if anything, he thinks he and Miriam are having a hot affair.

It’s kinda staggering. It also kinda reminded me, of all things, of Mike Tyson’s trial for rape back in the 1990s, for which he was convicted, thankfully. At the trial, I recall reading that his lawyers, and he himself, tried to argue that he didn’t even understand the concept of consent, or that a woman could decline to have sex with him, once she was in private with him. It didn’t compute, therefore he should have been found innocent, was their staggering argument.

Rating:

Gunpowder Milkshake

Gunpowder Milkshake

Fuck with the sisterhood, get your balls crushed by hammers!

dir: Navot Papushado

2021

Well. That movie had a lot of stuff in it.

It had a lot of shooting, a lot of stabbing, a few cinema legends in key roles, and a lot of colour and momentum.

It’s also pretty silly, which is something I can appreciate.

I mean, John Wick is pretty silly, but it takes itself deadly seriously. Gunpowder Milkshake does not. Probably cannot.

It’s not entirely ruled out that this film doesn’t exist in the same universe as the John Wick flicks, but it might as well. It’s also almost cartoonishly similar to a movie Clive Owen starred in that absolutely died at the box office called Shoot ‘em Up too many years ago now. It’s a world seemingly ruled by assassins, with very few civilians in between them. No cops seem to exist whatsoever. There are massive criminal organisations with masses of people in them, and every business or building seems to be connected to them, but the main difference here is this isn’t meant to feel deathly important. And everything isn’t filmed at night in the rain with a blue filter.

Our protagonist Sam (Karen Gillen) is also not trying to get revenge on crims for the death of her wife / dog / guinea pig, though she is angry, and stern, though she is trying to protect a little girl mixed up with the shenanigans going on.

What Sam is angry about is being abandoned, she feels, by her assassin mother (the almost always awesome Lena Headey, of Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones fame) fifteen years ago. That abandonment has fueled her anger, which she’s channeled into being The Firm’s number one killer.

It is not clear what The Firm really is, other than The Patriarchy. In this flick The Firm is represented by Paul Giamatti, who took Sam in when her mother disappeared, and employed her for The Firm’s benefit. She is sent on a job where she kills a whole bunch of people, presumably just before the movie started. One of those people has a father who is quite upset about this. I would have thought all of the people Sam kills, or that The Firm kills could potentially have parents that are saddened by their deaths, but it’s only this one, to Papa McAlester (Ralph Ineson), that seems to matter.

Papa McAlester wants revenge, and The Firm, being a boys’ club only, they are happy to feed Sam to the wolves in order to keep peace with their rivals.

Sam doesn’t play that shit, though, so it’s up to her to enlist the aid of other murderous women in order to stay alive long enough to protect, um, whatever the girl’s name is, um oh yeah Emily (Chloe Coleman).

Sam has to kill and maim a lot of people to achieve that, but thankfully most of those people are pretty shit at their job, and she’s pretty good at hers. What ensues is long sequences of Sam fighting people (contrived reasons are given to stop people constantly shooting at each other, which makes for more inventive fight scenes) with whatever comes to hand, and then, even “better”, contrive a way to make it even harder for her to fight off multiple opponents by temporarily paralyzing her arms.

Rating:

Good On Paper

Good On Paper

He looks happy, but she looks perturbed?

dir: Kimmy Gatewood

2021

I would argue a good many things look good on paper. Fish and chips look good in paper, as opposed to on paper. A nice selection of native flowers in a carefully curated bouquet.

What doesn’t look so great on paper is the premise of Good On Paper, which, itself, begins with the title “This is a mostly true story based on a lie.”

That’s intriguing, isn’t it? Pulls you in? Raises your curiousity level?

Accomplished standup Iliza Shlesinger of the many specials on Netflix and the sketch comedy show that shares her name plays slightly less accomplished and more insecure standup Andrea Singer, in a movie about something that I’m guessing actually happened to Iliza in real life.

To whit, this flick exists as a “you won’t believe what happened to me” kind of story along with “this is the best way I can think of to get revenge against a jerk who jerked me around once” all rolled up into one delightful package. If the flick has three parts, the first two thirds work reasonably well, and the last third completely devolves into a mess that to me screams “we had no idea how to end such a story.”

Andrea’s standup is remarkably similar to Iliza’s standup, in that there’s a mixture of the personal and the broader movements in the zeitgeist, but here most of the time when there are scenes on stage she’s mostly providing commentary on the story we’re watching.

Rating:

Stowaway

Stowaway

One of us ain't leaving this room, and it won't be me!

dir: Joe Penna

2021

Stowaway is not really the kind of thing you expect to watch on the telly, at the movies or on a streaming service. There are no explosions, people speak calmly to each other. No-one gets shot or stabbed with a lightsaber. No aliens chomp off anyone’s faces.

It’s science-fiction, I guess, but it tries to be depicting space travel, or a mission to Mars, with technology we’re used to seeing from “real” NASA footage, or the International Space Station. Believable science of today, rather than magic science of the future.

I’m no rocket scientist, so I have no idea how accurate any of it is. Three people, three astronauts, set out on their mission, 2 years round trip to Mars, with the eventual goal of having a permanent manned base on Mars.

The Commander (Toni Collette) is Australian, for no other reason other than that they thought it would be okay. A biologist (Daniel Dae Kim) who’s going to be experimenting with algae, and a doctor (Anna Kendrick). They all get along fairly well. They’re going to be together for two years, so you would want them to be chill with each other.

Instead of always talking to NASA or to Houston, with their problems, they talk to Hyperion. In one of the grand gestures of complying with the current milieu, it’s possible it’s a corporation, like SpaceX and Virgin Blue and whatever Jeff Bezo’s space company is called.

You know, those companies billionaires start in order to thrust their proprietary phallus-like rockets into the stratosphere, just to find somewhere new to fuck up.

These astronauts aren’t like that. They’re calm scientists, or, in one case, a doctor, and they’re all about doing what needs to be done and following procedures and listening to every order given by Hyperion back home and following it.

I don’t think it’s meant to indicate compliance or obedience on their part: not too dissimilar to the relationship between the astronauts in space in Apollo 13, and the NASA nerds back on Earth at Houston in mission control, there are too many variables for three people to cover, no matter how adept.

That’s what you need the legions of nerds to figure out for you.

Thing is, though, this isn’t a situation where the ingenuity of scientists or the collective action of oodles of people will change the result. This isn’t a story about the triumph of American courage or American values or Tom Fucking Hanks.

This is a story where Science can’t magic up a solution to an impossible problem, and when all avenues are exhausted, someone might have to be sacrificed for The Greater Good (the greater good).

Sorry, couldn’t resist a reference to Hot Fuzz, though I did resist typing “crusty jugglers”.

Rating:

The Dry

Dry

Don't look over there, look behind you. That's where the
stupid town is.

dir: Robert Connelly

2020

Just for something different I thought I’d watch an Australian film.

Ooo, how exotic!

