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8 stars

In The Heights

In the Heights

I await the sequel about Heidelberg Heights and all the
wonderful people who live there, hop to it, Lin Manuel.

dir: Jon M. Chu

2021

I’m not…the target audience for musicals, that should be fairly obvious. I have been trying to finish watching Cats for over a year in order to review it, and I haven’t been able to complete it, despite trying over 20 times to get through it. When I die and go to hell, among the many other torments available and specially designed for me, Mamma Mia will be playing loudly and on a loop.

I guess there are times when I’m able to unclench my jaw and relax into these strange musical – cinematic hybrids. I really enjoyed Hamilton when it came out last year (the film of the original cast performing on the stage, for Disney+), and that required no particular love of the genre or love of America’s Founding Fathers. And, despite never having been to the New York suburb of Washington Heights or having anything close to Latinx heritage, it’s not impossible for me to enjoy a song-and-dance extravaganza about a bunch of people who live in a vibrant, caring community.

It specifically honours the Caribbean, central American, South American and other permutations heritages of the people who make up what seems to be this most melting pot of melting pots, seeing in them the story that has played out for millennia across the world but in terms of the States the story of migrants aspiring to a better life for them and their families.

Which is the story of chumps everywhere, I guess. Many of these people are trapped within dreams, their own dreams, the dreams of their parents, parental expectations, community expectations, all of which can be pretty far from what real life brings on.

Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) tells a story from what looks like a bar on the beaches of the Dominican Republic, to a bunch of snot-nosed kids. What story is he telling them? Well, it’s the story of how he followed his dreams, or his dad’s dreams, or someone else’s dreams. Anyway, most of the kids look bored, but the brightest of them, an eager girl, listens intently, about the events of one particular summer.

The bodega Usnavi runs with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) is a focal point of the neighbourhood, in that every other single character in the flick comes and goes from the bodega. Across the street is a car hire place(?) called Rosario’s which is also a focal point of the neighbourhood. There’s also a hair / nail salon place which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. Plus there’s also Abuela Claudia’s (Olga Merediz) apartment, which is also the focal point of the neighbourhood. I think I’ve overused that particular construction, because I think you can see what I’m implying.

Rating:

Violation

Violation

Vengeance will absolutely be hers

dir: Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli

2021

I wanted to watch a horror film last night, and did I watch a horrific film…

Violation is a pretty horrific descent into a story that brings no comfort or catharsis, at least I don’t think so for the audience, even as it deals with someone getting revenge on someone for raping them.

I know, I know that sounds like a cheery subject for the whole family to sit around and watch, grandma too. It’s a curious sub-genre within horror, but this is… nothing like those other exploitation flicks, the most notorious of which is probably I Spit on Your Grave, and its sequel, I Spit on Your Gravy.

The central relationship in this story is between two sisters, Miriam and Greta (Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Anna Maguire), who have a somewhat salty manner with each other. They haven’t seen each other in a while, and Miriam and her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) go out into the Canadian wilderness in order to stay with Greta and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). Even though Miriam and Greta speak with English accents, they apparently grew up in Canada, and Dylan was a childhood friend to both of them prior to Greta and Dylan marrying.

Greta and Dylan seem happy together, happier at least than Miriam and Caleb seem to be. Miriam’s fractious relationship with her sister is also mirrored by the fact that she seems to have fraught relationships with every character. Though she gets along well enough with Dylan, and chats freely with him about all sorts of stuff.

You can kind of guess where this might be going, but even I, having read reviews of the flick after some film festival, possibly Toronto’s, am staggered by what happens in this flick.

Fucking Hell. Them Canadians…

It’s a horror flick in the sense that something absolutely horrible happens in the flick, and because the person whom it happens to cannot live with what happened, she enacts an all encompassing revenge that annihilates her betrayer, and we watch it. That’s disturbing and incredibly bleak.
I could get (even more) pretentious and argue that the title possibly doesn’t refer to what happens to Miriam (even though clearly it is a violation of her person, her autonomy, her body), but to not even being believed as to what happened. No-one believes her, least of all her sister, who assumes Miriam not only consented but seduced Dylan.

That is a violation, of the sisterly bond, if one existed. But the problem then even becomes that Dylan himself, prior to facing his fate, also doesn’t think he did anything wrong, if anything, he thinks he and Miriam are having a hot affair.

It’s kinda staggering. It also kinda reminded me, of all things, of Mike Tyson’s trial for rape back in the 1990s, for which he was convicted, thankfully. At the trial, I recall reading that his lawyers, and he himself, tried to argue that he didn’t even understand the concept of consent, or that a woman could decline to have sex with him, once she was in private with him. It didn’t compute, therefore he should have been found innocent, was their staggering argument.

Rating:

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:

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