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8 stars

The Dry

Dry

Don't look over there, look behind you. That's where the
stupid town is.

dir: Robert Connelly

2020

Just for something different I thought I’d watch an Australian film.

Ooo, how exotic!

This flick, really, couldn’t possibly have any surprises for me. After all, I’ve read the Jane Harper book which sold like hand sanitiser at the beginning of the epidemic. Everyone (at least people that catch public transport and still read books, which is the sum and total of people who still read books) read that book and the ones that came after, probably.

I read that one and stopped there. Not because I didn’t like it, because I kinda did, despite how formulaic it was. It’s just that my prejudice became “well, now she’s a prisoner of her own success, and everything she writes will be minor variations on this template.”

I’m too lazy to find out if that’s actually true. Maybe I’m just afraid to admit how wrong I am (I know I’m wrong; I am somewhat comfortable with that fact).

But The Dry, despite its formulaic nature, did resonate with me, or at least the parts of me that respond to those elements of the formula. A book like this can be and has been written in every language and in every nation. They aren’t necessarily all crime stories, but all these country town or village dramas proceed in a similar fashion, because it’s a story I think most people can relate to.

They’re always stories about belonging, or being ostracised, or starting off as a part of a tiny community, and then either fleeing or being cast out, and then being forced by circumstance to revisit the past, dredge up old traumas and solve outstanding riddles. It’s great.

I fully support it. So, Aaron (Eric Bana, perfectly cast) is a guy who grew up in a fictional far west Victorian town call call Kiewarra. It hasn’t rained in Kiewarra for a long goddamn time, which is a problem, because all it does is try to grow wheat in dusty fields. It’s one of those dwindling or dying towns, but none of that should matter.

Aaron left town as a teenager, literally chased out of town, after the death of one of his friends, something that clearly haunts him still. More than, I dunno, twenty years have passed, and people still act like he probably had something to do with it.

Yeah, it’s one of those country stories, like that other superb flick set in the country by Rachel Ward a bunch of years ago, Beautiful Kate. But that was about a family destroyed by tragedy and loneliness, whereas this story is about cruel shitbags and murderous greed.

Rating:

No Sudden Move

No Sudden Move

These guys, they are dangerous and ambitious, but they are
not as dangerous as those car companies.

dir: Steven Soderbergh

2021

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie that had “crime doesn’t pay” as its ultimate message. I mean, every film before the 1970s used to have that message: cops are good, crooks are bad, if you crime, you’ll die etc.

Even though this is set in 1950s Detroit, though, and this being Steven Soderbergh, who I’m sure said he was going to retire from filmmaking years ago, the ultimate message actually ends up being: crime doesn’t pay for you low-level shmucks; it only pays off for the fuckers at the top, to whom all money will flow regardless of the outcome.

Although, honestly, me saying that’s the point based on the outcome, and based on a speech a strange character delivers towards the end about how easily the $375,000 he’s being forced to give up is going to flow back to him anyway, skips the point that this film is really about showing us how the people doing stuff, legal or illegal, aren’t the ones that benefit from it. That everything is constructed thus to always benefit those who constructed the way the world works.

There’s a word that describes that view of the world, I just can’t put my Marxist finger on it just this second…

This was a pleasure to watch, most of the time, because there are a bunch of great actors in this, and they’re given time and room to breath and just exist as these people. I don’t mean that there are contemplative scenes where people shoot the breeze and talk at length about their motivations and histories and lives / personal philosophies. Way too much happens in this flick from a plot perspective, way too much, so there’s no time for such scenes. But what you have is people discussing what their next move should be, and why, in ways that might be consistent with who they are, and it’s plenty.

Three crims are hired by a handler to terrorise a family and force the jerk dad of that family (David Harbour) to go in to his work and steal a document from his boss’s safe.

It sounds simple enough, but everything perpetually goes “wrong” that you can imagine. The patriarch of the family, Matt Wertz, isn’t completely blameless in what’s happening, and is sleeping with his boss’s secretary, who expects him to leave the family now under siege.

