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Good On Paper

Good On Paper

He looks happy, but she looks perturbed?

dir: Kimmy Gatewood

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baby Done

Baby Done

Having babies is dumb and terribly inefficient but it
gets the job done

dir: Curtis Vowell

2020

Babies, huh? Who’d have them, if we knew what a hassle they’d be?

No-one, if movies are to be believed. If you switch off or stop streaming these types of movies 10 minutes before they end, you would be convinced no-one will ever have babies ever again.

I mean, they’re so noisy and needy. And they ruin your life, or at least the perfect life you had constructed for yourself. Just when everything was perfect, some jerk comes along and impregnates you, and then your life totally turns to shit.

New Zealand, especially under the leadership of its (third) female Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has this reputation for sane people in power and progressive politics, and general wonderfulness. Sure, so they handled their response to the coronavirus better that most other countries. But it’s bullshit. Utter bullshit. I mean, Jacinda Ardern is a wonderful leader, but I mean New Zealand is nowhere near as progressive as people might think.

Here’s my proof: This flick could have been 15 minutes long. A young woman called Zoe (the most excellent and incredibly funny Rose Matafeo) is an arborist and really good at her job. She has a partner she lives with, friends, loving family etc. She unexpectedly gets pregnant. She books an appointment at her local qualified medical practitioner, and gets an abortion. Life carries on. Maybe later in life she decides to actually have a child, when the joy of climbing trees professionally starts to wane, maybe not. Maybe she decides she doesn’t really want to be a parent, or that her partner is a bit of a dingbat. Up to her. Either way, we wouldn’t have watched the movie that I just watched.

Zoe finds out she’s pregnant, and is angry. She does not want to become a mum yet. Also, she qualified for the International Tree Climbing championships in Canada, so there’s that to look forward to. So instead of dealing with it, like, medically, or coming to terms with the impact it’s going to have on her and her partner’s lives, she pretends like it ain’t no thing, and that she can pretty much ignore it until the kid arrives, but none of the process of pregnancy should really stop her from doing the things she might want to do.

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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.

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Kajillionaire

Kajillionaire

I love when posters say nothing about a movie, but then
this movie is indescribable

dir: Miranda July

2020

I don’t get to feel surprise very often, but I’m glad to say that while rare it’s not impossible.

I liked Miranda July’s first film, being Me and You and Everyone We Know, didn’t at all like her 2nd film The Future, and remember little else other than one of the main characters fucking a couch, but this, her third flick, delighted me. Delighted me. No shit.

It's kind of hard to actually pinpoint why I found it so enjoyable, and why I had a goofy grin on my face for much of the film’s duration. There’s nothing in the description, or in any plot summary you might read, that would point to why either. But I did. You’re just going to have to come to terms with that.

Three low level grifters, two parents and their adult kid, grift, scam and skim their way around the less memorable parts of Los Angeles. They are certainly odd bods. The parents (Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins) have a certain paranoid energy, and the third member of their trio has her own goofy trajectory.

The first thing we see them do is conduct surveillance on a location, before the gawky daughter does some weird semi-acrobatic movements, before going into a post office, and opening a post office box with a key. She puts her arm through, and then tries to find anything, anything she can grasp, in the other PO boxes adjacent.

It’s the slimmest of slim pickings. Whatever she gets is split three ways between them, as is their wont in all their schemes, we are told later on. They only travel by bus, and when they return to the place where they live, they have to hide, or contort themselves to avoid being seen by the landlord, to whom they of course owe a lot of money.

The landlord runs a business called Bubbles Inc, where they presumably manufacture bubbles. These bubbles overflow over one of the walls into the dilapidated office that the three grifters call home. As a condition of their occupancy, they have to catch the bubbles that overflow the wall with buckets, and then wipe the wall down. To stop it from getting mouldy.

Despite their best contortionist efforts, the landlord sees them, and starts crying as he berates them for the outstanding rent. He is a man with no emotional filters, but that doesn’t predispose him towards letting them live in a toxic environment he leases out rent free. Oh no, that wouldn’t be right. They owe $1500, and need to deliver by Friday or they’re out.

