First Cow

First Cow

One Cow to rule them all, one Cow to find them, and
in the darkness bind them

dir: Kelly Reichardt

2020

This is a strange little movie, strange only in its choice of subject matter, not in the way it tells its story (though that’s plenty odd). It is a story about friendship, about two men in frontier times, Cookie Figowitz (john Magaro) and King-lu (Orion Lee), who are men out of place in a country they probably shouldn’t be in, but at least they have each other.

There is not much around in Oregon at this time, in terms of what settlers, formerly indentured servants and other chancers might hope for. There are many indigenous people around still, but this isn’t a flick explicitly about genocide and colonisation and such. There are trappers, hunters, people trying to set up forts and trading posts, and little else other than worthless nature.

Worthless to the titans of industry, that is. It is a cruel time, with little room for kindness.

Cookie is a kind man, though, however the world around him chooses to be, and when he chances upon a naked and desperate King-lu, his instinct is to help him, regardless of cost.

Of this act is born a curious friendship in the middle of nowhere. After some time passes, the men meet again, and literally shack up together, in a literal shack made of put together bits of wood that do not look like they would survive upright in a gentle breeze. Of note in town has been the auspicious arrival of a cow. It’s the only cow in the area – its calf and mate did not survive the journey from across the world.

One cow. The first cow of the title. What kind of man would bring a cow to a place where dairy cows haven’t existed before? An Englishman, of course, a coloniser, someone who sees an untrammelled wilderness and sees opportunity and profits ahead by trammelling it most brutally.

The Chief Factor (Toby Jones) is such a man. Like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine, he doesn’t need a name, because he is what he does. He either factors chiefly or chiefly factors.

Rating:

No Time to Die

No Time to Die

There's plenty of time to die. The film is like nearly
3 hours long!

dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga

2021

Well. The world, as in, lazy clickbait journalists keep asking “who should the next Bond be?” as if Daniel Craig is dead, but what they have never been asking is “why should there be another James Bond?”

There’s like a billion of these fucking films. There are also a billion other action films where a guy fucks women and then fucks up a whole bunch of guys before saving the world. There’s nothing unique any more at all about these films. The Missions: Impossible flicks have Tom Cruise as an American James Bond, the Fast & Furious films have, alternatingly, Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Statham as some kind of Bond but with more cars and less shagging, and there’s no shortage of flicks where someone solves a mystery, shoots people then shags someone, not necessarily in that order.

What, other than the specific motifs of the theme music, the well known aesthetics of the intro, the tuxedo, the shooting of people, the M character, the Q character, the Miss Moneypenny character, the parade of villains with skin deformities who threaten the world and always lose; the female character who James shags who then dies midway through the flick, the other female James bonks later on who at least gets to live up to the end credits; why do we need much more of this, regardless of whether the next Bond is Idris Elba, Jodie Whittaker or, my personal pick, manager of the English national team, Gareth Southgate?

It's so inessential. There’s 25 of these films already. The only purpose in making more of these is so that the James Bond box set of DVDs one potentially buys for their dad on Father’s Day gets a little bit wider every other year.

I have probably been writing a version of the above paragraphs every time a Bond film has come out since, I dunno, that fucking terrible Pierce Brosnan Bond film Die Another Die, which was just diabolically bad, came out. I should just cut and paste to save time. I will probably be writing the same shit thirty years from now from some old folk’s home underground somewhere, when Bond films are streamed directly into our brains in order to keep us docile and amused.

If Daniel Craig is relieved that he never has to play the role again, then I am happy for him. He can go on and live his life and play some other character in some other franchise. Maybe they can give him some Marvel work, or something in Star Warses, or maybe he can return to his one true love, which is probably Eastenders or something. He could take over the pub from Danny Dyer and speak wiv an even broader Cockney accent, guv’nor.

This is definitely the last time, there’s no going back. There’s a note of finality to the occasion, a bridge-burning aspect that just screams “I’m done with this shit.”