Of the three crims, Curt is straight out of prison (Don Cheadle), the other is some kind of young psychopath (Keiran Culkin) and the third has the thickest head of hair I’ve ever seen on a human male (Benicio Del Toro). Del Toro’s character, Ronald Russo, is uncomfortable working with an African-American, because racism. He never utters the word you’re pretty sure he wants to say, but he often summarises an entire group of people with massive generalisations about greed and other dumb shit.

Rating:

A Quiet Place: Part 2

A Quiet Place 2

They really dropped the ball with that title. C'mon, surely
someone should have pitched "A Quieter Place" as a possibility. Third
will be The Quietest Place of All. Maybe I should suggest it

dir: John Krasinski

2021

The real victims of the pandemic: the people who made this film.

Not the 4 million or so who died, or those who lost people: those who were adamant that this film was going to come out in cinemas in March of 2020.

There were even posters up in bus stop shelters and on public transport in this fair city of Melbourne, because they were absolutely sure what we needed to see was a story where people are terrified to leave their houses because of an implacable enemy.

Well, they waited a year, and they got their wish. Some cinemas re-opened, and enough people went to see this to justify their strategy, their patience, the champs.

Their sacrifice = our gain. Lucky us.

Anyone who watched the first one and liked it should probably be grateful that they made another one. Anyone watching this one without watching the first one probably won’t be too baffled, since the premise is dirt simple – alien creatures that hear really well but can’t see shit arrive on Earth and kill almost everyone. A family, the only people we know are alive, tip-toed around and whispered or did hand signals to each other for the film’s entire length. Not everyone survives.

A Quiet Place: Part 2 – Electric Boogaloo starts with a scene before disaster befell America, showing us that the family we followed in the first movie lived in Smalltown USA upstate New York, where people went to their kid’s baseball games and apple pies quietly cooled on window sills before it all went to shit. Then it picks up directly after where the first movie ended.

A woman (Emily Blunt), and her two teenage kids, and a baby, somehow pick their way out of the remnants of the enclave they had built for themselves, where they were somehow safe against the monstrous onslaught. The birth of a baby can be traumatic for any number of reasons, but when it happens during a sound-hating alien apocalypse, it’s somehow even worse. They have to leave the place they were, walking to the end of the sand-laden path, beyond their safe space, into the unknown.

The one difference is that thanks to the efforts of their all-American super dad, they now have a weapon they can use against the sound-hating aliens. I mean, they used it at the end of the first flick, but now the plan is to kill even more of the nasties if they have to.

With more freedom comes more danger, because there’s really no shortage of new aliens. They previously thought there were only a few around, but it turns out that every time you kill one, another one comes to take its place. Or at least that’s how it seems.

Rating:

Censor

Censor

Forty whacks with that axe should sort everything out

dir: Prano Bailey-Bond

2021

Fucking hell. Whatever the Welsh is for “fucking hell”, kindly insert phrase here.

It’s one thing to be obsessed with the “video nasty” era of horror and of under-the-counter, brown paper bag stuff; it’s another thing entirely to try to replicate it successfully.

Censor is clearly made by people who remember that seedy era. I mean, I’m making a lot of assumptions, but they at the very least seem to get the aesthetics right, and the paranoid feel. There’s a lot going on here, and I’m not a thousand per cent sure I got it all, but it’s mostly successful in creating a nasty horror flick about the era in Britain where moral scolds and tut-tutting twats were pointing to movies on video as the reason why everything was terrible, instead of laying blame where it belonged, being Thatcher and her goons.

This time of moral panic is emphasized by having much of the film set in the dull, nauseating confines of the British Film Censors office, where officious and studious nerds decide what classifications films will have, or whether they’re going to be released at all or refused classification entirely. One of these censors is called Enid (Niamh Algar). She dresses like a Mormon sisterwife, and has those awesome square framed glasses with little chains on them. She’s always awkwardly pushing them back up the bridge of her nose, in a way that indicates the actor herself doesn’t wear glasses.

She takes her work very seriously. Deathly seriously. Day in day out is spent watching horrific simulated violence on screen, and taking notes. Such a job, it could lead to burnout, to numbness, to trauma through overexposure.

