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6 stars

Free Guy

Free Guy

Oh look it's generic Guy in his generic Tie, looking so
generically Fly

dir: Shawn Levy

2021

Free Guy is the recent update to The Truman Show that you never knew you wanted and probably aren’t going to enjoy that much anyway. It does have the benefit of not having Jim Carrey in it.

On a different hand entirely, you may find Ryan Reynolds even more annoying that Carrey in his SMOKIN’ prime, in which case you are never going to watch this flick and why would you care anyway?

Yes, this is perennial fratboy Reynolds’ gig, in which he is in almost every scene and talks to us, the lucky audience, in voiceover, constantly. This is literally one of those movies where if the main character isn’t on screen, any other character is talking about him. He is the one who wakes up in the same place, dresses the same way, experiences the same day every day for our amusement

The city in which he lives, being Free City, is like something out of a computer game. Specifically, it’s a very violent but cartoonishly so game, in which there are two classes of people from Guy’s perspective. Oh yeah, the main guy played by Reynolds is called Guy, or Blue-Shirt Guy. How generic, you might think. Anyway, there are the regular shmoes like Guy, and then there are cool people who wear sunglasses and commit all the crimes and have what seems like agency and self-determination.

Guy wants to have self-determination and agency too. He has a best friend called Buddy (Lil Rel Howery), but Buddy doesn’t aspire to anything. Every time the bank in which he works is attacked by robbers, he drops his gun belt to the floor and lies on the ground, as does Guy, who is a teller in that bank.

I don’t know that it’s that much of a spoiler to mention that this is a game, and these “characters” are what are generally referred to as NPCs or Non-Player Characters, and that the people with sunglasses are avatars for actual people in the “real” world who play this game.

The thing is, though, at least at first, all the other NPCs stick to their stock scripts. They are very limited in their programming. They have no hopes or aspirations.

But not Guy. Like Wall-E in the Pixar flick of the same name, something magical has happened over time that has raised the humble program to something more complex. But like Emmett in The LEGO Movie, he’s the generically everyman Everyman who exists in a constructed world not of his making for the amusement or therapy of someone else within the movie. Media within media.

That is, if you can accept the concept of Ryan Reynolds as a generic everyman character, which I don’t think anyone can.

Rating:

Candyman

Candyman 2021

Don't say his name, he just wants the attention so he can
murderise more people

dir: Nia DaCosta

2021

Such a shame. I’m not angry or sad, just a bit disappointed.

I utterly adore the original Candyman. I think it’s one of the classic horror flicks of the era, and a classic in its own right. Seriously! I’m not even kidding or being facetious, or calling it a guilty pleasure or anything like that.

And I acknowledge that there are problematic elements to it, not least of which is the fact that it was based on a story by (pasty) British horror writer Clive Barker, and directed by (pasty) British director Bernard Rose, and that despite being set in Chicago at notorious projects / public housing known as Cabrini-Green, the main character was (pasty) Virginia Madsen.

There’s nothing wrong with being pasty. There are a lot of things wrong with being a pastie, or even a pastry, because you will get eaten, and I’ve never thought pasties are that great. In fact, I have always loathed them. But that’s not important right now; what is important is that Virginia Madsen was pretty great in Candyman., and has always been pretty great in everything she’s ever done.

But a story like this… remade today, it can’t be centered around a WASP academic trying to track down an urban myth and finding horror, brutality and death at the hands of a supernatural spectre.

Instead it’s centered around an African-American couple who live in the hoity toity kinds of bougie apartments that have replaced the demolished towers of Cabrini Green with loft refurbs and tasteful copper lighting. Although… holy fuck, they’re not really that different from a middle class academic with research and tenure on her mind.

If anything, they’re somehow even worse. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Paris) are a painter and a gallery director respectively. Ew. Gross. We’ve replaced the pretentiousness of academia with the even somehow worse pretentiousness of the art scene. They struggle for relevance in an art world that is only even barely polite to their faces. Just in case you were wondering, yes, rich white people in the art world can be just as racist as your man down the pub who’s just asking questions and going to anti-lockdown rallies and doing their own research about virus treatments.