There is, however, none of this bullshit I’ve read in a bunch of reviews that tries to encompass the notion that Bond is old and wounded, and exhausted, and wanting to be done with everything, in the context of the flick itself. I’ve read people write such drivel, but, I can assure you, nothing of the sort is in the flick. Bond, as Craig is playing him here, is just as keen to get the bad guys, just as keen not to trust women, and just as much out of step with the world as he ever is.

Rating:

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang Chi 10 Rings

You like my shiny, shiny rings? Well, you can't have them.

dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

2021

It’s hard to admit when you know how completely you have been programmed as an individual.

Back in the day (he said as he took a drag on his vape pen and started rocking back and forth in his Eames lounge chair) when you wanted to record something from the television, you used to have to program the time into the bloody video machine and manually input the time the program was going to run, if you weren’t going to be there to press ‘record’. Which is why most people had VCRs where the time was always flashing, unwanted, unloved, unable to be used.

What I’m getting at, is that due to my youthful exposure to a strange show called Monkey!, all my life I’ve pretty much been programmed to respond like Pavlov’s Dog to almost anything with Chinese mythology and martial arts in it.

Shang Chi, despite being as Marvel as any of the Marvel products, encompasses enough of the Chinese martial arts epic type stuff and imagery to at least give it a different look from all the other flicks that have been extruded thus far by the factory process. It also, radically, for these people, stars actual people from actual Asian backgrounds in lead roles.

What radical thinking. Were Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie unavailable yet again?

The two leads here are Simu Liu as the Shang Chi / Shaun of the title, and his best friend Katy played by Awkwafina, who I have thought was wonderful in many things, and is wonderful here too. Her role of being the smartarse sidekick is fine, it’s fine. She can render mundane lines funnier just by saying them with her incredulous, raspy voice.

I think she’s wonderful. And in another, more helpful way, she humanises the main character, or at least keeps him grounded enough for this bullshit to matter.

Scratch that: it doesn’t matter, but at least we might care a little bit about these city slickers who end up in the country and have to get by with country ways?

Rating:

Titane

Titanium

This car is on fire, with passionate love

dir: Julie Ducournau

2021

Well. That was. A film.

This won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the supreme French honour for cinema, for only the second time by a female director. I had heard that fact previous to watching this flick, but now I’m starting to wonder what it matters.

Prestigious films have won the Palme D’Or, but also some crappy ones that people have forgotten days after the award was awarded. I am pretty secretly sure that no awards actually amount to much in terms of the qualities a film possesses, but sometimes something is being said when certain films win. The last film that won the Palme D’Or was Parasite, and there has to be some reason why people on either side of the Atlantic were so enamoured with a South Korean flick about what scum poor people are and how they’ll do anything to extend their sad existences.

So what am I implying about Titane? Almost nothing. I can’t at all intuit what Titane winning says in a contemporary sense, in terms of a post-pandemic landscape, zeitgeist or any gender-political stuff relevant to France or Europe or the world.

The one thing I can say is that, scene to scene, second to second, there is almost nothing you can predict as this flick unfolds unless you’ve been forewarned, or read a bonkers synopsis.

A young girl called Alexia makes broom-broom noises in a car being driven by her irritated dad. It keeps escalating until there’s a serious accident, and the girl ends up with a titanium plate in her head. When she is eventually released from hospital, she hugs the car, not her parents.

As an adult (Agathe Rousselle), she still has the plate in her head, and a strange spiralish scar above her right ear, and she has an attitude that exudes zero fucks. She also, importantly, keeps her hair up with a metal knitting needle / chopstick or something similar, making sure people can see her scar at all times. Maybe it’s made of titanium. Not sure it matters.

Her job is to dance and writhe on top of cars at a car show. One of the cars she writhes lasciviously upon is like a Cadillac painted in flames, and it’s also a low-rider, with those bouncing hydraulics installed.