This flick, really, couldn’t possibly have any surprises for me. After all, I’ve read the Jane Harper book which sold like hand sanitiser at the beginning of the epidemic. Everyone (at least people that catch public transport and still read books, which is the sum and total of people who still read books) read that book and the ones that came after, probably.

I read that one and stopped there. Not because I didn’t like it, because I kinda did, despite how formulaic it was. It’s just that my prejudice became “well, now she’s a prisoner of her own success, and everything she writes will be minor variations on this template.”

I’m too lazy to find out if that’s actually true. Maybe I’m just afraid to admit how wrong I am (I know I’m wrong; I am somewhat comfortable with that fact).

But The Dry, despite its formulaic nature, did resonate with me, or at least the parts of me that respond to those elements of the formula. A book like this can be and has been written in every language and in every nation. They aren’t necessarily all crime stories, but all these country town or village dramas proceed in a similar fashion, because it’s a story I think most people can relate to.

They’re always stories about belonging, or being ostracised, or starting off as a part of a tiny community, and then either fleeing or being cast out, and then being forced by circumstance to revisit the past, dredge up old traumas and solve outstanding riddles. It’s great.

I fully support it. So, Aaron (Eric Bana, perfectly cast) is a guy who grew up in a fictional far west Victorian town call call Kiewarra. It hasn’t rained in Kiewarra for a long goddamn time, which is a problem, because all it does is try to grow wheat in dusty fields. It’s one of those dwindling or dying towns, but none of that should matter.

Aaron left town as a teenager, literally chased out of town, after the death of one of his friends, something that clearly haunts him still. More than, I dunno, twenty years have passed, and people still act like he probably had something to do with it.

Yeah, it’s one of those country stories, like that other superb flick set in the country by Rachel Ward a bunch of years ago, Beautiful Kate. But that was about a family destroyed by tragedy and loneliness, whereas this story is about cruel shitbags and murderous greed.

Rating:

The Killing of Two Lovers

Killing of Two Lovers

I'm glad they got a good night's sleep, even if it's their last

dir: Robert Machoian

2021

The Killing of Two Lovers, as a title, doesn’t sound that ambiguous. I mean, any reasonable person with eyeballs who reads English would read that title and assume that this film has a story about the killing of two lovers.

It is not, however, the whole sentence. It is somewhat deceptive. It is the beginning of a sentence, rather than the end of a sentence. But it’s still not clear whether it’s the beginning of a story or the end of one.

When the film begins, a bearded distraught chap (Clayne Crawford) with a gun, stands in a bedroom. We see two sleeping people’s feet poking out of the bed. He raises the gun towards them, but then stops when he hears a toilet flushing in the house. He retreats, sneaks out a window, and runs to a pick up truck, hides the gun, drives about a block away to another house.

At that house, an aged dad struggles to breath and drink water from a cup, but he’s okay, in the way of all old men. He is father to this angry son, but the son puts on a veneer of normality when speaking with him, doing chores around the place, doting on him. It’s a kind of weary friendliness, concern, all mixed in together.

But only we know apparently that it’s a veneer. When he ventures out again, it’s in pursuit of the other newer, shinier pick up truck that was parked in front of the house he was standing in with murderous intent. The male that was on the bed drives away, and our bearded jerk follows him. The camera, in long takes, focuses solely on the driver, so we are seeing little of the world but much of it from his perspective. It is a very small town, the kind small enough where everyone must know each other or else.

The guy stops for a percolated coffee, so our guy stops for a percolated coffee, forced to interact with him in the process, then he follows him again on the road, seemingly with the intent of shooting him as they’re driving, but he’s foiled, again.

These scenes, these tense scenes of potential violence, only we see them. No one else has seen them at this stage, so the world chugs along as it did before.

The distraught chap goes back to the house from the beginning, and we find out that it’s the house he used to live in with his wife and kids, who still live there. He, being David, shepherds his younger kids to the school bus, and eventually sees his daughter walking in the opposite direction to the school. That daughter, Jess (Avery Pizzuto), is very angry, at her parents in general, for separating, but especially angry at her father, for not being able to keep his marriage together, because he is a loser.

Rating:

No Sudden Move

No Sudden Move

These guys, they are dangerous and ambitious, but they are
not as dangerous as those car companies.

dir: Steven Soderbergh

2021

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that had “crime doesn’t pay” as its ultimate message. I mean, every film before the 1970s used to have that message: cops are good, crooks are bad, if you crime, you’ll die etc.

Even though this is set in 1950s Detroit, though, and this being Steven Soderbergh, who I’m sure said he was going to retire from filmmaking years ago, the ultimate message actually ends up being: crime doesn’t pay for you low-level shmucks; it only pays off for the fuckers at the top, to whom all money will flow regardless of the outcome.

Although, honestly, me saying that’s the point based on the outcome, and based on a speech a strange character delivers towards the end about how easily the $375,000 he’s being forced to give up is going to flow back to him anyway, skips the point that this film is really about showing us how the people doing stuff, legal or illegal, aren’t the ones that benefit from it. That everything is constructed thus to always benefit those who constructed the way the world works.

There’s a word that describes that view of the world, I just can’t put my Marxist finger on it just this second…

This was a pleasure to watch, most of the time, because there are a bunch of great actors in this, and they’re given time and room to breath and just exist as these people. I don’t mean that there are contemplative scenes where people shoot the breeze and talk at length about their motivations and histories and lives / personal philosophies. Way too much happens in this flick from a plot perspective, way too much, so there’s no time for such scenes. But what you have is people discussing what their next move should be, and why, in ways that might be consistent with who they are, and it’s plenty.

Three crims are hired by a handler to terrorise a family and force the jerk dad of that family (David Harbour) to go in to his work and steal a document from his boss’s safe.

It sounds simple enough, but everything perpetually goes “wrong” that you can imagine. The patriarch of the family, Matt Wertz, isn’t completely blameless in what’s happening, and is sleeping with his boss’s secretary, who expects him to leave the family now under siege.

Of the three crims, Curt is straight out of prison (Don Cheadle), the other is some kind of young psychopath (Keiran Culkin) and the third has the thickest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a human male (Benicio Del Toro). Del Toro’s character, Ronald Russo, is uncomfortable working with an African-American, because racism. He never utters the word you’re pretty sure he wants to say, but he often summarises an entire group of people with massive generalisations about greed and other dumb shit.

Rating:

Black Widow

Marvel's Black Widow

Family that kill evil misogynists together stay together

dir: Cate Shortland

2021

I know this sounds weird, but the reason I was excited when I heard about this film being made was the fact that Cate Shortland, Australia’s Own Cate Shortland, would be directing.

You don’t know who Cate Shortland is? She made Somersault way back in the day, and that was a pretty good moody Australian film (one of the few). I’m sure she’s done a bunch of stuff since then, but that’s what I remember her for. She might be a strange choice for an action flick, but I guess they wanted a cis female director for a film pretending to make up the difference with the 20-plus Marvel films in which women mostly played supporting characters, and the now 2 that had female protagonists.