They don’t seem too stressed about it, though. Their view of life, though their own lives seem to be dominated with the petty obsessions it seems to require, aspires to be a rejection of consumerism. A kajillionaire is someone out there, anyone, who aspires to have a job and possessions, and who does a different grift for a living, being the rat race the rest of us normals presumably adhere to.

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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

I wish we lived in a world where this wasn't necessary. But it is.

dir: Jason Woliner

2020

It’s getting increasingly hard to know what to call these films with Sacha Baron Cohen playing strange characters trying to trick people into showing how awful they are. They’re not docos, mockumentary is not a real word, they’re not entirely fictional, except for the people who don’t know they’re on camera for the purposes of making a Borat movie, and they are, at least for me, excruciating to watch because of my ever-decreasing threshold for cringe.

I literally had to stop watching this flick 30 or 40 times. Admittedly, that doesn’t mean much when you’re streaming something: it’s not like I had to get up dozens of times to press ‘Stop’ on some outmoded VHS player without a remote control, or eject the tape and put it back in its plastic box. I just had to click the Pause icon. But I did it so many times, over so many days. Can I even really say that I’ve watched the movie, or would it be more accurate to say I watched a disconnected series of images to do with this movie, until I heard or saw something so disturbing I had to stop dozens of times over the course of a week? So my knowledge of what actually happens in this flick is spotty, to say the least.

The gist of it isn’t really beyond me, because it’s not that complicated. It sounds complicated, if you took the trouble to list the stuff that they pretend is the plot: Borat was imprisoned in Kazakhstan for bringing shame to the fatherland, and is released in order to give a monkey to Trump, or Michael Pence or any other random person, in order to make his country great again. The original flick came out in 2006, so it’s comforting to see, when Borat returns to his home, which if I recall was originally filmed somewhere in Romania, nothing has changed or improved in nearly two decades. If it’s not the same, awful place, then excellent work by the location scouts finding somewhere just as dismal from a few centuries ago to briefly film in. I wonder if they gave cigarettes or chocolate bars to the local children in payment?

Much to Borat’s horror, he discovers that he has a daughter, called Tutar (Maria Bakalova), who somehow lives in more squalor than the people around her. Through comedy and misadventure, she ends up in the States with Borat as he tries to implement his plan of giving something of value to the highest ranking monsters of the current administration.

Now, along with all the horrific racist and anti-Semitic stuff Borat is renowned for, and the ability he has to find terrible people who happily say horrible things on (hidden or obvious) camera, the ultimate story with Tutar is the gradual realisation, on both their parts, that she is not sub-human, and that she is as entitled to live and breath and walk around and drive and do all sorts of things just like everybody else. There is a manual of misinformation and medical mendacity that both read from like it’s gospel, and in truth it’s only marginally more repressive and misogynist than the actual gospels.

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Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Would you trust either of these jerks with your existential crisis?

dir: Max Barbacaw

2020

So, basically, we’ve seen enough variations on Groundhog Day, or enough variations have been done that it’s become a genre unto itself, fit for movies and tv shows, in any form. Person or persons get trapped in a loop and have to figure a way out of it.

The original movie had a guy be perplexed by his circumstances, fight against it by lashing out, try every form of suicide and crime, but eventually come to terms with it and become a better person, who then, when released from the loop, decides he’s going to stay in the place he was trapped in.

Some see it as a Buddhist story about reincarnation, some see it as a different philosophical or religious tradition pointing to a similar outcome, but ultimately it’s a story about a person getting multiple chances to get “it” right, however “it” is defined, and being set free, whatever that entails.

Palm Springs has the guy trapped already when we start; he’s been trapped for a long time, so long in fact that he doesn’t really give much of a shit about anything. It’s kind of the antithesis of what character work Groundhog Day tried to establish: instead of someone coming to realise what’s important in life from multiple goes around, he comes to believe that this perpetual November 9th at a wedding reception at Palm Springs means nothing means anything. Life is meaningless when you’re trapped in an unending loop. You learn nothing new, you do everything possible, but you don’t get better or worse, just bored.

