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2021

Chaos Walking

Chaos Walking

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

dir: Doug Liman

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Justice League

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

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star

If you ever go, you must absolutely ride the wild prawn

dir: Josh Greenbaum

2021

Well, I guess with a title like that, no-one’s expecting either Masterpiece Theatre or serious stuff for discussion at one’s next dinner party, in between debating the various strengths and weaknesses of the couples on Married at First Sight.

Even though I can’t imagine people having dinner parties. Is…that a thing people do anymore? Or is that something from the old world, before 2.6 million people met their maker at the hands of a fucking airborne virus?

It seems callous to take comfort in silly, frivolous things, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s taking callous comfort in silly, frivolous things and then writing about them as a way of staving off the terror of meaninglessness and oblivion.

Just like everyone else.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is entirely delightful and entirely ridiculous. I was somehow in the perfect mood for this because despite its utter ridiculousness and pointlessness, it made me chuckle, and two hours of my life passed without having to think about the bullshit that life throws at us on a daily basis. And that’s not because it’s brilliantly made, brilliantly acted and carefully crafted with heartwarming messages of universal redemption and meaning.

Because it is none of those things, at all.

It’s pretty fucking dumb, like, deliberately dumb, and about as convincing as an episode of Get Smart, just without the powerful social commentary or stunning fashions.

But it was still enjoyable, and yet talking about the plot at all will make it seem so fucking dumb that no-one would bother watching it on the strength of such a recommendation.

Because the plot is pretty fucking dumb. An evil Bond-like supervillain, played by Kristen Wiig, with severe bangs and albino skin, plots to kill people not all across Florida, which would be a gift to humanity, but specifically at a place called Vista Del Mar.

I don’t know if there’s a real Vista Del Mar, because the place they show in footage isn’t a town: it’s a sandbar with a bunch of hotels on it, making it look like a cruise ship run aground on dry land, but if there is such a place, they’re pretty much doomed anyway, and not because of the machinations of a villain who wants revenge through genetically modified mosquitoes. And even before rising sea levels blanket the site such that nothing but ancient ruins remain.

Rating:

The Night

The Night

Because the night belongs to lovers, because the night
belongs to the two of you

dir: Kourosh Ahari

2021

This film is scary, especially for anyone who’s ever tried to stay in a hotel with a newborn baby.

I mean, how guilty do you feel when the kid starts bawling, and it’s the middle of the night, and you’re worried that they’ve just woken everyone next to you, below you and above you? Oh man, how bad would you feel.

Hopefully you get them back to sleep okay. Shh, shh, it’s okay, I know it’s an unfamiliar environment, but everything’s going to be okay, I promise.

Of course it helps if you’re not staying in a Hotel, in California, which you apparently can’t ever leave.

I can’t claim entirely to understand the foundations of what this story is trying to say outside of the set-up of a Iranian-American couple with a baby, in a hotel where weird shit is happening around them. I mean on a metaphysical or supernatural level. Nothing is explained, no wise person comes along to explain everything in a massive exposition dump upon the audience’s ears and patience. Just – what happens happens, and our main characters react in an increasingly freaked out manner.

These characters being Iranian, and the film itself being a collaboration between Iranian and American producers, I would have to assume on some level that it hints at concepts of guilt, of sin, of unexpiated wrongs but from an Islamic perspective, or at least from a Persian perspective. I can’t claim to be an expert on Iranian film, or contemporary culture, but if this is the first American flick to be allowed to screen in Iran since 1979, then you’d have to assume certain things to be true. Iran still jails directors and filmmakers if the regime feels their work somehow insults the mullahs in charge, the Revolutionary Guard or the horrible authoritarian state that reigns.

So the films that come out of there are generally dramas, or deceptively simple stories about women trying to get into a soccer game, or children wanting to ride a bike, or a couple separating because of unspoken resentments and aspirations for their children.

The Night might have been filmed in LA, but it still has to please the censors, I imagine. Although, now that I think about it, doesn’t the hotel itself become a metaphor for the police state that is Iran since the Revolution? Random bad shit happens to you for reasons you don’t understand, and getting out or away is almost impossible?

Maybe Kourosh Ahari knows what he’s doing, the sly fuck.

Rating:

Music

Musique

Music brings the party people together

dir: Sia Furler

2021

I have to admit, I’m a fan of disaster cinema. I’m not talking about disaster movies per se, though those can be entertaining as well. I mean movies that come out that capture the imagination of the critics or the public because of, not in spite of, the fact that they are branded absolutely screaming apocalyptic dumpster fires right from the get go.

The people who greenlit this at Warner Brothers in order to keep Sia happy are probably happy that they haven’t been arrested yet, that the opprobrium has dissipated somewhat, and that Music has been pretty much forgotten about, about a month after its expectant mother, Sia, brought it forth into an uncaring and unsuspecting world.

