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False Positive

Positive False

Is that injection... going to make my hair flat forever?

dir: John Lee

2021

This movie sounds like a lot of things.

First of all, it sounds like a parody of a thriller, with a title that sounds like one of the movie titles they parodied in Seinfeld. No shit, I distinctly remember there was a movie the crew really wanted to see called Prognosis Negative.

Second, they take an actor and comedian famous for her curly black hair, being Ilana Glazer, and give her this ironed down wig look in a pretense of WASPy normality. I’m pretty sure it’s a wig. Although, I say “famous for”, but I guess people who didn’t watch the charming and chaotic Broad City, in which Ilana and Abbi Jacobson ruled might have no idea who she is. But why would you take someone so funny and give them nothing funny to do? Who is your imagined audience for this? Anxious potential parents?

Presumably they’re watching this for Justin Theroux. Or maybe they’re big fans of Pierce Brosnan?

Third, they take a well known horror concept (a woman giving over her body to an alien parasite, otherwise known as a baby), and freaking out for the whole pregnancy thinking people are out to hurt her or the baby, but invert it because a) she is paranoid and delusional but b) they are out to get her. And it gives every reviewer over forty an excuse to mention Rosemary’s Baby, but in my case it's only to say Roman Polanski is still a piece of shit.

The movie starts with Lucy (Ilana Glazer) walking down a street, covered in blood, so we can easily assume that something not quite right is going to be happening to her.

But then we presumably cut to the past, where she and her already creepy husband are trying and failing to get her pregnant. He’s a doctor of some description, and she’s a successful marketing type person who her colleagues are in awe of (up until the moment where her pregnancy is seen as a reason to push her to the side). She actually says at one point “I could be one of those women that actually has it all”. Has anyone in the history of grand set ups to have everything fall down around them ever said anything different?

There’s the level to engage with such a story in a way that is relatable and human: those of us in couples who’ve tried to have kids and lost them, or persisted and lost them again, or eventually had them after nine months of torment for the mother (followed by another year of no sleep), only to have not everything go like clockwork, or the house look like a White Woman’s Instagram page.

Then there are the unlucky people who’ve had to follow the more fraught route of donors, of fertility treatments and IVF, of very expensive treatments, losing them again and again, feeling like it was all for nothing if you don’t at least get a baby at the end of it. It’s the sunk cost fallacy of gambling addiction applied to having children, and it’s terrifying to consider.

That’s the stage Lucy and Adrian are at when they turn to the immediately creepy Dr Hindle (Brosnan), who has a perfectly polite and paternalistic manner meant to put people at ease, but, honestly, even if the soundtrack wasn’t signalling to us that something off was happening, his weird dialogue would leave us in no doubt.

From the get go he’s saying stuff about how he’s put a part of himself in so many people, and how he’s a part of all these families going forward, and how he’s so awesome he just wishes he could clone himself, and it’s the only bit of this horror set up that comes from real life, in that he’s telling us openly what he’s planning on doing: impregnating all these desperate women with his genetic material.

It’s…ew. It’s so wrong. I’m not even going to pretend I was a genius for figuring that out right from the start, but it was disgustingly obvious, and we were meant to think it, because Lucy does too.

Rating:

The Woman in the Window

Woman in the Window

Seems like she needs a Netflix subscription of her own, then
none of this would have happened

dir: Joe Wright

2021

This was fun.

I mean, it’s trash (everything I am seeing at the moment seems like different forms of highly differentiated trash), but, for me, it’s highly enjoyable lurid trash.

A lot of critics, reviewers and other humans seemed to hate it because of either what it is or what it isn’t, but I found it enjoyable enough.

Amy Adams is great. She’s great in everything, and she’s great here. A lot of people won’t admit that because they hate or are made uncomfortable by the character she plays here, but I thought she maintained a solid performance throughout, and didn’t overact. There’s one scene where everything kinda shifts, and she slightly transforms into Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, but she carried it off beautifully, I thought.

The two strikes against this movie is that a) it’s a pretty unabashed update on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which, despite being such a cliché in the canon of great films, is still a fucking great film. The second is that it’s based on a book (boo hiss). And it seems to have come out at around the time where there are a million fucking mystery thrillers about Women With Dragon Tattoos or Girls on Trains or who look through Windows or who just exist and do stuff. There’s even a flick from the 1940s called The Woman in the Window, but it’s got nothing to do with this story.

No, it’s its own gosh darned fucking thing. Based on a book I’ll never read by A.J Finn, this is about a shut-in called Anna (Amy Adams) who lives in a three-four-storey brownstone in Manhattan. She has an absent husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman), and hang on to your hat for the explanation of where they are. There are these conversations between Anna and absent husband, and absent daughter, and, at the end of the flick you’ll wonder what the absolute fuck they were meant to be. They’re recorded to sound like phone conversations or phone recordings, but, really, they’re nonsense.

Anna has issues, apparently. She can’t bring herself to leave the house, she takes rafts of prescription drugs, and she drinks a lot of wine. She spends a lot of time looking out of her windows and across the street. Though she can see into a few places, the main place she looks is where the Russells have just moved in, having bought the brownstone across the street.