Rating:

Malignant

Malignant

Dario Argento must be spinning in his grave. Quick, someone
kill him so he can spin in his grave already!

dir: James Wan

2021

Well, well, well, if it isn’t the most bonkers horror flick of 2021.

Nothing will top this, not this year. The virus could mutate into something that attacks people on public transport with fangs and teeth, or that slits throats at family gatherings or makes ivermectin shoot out of people’s noses, and it still won’t be as insane / dumb / manic as what happens in this flick.

Australia’s Own James Wan has been making massive blockbustery monstrosities for years now, but his heart seems to belong to the horror genre. I guess once you’ve directed so many Saws and Conjurings and Annabelles, there’s strengths you believe you have as a director that you want to play to. He pulls out all the stops trying to maximise the virtuosity of the incredible camerawork in the service of a flick where someone or something just kills a bunch of people in gruesome and specific ways.

He’s not pretending that he reinvented the genre: he’s specifically proceeding in the ways that seem to honour Dario Argento and the other Italian hacks that birthed the misbegotten child of giallo cinema into an unwilling and unsuspecting world.

And before I proceed any further, let me clarify that Argento was and still remains the hackiest of hacks ever. He has made films so terrible that I shudder just remembering them. But he made a few okay ones. Suspiria may be a classic, but I would say that Malignant probably draws from the Profundo Rosso / Deep Red and Tenebrae side of things rather than the supernatural ones, but hey, it’s not like it matters. Even Argento would probably never had twists as bonkers as this flick does.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is pregnant, and has a terrible, shitty, violent husband who won’t be around long enough to matter, and nor will I even record his name or the actor’s either, such was my disgust with him. The important thing to note is that he assaults his heavily pregnant wife by bashing her head against a wall.

He is soon dead, and very violently dead at that, and Madison loses the baby. She tells her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) how desperately she wanted a child in order to have a biological connection to someone.

For, you see, Madison was…adopted!

Huh. It’s meant to be a surprise to Sydney, but not to us because we saw a bit at the beginning of the film that presumably Sydney hasn’t seen yet. On video tape no less. Video tape aesthetics play a surprisingly big role in this flick. The camera even goes into the workings of a VHS player at some point. I’m not sure why. Does anyone even have VHS players any more? And if so why? Are they waiting for tapes to become cool again the way vinyl has?

No, it’s to remind us of a time when the way most of us brought horror into our lives wasn’t from being born into shitty families or even shittier circumstances, but from hiring tapes from places, bringing them home, closing the blinds, and watching people do unspeakable stuff for 90 or so minutes.

Rating:

Zola

@Zola

I regret saying yes now too

dir: Janicza Bravo

2021

I think Zola could be the most stressful film I’ve watched all year. I’m not that keen on stressful movies at the moment, and had I known I probably wouldn’t have submitted myself to this kind of scuzzy rollercoaster ride through what could be the dumbest state in all of the US.

But I guess it has other virtues, too.

You haven’t seen many films based on a string of 148 tweets, but if you have, here is another one. The point of this story is that a woman had a terrible experience trusting some dingbats, and this is the story that unfolded. She at least lived to tweet about the ordeal, some others weren’t as lucky.

Taylour Paige stars as the Zola of the title. Instead of playing French writer Emil Zola, author of classic novel Germinal outlining the misery of poor coal miners and their miserable families, she instead plays a waitress who is befriended by someone she possibly shouldn’t have befriended. Stefani (Riley Keough) is a white sex worker chaperoned around by her pimp X (Colman Domingo), whose technique in bringing Zola into their orbit consists of calling her “bitch” affectionately at either the beginning of or end of each sentence that she speaks. For lack of a better descriptor, Stefani talks “black”, and somehow that isn’t a red flag to Zola, who’s African-American.

Almost everything Zola says, either out loud or in voice over narration to us, is taken from the tweet storm originally birthed out into the world back in 2015. Paige delivers all this truncated dialogue with minimum inflection and maximum venom.