Rating:

Scare Me

Scare Me

If you want me to scare you, let me remind you that tax
returns for last financial year had to be submitted 3 days ago...

dir: Josh Ruben

2020

It’s funny. Funny to me at least. The chap that made and starred in this flick, where he plays an insecure writer/director/actor who can’t think of what to make a film about other than something something werewolves, made this flick, and then made Werewolves Within, which I also saw recently.

And though there’s something sour curdling away at the core of this flick, I think I might have been more positively disposed towards that latter flick had I seen this one first.

I can’t always relate to the issues that other characters have, or that actors portray, in movies. My parents weren’t killed by criminals, so that motivation doesn’t move me much for batclad vigilantes fighting villains. Neither my significant other nor my dog were murdered by the Russian mob, so I don’t always feel like I get the motivation of people who kill a million people in revenge.

But a mediocre guy who struggles artistically in vain and sometimes doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile? I can totally get that.

Fred (Josh Ruben) secludes himself in a cabin in upstate New York in order to work on something. In terms of ideas, all he has thus far is “werewolf have guns – get revenge?” He meets an actual successful writer, immensely popular and well known, and instantly resents her.

That other writer is played by the awesome Aya Cash. Aya Cash may not be a household name, but she should be. She played Gretchen in a tv series called You’re The Worst about a vile group of Friends from a bizarro-universe, and more recently played secret Nazi superhero/villain Stormfront in the second season of The Boys. Everything she plays, she plays with style and élan, and it’s no different here.

As Fanny, without always intending to, she gives Fred a vision of what being an actual creative person could be like, someone willing to work and extend ideas and throw shit around and actually do something, whether it works or not.

At first he’s amazed by her, seeing how her mind goes in directions and places where he never thought to go. Despite their rocky introduction to each other, they end up in his cabin during a power outage, telling each other stories not with the intention of actually scaring each other but in terms of trying to tell scary stories in order to come up with some creative stuff, and one up each other.

Rating:

Dune Part 1

Dune

All these people worried about what spices are going to
be served at dinner

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2021

I was a bit worried when I heard that Denis Villenueve was tackling Dune, but I shouldn’t have worried. He’s probably one of the consistently best directors making big budget movies around. Look at this list of movies: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune, all solid movies.

Maybe I was a bit more worried about Timothée Chalamet as the lead, because, look at him, he’s Timothée Chalamet, for fuck’s sake. He’s no Kyle McLachlan, that’s for sure.

But he does okay. If ever a role called for a moody emo kid in a trenchcoat to look moody and such, well, Chalamet is your boy.

The scale is BIG, everything is really BIG. Production values, through the roof! There’s nothing cheap about this production, no siree.

I am one of the few people who actually has fond memories of the ‘original’ version of this, directed by David Lynch, that came in 1984. I liked it, but I was twelve. That’s not an excuse, it’s just that at 12 I liked a bunch of things that maybe weren’t great. I hadn’t discovered women yet and wouldn’t do so for many more years, so maybe I didn’t have a lot of life experience as to what stuff was great and what stuff sucked back then.

I saw it at the movies, and I saw it a stack more times on a VHS copy in the following years. I know that long arse flick backwards. Kyle McLachlan played Paul Atriedes, Francesca Annis played his mum, and a whole bunch of other legends played various characters. Sir Fucking Patrick Stewart was in it! Dean Stockwell! Sean Young? Jurgen Prochnow? Virginia Madsen? And there were giant worms, and people could kill people with just using their voices. And it had an amazing look to it, both retro and ultra futuristic.

I’m not here to defend that film, just to say while it might have been a bomb, no film David Lynch has ever made has ever been completely worthless (with the possible exception of Fire Walk With Me). And I read the book too, but the film always mattered more to me than the book did.

Fidelity to the book also never really concerned me that much. This flick does everything it can to make this all seem serious and important. There’s no fucking around here: everything is deadly serious. The state of, um, the universe is at stake.

Rating:

Identifying Features

Sin Senas Particulares

This shouldn't be happening, there, or anywhere. Please stop.