Almost nothing good, if you can remember your movies set in New York, ever happens in brownstones. I don’t exactly know why, but every time a story is set in a brownstone, I know people are going to get hacked apart and murderised.

Rating:

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man

We all now know what it's like being afraid of something
invisible in 2020.

dir: Leigh Whannell

2020

The Invisible Man is a pretty great film about something terrible, being intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, as it used to be more commonly known. Domestic violence, a horror of a concept and a reality for those who live through it (even worse from those who die from it), almost sounds so quaint: the “domestic” part of it binds it to the house, but the sadism, the control, the unwillingness to allow someone to leave a relationship means this form of terrorism extends to anywhere.

Cecilia (the almost always great in absolutely everything she does Elizabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night, someone slumbers next to her. She looks afraid but determined to do something. Since she’s got things packed, and she’s being extra careful, we know she can’t afford to wake up the sleeping jerk. With how afraid she appears we sense that this isn’t someone reluctantly leaving someone she cares about for…reasons and such: We sense that she is terrified of him, to the point where she had to drug him to make sure he doesn’t wake up, with the terrible repercussions that could follow.

The best laid plans of mice, men and women trying to flee abusive, controlling relationships always have to confront the random events that cause everything to fall over, but Cecilia barely gets away regardless. There is no long, drawn out sigh of relief. She pretty much holds her breath for the rest of the film, and only breaths out in the way that I mean at the very end.

Because, you see, some people cannot tolerate being left by someone. Their narcissistic egos won’t allow it, their absolute need for control won’t allow it, and the jerk here, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) will spend his every waking moment trying to force Cecilia to change her mind and come back to him.

The method, you would think, considering the title, would involve some kind of magic, technology or, I dunno, malicious prayers answered by a vengeful patriarchal god. But the tack that this film takes is to apply something out of the ordinary (invisibility) to an all too common purpose; that of tormenting and isolating Cecilia while making everyone else think she’s nuts. And also, the classic, making her doubt her own sanity.

Rating:

The Perfection

The Perfection

Just keep practicing, it's the only way to get to Carnegie Hall

dir: Richard Shepard

2019

That was… a decidedly macabre experience.

Some films live for their twists. Others pay lip service to the twist, and just dangle it as an afterthought at the end, which often undoes much of the goodwill a film might have earned along the way. Others are so dependent on their twists that getting invested in the story seems pointless once you know that the rug is going to be pulled out enough times such that there’s nothing left to believe in anymore, man. The whole System is corrupt, Man!

But some films, like this one, and the great recent Korean flick The Handmaiden, have twists baked into the production, meaning we couldn’t predict what was coming, or why, but it at least enhances the story even as it keeps changing course in whiplash-inducing ways.

We think we know what’s going on. We don’t really know what’s going on, until the very end.

The Perfection refers to… something, I’m not entirely sure what. It might be the level of excellence required by the elite classical musicians of this strange world. It could also be a short cut phrase to the almost-cult like mentality of the musicians trained at the 1 % of the 1 % that is the Backoff Academy, run like a personal fiefdom by Anton (Steven Weber).

Rating:

Searching

Searching

Nothing good comes from sitting in a dark room on the internet...

dir: Aneesh Chaganty

2018

This is a really keen film that transcends its gimmick (of almost entirely transpiring on the screens of multiple computers, phones, security cam footage and police interviews), to be more a story about the lengths one parent will go to save their child than about the technology it uses.

That sounds like a simple premise, and, in American hands, it seems to, at least recently, involve Liam Neeson killing a bunch of foreigners in order to save his daughter / ex-wife from multiculturalism. Those of us who are parents (and who, on average, like being parents) are compelled by stories like this to wonder about the lengths we would go to in order to protect or save our kids. Rarely do we see it as a negative.

Searching stars the great John Cho, world renowned as the Harold from Harold and Kumar Do Some Dumb Shit while on Drugs trilogy, for taking over the Sulu role in Star Trek from the equally legendary George Takei, and scrambling for decades as a tv guy in a million blink and you'll miss them roles.

He's pretty memorable, though. He's got a certain amount of presence. In this he's not playing an avenging vigilante parent or some kind of action hero. He's mostly just an American guy who works in Northern California and lives with his family, wife and daughter, and would probably prefer not to have to endure such a hideous drama.

The first ten minutes of the film are a study in how you can rip off the accelerated storytelling of a scene like the beginning of Pixar's Up, make it your own, make it work, and not be accused of abject plagiarism. Really, it’s a (banal) master class, it truly is. Even with its montage-like effect, it still gives you enough reasons to care about the family and what happens to them, even if you’ve barely spent any time with them yet.

We meet David (John Cho), Pam (Sara Sohn) and Margot Kim (eventually played by Michelle La) through the various milestones and home video-type stuff that accompanies modern life in the so-called Western world. 1st day's at school, Father's Day, first piano recitals, all that stuff. In between the various elements of a family's lives are the unavoidable hints that something is terribly medically wrong with Pam, and it just keeps getting worse as she battles with, and eventually succumbs to, lymphoma.

