Passing

Passing

I've been trying to pass for human for over 40 years, and
I don't think I've quite nailed it yet

dir: Rebecca Hall

2021

I’ve seen a few films, even just this week, made recently but in black and white for stylistic reasons, mostly. I think this one is in black and white for entirely different reasons.

Set in Harlem in the 1920s, this flick centers itself less around the idea of people of African-American backgrounds passing for “white” in a climate still hostile to black people (unlike the enlightened era we all live in 100 years later), and more around the complex friendship between two women, Irene (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga).

The film is based on a novel by Nella Larsen, written in the 20s, and though I don’t think it’s autobiographical per se, the author herself had a complicated heritage, and these notions of passing for white, or, failing that, passing for being “European” might have been a big deal in her life too.

The two women knew each other at school, but Clare’s father’s death saw her move away twelve years ago. When they reconnect, it is by chance, at a hotel restaurant. Irene is not trying to pass for white in this initial sequence; it seems more like she just doesn’t want shopkeepers and doormen to notice that she’s black. Her cloche hat is pulled down far enough, and is current fashion, so if people assume, she doesn’t correct them.

Clare, on the other hand, is blonde, and looks like a silent era movie star. When Irene finally recognises her, and is eventually introduced to her husband (Alexander Skarsgård), she realises her childhood friend is passing for white, and is somewhat surprised.

Even more surprising is the crap the husband says, including his nickname for his wife, and the ‘fact’ that she hates African-Americans even more than he does.

Irene doesn’t mention the obvious stuff that we realise: that both the women he’s talking to are black. She may still have some wariness towards Clare, but she doesn’t want to blow her cover.

When Irene returns to “her” world of the suburb of Harlem, she feels safe in her “element”, and no longer has to camouflage as someone other than “black”. She has a nice house, a husband Brian (Andre Holland) and two young boys, whom she wants to protect from the harshness of the world they live in. This America, decades after the Civil War, is still not a safe place generally for their people. Lynchings happen and get reported all the time, more with glee in the papers rather than sorrow. I don’t know the specific year this film is set in the 1920s, but the Tulsa Massacre happened in 1923, so that would have been recent history.

And New York, far from being the safe, multicultural metropolis of the imagination, is still a place of open tensions.

Rating:

Wild Indian

Wild Indian

Behind every great fortune, or nation, lies a terrible crime

dir: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jnr

2021

This is a pretty confronting, deliberately unsatisfying film. You don’t see a heap of flicks coming out of the States with First Nations / Native American leads or themes, and you also don’t see ones usually this dark. This isn’t about people reconnecting with family or their past, reconciling the enormity of the crime perpetrated against the native people of the Americas with today’s lived experience, or any of those platitudes.

Reservation Dogs is a recent (and the only one I can think of) tv series with First Nations kids as the leads playing characters living on a reservation, where the realities of their lives are leavened with a wicked sense of human and charming performances. Wild Indian has no such buffers

The brutal opening of the film is set in Wisconsin in the 1980s. M’kwa (Phoenix Wilson) is a young Ojibwe boy covered in bruises. A young Catholic priest at M’kwa’s school tries to gently find out where the bruises are coming from, but M’kwa demurs to say anything. His home life is awful, just awful. He has a father who cannot stand the sight of him, and who beats him just for existing. Bullied at school as well, at least he has his best friend and cousin Ted-O (Julian Gopal) on his side. They hang out, avoiding their parents as best they can, shooting bottles with Ted-O’s dad’s rifle just for something to do.

There’s a blonde WASP girl at their school, from ‘town’, and to M’kwa she comes to symbolise something very desirable and unattainable, and I don’t think it has anything to do with sexual desire. When another student starts dating her, it unleashes a resentment that will end up in tragedy, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

M’kwa feels powerless against his brutal father, though he is tempted to do something drastic and final. You can see him seething at this other boy, a boy who’s done nothing wrong, whose living circumstances are probably not that different from his own. Which M’kwa himself sees, when he resentfully peers through the boy’s window, and he sees him comforting his passed-out mother.

The priest, delivering a sermon, explains what’s going on for those of us who can’t figure it out from what we’re watching. It may seem strange that, considering the people involved, why we would need a priest to explain stuff to us from the perspective of the Old Testament, when M’kwa and Ted-O themselves could tell us how shitty their lives are?

Rating:

Lamb

Lamb

Nature is cruel. Mothers are great. Lamb is nice too,
slow cooked at least.