Sin Señas Particulares

dir: Fernanda Valadez

2020

I don’t understand. I don’t understand what is happening, what is depicted here, as happening in Mexico.

I understand government violence (well, when I say that, I say it from the safety of distance and privilege, in that I can intellectualise about it, but haven’t lived through it), I understand the concept that criminal gangs commit violence in order to control drug operations and maintain areas of control.

I guess I understand the concept of right wing or left wing paramilitaries, or religious nutters attacking villagers and villages, or ruling suburbs, or any number of things. I think I understand violence as a tool to make the survivors cower, and go along with whatever the group wants.

I don’t understand what is depicted here. Killing just to kill people, and not like serial killers or sadists or crazies or vampires. People, trying to get to El Norte (the States) from all areas of Mexico, being robbed, murdered and their bodies desecrated and burned, just for the hell of it.

And…it’s real, it’s what’s been happening for a long time in Mexico, and I find it terrifying, and I don’t understand it.

A recent film I watched about the Srebrenica Massacre (Quo Vadis, Aida?) during the Balkans War in the 90s, that was horrible, and terrifying, to see a group of people try to exterminate an ethnic group of people they don’t like. That’s horrible, too, but I can at least grasp some semblance of their mentality, of how they justify it to themselves, or try to justify it in front of a war crimes tribunal at The Haig.

I don’t understand this.

The perspective is mostly from that of a mother, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez), trying to find out what happened to her son Jesús (Juan Jesús Varela), who went up north two months ago, and haven’t been heard from since. She lives a humble farming existence on a small plot of land, and while she obviously fears for her son, she would understand the son’s drive to go El Norte, cross the border, maybe eke out a living and send some money home. The lure of the better life that only money and not being surrounded by apocalyptic violence could bring.

When he and his mate disappear, his friend having a distinctive patch of vitiligo on his forehead, making his body easier to identify for his mother, at least, Magdalena doesn’t accept that just because the authorities say that he’s dead, that he must be.

She’s fully aware that he might be dead. This isn’t false hope or delusion on her part. She has a weary kind of resignation to what has happened. But she has to know for sure. She needs certainty, a mother needs certainty, to bury her son, to bring him home, somehow, if she can.

Rating:

Lapsis

Lapsis

The Cube is good, the Cube is great.
We surrender our will, as of this date.

dir: Noah Hutton

2020

So…what is Lapsis really about?

I could tell you, but then you wouldn’t spend the 100 or so minutes listening to me that you could otherwise spend watching this strange, low-budget film.

This is exactly the kind of film people say they wish science fiction films were like: For those kinds of people who are bored of sci-fi becoming synonymous with explosions and supeheroics and world ending disasters, this is the exact kind of flick they CLAIM more should be made of.

And then within a few minutes of starting it, if they even hear of it, they’d switch it off and put on another fucking Marvel film. And I include Martin Scorsese in this. Well known for lamenting the lack of art and heart in the Marvel movie making production line, upon popping this on in his state of the art VCR, he’d pop it out again and immediately put on Captain America: Civil War muttering “I just love watching how Winter Soldier fucks shit up old school”.

Lapsis is low-key and fairly quiet, and it takes a long time to get to where it’s going. It seems like it’s a satire about Big Tech and such, but it’s really about the gig economy, and the ways in which the corporate world conspires to keep wages down and keep work insecure and perilous, and keeps workers isolated for its own benefit entirely.

The tech hardly matters. The job hardly matters, wait, no, the job really matters, but when I tell you what the job is that people are doing, it’s going to sound baffling.

This is set in the present world, except there has been one advance, and one other thing that’s gone wrong in the world. Regular, boring computers have been replaced with quantum computers. What do the new computers do that’s different? I have no idea. It’s not particularly obvious. There’s no difference except that when someone says “but the timetable said it’s okay to double park today”, and the parking ticket cop says “nuh uh, you should have used a quantum computer to see the timetable, which would have shown you it’s not okay. Quantum computer, quantum timetable.”

