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6 stars

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:

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.

Rating:

In the Earth

In the Earth

Doesn't look ominous at all, not in the slightest

dir: Ben Wheatley

2021

At last. Now we’re getting the real pandemic movies starting to come out. Not just ones that people fall over themselves backwards saying shit like “a story with added resonance because of the global etc etc” that were actually made three years ago and languished on a shelf.

This was made in England in August of last year, 2020. You couldn’t get more pandemic than that. The only way would be if you had Boris Johnson himself stacking the bodies high when hundreds of thousands of people needlessly died.

That would be a very different film than this one. Ben Wheatley used to make cheap and nasty horror flicks, then he graduated to more respectable fare (if one can actually posit that a JG Ballard adaptation of High-Rise is actually respectable fare), then a remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca for Netflix that no-one liked, and now back to cheap and nasty horror flicks.

It’s been a wild ride. Martin (Joel Fry) is a scientist trying to get to somewhere where another scientist is doing something. People are adhering to social distancing and masking up and all that crap, but it’s almost like the restrictions are more intense, in that either they’re being mocked, or in this version of reality, the virus is even worse than our one.

To get to this place that he has to get to, Martin has to follow a park ranger called Alma (Ellora Torchia) for two days as they hike into the wilderness. There are not meant to be other people around, but there are signs that people have been camping.

And then they’re attacked, and their shoes / boots are stolen.

There is meant to be something supernatural happening, but the real problem, like the problem many of us face in our lives beyond the presence of supernatural entities, is that there is an absolute nutter in the forest called Zach (Reece Shearsmith). Zach is polite enough, but it’s pretty obvious immediately that he is planning on killing, torturing or even something worse Alma and Martin before too long. The curious thing, or perhaps the irrational thing is that, like in many other movies, our protagonists despite being scared, and despite being repeatedly assaulted, tortured, stabbed and having toes cut off, they stick around far longer than a reasonable, rational person would bother.

Rating:

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat 2021

And you know, it ain't fiction, just a natural fact
We come together 'cause opposites attract

dir: Simon McQuoid

2021

I was wrong. I am often wrong, it’s not that big a deal, or that rare.

But in this instance what I was supremely wrong about is that I thought Godzilla Versus Kong was going to be the biggest, utterly fucking dumbest big budget flick of this year. For some reason I was convinced that, because we were going to be seeing flicks produced before 2020, that they were going to run out at some point, and plus a sense of proportion or shame was going to predominate in the minds of studio executives and producers.

They were going to look at the 3 million plus people who have died from the virus, and the many more whose lives have irrevocably changed, and they were going to think “Oo, should do something more respectful with our existences, and our privileges / wealth, shouldn’t we?”

How fucking wrong was I? The way forward, like it’s always been, even more so now, is to keep doubling down.

Mortal Kombat makes Godzilla versus Kong look like a Shakespearean play written by Professor Stephen Hawking produced by John Bell and starring Dame Judi Dench and even more of a Dame Maggie Smith duking it out over the neon-lit skies of Hong Kong in comparison.

It is so fucking dumb. But, and here’s where I do a heel turn so abrupt it brings whiplash even to me, which is only fair, Mortal Kombat movies have to be fucking dumb, because there is no other way to do them.

The “original” flick from the 90s was utter trash, the sequel Annihilation was somehow even more terrible, and this is the best of the lot, but they are all levels of potent trashy trash. Trash, and I’m ashamed of myself for what I’m going to write next, can still be plenty enjoyable.

This new Mortal Kombat is trash, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Rating:

Nobody

Nobody

Ouch looks painful zero stars

dir: Ilya Naishuller

2021

Who doesn’t feel like a nobody? Drowning in quiet desperation in the suburbs, repeating the same movements, actions and gestures every day, so deep in the ruts that constitute a life that even the people around you who you endure all this for barely seem to be able to see you anymore. And if they do, it’s with contempt, with a bit of loathing.

What to do, what to do…

Well, the average American has the options of : doing the hard work to develop one’s inner qualities, to expand one’s notion of the self and its place in the universe; devoting one’s life to helping others, or fighting for causes bigger than oneself.