Some time passes, and we get to watch the interactions, via phones and chat apps, between a father and daughter that have lost an incredibly important person in their lives, and who are unsure how to carry on. David is, like a typical guy, all "let's just keep moving forward like that person I never mention is just in the other room and never talk about it", and poor Margot, who your heart breaks for, clearly is yearning to talk about the person who’s no longer there, but just doesn’t feel like she can with her dad.

Rating:

Mute

Mute

See, it's a giant neon mouth, and he can't talk. Makes you
think, huh.

dir: Duncan Jones

2018

I can’t… It’s not…

I’m trying to find nice things to say about Mute, and I can’t. I really wanted to like it, I was excited when I heard Duncan Jones had a flick coming out, and when I heard the premise for this, but, having endured this weird smorgasbord of shiteness, which just kept going on and on far longer than it deserved to, I actually come away from the experience feeling cheated and disgruntled.

It’s not like I paid to watch it, well, not like I paid extra beyond my monthly Netflix subscription. This falls under the somewhat interesting banner of movies actually “made” by Netflix, not just a movie that Netflix overpaid for first screening rights. Of the three “Netflix Exclusives!!!” that I recall seeing over the last year, this is by far – BY FAR – the worst.

The problem here, just to be a glib smartarse, is that it is terrible, which is a shame, because the central performance, despite being ill-conceived, is actually all right. Good, yet baffling.

Alexander Skarsgaad has nothing to be ashamed about here. He is, in fact, practically the only good thing in the whole grating experience. And that isn’t enough, I’m sad to say, because the other stuff is so fucking awful.

For the longest time it’s been like I’ve been reluctant to ever really give a flick a critical bollocking, or that when I watch something truly terrible I don’t even bother reviewing it because it’s like rubbing salt into my own wounds getting me to waste even more of my precious time. But some movies stand out in their singular awfulness, and need time and attention paid to them in order to try to stop them happening again.

Rating:

Green Room

Green Room

I'm with the band, I swear. No, wait, nah, I'm not with the band,
never heard of them, let me out of here, please?

dir: Jeremy Saulnier

2016

As usual, instead of talking about the film I’m meant to be reviewing, I’m going to squander much of the start of the review and much of your patience talking about a completely different film. And I have to do that, or at least I feel like I have to do that, in order to point out what attracted me to the film under review in the first place.

Yes, this review is about Green Room, but the reason why I so desperately sought out Green Room is because I loved this director’s previous flick Blue Ruin ever so much. I loved it down to its gritty, grimy bones. It’s one of the best flicks of its kind that I’ve seen for decades, mostly because I haven’t seen anything like it in decades.

And Green Room, despite having a completely different story, has plenty of what I loved so much about Blue Ruin. There is craft involved here, real craft on the director’s part, and I really, really appreciate it.

And more!

Rating:

The Two Faces of January

Two Faces of January

Her name is not January, and she only has one face.
Confusion ensues

dir: Hossein Amini

2014

Something being based on a Patricia Highsmith novel isn’t always a guarantee of quality, but it is often enough to pique my interest. And if you cast Viggo Mortensen in something, well, I’m halfway through the door.

Kristen Dunst? Eh, not so much, but Oscar Isaacs I really like. The Two Faces of January is essentially a three-hander, something of a period piece, probably set in the 1960s. It’s something of a low-key thriller, but not in the sense that it’s like a spy action film or anything. It’s about a con artist (Isaacs), who gets caught up with a couple of con artists (Dunst and Mortensen), where you start to wonder who is better at it, and who is going to get what they want, and how many people are going to be left alive at the end of it.

The setting is Greece, and it’s filmed in such a way that makes it look a thousand times nicer than it actually is. Also, being set in the last century, it helpfully avoids having to acknowledge the current dire economic circumstances, and saves on costumes (most of the old people in the flick are wearing their own ‘vintage’ clothing from the 1960s without having even to be asked). In fact many of those old Greek people probably don’t even know the war is over.

Rating:

Trance

Trance

This is not a glitch. It's really meant to look like this

dir: Danny Boyle

Trance. Trance. Trance. Trance isn’t the film you might think it is.

It's definitely nothing to do with trance music, in case you were worried.

It’s probably more accurate for me to say that it wasn’t the flick I thought it was.

I went into this expecting one thing, and I got a whole heap of others thrown at me, though I walked into it remembering one or two things about Danny Boyle.

He may have won Oscars, and directed the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics, but you have to remember that this is the same game who made Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

Yes, you can argue about A Life Less Ordinary almost destroying the cinematic medium for all time, erasing the good films out there from the last century, but he remains a director who enjoys a good shock.

Trance is a fairly low-budget (looking) but stylish movie about something fairly high-concept: human memory, and how malleable it might be.

Rating:

Syrup

Syrup

He has a very punchable face, that's for sure,
and they both look very happy to be here

dir: Aram Rappaport

Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;

or

Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;

or

Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;

or

Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.

The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.

Rating:

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