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 as 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:

Fast & Furious 9

Fast Furious 9

Very colourful, way too many characters, but lots of colours

dir: Justin Lin

2021

The physics insulting bullshit rolls on and on…

This film series is renowned for violating everything we know about what cars and people can physically do on this plane of reality, but they’ve somehow upped the ante in two key ways – they put two characters in goddamn space, just beating the billionaires who went on their joyrides to the upper atmosphere by days, and now they feel like they can just add whoever they feel like, and say that long established characters have entire families they’ve never told anyone about.

It's really soap opera bullshit when you do shit like that, and this series has been indulging in that kind of shit since about the 4th one onwards. They’ve done the tropes where someone you thought was dead isn’t dead a couple of times, and they’ve even done the one where someone everyone else thinks is dead is alive, but HAS AMNESIA.

They’ve done the one where the ‘hero’ is forced to ‘pretend’ to be a bad guy because of a surprise baby someone is holding hostage, but they can’t tell anyone about it because reasons.

They haven’t done the one where someone has an evil twin, with the same actor playing both roles, which would have been great, with maybe Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) also playing an evil twin he never spoke about or knew about, called Tom, or Don Toretto, which is just Vin Diesel with a fake goatee.

Save it for the next one, definitely. Instead they decide to invent and wedge in a new character, being Dom’s hitherto unmentioned younger brother Jakob, so that John Cena has something to do. Now, as ex-wrestlers go, I don’t actually dislike John Cena, but when you’ve already brought in The Rock to play a superfluous character, you either have to stop providing charity work to ex-wrestlers or, alternatively, get all the old wrestlers.

I’m not talking about Andre the Giant or Randy Macho Man Savage or the Ultimate Warrior, because they’re all dead, and even they can’t be brought back to life by the keystrokes of a screenwriter. But they should at least get CM Punk, the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, just anyone to annoy The Rock. They wouldn’t have to do much, except maybe drive a car? But they’d definitely earn their paycheck by grimacing and grunting at the appropriate times.

Cena shows us what a lot of muscular definition, mass and probably heroic amounts of human growth hormone does to a person: gives them a face like an Easter Island statue. He is a villain, for the most part, and has one of the most pointlessly convoluted reasons for ‘hating’ his brother Dom, and Dom for hating him. It involves something that happened to their father, but the way it’s resolved involves Dom having a near death experience and somehow accessing memories from thirty years ago in order to realise “oh, wait, that thing I blamed Jakob for happened differently”.

Rating:

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, at least I don’t think so 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:

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