As well there’s this explicitly “smashing the patriarchy” part of the plot which I wholeheartedly support, and if you didn’t have a female director directing it, you’d accuse whoever made it of probably being a Polanski-Weinstein in simp’s clothing.

For all that Scarlett Johansson has done in these movies as someone who doesn’t even have superpowers, this being the 8th time she’s strapped on the outfit, making her the central character doesn’t entirely work here, because she’s the least interesting part of this story. The villain is, like, not interesting at all either, though he is diabolical in his horrible treatment of women, but the interesting characters are really everyone else except Black Widow.

There is a flashback set in the 1990s that opens the film, showing a family going about their general daily American apple pie bullshit, until they bolt from the house and desperately try to get to a plane and fly out of the States, presumably, as they are chased by government types who don’t look like they have any problem shooting children.

The children are little Natasha and her little “sister” Yelena (eventually played by the great Florence Pugh), and the parents are Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), and though they look like the perfect family, they are all evil Soviet spies! Even the children! Especially the children!

Rating:

The Tomorrow War

The Tomorrow War

This is such a great poster. It screams "I am top billed: fuck all these
other losers and look directly at my crotch!"

dir: Chris McKay

2021

Flicks can be wholly derivative and still work. The Tomorrow War is constructed entirely from bits of dozens of older movies, and still works. I have zero problems with that. I feel so defeated by life right now that, honestly, if a film can have flashing lights in it and the dialogue mostly matches the moving lips of the actors, I’m pretty much convinced it’s masterpiece theatre.

I don’t particularly love seeing Chris Pratt as a serious dad type character wanting to desperately sacrifice himself in order to save the world, because he’s far better suited to goofy nutty characters, but he is getting old, and he is married to a child of Schwarzenegger, so maybe he hopes he’s the next Arnie? This is certainly not a comical romp, so there’s that against it, first up.

There’s an alien enemy that threatens to kill everyone on the planet, but it’s a threat that won’t happen for 30 years or so. Every second science fiction flick has ruthless aliens wanting to kill us just for existing. Just yesterday I saw a different flick where aliens want to kill all people because we’re such noisy buggers. And these creatures are somehow even nastier, and they can see AND hear, so we’re doubly fucked.

They are pretty horrible looking, and for the longest time I didn’t know what characters were talking about when they were talking about this alien enemy: they call them “white spikes”, but what I thought I was hearing was “The White Stripes”.

And I thought “hey, that’s a bit unkind. Maybe not all of their albums were as great as their good ones, but they never hurt anyone (except each other)”.

So now you know, I’ve spoiled it horribly: at some time in the future a billions clones of Meg and Jack White appear on the planet savagely killing humanity with the riffs from The Hardest Button to Button.

The greatest implausibility occurs right at the start of the movie. A house full of people, somewhere in the States, is having some kind of party, I think Christmas maybe. At this party, this party full of Americans, I mean American Americans, they have a game of soccer on the big screen television.

During the soccer match, a portal opens, and armed people from the future walk through.

The implausibility I’m talking about isn’t people coming through a portal from the future. The fundamental implausibility is the concept that a house full of Americans would be watching a soccer game, even if it’s the World Cup, even in fictional entertainment.

Rating:

A Quiet Place: Part 2

A Quiet Place 2

They really dropped the ball with that title. C'mon, surely
someone should have pitched "A Quieter Place" as a possibility. Third
will be The Quietest Place of All. Maybe I should suggest it

dir: John Krasinski

2021

The real victims of the pandemic: the people who made this film.

Not the 4 million or so who died, or those who lost people: those who were adamant that this film was going to come out in cinemas in March of 2020.

There were even posters up in bus stop shelters and on public transport in this fair city of Melbourne, because they were absolutely sure what we needed to see was a story where people are terrified to leave their houses because of an implacable enemy.

Well, they waited a year, and they got their wish. Some cinemas re-opened, and enough people went to see this to justify their strategy, their patience, the champs.

Their sacrifice = our gain. Lucky us.

Anyone who watched the first one and liked it should probably be grateful that they made another one. Anyone watching this one without watching the first one probably won’t be too baffled, since the premise is dirt simple – alien creatures that hear really well but can’t see shit arrive on Earth and kill almost everyone. A family, the only people we know are alive, tip-toed around and whispered or did hand signals to each other for the film’s entire length. Not everyone survives.

A Quiet Place: Part 2 – Electric Boogaloo starts with a scene before disaster befell America, showing us that the family we followed in the first movie lived in Smalltown USA upstate New York, where people went to their kid’s baseball games and apple pies quietly cooled on window sills before it all went to shit. Then it picks up directly after where the first movie ended.

A woman (Emily Blunt), and her two teenage kids, and a baby, somehow pick their way out of the remnants of the enclave they had built for themselves, where they were somehow safe against the monstrous onslaught. The birth of a baby can be traumatic for any number of reasons, but when it happens during a sound-hating alien apocalypse, it’s somehow even worse. They have to leave the place they were, walking to the end of the sand-laden path, beyond their safe space, into the unknown.

The one difference is that thanks to the efforts of their all-American super dad, they now have a weapon they can use against the sound-hating aliens. I mean, they used it at the end of the first flick, but now the plan is to kill even more of the nasties if they have to.

With more freedom comes more danger, because there’s really no shortage of new aliens. They previously thought there were only a few around, but it turns out that every time you kill one, another one comes to take its place. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Rating:

Censor

Censor

Forty whacks with that axe should sort everything out

dir: Prano Bailey-Bond

2021

Fucking hell. Whatever the Welsh is for “fucking hell”, kindly insert phrase here.

It’s one thing to be obsessed with the “video nasty” era of horror and of under-the-counter, brown paper bag stuff; it’s another thing entirely to try to replicate it successfully.

Censor is clearly made by people who remember that seedy era. I mean, I’m making a lot of assumptions, but they at the very least seem to get the aesthetics right, and the paranoid feel. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not a thousand per cent sure I got it all, but it’s mostly successful in creating a nasty horror flick about the era in Britain where moral scolds and tut-tutting twats were pointing to movies on video as the reason why everything was terrible, instead of laying blame where it belonged, being Thatcher and her goons.

This time of moral panic is emphasized by having much of the film set in the dull, nauseating confines of the British Film Censors office, where officious and studious nerds decide what classifications films will have, or whether they’re going to be released at all or refused classification entirely. One of these censors is called Enid (Niamh Algar). She dresses like a Mormon sisterwife, and has those awesome square framed glasses with little chains on them. She’s always awkwardly pushing them back up the bridge of her nose, in a way that indicates the actor herself doesn’t wear glasses.

She takes her work very seriously. Deathly seriously. Day in day out is spent watching horrific simulated violence on screen, and taking notes. Such a job, it could lead to burnout, to numbness, to trauma through overexposure.

Well, if that’s an argument that can be made, it doesn’t seem to be applicable to Enid. She seems to be thoroughly repressed and thoroughly unhinged before the film even started.

Her trauma, her confusion seems to stem from the childhood disappearance of her younger sister, which has never been explained. All that is known is that Nina has not been seen since some fateful day many years ago.

