You are here

2020

Come True

Come True

I assure you, the movie is better than the poster would indicate

dir: Anthony Scott Burns

2020

This was… one of the most unsettling films that I saw last year, and it wasn’t just because it’s Canadian. It’s not the most horrific flick that I saw last year, or the most horrific Canadian film I saw last year (that would be Violation, but it’s without a doubt the most unsettling.

Up until a certain point. Then it pulls a M. Night Shyamalan, and makes you regret ever having heard of the film in the first place.

It’s not even really a twist so much as an explanation, that comes out of nowhere, that no-one asked for, that improves nothing, that instead makes you feel like you’ve wasted your entire time watching something that has such an appalling ending.

I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on what I feel the flick gets right, for most of it length, because that way it feels like I’m being fairer to the film, to the people involved.

Saying that this film, Come True has a nightmarish quality is kind of like describing Kafka’s The Trial as being Kafkaesque. It’s redundant phrasing, because it’s literally about nightmares.

A lot of the flick is passages of a camera swooping through monochrome landscapes and sets with imagery that disturbing, but you can’t quite put your finger on why. It’s not gory or violent (except for maybe a few seconds just before the ending), and there’s no monsters eating people or demons trying to tear people’s bodies or souls apart.

It’s about a person, Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who’s homeless, and she doesn’t sleep very well. When she does, she always seems to be approaching a motionless figure, someone who she feels she is terrified of, but doesn’t know why.

We don’t know why Sarah avoids her mother, or doesn’t feel safe at home. She tries to scrounge food, take showers where she can, get to school on time, but she’s always falling asleep during class. When she sees one of those tear-off fliers for a place, presumably a university, offering to pay people in order to conduct sleep studies on them, she thinks that maybe this will help her out and she’ll get some money for her troubles.

Two birds, one stone. The people running the study are friendly enough, but they have a weird boss Dr Meyer (Christopher Hetherington), with these massive glasses on his face, which are even more disturbing than anything else that happens in the flick. Also, they don’t answer many questions when asked.

Rating:

The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Man Who Sold His Skin

Every time I think of the title, I think of it sung by Kurt Cobain
to the tune of "The Man Who Sold the World". Try It!

(Ar-Rajul Allaḏī Bāʿa Zahrihu)

dir: Kaouther Ben Hania

2020

Where this starts… and where this goes…

This is a pretty sly and smart flick, undone only by what I feel is like something of a cop out ending.

I didn’t know these things before watching the movie, but I know them now – this is kind of based on something that happened, which itself was ‘inspired’ by a Roald Dahl short story called Skin.

Skin I remember, because I read Skin when I was a kid in Tales of the Unexpected, and it stuck in my head ever since, because of the economical brutality of it: a chap has an exquisite tattoo on his back, needs money, someone promises to take care of him like he’s a pampered poodle, but next thing you know the skin is on a gallery wall somehow.

This film begins with two curators being ordered around by a guy with way too much mascara on, getting the position of the frame right, only for the camera to close in on the painting itself, showing that it is human skin.

So, the film starts at the macabre ending, and we’re to wonder how this ever happened.

The purpose of Dahl’s story was to shock, to disturb, to give someone a wry chuckle. The purpose of this flick is very much something different, seeing as it’s by a Tunisian director, with Syrian leads, set during the Syrian Civil War and the rise of the Islamic State, and most of it transpires in Belgium.

Belgium? How many good flicks other than In Bruges are set in fucking Belgium?

Well, there’s this one.

Sami Ali (Yahya Mahayni) loves a woman, called Abeer (Dea Liane), but her family have promised her to some Syrian jerk who works as a diplomat in Belgium. Bashar Assad’s forces are randomly killing bunches of Syrians, you know, just to keep them in line, so her family think it’s safest for her if they marry her off and send her to Europe.

Rating:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Pages

Subscribe to 2020