Depending on which articles you read about it, Music was either the worst movie ever made to do with a character living with autism, or the worst movie ever conceived independent of whether autism is accurately or fairly depicted. That it was just a supremely wrong-headed project from conception to realisation is probably unfair to say out loud.

But while more complex questions come to mind, the far simpler one that perhaps captures the essence of the problem from the start is this one: what the fuck were they thinking?

Could no one say to Sia that this was a bad idea? Is she so far gone in her stardom that when people start shaking their heads at something she says they are fired immediately or catapulted out of a building?

Rating:

I Care a Lot

I Care A Lot

She doesn't, not really. She is not being entirely forthcoming with you

dir: J Blakeson

2021

This is going to blow your mind, but the main character in this film called I Care A Lot, called Marla Grayson, played by Rosemund Pike, doesn’t, actually.

This is the REALLY mindblowing part: She doesn’t care at all.

Marla is a lawyer who, through manipulating the legal system around the guardianship of oldies, and bribing the right people, forces old people into old folks homes and then drains all their assets over the years until they die penniless and alone.

Piece of work, right? And we all thought Rosemund Pike perfected playing psychopaths back in Gone Girl. Turns out there are even nastier characters for her to play in the Rosemund Pike Cinematic Universe.

At movie’s beginning, over scenes where a distraught bearded chap is trying to visit his mother in an old folks home, and being pummeled by the security, we hear in voiceover Marla tell us that this world ain’t shit, victory is for the ruthless and the weak can go fuck themselves.

This is the movie’s mission statement. It does not shy away from equating the monstrous ruthlessness of the protagonist with American late-stage capitalism, with the American Dream, with doing what people need to do not to get by but to destroy other people for shits and giggles.

Marla has a wall covered in the photos of the people for whom she has organised to be appointed as their guardian. It’s a lot of old people. It’s not really to give her a sentimental attachment to the people she gives not one fuck about. It’s to remind her of who her cash cows are. Once they die she scrunches up their photos and throws them in the trash.

While they live but are declared mentally incompetent, this set up allows her to sell their houses, drain their bank accounts, basically get them institutionalised and cut off, and make it impossible for them to leave, or for anyone related to them to help them out. It’s shocking, and bracing, and from the perspective of the people it’s happening to, I guess this is like an awful horror film, from which someone has to go to extraordinary lengths in order to beat Marla at her game.

Rating:

Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas & The Black Messiah

Look out Fred, this jerk behind you isn't social distancing!

dir: Shaka King

2021

I am… not… a revolutionary. It would seem hypocritical of me if I were. I mean, after all, I do work for the Empire, and there’s little tolerance for revolution or rebellion within the Empire’s rank and file.

This movie is not about me, which is handy, because I wasn’t a prominent member of the Black Panther Party, nor was I murdered in my sleep by the Chicago police in 1968. Nor was I betrayed by a sneaky, weasel-y fucker given no choice otherwise by his FBI handlers.

Judas and the Black Messiah is about a chap called Fred Hampton, who tried to help his fellow African-Americans against the forces of white supremacy, here represented by the FBI’s director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), and one of his underlings, being played one of the whitest actors in all of America, called Jesse Plemons.

It doesn’t matter what the character’s actual name is: he’s just bad news. He is always smoking a cigar, and always gorging on masses of food, and sometimes smokes a cigar while eating, which is somehow even grosser.

At first, like everyone at first, creepy FBI guy seems like he’s actually trying to do things legally. His concerns with the activities of the Black Panther Party are not about the breakfast programs for kids, or the community outreach: it’s for the illegal stuff they do, and for the crimes some of their members commit.

But at about three quarters of the way through the movie, J. Edgar himself asks the jerk Jesse Plemons is playing how he’s going to feel when his daughter grows up and brings a negro home for dinner.

Hasn’t he seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner yet? What if she brought handsome doctor Sidney Poitier home? That would be grand, surely?

But no. That’s the moment where mostly okay FBI agent goes “fuck that, all the prominent African-Americans must be slaughtered lest my daughter go black and never come back.”

Rating:

Malcolm & Marie

Malcolm and Marie

These people are pretty but shouldn't be together, nuh uh

dir: Sam Levinson

2021

Pandemic filmmaking. It’s a genre unto itself. You could argue it’s a product of necessity and invention, or you could say “there’s something more helpful or vital that you could be doing with your time.”

Truth be told, you could have said that at any time in the past and there would have been some truth to it.

So. A director / writer, in the form of Sam Levinson, and two actors, and a crew, put together a movie during the coronapocalypse that has engulfed the States and killed half a million people to date. Minimal crew, only two actors, shot mostly at night, all at one location, in gorgeous black and white.

Malcolm (John David Washington, who’s having the year of his life) is a director, and he’s just had a film premiere, and it’s been a triumph. Marie (Zendaya) is seething from beginning to end, and goes outside of their remarkable house somewhere in Carmel-by-the-Sea to smoke.