That’s all we know too, and that’s all we are ever going to know, because this flick isn’t about answers. It isn’t about its plot. It’s about a person whose bread and butter is censoring horror flicks, who somehow and for some reason finds herself as both the victim in a horror flick and probably the villain as well.

It’s hard to tell, it’s even harder to say. I’ve seen the flick twice and I am none the wiser, but that doesn’t detract from my “enjoyment” of it. I would put that in quotes because calling horror flicks enjoyable is kinda problematic, as this film points out. The lurid history of these video nasties is a clear lineage of mainly women being terrorised and assaulted and murdered on screen mostly for the delectation, if not outright masturbation, of the predominately male audience.

Rating:

Our Friend

Our Friend

Friend doesn't seem like enough of a word to describe him

dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

2021

Because of…because of a lot of stuff happening at the moment, I couldn’t bring myself to watch something violent or action-y, nor could I stomach horror or anything else, so I really wanted to watch some deeply felt human drama.

Not drama in the sense of people yelling at each other or throwing glasses of wine at their frenemies, but something about human stuff, and how humans deal with it all.

I remembered having read the article this was based on, or at least a part of the story a year or two ago, and I thought “this looks like a bundle of laughs”, so I gave it a go.

It served its purpose. It’s on the surface a story about a couple where one of them is diagnosed with cancer, and the friend that comes to help and stays over during the difficult days, weeks and months. But, really, it’s called Our Friend for a reason.

The reason seems to be the incredulity with which people confront Dane’s choices and existence. No-one, other than the primary couple of Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and Matt (Casey Affleck), seems to understand why Dane (Jason Segal) would do what he does. He and his choices are viewed almost with suspicion, but at least in general with head-shaking wonder. “I wouldn’t do that for someone if I didn’t have to” seems to be the refrain, but in another case it’s viewed mostly as proof positive of what a total fucking loser Dane is.

It’s profoundly unfair. I have no doubt that Dane’s story is a complex one. It’s not really gone into here with any great depth. It’s implied that he struggles with depression, and that at one point he’s perhaps suicidal. But much more of this is indicated by other people’s perceptions, rather than anything Dane himself expresses.

Is it more about men? Men’s inarticulateness in terms of expressing their emotions? You could see the whole article being about Matt wanting to say thank you to Dane for helping his family out during a terrible time, one which did not have a happy ending for Nicole, obviously. And so the film by extension becomes an extended thank you to Dane for being there, for helping where he could, where many others clearly think they wouldn’t have.

You know, you could have just said something more than “thanks doesn’t seem like enough”.

It doesn’t really seem to be about Nicole. She’s the one dying, but mostly the film flicks around (with its very disjointed timeline) showing that Matt and Nicole were very happy together, except when they weren’t, and that Matt spent a lot of time away from his family working as a war-torn, battle-hardened war correspondent, and more importantly once had the opportunity to cheat but didn’t, and Nicole, upset about being virtually a single-parent to two daughters, does cheat.

C’mon, man, you didn’t need to go there. Nicole sings and dances in musical theatre, but that’s no reason to malign her further. The only reason I think you’d go there (other than just telling the “true” story of their lives together), is that it makes Matt look like even more of a saint.

Rating:

Night in Paradise

낙원의 밤 Nagwonui bam

I wonder if there will be smoking and drinking in Paradise?

(낙원의 밤 Nagwonui bam)

dir: Park Hoon-jung

2020

Ah, the blessings of Netflix be upon you. I had heard about this film recently, and, wouldn’t you know it, it was on my local streaming service, so I watched it when I found a spare 2 hours and 15 minutes to myself, which are admittedly hard to come by these days.

So I watched it, and, well, now you have to suffer too.

Not that it’s bad, it’s just that, when you hear about it, you think it will be a certain way, and then when you watch it, it turns out to be something completely else. And that’s okay, that’s just a difference in expectation versus what you actually get.

I didn’t have any particular high or low expectations, but perhaps I had some preconceived ideas based on other South Korean films I’ve seen over the years.

And no, this is nothing like Parasite, in case you were wondering, a film that won Oscars and that people have almost completely forgotten about due to… well you know.

This was also clearly made some time in 2020, because there are some people with masks, and references to social distancing, but other than that it doesn’t play much part in the story.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on South Korean films, culture, politics, history or crime, but I’m telling you this for free – this flick in its manner of telling a story about a young gangster is indistinguishable for any other number of flicks I’ve seen about young yakuza, young triads or any other jerks in organised crime set in other countries. The setting and the window dressing are different, but, really, the specificity of the location belies the fact that this could have been told universally.

Tae-gu (Park Tae-goo) is a loyal gangster in his gangster clan. He is respected and admired and all that crap, but, most importantly, he is feared by the jerks in the opposite clan called the Bukseong, who tried to recruit him, which he regretfully declines.

After a meeting with those rivals, Tae-gu gets to spend a few brief moments with his sister, who is unwell, and his niece, who’s cute as a button. And it’s her birthday!

Despite being a cold emotionless robot in all his work dealings, Tae-gu loves his sister and his niece. He gives her an expensive present, and waves like an idiot (though not as idiotically as one of his fellow henchmen) as they drive off.

His sister is ailing, and in need of a transplant of some sort, but he is not a suitable donor. What’s to be done?

Rating:

In the Earth

In the Earth

Doesn't look ominous at all, not in the slightest

dir: Ben Wheatley

2021

At last. Now we’re getting the real pandemic movies starting to come out. Not just ones that people fall over themselves backwards saying shit like “a story with added resonance because of the global etc etc” that were actually made three years ago and languished on a shelf.

This was made in England in August of last year, 2020. You couldn’t get more pandemic than that. The only way would be if you had Boris Johnson himself stacking the bodies high when hundreds of thousands of people needlessly died.

That would be a very different film than this one. Ben Wheatley used to make cheap and nasty horror flicks, then he graduated to more respectable fare (if one can actually posit that a JG Ballard adaptation of High-Rise is actually respectable fare), then a remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca for Netflix that no-one liked, and now back to cheap and nasty horror flicks.

It’s been a wild ride. Martin (Joel Fry) is a scientist trying to get to somewhere where another scientist is doing something. People are adhering to social distancing and masking up and all that crap, but it’s almost like the restrictions are more intense, in that either they’re being mocked, or in this version of reality, the virus is even worse than our one.

To get to this place that he has to get to, Martin has to follow a park ranger called Alma (Ellora Torchia) for two days as they hike into the wilderness. There are not meant to be other people around, but there are signs that people have been camping.

And then they’re attacked, and their shoes / boots are stolen.

There is meant to be something supernatural happening, but the real problem, like the problem many of us face in our lives beyond the presence of supernatural entities, is that there is an absolute nutter in the forest called Zach (Reece Shearsmith). Zach is polite enough, but it’s pretty obvious immediately that he is planning on killing, torturing or even something worse Alma and Martin before too long. The curious thing, or perhaps the irrational thing is that, like in many other movies, our protagonists despite being scared, and despite being repeatedly assaulted, tortured, stabbed and having toes cut off, they stick around far longer than a reasonable, rational person would bother.