Or, they could just get a gun and shoot people maybe?

The premise of this flick is the premise of a lot of flicks, it’s just that it doesn’t usually result in someone killing thousands of people. Killing people in order to feel alive again used to be frowned upon. Now it just seems like another path to self-fulfillment.

This is not a revenge thriller, nor is it Death Wish, where a wronged architect starts walking around New York killing ethnically diverse minorities for revenge and shits and giggles (three for the price of one). The John Wick comparison isn’t valid either. Wick was a retired assassin. Some jerk kills his dog and steals his car, so he gets to work. He kinda wants his car back and revenge for killing the dog, but mostly they just won’t leave the guy alone. He didn’t ask for this shit, but he will finish it over the course of 3 movies and a 4th installment for some insane reason.

The Nobody at the core of this flick did ask for this shit. A break-in at his home, where he lives with his wife who does not like him, if she ever did, and his kids, is the start of something big. As home invasions go, this one isn’t too horrific, especially since no-one dies, thankfully. But what it unearths is the seething contempt of his family against him, and his neighbours. Even the cops are like “why didn’t you even take a swing, bro?”

Everyone’s against him. But he’ll show them, won’t he? He’ll show them all that he’s a man to be feared.

Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but for many of us the lead here Bob Odenkirk is best known for his character of Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul, but even more so for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a testament, an absolute bedrock example of a show created with the premise of a middle-aged middle-class white guy feeling like life has passed him by, wishing he could do something extraordinary in order to feel alive again. It helps, for shows like that, that they cater mostly to whole multitudes of white, middle-aged, middle-class white guys who feel like life has passed them by and like if they did something violent and criminal, they’d be really good at it, not like those other lowlives…

Breaking Bad Saul is amoral, not particularly vicious, but without any moral compunctions about doing or saying anything no matter how awful. Better Call Saul Saul / Jimmy is desperate, hopeful, sweating, clinging to some vestige of credibility, fated to be morally destroyed.

He brings those same energies here, but the character is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense why any of this would be happening: this guy here called Hutch, used to be a hardcore assassin for the agencies known by their three-letter acronyms. He would kill the kinds of people too hard to kill legally, or too hard for the local police to pull over and shoot for no reason other than the car freshener hanging from the rear view mirror or something equally implausible. He chose to try the happy, sedate life of a suburban shmoe, but it does not sit well with his ego.

Rating:

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.

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:

Shadow in the Cloud

Shadow in the Cloud

She is ready to win this war, so get out of her way, scum

dir: Roseanne Liang

2020

So. This movie exists. It was made. And released. Kinda.

And what a bonkers movie it is. When I started watching it initially, and I saw the name “Max Landis” in the credits, I thought, eh. Landis is not best known for being the son of legendary director John Landis, who is not best known for making legendary films like Animal House, The Blues Brothers or An American Werewolf in London – he’s best known for getting Vic Morrow and two child actors killed on the set of The Twilight Zone movie due to unsafe filming practices.

And Landis junior isn’t best known now for writing the decent script for found footage superhero flick Chronicle, or American Ultra with Jesse Eisenberg as a stoner Jason Bourne / super assassin, he’s best known for multiple accusations of sexual assault and harassment.

So now that I know that, I’ll never watch anything new he’s involved with. I am assured by Wikipedia and multiple interviews online that while Max Landis wrote some script initially, it was completely re-written by Roseanne Liang, but his name still appears because of Writers Guild of America requirements.

Whatever. I think it’s very weird that an essential element of this flick, being some kind of gremlin that lives to destroy planes, is straight out of one of the segments from The Twilight Zone movie, which involved John Lithgow going more and more insane while seeing something on the wing of a plane destroying an engine, with no-one believing him. A movie, though not that segment, that his dad directed and nearly went to jail because of.

The difference here is that the lead character no-one believes at first is a woman (Chloë Grace Moretz), and it’s set during World War II in the Pacific, and she is the living embodiment of Rosie the Riveter, and her fighting a gremlin or bunch of gremlins on a B-17 bomber is the least implausible part of the script.