She has been friends with Stefani for about a day before she is lured into travelling a long way to Florida from Detroit. I don’t know heaps about US geography, but I know enough to know that Detroit is in Michigan, and borders Canada, and Florida is at the other end of the map, dangling its way into the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a long-arsed car ride.

What’s worse is that, as sketchy as this all seems, and as mistrustful as Zola seems right from the start, none of that stops her from getting sucked into a maelstrom of bad decisions and worse intentions. Nominally it’s about earning some money, making bank, but Zola doesn’t even seem to be that interested in that.

Some of us, in our youth, have experiences that we had with people we barely knew but thought we connected with, people you’ve met at a bar or club or night out. Substances might have been involved. Anyway, against your better judgement, you find yourself on the other side of town in a car full of people you know nothing about, and you might have that moment like “what the fuck am I doing here?”, and that can be before the driver hits 200km per hour or someone drops a gun out of the sunroof and before the cops get involved.

Rating:

The Green Knight

Green Knight

Don't you... forget about me, don't don't don't don't

dir: David Lowery

2021

I didn’t really get this flick. A bunch of reviewers liked the fuck out of it, and praised it as one of the most visionary flicks of the year, but I was mostly baffled by it.

Based on a story written 600 years ago or so, this would seem to be the odd kind of quest film where the hero, who starts off a callow and debauched piece of shit, pretty much gets nothing right for two hours on the path to fame and fortune, and gets nothing in return. Maybe had I been in a different mood its perversity would have greatly appealed to me, but I was in the mood I was in, and I can’t change that. Maybe subsequent viewings will give me different thoughts and feelings about it, but at the moment it leaves me pretty cold.

I like to hope that it isn’t because I’d formed a picture in my head of what it was going to be like, or what it “should” have been like instead. Though long a fan of stuff like Excalibur and the Arthurian legend stuff, at least when I was a kid, I wasn’t expecting it to be a straight retelling or a ginned-up contemporary take on sword and sorcery epics and such. I think Dev Patel is extraordinary in almost everything he does, and he’s probably perfect in the role. It’s just that the bafflement he wears on his face for all of the flick is the same bafflement I feel having watched it.

When the story opens, Gawain (Patel) wakes up hungover next to his working girl lover, Essel (Alicia Vikander). He spends his days drinking and his nights fucking, which is probably what the good Lord intended when us humans were intelligently designed. But it’s Christmas, and he has to go spend time with his uncle, who happens to be king (Sean Harris).

The king laments that he does not know his nephew, and the nephew pretty much points out “not much to know, haven’t really done anything yet”, probably with a bit of shame in his voice.

But lo, who appears in the king’s hall, wanting to play a Christmas game, but the Green Knight! He passes a note saying he wants to play a game where someone strikes him, and then in a year’s time, he gets to return the blow to the person who did it. Plus they get to keep his massive axe, presumably for a year. The knight is, like, a tree in the shape of a man, so he’s not a normal looking person.

Wanting to impress his uncle, Gawain wants to play, lops off the knight’s head, and thinks “instant legend!” But then the knight picks up his head, and says “see you in a year”, and off he goes.

Rating:

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad 2021

This looks fun, especially if you're trapped in a lockdown
and can't go anywhere

dir: James Gunn

2021

Every review of this starts with “the first one was pretty shit”, and, indeed, Suicide Squad was pretty shit. Who knew just making another one with many of the same characters, adding a “The” to the front, and setting most of it in daylight would make a profound difference to so many people?

The Suicide Squad is not really that much better than its predecessor. It looks better, because it probably had a bigger budget. It benefits from James Gunn’s brutish, comedic sensibilities, but it also suffers from them too. It employs the (what I think of as lazy) technique of doubling back and explaining something that happened a few minutes ago in order to explain how a person right now probably isn’t going to be murdered by the person standing over them., which became tedious 4 Guy Ritchie films ago.

It has massive action set pieces that don’t really feel that real, a villain who’s controlling the squad, who’s somehow worse than the threats they’re facing (Viola Davis, with all the venom and cold fury you’d expect and demand), way too many characters who are thankfully whittled down quickly to a core group, a strangely generic island nation in the Caribbean or off the coast of South America, and plenty of splatter and humour.