Rating:

Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man

he might just get a bit of blood on that suit of his

dir: Guy Ritchie

2021

What happened to you, Guy Ritchie? You used to be fun, man.

The chap who made Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch has gone too far in some other direction in order to want to still make fun films. He’s made massive budget Disney flicks and other crap, so me hoping, yearning for something fleet and funny like Lock Stock is a fool’s pipe dream.

The Gentlemen from last year was not entirely my cup of tea, but it did strike many viewers as a return to charming form (bleurgh). This film, though, is not like that at all.

This flick does not fuck around. Though a long film, it does not even have time for having the definite article “the” in its title. So it’s not even “The Wrath of Man”, it’s the somewhat ejaculatory and abusive “WRATH of MAN”. You can maybe even, as an Australian, imagine a few curse words after it, as in “what movie did ya watch last night?” – “Wrath of Man, ya fucken dickhead”.

I don’t really imagine that that’s what conversations are like on construction worksites, because I’ve spent a fair bit of time on construction sites, and the guys are mostly talking about Married at First Sight or The Bachelor or how one of their co-workers was recently crippled and unable to work and didn’t get any help from their employer because they lied to WorkCover, that sort of thing.

But they have a strong union, so maybe that will help. Wrath of Man is also a movie set at a very blokey workplace, where men test each other’s masculinity constantly and threaten each other with vague and specific threats of sexual assault. You know, like most male dominated workplaces.

But that only persists for what must look like the strangest new starter / induction video ever filmed about someone starting a job with a new employer.

A man so stern that he would make the Easter Island statues cry if he just glared at them for too long, starts a new job. They call him “H”, as in “haitch”. But he’s played by Jason Statham, so… H does the absolute bare minimum communication-wise to let people think he’s a normal person. He has to do shooting tests and driving tests, and it’s clear he’s making sure they don’t know how awesome he would really be at these things if he was doing them for reals, so he just sneaks through.

This is for an armoured truck security firm, you know, those absolute fuckheads too fucking stupid to even be security guards at a mall. I’ve had work interactions with them and their supervisors, and let me tell you, generalisations and stereotypes are unfair at the best of times, but these fuckheads take the cake. They are often steroided-up soldier of fortune types that feel they’re on a par with military types and it rarely if ever goes well for anyone involved. I’ve seen one of these jerks push over an ancient pensioner who got too close at a Myki-travel card machine because the fuckhead thought the woman was going to somehow attack and steal the coins they were taking out of the machines, and menacingly kept his hand on his holstered gun like if she gave him shit, he was going to finish the job.

Rating:

The Woman in the Window

Woman in the Window

Seems like she needs a Netflix subscription of her own, then
none of this would have happened

dir: Joe Wright

2021

This was fun.

I mean, it’s trash (everything I am seeing at the moment seems like different forms of highly differentiated trash), but, for me, it’s highly enjoyable lurid trash.

A lot of critics, reviewers and other humans seemed to hate it because of either what it is or what it isn’t, but I found it enjoyable enough.

Amy Adams is great. She’s great in everything, and she’s great here. A lot of people won’t admit that because they hate or are made uncomfortable by the character she plays here, but I thought she maintained a solid performance throughout, and didn’t overact. There’s one scene where everything kinda shifts, and she slightly transforms into Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, but she carried it off beautifully, I thought.

The two strikes against this movie is that a) it’s a pretty unabashed update on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which, despite being such a cliché in the canon of great films, is still a fucking great film. The second is that it’s based on a book (boo hiss). And it seems to have come out at around the time where there are a million fucking mystery thrillers about Women With Dragon Tattoos or Girls on Trains or who look through Windows or who just exist and do stuff. There’s even a flick from the 1940s called The Woman in the Window, but it’s got nothing to do with this story.

No, it’s its own gosh darned fucking thing. Based on a book I’ll never read by A.J Finn, this is about a shut-in called Anna (Amy Adams) who lives in a three-four-storey brownstone in Manhattan. She has an absent husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman), and hang on to your hat for the explanation of where they are. There are these conversations between Anna and absent husband, and absent daughter, and, at the end of the flick you’ll wonder what the absolute fuck they were meant to be. They’re recorded to sound like phone conversations or phone recordings, but, really, they’re nonsense.

Anna has issues, apparently. She can’t bring herself to leave the house, she takes rafts of prescription drugs, and she drinks a lot of wine. She spends a lot of time looking out of her windows and across the street. Though she can see into a few places, the main place she looks is where the Russells have just moved in, having bought the brownstone across the street.

Almost nothing good, if you can remember your movies set in New York, ever happens in brownstones. I don’t exactly know why, but every time a story is set in a brownstone, I know people are going to get hacked apart and murderised.

Rating:

Army of the Dead

Army of the Dead

The thing is, the house always wins, because the house
is always so selfish

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

I did not expect to be reviewing another movie by Zach Snyder this year. Perhaps I’m putting him up on a pedestal with directors like Terrence Malick, Scorsese, Sally Potter, Kubrick – auteurs who take multiple years to put their masterpieces together for us, the great unwashed masses.

So, yeah, I sat through all 14 hours of his Justice League, and thought “that’s all the Snyder I need for at least a few years”. But then this came out on Netflix a month or so later, and I thought “I don’t want this.”

But it’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse. I mean, there are plenty of movies on Netflix, several ‘exclusives’ even, but eh.

Army of the Dead is not terrible. As a zombie flick, it’s okay. It’s not really a zombie flick, to be honest, but it looks enough like one. What it really is, is an update of Aliens.

Aliens was very popular, in its day, and influenced almost every action sci-fi flick that came after it. It’s only natural that, if Snyder is going to make something passable, it should be based on a better film than anything he’s ever managed.

He started off his celebrated career with Dawn of the Dead, a remake of the George Romero classic, so it’s only natural that he (hopefully) finishes his career with one as well. It has nothing in common with the earlier flicks, other than that there are zombies.

Plus it’s a ‘heist’ picture, and it really is a creature feature as well. There are the usual dumb slow zombies, but there’s also a super uber class of more intelligent ones, that are more like a monster / alien / hybrid. Plus they’re not decaying, and they communicate and coordinate amongst themselves. Probably share recipes, too.

And they have taken over Las Vegas. A zombie, or whatever the super Alpha one was called in the lab, gets loose from the Army during transportation, and is unleashed upon the world because in this version of reality, a newly wed bride just so much can’t wait to suck her husband’s dick that she does so whilst he’s trying to drive them away from Vegas. He is understandably distracted, so much so that he drives into one of the military vehicles, unleashing the zombie apocalypse upon the world.

Rating:

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Spiral from the Book of Saw

What the fuck does "from the Book of Saw" even mean?
I must have missed that bit of the Bible

dir: Darren Lynn Bousman

2021

You can’t always blame people who create something for how things ends up, but somehow I do think you can blame Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell for the fact that people are still trying to pump out these dreadful Saw and Saw-adjacent movies.