(Dýrið)
dir: Valdimar Jóhannsson

2021

Hmm. Well. This was a film. That I watched. Recently.

You can’t say you’ve seen many Icelandic films. Even if you watch more films than I do, and it’s unlikely, and also unless you’re Icelandic (Hi Björk, góðan daginn), you can’t really say you’ve seen that many either. I can think of tons of movies that have scenery shot in Iceland, because it’s an incredible looking place, perfect for movies as diverse as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Clint Eastwood’s two-for-one deal of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, that used the black rock beaches of Iceland to stand in for the Japanese island of the title.

But you wouldn’t call them Icelandic films, would you? A film from a place set in that place tells us something about the place beyond just the scenery. A film set in Iceland, on a farm, with a sad couple mourning the loss of a child; you’d hope such a set up tells us something, or at least the way it plays out.

In truth the main thing that drew me to this flick, called Lamb, was that one of the best flicks I saw this year was called Pig, and so if I kept things simple, and just watched movies with one word animal titles, I couldn’t go wrong.

Dumb strategy. Lamb is a lot, but it’s nothing like Pig, though they both have their merits.

As far as I know Icelandic is one of the hardest languages for a non-Icelandic person to learn. Imagine my surprise when I saw Swedish superstar Noomi Rapace as one of the two main leads here. Does she know Icelandic? No idea. No-one really speaks for more than a few words ever, at a time. “Check the barn.” “Okay.” Although she did move to Iceland as a child and grew up there, so it’s probably likely she’s all over the language.

She plays Maria, one half of the farming couple that have heaps of sheep, and some fields to plow with their tractor. At first, I thought the characters were just stoic Icelandic types: grim people matching the awe-inspiring but grim landscape.

But there is an underlying sadness there, that isn’t underlined by having the characters actually, you know, talk about things. Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) goes about his tasks all robot-like, but at one point behind the wheel of the tractor, starts sobbing.

Rating:

The Humans

Humans

We who are about to be depressed, salute you

dir: Stephen Karam

2021

This flick was kind of horrifying, but it’s not a horror flick, I don’t care what any reviewer says. It’s shot like a horror flick a lot of the time, and there are jump scares, which is a bit confusing.

But this is really about a family coming together for Thanksgiving, in New York, in a cursed pre-World War II apartment that has never seen better days, and just has them talking in these jagged, awkward ways, like people actually talk rather than carefully curated monologues and declamatory speeches.

It’s awfully, deliberately mundane, but the mistake I don’t want to make is to think that so-called naturalistic performances are easy or that they aren’t acting in and of themselves. It’s hard, just as hard as the showier stuff. Imagine pointing a camera at someone and yelling “act natural!”, and just imagine the performance you’re going to get.

People talk and mumble and get distracted and wander around and check their phones and say one thing and then trail off and talk over each other and support each other or attack each other, and I guess that’s what a group of people having a meal together might be like.

Though there are revelations and such, it’s not a flick that’s building to a crescendo or with natural peaks and flows, or rhythms that we might be accustomed to.

Veteran acting legend Richard Jenkins does his thing as the Dad of the piece: Jayne Houdyshell plays the Mum, a role she also assayed in the play this is based on, on Broadway. Amy Schumer and Beanie Feldstein play their two daughters, Aimee and Brigid. Plus there’s also Brigid’s partner Rich (Steven Yuen) with whom she shares this diabolical apartment.

And. If I’m going to call Richard Jenkins a veteran actor, what am I going to call the legendary June Squibb, who plays the wheelchair bound Momo, as they call her? June Squibb was in goddamn Cat on a Hot Tin Roof all them years ago. Let me tell you something for free: there are not many people who were in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof who are still around today.

Rating:

Last Night in Soho

Last Night Soho

It's almost like they're two sides of the same exploited coin

dir: Edgar Wright

2021

Last Night in Soho is not the kind of flick you’d expect from this director. He’s very clever, very erudite, has a deep, deep knowledge of cinema, and loves to put everything together in a fashion so fussy even Wes Anderson is like: “just chill out, occasionally, dude.”

It’s also the first of his flicks that isn’t totally boy and nerd centric. As much as I like his so-called Cornetto trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, and his other stuff, and his other genre exercises like Baby Driver, he has a certain mode, and he tends to stick to it.