What is Carmel-by-the-Sea? The only thing I know about it is that I remember way back in the day that Clint Eastwood decided he wanted to be the mayor of the place, which is a town in California, presumably by the sea. And it happened. And then he got bored of doing that and went back to making movies.

Malcolm is pacing and ranting, high on life, but mostly adrenalin, yelling a mile a minute about his triumph, about his conversation with a critic from the LA Times, and about the ignorance of most people about the important milestones in film, being Citizen Kane and the work of Billy Wilder, and how he hates having to be compared only to other African-American directors.

He’s ranting and raving, and drinking a lot, but he’s not drunk, other than on his own smug sense of self-satisfaction.

And that is some powerful stuff.

Marie is, strangely enough, making mac and cheese, though not for herself, at one in the morning. Strange thing to be doing while you’re wearing a spangly dress in high heels, but who am I to question someone else’s choices?

You see, clearly there’s something bugging her, or at least, there are a lot of things bugging her. No doubt it’s because of something Malcolm did or didn’t do. But she doesn’t volunteer the information until it’s demanded, and from then on it’s on for young and old.

And by “young” I mean Zendaya, and by “old” I mean John David Washington.

Rating:

The White Tiger

White Tiger

Eat the Rich, kill kill kill kill kill kill the poor: I don't know who
out of Aerosmith, Motorhead and the Dead Kennedys had it right

dir: Ramin Bahrani

2021

Right from the start, right off the bat, let me tell you something for free: This is the best movie about murdering someone in order to become a successful businessman that I have ever seen.

Any other movies that you’ve seen where someone murders people in order to become successful, they are but as ants at the feet of Alexander the Great.

The great trick that The White Tiger pulls off, that in my eyes Parasite didn’t quite pull off, is that not only is it as good if not better than the novel it is based on by Aravind Adiga that won the Booker Prize in 2008, it makes you almost accept without having too many qualms about it, that the scum of the lower orders sometimes are almost justified in killing their oppressors. That the people at the top of the hierarchy are awful and do awful things, especially to the lower orders, and actively maintain the system which keeps people down. Thus social and societal mobility depends on killing one’s betters, taking their place, and hopefully being kinder to the people below you.

It probably sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but honestly, I’m not. I’m pretty sure neither the main character of Balram (Adarsh Gourav) nor the author are actually advocating that every poor person should rise up and kill the rich. If they were, that would be sweet. The broader societal implications of what Balram is saying only really apply to him. There is no self-help manual on getting out of The Darkness, as he calls it, or, alternately, the rooster coop, other than desperately fighting your way out.

One of the more shocking aspects of the novel, for me, someone who knows little about India and its multitudes, is just what an appalling picture it paints of Indian society, and the prevalent system apportioning personal worth we refer to as the caste system. They don’t call it that, because ‘caste’ isn’t a Hindi word. But there are moments in the film where Balram is asked what his caste is, in order for the asker to know whether Balram is a higher order of scum or a lower order of scum.

He takes a while to answer. He is of the Halwei cast, the sweet maker caste, which is considered one of the lower castes. Boo, hiss you lower orders, get back to your awful villages and make sweets for us, you presumptuous scum!

In stories like this, and there are millions of them, life in the village is sometimes depicted as idyllic, as pure and wonderful, with the main character being forced to travel to the big city in order to learn valuable lessons about what matters, and how the simple life is better than aspiring towards wealth and power.

Rating:

The Little Things

Little Things

Nice poster. Nicer than the film THAT's FOR SURE

dir: John Lee Hancock

2021

Well isn’t this flick a barrel of laughs.

It’s a bit of a throwback to police procedurals of which there used to be a dime a dozen. I’m not sure what changed, because there were a million on the teev before and there are even more now.

They’re not really my cup of tea. Of course, like billions of people I’ve watched so many episodes of Law & Order that I confuse it with reality, and think all the time about stuff that happened in the show as having happened in real life, but my capacity for watching crime these days is pretty limited.

So I can’t really say why I was drawn to watching this flick. Sure, it’s got Denzel, and that’s usually a great drawcard, but, honestly, he’s been phoning it in for years. And Denzel playing a tortured cop trying to figure out who some murderer is, is like such a cliché it’s beyond cliché. Almost every actor who’s ever acted has this role on their resume.

But I watched it anyway. It’s set in the early 90s, so no mobiles or internet, which honestly sometimes comes as a bit of a relief. Sure it’s the past, but it’s recent enough for those of us who were alive then to be able to remember a time before doomscrolling or getting hourly phone updates on what the dumbest people around the world are doing every day.

Now, that doesn’t mean life was actually any safer back than. If the opening of this film is any indication, even driving around in your car meant serial killers were going to come after you.

A young woman is driving a car, and gets weirded out by some guy in a car that she doesn’t see who drives near her. She gets so freaked out that she stops the car, and gets out, presumably because she’s going to reverse-psychology the serial killer into thinking killing her now would be too easy?

Anyway, things aren’t looking that good for her.

Rating:

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