They didn’t reinvent the wheel with the original Saw, but they did tap into something, some need not being fulfilled by the previous crop of horror flicks.

There wasn’t enough imagery of people being tortured, you see, or punished for something. People in impossible situations given a choice by a deranged maniac / visionary future candidate for president to either save themselves through harming themselves or someone else, or choosing to die in excruciating ways.

I confess that I did watch some or many of the Saw movies. The first one worked basically as a rigged escape room, and was, dare I say it, some weird kind of ‘fun’. I don’t now nor have I ever particularly enjoyed watching people being harmed, but there was a curious logic at play in these flicks at first.

There’s always been a strange morality at play in horror flicks, and these Saw ones, intellectually deathly as they are, somehow appealed to people despite the nonsense that was being paraded before us. There’s something there about bad people getting their comeuppance, but more than that I cannot say why anyone would think the original Jigsaw serial killer is some kind of hero, anti-hero or standard-bearer to light our way through these darkened times.

Especially these pandemic-laden times. It’s curious that the tack they take here is making the majority of the victims cops. There’s a lot of pig imagery in the flick, a lot of people wearing pig masks, a lot of talk about corruption and how, basically, All Cops are Bastards.

But, and this is a very big but, and I cannot lie, the main issue for the longest time, at least in the States, has been beyond the fact that the cops operate along very similar lines to entrenched organised crime, and more about their propensity for killing unarmed people, predominately people of colour, with little if any repercussions. Most of the cops who’ve done so haven’t even lost their jobs, let alone been charged, regardless of what happened with George Floyd’s murderer.

Rating:

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat 2021

And you know, it ain't fiction, just a natural fact
We come together 'cause opposites attract

dir: Simon McQuoid

2021

I was wrong. I am often wrong, it’s not that big a deal, or that rare.

But in this instance what I was supremely wrong about is that I thought Godzilla Versus Kong was going to be the biggest, utterly fucking dumbest big budget flick of this year. For some reason I was convinced that, because we were going to be seeing flicks produced before 2020, that they were going to run out at some point, and plus a sense of proportion or shame was going to predominate in the minds of studio executives and producers.

They were going to look at the 3 million plus people who have died from the virus, and the many more whose lives have irrevocably changed, and they were going to think “Oo, should do something more respectful with our existences, and our privileges / wealth, shouldn’t we?”

How fucking wrong was I? The way forward, like it’s always been, even more so now, is to keep doubling down.

Mortal Kombat makes Godzilla versus Kong look like a Shakespearean play written by Professor Stephen Hawking produced by John Bell and starring Dame Judi Dench and even more of a Dame Maggie Smith duking it out over the neon-lit skies of Hong Kong in comparison.

It is so fucking dumb. But, and here’s where I do a heel turn so abrupt it brings whiplash even to me, which is only fair, Mortal Kombat movies have to be fucking dumb, because there is no other way to do them.

The “original” flick from the 90s was utter trash, the sequel Annihilation was somehow even more terrible, and this is the best of the lot, but they are all levels of potent trashy trash. Trash, and I’m ashamed of myself for what I’m going to write next, can still be plenty enjoyable.

This new Mortal Kombat is trash, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Rating:

The Father

The Father

Love doesn't save any of us at these times, but it still must
mean something. Mustn't it?

dir: Florian Zeller

2020

Oh, what a heartbreaking film. The whole thing is… almost too much for my poor soul.

The Father, based on the play of the same name, written by the chap who directs here as well, is staged as a mystery. The main character of Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is watching as things go on around him, as people come and go, with certainty about many facts about his life.

It’s not really a mystery, though. Not to us. We know pretty soon what’s going on and why. But he doesn’t. So as confusing issue pops up after confusing issue, we see more pieces of the puzzle, but he sees and remembers even less the further it goes on.

This is what he has certainty about: he lives in his own lovely, well-appointed flat. He has a daughter Anne (played by Olivia Colman some of the time, and Olivia Williams some other of the time), but there’s another daughter he keeps talking about, Laura or Lucy, who never seems to be around. She is his favourite, you see, and a very talented painter. Look here at her painting above the mantle, wait, where did it go?

Anne has a husband, or a boyfriend, or she’s soon moving to Paris to be with her new partner, or she’s already living with her husband (Rufus Sewell and Mark Gatiss), who doesn’t take too kindly to Anthony always being around. He’s either openly hostile, intending to steal Anthony’s flat and watch, or has already stolen it, or pretends to be supportive, waiting for a chance to lash out at the poor old man. He is also entirely supportive of Anne’s efforts in looking after her dad, or he is undermining her under the pretense of worrying about her well-being, and he’s either going to stay with her or he’s already left.

Stuff goes missing. A woman who had been hired previously to help look after the old man left because Anthony’s behavior scared her away, which has happened a number of times. But anyway, he doesn’t need anyone’s help, does he? He can look after himself. If only everything would stay in the right spot, and if strange people wouldn’t be popping up all the time, he would be all right.

But stuff, parts of the flat, parts of his life keep disappearing, reflected in the changes in the flat, which isn’t his flat anyway; it’s Anne’s. He’s been living with Anne for a while, and she’s been trying to introduce him to a new girl who’s going to help look after him, and she’s the spitting image of his other daughter Laura or Lucy, and she’s very nice, and he’s so charming to her, until he lashes out, thinking, wishing that he didn’t need any help and that things would stay in their right place.

Rating:

Nobody

Nobody

Ouch looks painful zero stars

dir: Ilya Naishuller

2021

Who doesn’t feel like a nobody? Drowning in quiet desperation in the suburbs, repeating the same movements, actions and gestures every day, so deep in the ruts that constitute a life that even the people around you who you endure all this for barely seem to be able to see you anymore. And if they do, it’s with contempt, with a bit of loathing.

What to do, what to do…

Well, the average American has the options of : doing the hard work to develop one’s inner qualities, to expand one’s notion of the self and its place in the universe; devoting one’s life to helping others, or fighting for causes bigger than oneself.

Or, they could just get a gun and shoot people maybe?

The premise of this flick is the premise of a lot of flicks, it’s just that it doesn’t usually result in someone killing thousands of people. Killing people in order to feel alive again used to be frowned upon. Now it just seems like another path to self-fulfillment.

This is not a revenge thriller, nor is it Death Wish, where a wronged architect starts walking around New York killing ethnically diverse minorities for revenge and shits and giggles (three for the price of one). The John Wick comparison isn’t valid either. Wick was a retired assassin. Some jerk kills his dog and steals his car, so he gets to work. He kinda wants his car back and revenge for killing the dog, but mostly they just won’t leave the guy alone. He didn’t ask for this shit, but he will finish it over the course of 3 movies and a 4th installment for some insane reason.

The Nobody at the core of this flick did ask for this shit. A break-in at his home, where he lives with his wife who does not like him, if she ever did, and his kids, is the start of something big. As home invasions go, this one isn’t too horrific, especially since no-one dies, thankfully. But what it unearths is the seething contempt of his family against him, and his neighbours. Even the cops are like “why didn’t you even take a swing, bro?”