I don’t know exactly when this was made, but for most of the film her character of Flight Officer Maud Garrett is trapped in the turret underneath the bomber as it flies towards Guam, or somewhere else, hard to keep track. It’s almost as if the flick was trying to find cute work-arounds on how to make a flick during quarantine in a way that doesn’t make it obvious that everyone has to be kept away from everyone else. Or, since it seems like it was probably mostly made in June 2019, maybe it looks like a flick made in quarantine, but really it’s a flick made with a tiny budget.

Rating:

Saint Maud

St Maud

She's not even a redhead in the film. That's it, I'm going
to complain to Maud's manager

dir: Rose Glass

2020

Saint Maud is called, being reviewed as, categorised as, a horror film.

I’m not 100 per cent sure it is a horror film. It could be because I’m fairly jaded, or it could be because as a character study, it’s more depressing than shocking. The flick also isn’t scary in any sense, other than in the sense that it can be scary to watch someone harm others, harm themselves.

For me, in this instance, it was more unpleasant to watch, rather than scary. There are definitely horrible things that happen in the flick, all done by Maud (Morfydd Clark), and mostly to herself.

So for me it’s not horror. It’s disturbing, but most of all it made me feel tremendous sadness for the main character.

And by sadness I don’t mean my usual default setting of bursting into tears every time someone says something supportive towards someone, or the string section swells, or a puppy is saved, or any number of tear-jerking moments. I just feel really sad for her, is all.

While I find much of what happens in the flick disturbing or upsetting, what discomforts me the most is the difficulty I have separating what happens in the flick from what I feel like they’re saying about mental illness. The main character, I don’t think it’s any spoiler to point out, is profoundly mentally ill.

If she’s not profoundly mentally ill, then what she’s experiencing is something supernatural. Any time someone starts looking at the drawings of William Blake, either someone turns into a serial killer or they’re going to set fire to something big.

God, or Jesus or someone talks to her, occasionally. She feels the presence of the Lord, inside of her, sometimes. She sometimes feels moved to an almost religious level of ecstasy.

But it doesn’t last.

Rating:

Outside the Wire

Outside the Wire

Outside of the wire is a world of pure imagination, one which
the screenwriters had no access to

dir: Mikael Håfström

2021

Outside the Wire feels like it should be more memorable. It also feels like it should have a less generic title. It also feels like it shouldn’t have characters saying the phrase “outside the wire” every five minutes or so. I exaggerate often, and not only for the purposes of humour, but there are a ton of instances where someone says “so, have you been outside the wire?” or “It’s his first time outside the wire”, or “What do you mean, you’ve never been Outside the Wire?”

How can you live with yourself? Especially when you’ve never been outside the wire, nor watched The Wire in its entirety? So the phrases “Where’s Wallace, String, where the fuck is Wallace?” or “Omar coming!” mean nothing to you?

It’s…it’s not great when that happens, when people say the title of a film in a movie’s dialogue. It’s kinda cringy. What else is an audience going to do other than roll their eyes when they hear that past the fourteenth instance?

I don’t know whether anyone intended for this to ever get a theatrical release, but this is the perfectly appropriate kind of thing that is produced whenever I hear that Netflix has a new action-y flick coming out. I already know what it’s going to look and feel like. This, Extraction with the good Hemsworth, and a couple of heist movies called something like 999 or Triple Frontier or something equally generic, all basically feel the same and have a similar level of action and interest. There’s lots of guys shooting other guys in the head, so it feels like a mid-budget John Wick situation as well.

And there’s also some kind of premise which is usually overblown, and it’s set in a country where the local government doesn’t mind too many of its locals being blown way, probably for reals.

The difference between Outside the Wire and the other stock standard Netflix action-y flicks is that this has a harder sci-fi plot to itself, buried under what would otherwise be a standard shoot shoot punch punch movie. It’s also so extreme in its sci-fi premise that I’d argue it’s a bit hard to believe.

Staggering, I know. I mean, Extraction had Hemsworth take on all of Bangladesh and win, but this flick is the unbelievable one.

Rating:

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