Well, if that’s an argument that can be made, it doesn’t seem to be applicable to Enid. She seems to be thoroughly repressed and thoroughly unhinged before the film even started.

Her trauma, her confusion seems to stem from the childhood disappearance of her younger sister, which has never been explained. All that is known is that Nina has not been seen since some fateful day many years ago.

That’s all we know too, and that’s all we are ever going to know, because this flick isn’t about answers. It isn’t about its plot. It’s about a person whose bread and butter is censoring horror flicks, who somehow and for some reason finds herself as both the victim in a horror flick and probably the villain as well.

It’s hard to tell, it’s even harder to say. I’ve seen the flick twice and I am none the wiser, but that doesn’t detract from my “enjoyment” of it. I would put that in quotes because calling horror flicks enjoyable is kinda problematic, as this film points out. The lurid history of these video nasties is a clear lineage of mainly women being terrorised and assaulted and murdered on screen mostly for the delectation, if not outright masturbation, of the predominately male audience.

Rating:

Our Friend

Our Friend

Friend doesn't seem like enough of a word to describe him

dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

2021

Because of…because of a lot of stuff happening at the moment, I couldn’t bring myself to watch something violent or action-y, nor could I stomach horror or anything else, so I really wanted to watch some deeply felt human drama.

Not drama in the sense of people yelling at each other or throwing glasses of wine at their frenemies, but something about human stuff, and how humans deal with it all.

I remembered having read the article this was based on, or at least a part of the story a year or two ago, and I thought “this looks like a bundle of laughs”, so I gave it a go.

It served its purpose. It’s on the surface a story about a couple where one of them is diagnosed with cancer, and the friend that comes to help and stays over during the difficult days, weeks and months. But, really, it’s called Our Friend for a reason.

The reason seems to be the incredulity with which people confront Dane’s choices and existence. No-one, other than the primary couple of Nicole (Dakota Johnson) and Matt (Casey Affleck), seems to understand why Dane (Jason Segal) would do what he does. He and his choices are viewed almost with suspicion, but at least in general with head-shaking wonder. “I wouldn’t do that for someone if I didn’t have to” seems to be the refrain, but in another case it’s viewed mostly as proof positive of what a total fucking loser Dane is.

It’s profoundly unfair. I have no doubt that Dane’s story is a complex one. It’s not really gone into here with any great depth. It’s implied that he struggles with depression, and that at one point he’s perhaps suicidal. But much more of this is indicated by other people’s perceptions, rather than anything Dane himself expresses.

Is it more about men? Men’s inarticulateness in terms of expressing their emotions? You could see the whole article being about Matt wanting to say thank you to Dane for helping his family out during a terrible time, one which did not have a happy ending for Nicole, obviously. And so the film by extension becomes an extended thank you to Dane for being there, for helping where he could, where many others clearly think they wouldn’t have.

You know, you could have just said something more than “thanks doesn’t seem like enough”.

It doesn’t really seem to be about Nicole. She’s the one dying, but mostly the film flicks around (with its very disjointed timeline) showing that Matt and Nicole were very happy together, except when they weren’t, and that Matt spent a lot of time away from his family working as a war-torn, battle-hardened war correspondent, and more importantly once had the opportunity to cheat but didn’t, and Nicole, upset about being virtually a single-parent to two daughters, does cheat.

C’mon, man, you didn’t need to go there. Nicole sings and dances in musical theatre, but that’s no reason to malign her further. The only reason I think you’d go there (other than just telling the “true” story of their lives together), is that it makes Matt look like even more of a saint.

Rating:

Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man

he might just get a bit of blood on that suit of his

dir: Guy Ritchie

2021

What happened to you, Guy Ritchie? You used to be fun, man.

The chap who made Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch has gone too far in some other direction in order to want to still make fun films. He’s made massive budget Disney flicks and other crap, so me hoping, yearning for something fleet and funny like Lock Stock is a fool’s pipe dream.

The Gentlemen from last year was not entirely my cup of tea, but it did strike many viewers as a return to charming form (bleurgh). This film, though, is not like that at all.