Everyone’s against him. But he’ll show them, won’t he? He’ll show them all that he’s a man to be feared.

Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but for many of us the lead here Bob Odenkirk is best known for his character of Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul, but even more so for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a testament, an absolute bedrock example of a show created with the premise of a middle-aged middle-class white guy feeling like life has passed him by, wishing he could do something extraordinary in order to feel alive again. It helps, for shows like that, that they cater mostly to whole multitudes of white, middle-aged, middle-class white guys who feel like life has passed them by and like if they did something violent and criminal, they’d be really good at it, not like those other lowlives…

Breaking Bad Saul is amoral, not particularly vicious, but without any moral compunctions about doing or saying anything no matter how awful. Better Call Saul Saul / Jimmy is desperate, hopeful, sweating, clinging to some vestige of credibility, fated to be morally destroyed.

He brings those same energies here, but the character is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense why any of this would be happening: this guy here called Hutch, used to be a hardcore assassin for the agencies known by their three-letter acronyms. He would kill the kinds of people too hard to kill legally, or too hard for the local police to pull over and shoot for no reason other than the car freshener hanging from the rear view mirror or something equally implausible. He chose to try the happy, sedate life of a suburban shmoe, but it does not sit well with his ego.

Rating:

Godzilla Versus Kong

Kong V Godzilla

Whichever one wins, we all pass out from boredom

dir: Adam Wingard

2021

This. This is it. The dumbest movie of the year you could ever hope to see.

This is the kind of movie where the actors can’t hide the embarrassed look on their face as they’re delivering the dialogue that no people should be delivering. This isn’t even the worst thing Alexander Skarsgard has ever been in, though he looks slightly more embarrassed this time than the others. He looked more embarrassed here than he did in that miniseries where he gets pushed down the stairs for being an abusive arsehole.

Following in his father’s footsteps, in that Stellan played a mad scientist in the Marvel movies, Alexander plays a crazy, discredited lunatic scientist who believes the world is hollow and… I dunno, probably stuff about the vaccine that doesn’t make much sense, but more sense at least than this flick does.

The film promises one thing, with its title, being that Kong, a giant ape, will at some point fight Godzilla, a giant nuclear lizard. They are Titans. Titans don’t tolerate the presence of other Titans. When Godzilla detects something Titanic or Titan-y, he tracks it down and tries to kill it. A strangely pointless company called Monarch worries about all things Titan. They put some strange dome over Skull Island once they discovered a giant ape living there. The dome was to stop Kong leaving? Where was he going to go? Was he going to swim to wherever Godzilla was, and start pounding away? There’s all that ocean all around…

Whether it makes sense or not, that is what these Monarch people believe. In the previous flick, Godzilla King of the Monsters, Godzilla fought against a bunch of monsters, emerging triumphant, presumably. It almost seemed like this magnificent lizard cared enough about humanity to protect it, which is kinda like a blue whale deciding it’s on the side of krill. We are smaller than ants compared to Godzilla, but whatever.

Godzilla Versus Kong kinda makes it seem like nah, Godzilla don’t care about nothing except killing other things that are big. But the secret is, some of the dumb humans are messing around with creating their own giant things, so, well, you can’t say they weren’t warned.

This felt fifteen fucking hours long. It has at least 35 characters who talk regularly. It even has Millie Bobby Brown, who seemed like she was poised to take over all the cinema, all the streaming services and all the world for a while, but now people can barely remember Stranger Things. It was so long ago, and so not memorable.

But she has parlayed her fame into becoming a multi-media threat, so this is but a stepping stone on the way to further glory. Julian Dennison, I am happy to see, is getting more work outside of Subway commercials, but this is still an insult to the kid that was so great in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He is here in a thankless role in order to have someone for Millie Bobby Brown to yell at. They are accompanied by a strange adult (Bryan Tyree Henry) who they really shouldn’t be spending time with, probably at least 100 metres away at all times.

Rating:

Chaos Walking

Chaos Walking

She's got half a head, and he's got half a head! Together, they
almost make up one interesting character

dir: Doug Liman

2021

Well, that was a waste of time, money and three books.

Chaos Walking is the name of the YA trilogy. I know this because I read the books with my daughter when she was at that pre-tween stage where childish stories were too childish for her and YA stuff was too grown up. We were big fans of Patrick Ness, whose other book A Monster Calls has also been adapted into a movie, far more successfully than this.

The first book of the Chaos Walking trilogy is called The Knife of Never Letting Go. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a far cooler title than Chaos Walking. The geniuses who squandered hundreds of millions on this, you get the feeling way pre-pandemic, had the highest of high hopes that this could become another massive YA franchise, along the lines of Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner.

Geez, talk about aiming low. In a lot of ways, because the books aren’t set on Earth, it’s the hardest sell of all of them, not only because it’s fairly serious science fiction, but because a lot of other elements involving toxic masculinity, genocidal misogyny, colonialism and religious fundamentalism.

You can really see how they started out, and how they murdered the story by deciding to cut their losses and run. It reminds me of when Peter Jackson went to the despicable Weinstein brothers, and said “give me money to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy”, and they said “Sure, but it has to be one movie.” Well, those movies turned out okay, and half the Weinsteins are in jail forever, and the other half shouldn’t be allowed to ever produce a movie again, so I think the message is: Stop enabling sadistic monsters, and don’t turn trilogies into single movies.

It probably was never going to work, though for much of this movie, I watched it thinking, hm, they haven’t fucked it up too much yet. But then it also seemed deeply wrong to have Tom Holland playing the lead character, since Todd Hewitt is meant to be quite young, like 13 I think at the beginning of the saga.

I guess Holland playing a teenager in Spider-Man movies was acceptable way back then, but he’s 24 now, and doesn’t really look 13.

Rating:

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Trial of the Chicago 7

Nice building you've got there. It'd be a shame if some
democracy happened to it.

dir: Aaron Sorkin

2020

Aaron Sorkin is known for a lot of things. The West Wing, very talky films, two people walking hurriedly down a hallway having an animated discussion, being pretty sexist, having a blazing cocaine addiction in his prime, but what he’s most famous for is another courtroom drama from a long time ago that many people above a certain age know of whether they’ve seen the film or not: A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise (boo) and Jack Nicholson (yay).

It’s the pinnacle, the apotheosis of court room dramas. It takes what is generally, if you’ve been part of any trials, dry, procedural formal processes and transforms them into gladiatorial combat between egotistical jerks. Grand speeches decide people’s fates, not evidence, nor the law itself. People yell about wanting to know the truth, and others deride the ability of the person saying such a thing, asserting that they couldn’t possibly handle the truth, no truth handler, you.

But that was fiction. High drama. A movie, directed by Rob Reiner, based on a play, written by Aaron Sorkin.