This is nothing like those other flicks, though it’s still a genre exercise. It’s set contemporarily, but a lot of the “action” happens in the early swinging 60s in London, of all places. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman just moved to the city from Cornwall wanting to pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. Though she gets into a design college, what she was too naïve to realise is that some, if not many of the people who would go to fashion design college would be vapid and poisonous fucks like Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen), who goes out of her way to make Ellie’s life a living hell for no discernible reason.

I found all the dumb, pointlessly cruel shit Jocasta does in this first bit to Ellie way, way more triggering and irritating that anything that happens in the rest of the flick. And let me tell you, the rest of the flick is about the horrible exploitation of women by men, and a whole bunch of murders. So many murders.

Ellie is sensitive, and I don’t mean that she doesn’t taken constructive criticism kindly or has a fragile sense of self, I mean she seems to be attuned to the spirit world or something similar. Does she see ghosts? I’m… not entirely sure.

When she is drawn to a particular flat in Soho, her nightly routine becomes one of being transported, not through a wardrobe to a snowy wonderland, but to the 1960s, and to the adventures of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). It’s not entirely clear whether Ellie “becomes” Sandy, or whether they’re both somehow there together. There are times when their dual consciousness seems to be mirrored, as in, literally mirrors are used to show that they’re somehow both “there”. Sometimes Sandy seems to sense Ellie, and sometimes Ellie almost gets Sandy’s attention.

Rating:

Belfast

Belfast

Those people below are awfully chill about a flying
Irish child

dir: Kenneth Branagh

2021

If you ever wanted to watch a movie about The Troubles in Ireland during the 1960s, but didn’t want to see too much brutality or killing, then have I got a feel good movie for you!

The big question of the film, called Belfast, is whether the family at the centre of the film, is going to leave Belfast, because shit is getting really crazy. They are Protestants living in a mostly Protestant street, but they themselves have no issues with the Catholics in their midst. At least Buddy (Jude Hill) doesn’t get why he should hate them too.

Ma (Catriona Balfe, of Outlander fame) yells at the kids a lot, and fights with her husband Pa (Jamie Dornan), who is mostly away working in London. That leaves Buddy free to do whatever the hell it is kids can do in streets that are barricaded, where the occasional car is blown up, and the British Army patrols around like it owns the place.

Buddy loves going to the movies, and his eyes light up whenever they get to go. Most of the film is in black and white, but when they’re at the pictures, the screen lights up in colour. Granny (Dame Judi Dench) also has the reflection in colour on her glasses as she watches a car flying around, and as the masses sing along with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who still remains our fine four-fendered friend.

Buddy sees himself, thanks to an unusually fire and brimstone reverend’s sermon, to be at the crossroads of two paths, the path of goodness and earthly and heavenly reward, or the hellfire path of eternal damnation and occasional discomfort. The thing is, though, he can’t remember which is which, and life doesn’t always provide obvious signposts.

He has an older friend who routinely tries to get him involved in seriously shady shit, like shoplifting, and, later on, looting, but his heart’s not really in it. But like any budding crim knows, snitches get stitches, so he knows to keep his mouth shut.

Rating:

John and the Hole

John & the Hole

Maybe we should all just stay in the hole a bit longer

dir: Pascual Sisto

2021

John and the Hole is quite a strange movie.

I like strange. Strange is good. Strange is sustaining for me, the way other people need hydration, or painkillers, or holidays. Strange, for me, resets the pathways in my mind, forces me to drift away from the well-trodden ways my mind tends to think, at least when it comes to art and movies.

When I think about this film, I am left with profound, unanswerable questions. It's not questions like whether what we saw was “real” within the context of the movie, or what parts were real, what parts imagined, or story within a story – type storytelling.

The question I can’t figure out is why at least two of these actors agreed to be in this movie.

Did they not read the script beforehand?

Jennifer Ehle will probably always best be known for playing Lizzie Bennett in the series of Pride and Prejudice alongside Colin Firth as Darcy. I know it was decades ago, but if people joke about Firth’s Darcy decades after the fact, then it’s a positive for her too. She’s been in a stack of other movies, even a psychological horror flick called Saint Maud I saw earlier this year, but rarely does she get to attack roles which resonate with the movie-going public. This role is unlikely to change that perception.

Michael C. Hall is probably best known for playing the serial killer lead of the Dexter tv series, but I prefer to remember him as David Fisher from Six Feet Under, a show I still treasure in my heart of hearts. I can only imagine that he lost a bet or has serious gambling debts to have stayed and completed his part of this movie.