We watch the core business of this Dirty Dozen construct occur pretty quickly right from the start: a group of crims is put together, has an explosive inserted into their brains which can be exploded if they don’t follow orders or try to flee, they try to do the mission, then almost all of them die.

And then of course the credits start, to the tune of The Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died”, and the credits are basically a raucous In Memoriam for a bunch of dickheads who died within seconds of the movie starting, and who (in most cases) we will never see again.

Of this group (yes, I am going to belabor several points, why do you ask?), there is Pete Davidson, of Saturday Night Live fame, playing one of the “villians” called Blackguard. When I heard that Davidson was going to be in a Suicide Squad movie, and that so were thirty or more other people as well, I guessed pretty easily that he would be dead within minutes.

If the flick can be said to be surprising, it’s that it takes even less than that! Way to go Pete! Your post-SNL career is off to a great start.

It then backtracks to show us another completely different team being set up, with a different leader, and a similar objective, but, really, are they the main team, and the other is the distraction? It’s hard to tell. The people running stuff, under Amanda Waller’s direction, seem both good at their jobs of running black ops, but also kinda half-arsed and haphazard, as in almost random in their bad choices.

The leader of the ‘real’ group is called Bloodsport (Idris Elba), which is pretty much a generic name so generic that I keep having to remind myself what the name was by looking it up. And I have a passing familiarity with DC comics, so it shouldn’t be so hard. And yet it is.

Rating:

Fast & Furious 9

Fast Furious 9

Very colourful, way too many characters, but lots of colours

dir: Justin Lin

2021

The physics insulting bullshit rolls on and on…

This film series is renowned for violating everything we know about what cars and people can physically do on this plane of reality, but they’ve somehow upped the ante in two key ways – they put two characters in goddamn space, just beating the billionaires who went on their joyrides to the upper atmosphere by days, and now they feel like they can just add whoever they feel like, and say that long established characters have entire families they’ve never told anyone about.

It's really soap opera bullshit when you do shit like that, and this series has been indulging in that kind of shit since about the 4th one onwards. They’ve done the tropes where someone you thought was dead isn’t dead a couple of times, and they’ve even done the one where someone everyone else thinks is dead is alive, but HAS AMNESIA.

They’ve done the one where the ‘hero’ is forced to ‘pretend’ to be a bad guy because of a surprise baby someone is holding hostage, but they can’t tell anyone about it because reasons.

They haven’t done the one where someone has an evil twin, with the same actor playing both roles, which would have been great, with maybe Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) also playing an evil twin he never spoke about or knew about, called Tom, or Don Toretto, which is just Vin Diesel with a fake goatee.

Save it for the next one, definitely. Instead they decide to invent and wedge in a new character, being Dom’s hitherto unmentioned younger brother Jakob, so that John Cena has something to do. Now, as ex-wrestlers go, I don’t actually dislike John Cena, but when you’ve already brought in The Rock to play a superfluous character, you either have to stop providing charity work to ex-wrestlers or, alternatively, get all the old wrestlers.

I’m not talking about Andre the Giant or Randy Macho Man Savage or the Ultimate Warrior, because they’re all dead, and even they can’t be brought back to life by the keystrokes of a screenwriter. But they should at least get CM Punk, the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, just anyone to annoy The Rock. They wouldn’t have to do much, except maybe drive a car? But they’d definitely earn their paycheck by grimacing and grunting at the appropriate times.

Cena shows us what a lot of muscular definition, mass and probably heroic amounts of human growth hormone does to a person: gives them a face like an Easter Island statue. He is a villain, for the most part, and has one of the most pointlessly convoluted reasons for ‘hating’ his brother Dom, and Dom for hating him. It involves something that happened to their father, but the way it’s resolved involves Dom having a near death experience and somehow accessing memories from thirty years ago in order to realise “oh, wait, that thing I blamed Jakob for happened differently”.

Rating:

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:

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