You would think Aaron Sorkin is coming full circle tackling a movie about a trial, but this time as writer and director, and he probably did some other stuff on the film as well, maybe a bit of the sewing on some of the hippy clothing, maybe a sandwich or two. The trial of the so-called Chicago 7, despite there being 8 defendants, is something that actually happened, that there’s a lot of evidence for. I don’t even have to look up any articles to know where the script deviates from reality in a lot of instances, because if there’s one thing Sorkin prizes over accuracy, it’s a good line.

The remarkable thing about what he needs to depict here, though, is not some battle between defense attorneys and prosecutors, or wily defendants blustering their way through a court room convinced of their own invulnerability: All he has to show is how farcical the trial actually was, in order to prove his point. And his point is: whether you can handle the truth or not, what American governments, both Federal and State, in this case the state of Illinois, and the powers of local government as exercised through the police did to these people was fucking awful and profoundly undemocratic.

And this is not a point you’re going to see in many places: the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, who urged the cops to not be gentle with these protestors, the legislators and party apparatchiks who wanted these protestors wiped out, and the Black Panthers eradicated by murderous force if necessary, were all Democrats.

But…but I thought the Democrats were the “good” guys in American history?

Turns out, spoiler alert, Democrat politicians and administrations have been just as fucked at this democracy stuff as the dreaded Republicans.

People forget the American contribution to the Viet Nam War of Independence from the colonial control of France started with JFK and continued under LBJ, both of whom, last I checked, were Democrats. Nixon came in, in 1968, but plenty of people had already been fucked up by then. Bunches, disconnected bunches of activists, mostly young, mostly hopeful beyond hope, thought that a good way to stop the war, or at least the drafting of young Americans to die and kill overseas, would have been to disrupt the Democratic Convention in Chicago prior to the election that saw Nixon come to power in all his divine, malevolent majesty.

So the cops popped a lot of skulls at that convention, and in the parks, and in the streets, and wanted to fuck up this activist movement once and for all. Convince young American peoples, regardless of the colour of their skin or the content of their characters (but especially African-Americans) not to protest the war, not to protest the government, not to protest police murders of activists, and to do this they grabbed a bunch of people, grouped them together, and tried to make painful examples of them to dissuade everyone else.

I mean, it’s so fucking nakedly corrupt. It’s shameful. Sham trials like this still go on these days, but it’s usually in countries where they don’t even pretend to do anything other than enforce the will of the Great Leader or one party or a group of generals that hate their own populations. You expect more from the land of the free and the home of the people so brave they need hundreds of guns each and no masks to get by.

Rating:

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Justice League

This is pretty fascist looking. Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

This version of Justice League, in case you didn’t already know, is directed by Zack Snyder. It’s amazing, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder. You know, Zack Snyder? Famous for directing, um, 300?

Why wouldn’t you trust this man of singular vision to make a movie again or anew, that was previously released as Joss Whedon’s Justice League? Four years later, and I’m sure this will be an experience on a par with the director’s cuts of Blade Runner, Heaven’s Gate, Donnie Darko and Legally Blonde, perhaps.

Also, just to make the same point millions of other people have already made: How often have you ever watched a shitty 2 hour movie and thought to yourself “You know what would have made that movie great? Double the running time.”

And thus does a shitty 2 hour movie become a 4 hour extravaganza. Everything that was not of the Snyder directorial vision previously has been excised, and more Snyderness has been added, to maximise the overall Snyder tone and Snyder aesthetic. Everything is slow motion, except when it’s not. People do a lot of standing. Like, they stand and stare at…something. Or, if they leave the scene, others look after them longingly.

The greatest single example of this was so fucking terrible and funny. The so-called Aquaman Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) pulls a jumper off that he was wearing, and jumps into the ocean around, Iceland, I guess. A whole bunch of blonde and redheaded women start singing some kind of song honouring him. A girl picks up the jumper discarded on the dock, and sniffs it lovingly as she keeps singing. He is some kind of ocean god to these women, and they sing, perhaps, of his greatness, and their epic wish to bear his children.

It's treated, like everything else in this fucking dirge of an unending epic, with utmost seriousness, with weighty profundity. With loud, insistent string sections that never let you forget how important what you’re lucky enough to be watching is, and how somber.

I mean, the fate of the fucking world is at stake! Is that not serious enough for you? Okay, so, yeah, every flick with super duper heroes in it requires the world or the whole universe to be threatened in order to even register anymore.

The threat needs to be great enough that it forces a bunch of loners together with powers in order to be able to fix things, especially since Superman (Henry Cavill) died in a previous Snyder film that didn’t get better the longer it went. It did have two grown men yelling about their thing for women called Martha, though, so there’s that at least.

The villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarin Hinds) is dumb and should feel dumb, in either version of these films. In the earlier one, he was kinda murky and brown, and looked dumb. In this one, which he’s in for even more time, he’s shiny and spiky, but still pretty dumb. In the earlier film, he wanted to find three magic/technology boxes in order to ruin things for us on this planet we call home. In this new version, he wants three magic/technology boxes in order to destroy our planet, but he wants to do it to impress his sugar daddy, called Thanos. Sorry, no, he’s called Darkseid.

Darkseid, of what we see of him, or it, or however he chooses to identify, is just an ugly, stern looking judgmental type. He brings nothing to this, other than trying to build him up to be the ultimate Big Bad, which is never going to work because it looks silly, and like a badly photocopied version of Thanos.

Rating:

On the Rocks

On the Rocks

Some movies I watch just for the wallpaper

dir: Sofia Coppola

2020

I was kinda excited to see this. Lost in Translation has played an outsized role in my life for many years, and at least 2 of the people responsible for it are here again.

Yeah, I know, parts of Lost in Translation are a bit problematic, which is a euphemism for straight out racist, but it did have a great soundtrack? And it looked great, and made Japan look great?

Bill Murray dominated that film, and he dominates this film too, even with less screen time. Like either the shark in Jaws or the giant gorilla in King Kong, when he’s not around, everyone’s still talking about him until he turns up.

The protagonist here, really, is Laura (Rashida Jones), and Murray plays her father. She has two young kids, seems checked out, is trying to write something, and her husband (Marlon Wayons) is often away on work trips.

That’s pretty much the whole film. I don’t mean that’s the premise, or how it starts, I mean that’s the entire film. I haven’t gone out of my way to make it sound simplistic or off-putting – I’ve left those bits out. I guess I’m trying to say there’s not a lot going on here.

When she starts suspecting that maybe her husband is cheating on her with a lady at work, that gives her something to do with her dad. You see, her dad, is a terrible piece of shit. But he is an immensely successful and charismatic piece of shit. His relentless womanising and contempt for women immediately makes him certain that Laura’s husband must definitely be cheating on her, because, hey, all men are dogs, right?

In a very weak, wan fashion, this gives father and daughter something to do, and something to talk about, until the grand revelation at the end: I’m not going to spoil shit about this flick, because then there’d be even less reason to potentially watch it, and it’s not my business trying to dissuade people from watching flicks made by Sofia Coppola. I think Sofia Coppola is a great director, better than her more famous father, that’s for sure. But as good as she is, some days it must be hard to have Francis Ford Coppola as a father.

Rating:

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