This is not a flick to watch even theoretically to find out anything about quantum computing, which is apparently a real thing in this, the apparently real world. What it means in the context of this film is, that a company, pretending to be many companies, but really it’s a monopoly, puts these metal cubes in forests, and engages trackers to drag a cable from one cube to another cube and attach it thereon.

What does the metal cube do? No idea. What courses through the cables? No idea. Why are they dragging cables through forests anyway and attaching them to cubes? We never find out.

It’s just something that people do, and it’s sought-after work. You have to have a medallion in order to get on the scheme. There are these devices like older phones which confirm your identity, tell you when to walk, tell you when to rest, and chastise you if you vary from the path.

All the while when you’re trying to trudge through the fucking forests and gulleys and such, an automated creepy crawly machine is also following behind you. If it gets to the place where you’re meant to be going before you, whatever moneys you were promised evaporate. If you tamper with the machine, security goons swoop in and hog-tie you, dragging you out of the forest.

There are points systems, hierarchies, reasons to obey and plenty of disincentives not to stray. If you’re injured on the job, they don’t care, and they don’t help you.

Rating:

The Many Saints of Newark

Many Saints of Newark

Now let me teach you how to smoke like a cool guy, capisce?

dir: Alan Taylor

2021

Does there need to be a prequel movie to one of the most famous prestige tv series of all time? Not really, not when you have so many episodes already of the show. Do we learn anything startling and new about the characters of the series that we didn’t know or didn’t know we cared about before? Absolutely not. This is really a flick no-one asked for that no-one needed.

But I still got a lot out of it. This is, despite the very weird framing device, an interesting story about someone who was important to the main character of The Sopranos who we never got to really see because they were long dead before the scope of the series started.

It’s less, very much less an origin story for Tony Soprano, and more a story about his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti, ably played by Alessandro Nivola, who’s been great in a lot of things and is very solid here. The problem from his perspective might be, must be, that Dickie is just a puppet at the hands of fate. The other characters, including the one doing the voiceover, all have a pre-determined fate, and so does Dicky, but for him we know he doesn’t make it out of the 1970s.

Why, becomes our question. Well, and this is about as pretentious as the series creator David Chase has ever gotten, it’s because Dickie’s story is a tragedy. A Greek tragedy, despite the fact that they’re Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot in the film, and not all of it is that interesting. I have to confess that the bits dealing with Tony (who later on in the film is played by James Gandolfini’s son Michael, which really does your head in a bit) weren’t as fundamental as everything Dickie does when Tony isn’t around. But we’re meant to see what happens to Dickie, and what he does or doesn’t do, as being central to why Tony became the way he is.

It’s important to remind myself that The Sopranos used the trappings and clichés of the mafia genre to tell a story, primarily, that wasn’t about life in the mafia. It was always about the therapy, far more so than the strippers, the mob machinations and deals, and the murders.

Through 6 seasons the questions were asked and sometimes answered as to why a person ends up the way they are, and whether any amount of therapy can ultimately change them, or improve them, or help them and the people around them. The series quite definitively came down on the side of charming sociopaths, like Tony, ultimately not changing at all, but finding new ways to manipulate the people around them through using the verbiage and cover of therapy speak.

Put more simplistically, it can help okay people with stuff, but it makes monsters worse.

The main character of the show literally decides nothing means anything, so he might as well keep being the monster he’s always been.

Rating:

Fried Barry

Fried Barry

He's got the whole world, in his hands

dir: Ryan Kruger

2020

Fried Barry. It’s fucking bonkers. And it’s South African!

I cannot recommend this enough, in that I cannot recommend this at all. It is an utterly bonkers endeavor in el cheapo gonzo filmmaking that is reminiscent of both Repo Man and countless video clips that I used to watch on Rage back in the day – no budget anarchic wonders that had energy and movement and little else.