This flick does not fuck around. Though a long film, it does not even have time for having the definite article “the” in its title. So it’s not even “The Wrath of Man”, it’s the somewhat ejaculatory and abusive “WRATH of MAN”. You can maybe even, as an Australian, imagine a few curse words after it, as in “what movie did ya watch last night?” – “Wrath of Man, ya fucken dickhead”.

I don’t really imagine that that’s what conversations are like on construction worksites, because I’ve spent a fair bit of time on construction sites, and the guys are mostly talking about Married at First Sight or The Bachelor or how one of their co-workers was recently crippled and unable to work and didn’t get any help from their employer because they lied to WorkCover, that sort of thing.

But they have a strong union, so maybe that will help. Wrath of Man is also a movie set at a very blokey workplace, where men test each other’s masculinity constantly and threaten each other with vague and specific threats of sexual assault. You know, like most male dominated workplaces.

But that only persists for what must look like the strangest new starter / induction video ever filmed about someone starting a job with a new employer.

A man so stern that he would make the Easter Island statues cry if he just glared at them for too long, starts a new job. They call him “H”, as in “haitch”. But he’s played by Jason Statham, so… H does the absolute bare minimum communication-wise to let people think he’s a normal person. He has to do shooting tests and driving tests, and it’s clear he’s making sure they don’t know how awesome he would really be at these things if he was doing them for reals, so he just sneaks through.

This is for an armoured truck security firm, you know, those absolute fuckheads too fucking stupid to even be security guards at a mall. I’ve had work interactions with them and their supervisors, and let me tell you, generalisations and stereotypes are unfair at the best of times, but these fuckheads take the cake. They are often steroided-up soldier of fortune types that feel they’re on a par with military types and it rarely if ever goes well for anyone involved. I’ve seen one of these jerks push over an ancient pensioner who got too close at a Myki-travel card machine because the fuckhead thought the woman was going to somehow attack and steal the coins they were taking out of the machines, and menacingly kept his hand on his holstered gun like if she gave him shit, he was going to finish the job.

Rating:

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Trial of the Chicago 7

Nice building you've got there. It'd be a shame if some
democracy happened to it.

dir: Aaron Sorkin

2020

Aaron Sorkin is known for a lot of things. The West Wing, very talky films, two people walking hurriedly down a hallway having an animated discussion, being pretty sexist, having a blazing cocaine addiction in his prime, but what he’s most famous for is another courtroom drama from a long time ago that many people above a certain age know of whether they’ve seen the film or not: A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise (boo) and Jack Nicholson (yay).

It’s the pinnacle, the apotheosis of court room dramas. It takes what is generally, if you’ve been part of any trials, dry, procedural formal processes and transforms them into gladiatorial combat between egotistical jerks. Grand speeches decide people’s fates, not evidence, nor the law itself. People yell about wanting to know the truth, and others deride the ability of the person saying such a thing, asserting that they couldn’t possibly handle the truth, no truth handler, you.

But that was fiction. High drama. A movie, directed by Rob Reiner, based on a play, written by Aaron Sorkin.

You would think Aaron Sorkin is coming full circle tackling a movie about a trial, but this time as writer and director, and he probably did some other stuff on the film as well, maybe a bit of the sewing on some of the hippy clothing, maybe a sandwich or two. The trial of the so-called Chicago 7, despite there being 8 defendants, is something that actually happened, that there’s a lot of evidence for. I don’t even have to look up any articles to know where the script deviates from reality in a lot of instances, because if there’s one thing Sorkin prizes over accuracy, it’s a good line.

The remarkable thing about what he needs to depict here, though, is not some battle between defense attorneys and prosecutors, or wily defendants blustering their way through a court room convinced of their own invulnerability: All he has to show is how farcical the trial actually was, in order to prove his point. And his point is: whether you can handle the truth or not, what American governments, both Federal and State, in this case the state of Illinois, and the powers of local government as exercised through the police did to these people was fucking awful and profoundly undemocratic.

And this is not a point you’re going to see in many places: the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, who urged the cops to not be gentle with these protestors, the legislators and party apparatchiks who wanted these protestors wiped out, and the Black Panthers eradicated by murderous force if necessary, were all Democrats.