I mention these portions of their résumés because for 90 per cent of this movie, which could mean that for 90 per cent of the time that this flick was being shot over the course of 23 days somewhere in rural Massachusetts, Ehle and Hall are down in a hole wearing dirty clothes with mud smeared all over their faces. Or on / in a set made to look as such for all that time.

They’re not even really main characters. The two main characters are the John of the title (Charlie Shotwell), and the Hole itself, near where the characters live.

John is an odd kid. Though nothing in the story implies as such, he could be some kind of alien-cuckoo changeling, replaced at birth, unsuited to and baffled by our human ways.

This is not, just for some reassurance, a story about a deeply disturbed child who goes on to murder a bunch of people. We Don’t Need to Talk About Kevin or John, at least not yet. But there is something deeply weird about this kid, and we get to spend about 100 minutes watching him do weird thing after weird thing, and I’m not sure there was much point to it.

John seems to be baffled by everything, but at least he makes choices. He seems highly intelligent and determined, but he knows little about how the world actually works. The world of adults seems especially alien to him, but he decides that he wants to find out what it would be like, despite being only 13.

Rating:

Copshop

Cop Shop

Stop glaring at me I don't owe you any money, Rusty Chuckles

dir: Joe Carnahan

2021

This is the second goddamn movie by Joe Carnahan that I’ve seen this year. One a year is more than enough. This also has Frank Grillo in a lead role, a role which I don’t think he deserves to be in, but at least he wasn’t as tedious here as he was in Boss Level.

The other supreme advantage this flick has: no Mel Gibson (ew)

Instead of Mel Gibson, we get Gerard Butler, trying to do an American accent again, which he can’t really do, and playing, as far as I can tell, Russell Crowe.

I don’t mean he’s playing a character Russell Crowe has played. I don’t mean he’s playing a character the way Russell Crowe would. I mean I think Gerard Butler’s directions in the movie amounted to “just be like Russell Crowe is all the time except when he’s acting”.

Hence, he’s playing Russell Crowe. Oh, sure, pick at technicalities and say that the character is called Bob Viddick in the script. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t. Fucking. Matter. It’s Russell Crowe, in all his menacing and slovenly glory.

Grillo plays some other scumbag on the run from the mob called Teddy, or the feds, or the feds in cahoots with the mob. Doesn’t matter. His character is scum. What’s important is that neither of these characters is meant to be the main character. That’s meant to be Officer Valerie Young (Alexis Louder), who is the best character and actor in the whole flick.

The problem is, and it’s a big problem, is that there’s so much other flick going on, and a tonne of superfluous characters, and Grillo and Butler competing for who can get the most pointless and repetitive lines. The flick also sidelines the young cop for far too long in the flick, and stretches out a thin premise far longer than it needed to be sustained.

The premise is an old one: a group of people under siege, enemies within and without. For American cinema, the level up came with John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, which paired a good cop with a criminal fighting against a horde (which updated it from the “cowboys & Indians” days).

This doesn’t have a horde, but it has a bunch of crims and dirty cops wanting to either kill Teddy and all the cops, or kill Teddy and most of the cops, or kill everyone in the building, or some variation thereof.

The position it puts the young, good cop in is: in order to survive and see another day, I have to figure out which one of these two scumbag crims is less bad than the other, and the one least likely to turn around and shoot me as well.

It’s an impossible puzzle, beyond the game theory Prisoner’s Dilemma or the ethical Trolley Problem: it’s more like Fuckhead Scumbag Bingo.

Rating:

First Cow

First Cow

One Cow to rule them all, one Cow to find them, and
in the darkness bind them

dir: Kelly Reichardt

2020

This is a strange little movie, strange only in its choice of subject matter, not in the way it tells its story (though that’s plenty odd). It is a story about friendship, about two men in frontier times, Cookie Figowitz (john Magaro) and King-lu (Orion Lee), who are men out of place in a country they probably shouldn’t be in, but at least they have each other.

There is not much around in Oregon at this time, in terms of what settlers, formerly indentured servants and other chancers might hope for. There are many indigenous people around still, but this isn’t a flick explicitly about genocide and colonisation and such. There are trappers, hunters, people trying to set up forts and trading posts, and little else other than worthless nature.

Worthless to the titans of industry, that is. It is a cruel time, with little room for kindness.

Cookie is a kind man, though, however the world around him chooses to be, and when he chances upon a naked and desperate King-lu, his instinct is to help him, regardless of cost.