It even has a weird intro where a serious looking government man is warning us that the content is going to be pretty racy and enjoyable in this ultra 18 Plus rated flick. He looks all official and serious, and like he’s just about to drop a defence of apartheid on us, but it looks so officially official. I think it’s a parody of warnings that used to be in front of flicks in the 1980s, but since I’m not from around there, these aren’t memories, they’re guesses.

Fried Barry is not only about a heroin addict called Barry (Gary Green) – it is about an addict who gets abducted by aliens, probed in all sorts of horrible ways, and then comes back to Cape Town even less well-adjusted and socially able than before. Whatever it is that comes back, it’s not really Barry – it just looks like Barry.

And what does Barry look like? Well. He looks like a demented, emaciated drug addict, with a bug-eyed stare, teeth that never have seen better days, a lot of acid wash denim. And now he mostly can’t even talk anymore.

People throw drugs at him now. Everyone wants to share their drugs with him. Women, always inexplicable in their choices in movies, all now must have sex with him. A woman drags him home from a club, projects hardcore pornography onto the walls of her apartment, has her way with him then promptly tells Alien Barry to fuck off.

Wherein another woman feels compelled to engage physically with him as well, but this time at least she can be assumed to be doing it for money. Joke’s on her, though, if this bonkers film has any message, it’s that you shouldn’t have unprotected sex, ever.

How bad an idea is it with Barry? Within seconds, the working girl pretending to writhe around in ecstasy is undergoing childbirth, and has a newborn Barry to remember him by?

Huh? Wuh?

Alien Barry’s journey is not really that much of a journey, in that he’s not really trying to get anywhere. He’s often standing in place as drugs are thrust at him, violence is perpetrated upon him, or everyone tries to have sex with him, but we don’t really get a sense that the alien at the controls has a mission or an intention, really, beyond seeing what life is like for a degenerate in Cape Town.

Turns out, at least from Barry’s perspective, it can be a lot of fun, if you survive it.

Rating:

Together Together

Together Together

They look like they're about to interview you for a position
at their tech start up, but as an unpaid intern drowning
in coffee / energy drink orders, and abuse, but you'll
do it for clout / exposure maybe?

dir: Nikole Beckwith

2021

Together Together is a very modest, very small-scale flick, which is part of why I found it so charming. It mostly has two actors acting all the time on the screen, but the stakes are pretty low.

It’s a plot you haven’t heard and seen a million times before. A guy called Matt (Ed Helms) who’s in his 40s wants to become a dad. He does not have any partner, or seemingly ever had a partner, and wishes to get a surrogate to have the baby for him (for cash money), and then she can fuck right off out of their lives forever. The baby itself is from a donor egg, so there would be no genetic connection to the child for the surrogate.

Typing those words makes the whole process sound so awful. I assure you this is a light hearted comedy. It’s mostly about the awkwardness and the foibles of the two main characters.

Anna (Patti Harrison) is in her early 20s. She is one of those dreaded millennials that we were regularly told pre-covid were ruining everything for the rest of us. She had previously had a kid as a teenager but gave it up for adoption.

This time, at least, she wants some money for her troubles. She is… an interesting low-key character, in that she seems a bit isolated, but at least she has one friend / co-worker (Julio Torres) whose purpose in the film is to be extra annoying. Any of the millennial clichés she gets to avoid, Jules totally embodies.

The far more problematic character is Matt, in that there isn’t any diagnosed personality disorder or spectrum related discussions, but he is fairly horrible at talking to people in general and Anna specifically. His polite exterior covers a gaping, howling void inside. Immediately upon meeting Anna, and once she signs on the dotted line, he begins acting towards her like she’s an untrustworthy employee who needs to be heavily supervised at all times.

From that as a starting point he graduates to talking to her the way no man with a pregnant partner ever should, no matter how controlling or overbearing. The relief comes from when Anna pushes back against his bullshit, in a way that almost made me think he was the movie’s secret villain.

