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2021

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Those who wish to see performances with lead characters
who don't have lips that look inflated beyond safe levels
should look elsewhere for their entertainment

dir: Taylor Sheridan

2021

This film… makes no sense. Angelina Jolie being in this film makes not much sense at all.

She is there, as in, you can’t miss the fact that she’s in the film, but she doesn’t really do much of anything. And there’s so much else happening around her, and being done by other people, that you wonder why we’re spending any time with her and her weird feline features.

So, wow, what a title. Those Who Wish Me Dead seems like it’s been truncated, like it’s missing Can Go Fuck Themselves or something similar. The “Those” of the title are two lethal hitmen played by Aidan Gillen (of Lord Bailish / Littlefinger in Game of Thrones fame) and Nicholas Hoult (of, uh, About a Boy fame?) Both have played monsters in other flicks or shows, but here they play cold government goon sociopaths that have no problems murdering entire families, torturing pregnant women or starting fires that can kill any number of people.

In some ways, because we spend so much time watching them work, it’s like they’re the main characters, it’s just that we really don’t want them to succeed. After killing whole bunches of people, their objective ultimately is to kill a kid that’s running around a forest in Montana.

And if they can kill a whole bunch of other people along the way, they’re cool with that.

They don’t start the fire in the forest to kill the kid, but to distract law enforcement, which, I dunno, doesn’t seem very bright. Almost everything they do, which is intended to cover up some government shenanigans, makes it seem like it would just make government shenanigans even more obvious. The fire, I would have thought, would just bring more attention to what they’re doing. Killing all these people in ultra-professional-killer ways would just make it look like a bunch of government goons killed a bunch of people to cover something up, not, like, the opposite of that.

But what would I know. The fire at least gives Angelina Jolie an excuse to shout “Fire, Fire!” in a not-at-all crowded theatre, and to point her pouty lips at the conflagration’s wall of flame.

Rating:

Night of the Kings

La Nuit des rois

Most people have to lie just to avoid facing up to their
responsibilities or the repercussions of their own actions.
He has to lie just to stay alive! No pressure, you go, king

La Nuit des Rois

dir: Philippe Lacôte

2021

I had heard this film was good, but even I’m a bit surprised.

I know what the flick sounds like – young chap turns up to prison in the middle of a jungle in the tiny African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, and looks pretty scared.

He should be. It’s like no other prison I’ve ever seen.

I’m going to indulge in what seems like a bit of fat-shaming, but that’s not really what it is. Especially since I look like Jack Black before he found fame and fortune and personal trainers. There are only two overweight chaps in this whole prison: the warden Nivaquine (Issaka Sawadogo) and Barbè Noire (Steve Tientcheu). Both are big men, both are older, but only one is considered the king of MACA prison. Barbè Noire, despite that being a nickname, and French for Blackbeard, as in the pirate, is just as much called his other title, being Dangôro.

This prison has rules. Every prison has rules, but this one’s rules are tinged with the vaguely mystical: if its ailing king grows weak, he is obligated to top himself, so that a new king can take his place. Except when there is a red moon. If a red moon is to appear, the Dangôro can choose a Roman, as in, a storyteller, to tell a story on that night, thus buying himself some more time.

It is very unclear what the rules are around the telling of the story, or what the storyteller is meant to do. If the crowd doesn’t like the story, presumably the storytelling can come to a premature end. If the crowd are entranced by it, the storyteller gets more time to tell more of a story. But if they run out of story before the sun rises, they will end up on a metal hook, up a flight of stairs, and it looks like a painful way to die.

Again, I know what a story set in a prison sounds like, murder everywhere, abuse by prisoners and guards alike, brutality and sadism and hypermasculinity and all that, and while elements of that appear here, they’re not the bread and butter of the story. It’s really about watching the terrified and desperate Roman (Bakary Koné) try to spin a tale, as many tales, as many versions of tales as he can before he loses the crowd and before the night ends.

No one is really on his side, and everything seems stacked against him, and I’m sure most of the prison don’t care whether he lives or dies, but I guess we care. The sole non-Ivory Coast person in the prison, called Silence (legendary brutish looking French actor Denis Lavant) breaks his silence in order to tell the kid that he has to play for time and stretch out what little material he has. Everyone else, including the ailing king, want to see him fail, because sacrificing him gives the king another day.

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:

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, and least I don’t think 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:

Gunpowder Milkshake

Gunpowder Milkshake

Fuck with the sisterhood, get your balls crushed by hammers!

dir: Navot Papushado

2021

Well. That movie had a lot of stuff in it.

It had a lot of shooting, a lot of stabbing, a few cinema legends in key roles, and a lot of colour and momentum.

It’s also pretty silly, which is something I can appreciate.

I mean, John Wick is pretty silly, but it takes itself deadly seriously. Gunpowder Milkshake does not. Probably cannot.

It’s not entirely ruled out that this film doesn’t exist in the same universe as the John Wick flicks, but it might as well. It’s also almost cartoonishly similar to a movie Clive Owen starred in that absolutely died at the box office called Shoot ‘em Up too many years ago now. It’s a world seemingly ruled by assassins, with very few civilians in between them. No cops seem to exist whatsoever. There are massive criminal organisations with masses of people in them, and every business or building seems to be connected to them, but the main difference here is this isn’t meant to feel deathly important. And everything isn’t filmed at night in the rain with a blue filter.