Of this act is born a curious friendship in the middle of nowhere. After some time passes, the men meet again, and literally shack up together, in a literal shack made of put together bits of wood that do not look like they would survive upright in a gentle breeze. Of note in town has been the auspicious arrival of a cow. It’s the only cow in the area – its calf and mate did not survive the journey from across the world.

One cow. The first cow of the title. What kind of man would bring a cow to a place where dairy cows haven’t existed before? An Englishman, of course, a coloniser, someone who sees an untrammelled wilderness and sees opportunity and profits ahead by trammelling it most brutally.

The Chief Factor (Toby Jones) is such a man. Like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine, he doesn’t need a name, because he is what he does. He either factors chiefly or chiefly factors.

Rating:

No Time to Die

No Time to Die

There's plenty of time to die. The film is like nearly
3 hours long!

dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga

2021

Well. The world, as in, lazy clickbait journalists keep asking “who should the next Bond be?” as if Daniel Craig is dead, but what they have never been asking is “why should there be another James Bond?”

There’s like a billion of these fucking films. There are also a billion other action films where a guy fucks women and then fucks up a whole bunch of guys before saving the world. There’s nothing unique any more at all about these films. The Missions: Impossible flicks have Tom Cruise as an American James Bond, the Fast & Furious films have, alternatingly, Vin Diesel, The Rock and Jason Statham as some kind of Bond but with more cars and less shagging, and there’s no shortage of flicks where someone solves a mystery, shoots people then shags someone, not necessarily in that order.

What, other than the specific motifs of the theme music, the well known aesthetics of the intro, the tuxedo, the shooting of people, the M character, the Q character, the Miss Moneypenny character, the parade of villains with skin deformities who threaten the world and always lose; the female character who James shags who then dies midway through the flick, the other female James bonks later on who at least gets to live up to the end credits; why do we need much more of this, regardless of whether the next Bond is Idris Elba, Jodie Whittaker or, my personal pick, manager of the English national team, Gareth Southgate?

It's so inessential. There’s 25 of these films already. The only purpose in making more of these is so that the James Bond box set of DVDs one potentially buys for their dad on Father’s Day gets a little bit wider every other year.

I have probably been writing a version of the above paragraphs every time a Bond film has come out since, I dunno, that fucking terrible Pierce Brosnan Bond film Die Another Die, which was just diabolically bad, came out. I should just cut and paste to save time. I will probably be writing the same shit thirty years from now from some old folk’s home underground somewhere, when Bond films are streamed directly into our brains in order to keep us docile and amused.

If Daniel Craig is relieved that he never has to play the role again, then I am happy for him. He can go on and live his life and play some other character in some other franchise. Maybe they can give him some Marvel work, or something in Star Warses, or maybe he can return to his one true love, which is probably Eastenders or something. He could take over the pub from Danny Dyer and speak wiv an even broader Cockney accent, guv’nor.

This is definitely the last time, there’s no going back. There’s a note of finality to the occasion, a bridge-burning aspect that just screams “I’m done with this shit.”

There is, however, none of this bullshit I’ve read in a bunch of reviews that tries to encompass the notion that Bond is old and wounded, and exhausted, and wanting to be done with everything, in the context of the flick itself. I’ve read people write such drivel, but, I can assure you, nothing of the sort is in the flick. Bond, as Craig is playing him here, is just as keen to get the bad guys, just as keen not to trust women, and just as much out of step with the world as he ever is.

Rating:

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang Chi 10 Rings

You like my shiny, shiny rings? Well, you can't have them.

dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

2021

It’s hard to admit when you know how completely you have been programmed as an individual.

Back in the day (he said as he took a drag on his vape pen and started rocking back and forth in his Eames lounge chair) when you wanted to record something from the television, you used to have to program the time into the bloody video machine and manually input the time the program was going to run, if you weren’t going to be there to press ‘record’. Which is why most people had VCRs where the time was always flashing, unwanted, unloved, unable to be used.

What I’m getting at, is that due to my youthful exposure to a strange show called Monkey!, all my life I’ve pretty much been programmed to respond like Pavlov’s Dog to almost anything with Chinese mythology and martial arts in it.

Shang Chi, despite being as Marvel as any of the Marvel products, encompasses enough of the Chinese martial arts epic type stuff and imagery to at least give it a different look from all the other flicks that have been extruded thus far by the factory process. It also, radically, for these people, stars actual people from actual Asian backgrounds in lead roles.

What radical thinking. Were Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Angelina Jolie unavailable yet again?