But…but I thought the Democrats were the “good” guys in American history?

Turns out, spoiler alert, Democrat politicians and administrations have been just as fucked at this democracy stuff as the dreaded Republicans.

People forget the American contribution to the Viet Nam War of Independence from the colonial control of France started with JFK and continued under LBJ, both of whom, last I checked, were Democrats. Nixon came in, in 1968, but plenty of people had already been fucked up by then. Bunches, disconnected bunches of activists, mostly young, mostly hopeful beyond hope, thought that a good way to stop the war, or at least the drafting of young Americans to die and kill overseas, would have been to disrupt the Democratic Convention in Chicago prior to the election that saw Nixon come to power in all his divine, malevolent majesty.

So the cops popped a lot of skulls at that convention, and in the parks, and in the streets, and wanted to fuck up this activist movement once and for all. Convince young American peoples, regardless of the colour of their skin or the content of their characters (but especially African-Americans) not to protest the war, not to protest the government, not to protest police murders of activists, and to do this they grabbed a bunch of people, grouped them together, and tried to make painful examples of them to dissuade everyone else.

I mean, it’s so fucking nakedly corrupt. It’s shameful. Sham trials like this still go on these days, but it’s usually in countries where they don’t even pretend to do anything other than enforce the will of the Great Leader or one party or a group of generals that hate their own populations. You expect more from the land of the free and the home of the people so brave they need hundreds of guns each and no masks to get by.

Rating:

Dear Comrades!

Dorogie Tovarishchi

It's always sad when people get murdered around you for
the dumbest of reasons and you do nothing to stop it

Dorogie Tovarishchi!

dir: Andrei Konchalovsky

2020

If you ever wanted to watch a movie about a strike at a factory in Novocherkassk in 1962 that resulted in Soviet authorities killing a bunch of innocent people who had the temerity to protest falling wages, rising prices and unavailability of basic food in what they were told was a communist paradise, then this is the film you’ve been waiting for all your life.

Saying that the Soviet years were already renowned for the sheer, spiteful waste of millions of lives and the cruelty of such a brutal, totalitarian system downplays the fact that people forget, all the time, and it’s stuff none of us should be forgetting, ever. But it also ignores the fact that Russian life has always been brutal, and that, just to massively over-generalise, they are a fatalistic people who always expect the worst and are rarely disappointed.

I’ll give you two basic idiomatic examples: in English there’s the phrase “hope springs eternal”.

In Russian the phrase is “hope dies last”.

In English, we say “love is blind”.

In Russian? “Love is evil”. Literally. Lyubov zla means “love is evil”. The full phrase is “love is evil and will even make you fall in love with a goat”.

I mean, how the fuck do you deal with such an entrenched cultural mentality?

Rating:

The Climb

Climb

Biking in your 40s and beyond should be a criminal offence

dir: Michael Angelo Covino

2020

The Climb is about friendship.

It’s not about the friends we make along the way in this crazy journey we call life. It’s about the friends we drag with us, or drag us back, stopping us from growing or changing for a multitude of reasons throughout our lives.

I mean, this is not Sisters of the Travelling Pants. This is The Climb, and it is about two adult male friends who’ve known each other since childhood, Mike and Kyle. ‘Mike’ is also the director. Kyle Marvin plays Kyle. They clearly made the film together. Do you see where I’m going with this?

I don’t know if they’re actual lifelong frenemies in real life, but surely they’re bringing something to this too.

I hesitate to call it a comedy, because comedy, as a genre, implies laughter, chuckling, giggling and so forth. It’s funny, but there aren’t jokes. The whole film is immensely funny, in that it’s suffused with irony, and very cleverly done. But it’s not immediately apparent, it’s not showy, really, though it’s very well crafted.

And though I’ve said it’s not showy, that’s a lie, because there’s a section which is one long shot without edits which is incredibly well done, and would have been a nightmare to coordinate and get right, and both the filming and the way it’s put together are phenomenal for a film made with such a tiny budget.

Rating:

Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas & The Black Messiah

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

dir: Shaka King

2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:

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