Rating:

Land

Land

Whenever I see shots like this, my first and only thought
is always "what the fuck are they looking at?"

dir: Robin Wright

2021

You have to feel a bit bad for Robin Wright. I mean you personally don’t have to; you’ve got more than enough on your plate.

Always the bridesmaid. She was in that series House of Cards where they discovered Kevin Spacey had been the main character for years, like it was a surprise, then they got rid of him, and it didn’t last another season with her as the lead. She was married to Sean Penn, which couldn’t have been easy, but she gave some tremendous performances in films he directed. And now she thought, it’s my time to shine. She tried, goddamnit. Along came a story she felt was so good, she had to star in it and direct it, and it would give her the plaudits and respect she deserved after such a long and celebrated career.

It’s a story about a woman who’s isolated, who’s grief-stricken, who sets out to live a different life from the one she led before away from civilization.

But the problem is, well, this came out just after Nomadland, didn’t it, so she looks like an also-ran, even down to calling her flick Land.

So probably not for the first time in her life, all the awards and adulation that could, that should have flowed to her, instead flowed to Frances McDormand.

Fuck, that’s got to burn you up inside a little bit. Maybe not. Maybe Robin Wright is just happy if a handful of people see what she put together with her own two hands. Because, considering the timing, I doubt even Wright’s friends and family have gotten to see this thus far.

It’s…they haven’t missed much. It feels churlish to compare the two films, even if they start from a similar place, even if they start with similar protagonists. The character here has so much grief about something that she doesn’t even tell anyone what she’s grieving until the very last few minutes of the movie. So for most of it we’re wondering why she longs for death so much.

A city woman moves to the very remotest part of Wyoming, with no intention or plan of ever leaving. She buys an unpowered shack, and basically, though she has taken some rudimentary steps to prolong her life, and brought some tools with which to live off the land, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and it really looks like cover for wanting to die without explicitly committing suicide.

Which is a pretty grim fate.

Before she made the move, we see her desperate sister (Kim Dickens) trying to make contact with her, and when this main character of Edee played by Robin Wright throws her mobile into a bin we know she doesn’t want that contact at all.

When she gets to the cabin she asks the realtor to organise for someone to come and collect the rental car and the trailer she used to get there. When he says something like “you need to have a vehicle, being out here, so isolated” she makes noises like “yeah, nah, not an issue.”

Rating:

Nomadland

Nomadland

Life is brief and all too long, together or apart

dir: Chloe Zhao

2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

Rarely have I wanted every character to die in a movie

dir: Josh Ruben

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Lorelei

Lorelei

Young love, ages like a poisonous wine

dir: Sabrina Doyle

2021

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Lucky

Lucky

Luck ain't got nothing to do with it

dir: Natasha Kermani

2021

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

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

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

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

And the whole process repeats itself again and again.

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Free Guy

Free Guy

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

dir: Shawn Levy

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Old

Old

Sun protection is important because the sun hates us

dir: M Night Shyamalan

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Candyman

Candyman 2021

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

dir: Nia DaCosta

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

The Card Counter

Card Counter

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

dir: Paul Schrader

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Pig

Pig

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

dir: Michael Sarnoski

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Malignant

Malignant

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

dir: James Wan

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For, you see, Madison was…adopted!

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

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

Rating:

Supernova

Supernova

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

dir: Harry Macqueen

2021

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

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

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

At least for about half an hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that makes it all right then.

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

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

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

Rating:

Annette

Annette

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

dir: Leos Carax

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Naked Singularity

A Naked Singularity

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

dir: Chase Palmer

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Minari

Minari

Here's one I prepared for you earlier

dir: Lee Isaac Chung

2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby

Healthy and empowering all at once, naturally

dir: Emma Seligman

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Another Round

Druk

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

dir: Thomas Vinterberg

2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Zola

@Zola

I regret saying yes now too

dir: Janicza Bravo

2021

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

But I guess it has other virtues, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

The Green Knight

Green Knight

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

dir: David Lowery

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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