It’s a pretty grim message. Nyles (Andy Samberg) does the same stuff Phil Connors does in Groundhog Day, as in he gets to know everything about everyone, and has sex with almost everyone, male or female, but it only brings him to a lower state of being, not transcendence. It doesn’t make him awful, it just makes him not care about stuff, or anything, other than drinking as much beer as he can.

Into this mix drops another person, being Sara (Cristin Milioti), who Nyles pretends to be chatting charmingly with for the first time, but you just know, based on the fact that he’s been here a long while, that they’ve probably hooked up before. But just before they hook up for the first time, someone appears out of nowhere, trying to kill Nyles, forcing him to crawl into a mysterious cave with a glowing light in it, that he keeps begging Sarah not to go into…

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Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga

Fire Saga

Her hair is still better than yours, Lars, live with it

dir: David Dobkin

2020

Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga is not about either the song contest or about Fire Saga. We have been misinformed. Lied to. Fake news etc.

It’s really just about the singular talent that is Will Ferrell. He has made a career of playing a particular kind of man-child lunatic (as opposed to the very different man-child lunatics played by Adam Sandler or Zach Galifianakis or Seth Rogen or probably fifty other guys you can think of), which only achieves more poignancy / hilarity as he ages. There’s Peter Pan, an ageless sprite who never wants to grow up, and then there’s Will Ferrell, a very much aging sprite who never wants to not play a lunatic with a dream.

In this film his dream is winning the Eurovision Song Contest, to the exclusion of anything and everything else. Somehow, or somewhy, this story is set in Iceland, a small island nation that is famous for a lot of things that have nothing to do with Will Ferrell or the Eurovision Song Contest. As a child his character of Lars Erickssong is entranced by watching ABBA winning the contest with Waterloo, and, sad about his mother’s recent death, he vows to honour her and, um, himself by squandering his entire life in the pursuit of winning the contest.

Because, reasons. Over forty years later, he’s still trying, but at least he has a luxuriant wig and a great film clip for his song Volcano Man, which was so great, and so very much more like a clip by Empire of the Sun rather than an entrant in Eurovision, but then the rug is pulled out from beneath our feet when we see that the clip is only in Lars’ imagination, as he bangs away on a keyboard in his dad’s garage.

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The King of Staten Island

The King of Staten Island

"and as he surveyed all before him, he wept, for there were no
worlds left to conquer"

dir: Judd Apatow

2020

These films, from Judd Apatow, about men (almost exclusively men, except for Trainwreck, where the emotionally immature main character was a woman), very immature men, straining to grow over the course of the movie in order to be better people and be worthy of some other character’s love, are right up my alley. Sure, it indicates that Apatow never really wants to do anything that different from what he’s done before, but who are we to complain in these difficult times?

I mean, the value of entertainment cannot be understated given what's going on in the world at the moment. Thank Christ, the Buddha and maybe Satan as well that all these productions were waiting in the wings, waiting for a docile and compliant and famished audience to hoover down, like so many Twisties from a Party Size bag.

Unlike the other flicks, one could argue, this time telling this kind of tale, they are using a doozy of a story, and a doozy of an actor to play the main character. Pete Davidson is notorious for a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with movies or Saturday Night Live, and more to do with his mental health struggles and unapologetic drug use. At least here it is in the service of telling a story that’s not too dissimilar to his actual life.

It's a backhanded way of saying that though the characters in his other flicks, that aren’t the ones about how growing older and having families suck (Funny People, This is 40), might have had issues and hang ups, but not like this guy. He’s always on drugs and is clearly suicidal, and makes terrible choices that any person can see are terrible.

The film starts with Scott (Davidson) driving a car, deciding he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, nearly having a serious accident, but at the last second swerving out of the way because there’s already a car wreck on the road. He hits a couple of cars, yells sorry, but doesn’t really do anything about it.