Our protagonist Sam (Karen Gillen) is also not trying to get revenge on crims for the death of her wife / dog / guinea pig, though she is angry, and stern, though she is trying to protect a little girl mixed up with the shenanigans going on.

What Sam is angry about is being abandoned, she feels, by her assassin mother (the almost always awesome Lena Headey, of Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones fame) fifteen years ago. That abandonment has fueled her anger, which she’s channeled into being The Firm’s number one killer.

It is not clear what The Firm really is, other than The Patriarchy. In this flick The Firm is represented by Paul Giamatti, who took Sam in when her mother disappeared, and employed her for The Firm’s benefit. She is sent on a job where she kills a whole bunch of people, presumably just before the movie started. One of those people has a father who is quite upset about this. I would have thought all of the people Sam kills, or that The Firm kills could potentially have parents that are saddened by their deaths, but it’s only this one, to Papa McAlester (Ralph Ineson), that seems to matter.

Papa McAlester wants revenge, and The Firm, being a boys’ club only, they are happy to feed Sam to the wolves in order to keep peace with their rivals.

Sam doesn’t play that shit, though, so it’s up to her to enlist the aid of other murderous women in order to stay alive long enough to protect, um, whatever the girl’s name is, um oh yeah Emily (Chloe Coleman).

Sam has to kill and maim a lot of people to achieve that, but thankfully most of those people are pretty shit at their job, and she’s pretty good at hers. What ensues is long sequences of Sam fighting people (contrived reasons are given to stop people constantly shooting at each other, which makes for more inventive fight scenes) with whatever comes to hand, and then, even “better”, contrive a way to make it even harder for her to fight off multiple opponents by temporarily paralyzing her arms.

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:

The Killing of Two Lovers

Killing of Two Lovers

I'm glad they got a good night's sleep, even if it's their last

dir: Robert Machoian

2021

The Killing of Two Lovers, as a title, doesn’t sound that ambiguous. I mean, any reasonable person with eyeballs who reads English would read that title and assume that this film has a story about the killing of two lovers.

It is not, however, the whole sentence. It is somewhat deceptive. It is the beginning of a sentence, rather than the end of a sentence. But it’s still not clear whether it’s the beginning of a story or the end of one.

When the film begins, a bearded distraught chap (Clayne Crawford) with a gun, stands in a bedroom. We see two sleeping people’s feet poking out of the bed. He raises the gun towards them, but then stops when he hears a toilet flushing in the house. He retreats, sneaks out a window, and runs to a pick up truck, hides the gun, drives about a block away to another house.

At that house, an aged dad struggles to breath and drink water from a cup, but he’s okay, in the way of all old men. He is father to this angry son, but the son puts on a veneer of normality when speaking with him, doing chores around the place, doting on him. It’s a kind of weary friendliness, concern, all mixed in together.

But only we know apparently that it’s a veneer. When he ventures out again, it’s in pursuit of the other newer, shinier pick up truck that was parked in front of the house he was standing in with murderous intent. The male that was on the bed drives away, and our bearded jerk follows him. The camera, in long takes, focuses solely on the driver, so we are seeing little of the world but much of it from his perspective. It is a very small town, the kind small enough where everyone must know each other or else.

The guy stops for a percolated coffee, so our guy stops for a percolated coffee, forced to interact with him in the process, then he follows him again on the road, seemingly with the intent of shooting him as they’re driving, but he’s foiled, again.

These scenes, these tense scenes of potential violence, only we see them. No one else has seen them at this stage, so the world chugs along as it did before.

The distraught chap goes back to the house from the beginning, and we find out that it’s the house he used to live in with his wife and kids, who still live there. He, being David, shepherds his younger kids to the school bus, and eventually sees his daughter walking in the opposite direction to the school. That daughter, Jess (Avery Pizzuto), is very angry, at her parents in general, for separating, but especially angry at her father, for not being able to keep his marriage together, because he is a loser.

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:

Black Widow

Marvel's Black Widow

Family that kill evil misogynists together stay together

dir: Cate Shortland

2021

I know this sounds weird, but the reason I was excited when I heard about this film being made was the fact that Cate Shortland, Australia’s Own Cate Shortland, would be directing.

You don’t know who Cate Shortland is? She made Somersault way back in the day, and that was a pretty good moody Australian film (one of the few). I’m sure she’s done a bunch of stuff since then, but that’s what I remember her for. She might be a strange choice for an action flick, but I guess they wanted a cis female director for a film pretending to make up the difference with the 20-plus Marvel films in which women mostly played supporting characters, and the now 2 that had female protagonists.

As well there’s this explicitly “smashing the patriarchy” part of the plot which I wholeheartedly support, and if you didn’t have a female director directing it, you’d accuse whoever made it of probably being a Polanski-Weinstein in simp’s clothing.

For all that Scarlett Johansson has done in these movies as someone who doesn’t even have superpowers, this being the 8th time she’s strapped on the outfit, making her the central character doesn’t entirely work here, because she’s the least interesting part of this story. The villain is, like, not interesting at all either, though he is diabolical in his horrible treatment of women, but the interesting characters are really everyone else except Black Widow.

There is a flashback set in the 1990s that opens the film, showing a family going about their general daily American apple pie bullshit, until they bolt from the house and desperately try to get to a plane and fly out of the States, presumably, as they are chased by government types who don’t look like they have any problem shooting children.

The children are little Natasha and her little “sister” Yelena (eventually played by the great Florence Pugh), and the parents are Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), and though they look like the perfect family, they are all evil Soviet spies! Even the children! Especially the children!

Rating:

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