The main characterisation of Scott is that there is the fundamental absence in his life, being that of his father, which has contributed to his fuckedupedness. It sounds pretty simplistic, doesn’t it? Like, that one thing surely doesn’t explain or excuse the countless terrible things he does here.

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Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You

... but have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour?

dir: Boots Riley

2018

Any film can go off the rails in its third act, but few do it in such a bonkers, catastrophic fashion. If you’re going to crash and burn, I say do it as spectacularly as possible, and this flick certainly gives it a red hot go.

I could not even begin to describe what genre this movie slots into. I guess you could kind of say it was a comedy? Corporate satire with racial / social commentary? I mean, it’s pretty funny in parts, but it tries to do so much in its running time that to say it transcends traditional restrictions in favour of making an insane set of literal and allegorical points would really not even scratch the surface.

Maybe it’s just easier to call it a satire, though a satire of late-stage capitalism and the pretentiousness of performance art, or the way African-Americans have to commodify themselves in order to eke out a living, I could not rightly say. It’s saying something, or a lot of somethings, it’s just that I don’t know ultimately what it means, if anything.

Our Hero Cassius, or Cash as he’s referred to more often, is played by Lakeith Stanfield, probably best known for playing Darius in the FX series Atlanta. The characters, at least initially, aren’t that dissimilar. He also had a brief but memorable role in Get Out, as someone who clearly wasn’t feeling like himself anymore.

Here he’s a financially disadvantaged bum who lives in his uncle’s garage, and is desperate for work. We see him trying to put 40 cents of petrol in his car, one which needs literal strings to be pulled in order to get the wipers moving. I wouldn’t have mentioned the uncle except that the uncle is played by the sublime Terry Crews, who is confidently working towards taking over America by appearing in everything and on everything. If there is only one person on the planet I can accept getting to refer to themselves in the third person, and there is only one, it’s Terry.

I have however expended more words in the last paragraph than Terry gets in the whole flick. Let me not give the impression that Cash’s uncle Sergio plays any significant part in the proceedings. He doesn’t, other than as an occasional antagonist.

Cash tries to lie his way into a job at a telemarketing place. He unfortunately perpetrates a bit of resume padding claiming he worked as a manager at the Bank of Oakland during a particular time period, not knowing of course that the jerk interviewing him was the manager at that bank at the same time. Other places would show you the door, but this is telemarketing, of course, where being an awful person is its own reward and a valuable skill. Cash’s initial attempts to sell bullshit to people on the phone fails because the second people hear his voice they hang up.

An old hand at the job, Langston (Danny Glover), advises Cash to speak with his white voice. A voice that reassures the listener, that calms and comforts them, radiating ease and privilege, a voice that never knows want or fear of being able to pay the rent. When Cash finally masters that kind of voice, his rise through the ranks becomes stratospheric.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

So quirky there should be laws against it, forcing them to go on the run

dir: Taika Waititi

2016

Sometimes you watch a trailer and say to yourself “I must watch that movie.” Sometimes you watch the movie, and think “That movie was nothing like the trailer, and now I am sad.” Other times you watch the movie and say “that was exactly like the trailer, but eh.”

But this time? This time? I was really excited about seeing Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we saw it (as a family), and I loved it thoroughly and utterly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have seen it as a family? I thought it would skirt the edges of its PG rating, but it kinda went a tad further than I would have expected. Having your nine-year-old daughter ask you out loud at the Westgarth Cinema on a Friday night “What’s a molesterer?” is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I was, at least in some respects, pre-programmed to enjoy this. I loved Waititi’s film Boy, liked What We Do In the Shadows, and occasionally enjoyed Flight of the Conchords (the tv show he occasionally directed, whereas the band will always rank in my heart as the greatest musicians to ever come out of New Zealand except for all the other ones).

Taika makes some very quirky movies, filled to the brim with quirky characters and 80s aesthetics. Sometimes it’s oppressive. Sometimes it gibes just right with the material. In this case, it’s a pretty good fit (in terms of the actors, the quirks, and the story).

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