The two leads here are Simu Liu as the Shang Chi / Shaun of the title, and his best friend Katy played by Awkwafina, who I have thought was wonderful in many things, and is wonderful here too. Her role of being the smartarse sidekick is fine, it’s fine. She can render mundane lines funnier just by saying them with her incredulous, raspy voice.

I think she’s wonderful. And in another, more helpful way, she humanises the main character, or at least keeps him grounded enough for this bullshit to matter.

Scratch that: it doesn’t matter, but at least we might care a little bit about these city slickers who end up in the country and have to get by with country ways?

Rating:

Titane

Titanium

This car is on fire, with passionate love

dir: Julie Ducournau

2021

Well. That was. A film.

This won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the supreme French honour for cinema, for only the second time by a female director. I had heard that fact previous to watching this flick, but now I’m starting to wonder what it matters.

Prestigious films have won the Palme D’Or, but also some crappy ones that people have forgotten days after the award was awarded. I am pretty secretly sure that no awards actually amount to much in terms of the qualities a film possesses, but sometimes something is being said when certain films win. The last film that won the Palme D’Or was Parasite, and there has to be some reason why people on either side of the Atlantic were so enamoured with a South Korean flick about what scum poor people are and how they’ll do anything to extend their sad existences.

So what am I implying about Titane? Almost nothing. I can’t at all intuit what Titane winning says in a contemporary sense, in terms of a post-pandemic landscape, zeitgeist or any gender-political stuff relevant to France or Europe or the world.

The one thing I can say is that, scene to scene, second to second, there is almost nothing you can predict as this flick unfolds unless you’ve been forewarned, or read a bonkers synopsis.

A young girl called Alexia makes broom-broom noises in a car being driven by her irritated dad. It keeps escalating until there’s a serious accident, and the girl ends up with a titanium plate in her head. When she is eventually released from hospital, she hugs the car, not her parents.

As an adult (Agathe Rousselle), she still has the plate in her head, and a strange spiralish scar above her right ear, and she has an attitude that exudes zero fucks. She also, importantly, keeps her hair up with a metal knitting needle / chopstick or something similar, making sure people can see her scar at all times. Maybe it’s made of titanium. Not sure it matters.

Her job is to dance and writhe on top of cars at a car show. One of the cars she writhes lasciviously upon is like a Cadillac painted in flames, and it’s also a low-rider, with those bouncing hydraulics installed.

Rating:

Scare Me

Scare Me

If you want me to scare you, let me remind you that tax
returns for last financial year had to be submitted 3 days ago...

dir: Josh Ruben

2020

It’s funny. Funny to me at least. The chap that made and starred in this flick, where he plays an insecure writer/director/actor who can’t think of what to make a film about other than something something werewolves, made this flick, and then made Werewolves Within, which I also saw recently.

And though there’s something sour curdling away at the core of this flick, I think I might have been more positively disposed towards that latter flick had I seen this one first.

I can’t always relate to the issues that other characters have, or that actors portray, in movies. My parents weren’t killed by criminals, so that motivation doesn’t move me much for batclad vigilantes fighting villains. Neither my significant other nor my dog were murdered by the Russian mob, so I don’t always feel like I get the motivation of people who kill a million people in revenge.

But a mediocre guy who struggles artistically in vain and sometimes doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile? I can totally get that.

Fred (Josh Ruben) secludes himself in a cabin in upstate New York in order to work on something. In terms of ideas, all he has thus far is “werewolf have guns – get revenge?” He meets an actual successful writer, immensely popular and well known, and instantly resents her.

That other writer is played by the awesome Aya Cash. Aya Cash may not be a household name, but she should be. She played Gretchen in a tv series called You’re The Worst about a vile group of Friends from a bizarro-universe, and more recently played secret Nazi superhero/villain Stormfront in the second season of The Boys. Everything she plays, she plays with style and élan, and it’s no different here.

As Fanny, without always intending to, she gives Fred a vision of what being an actual creative person could be like, someone willing to work and extend ideas and throw shit around and actually do something, whether it works or not.

At first he’s amazed by her, seeing how her mind goes in directions and places where he never thought to go. Despite their rocky introduction to each other, they end up in his cabin during a power outage, telling each other stories not with the intention of actually scaring each other but in terms of trying to tell scary stories in order to come up with some creative stuff, and one up each other.

Rating:

Dune Part 1

Dune

All these people worried about what spices are going to
be served at dinner

dir: Denis Villeneuve

2021

I was a bit worried when I heard that Denis Villenueve was tackling Dune, but I shouldn’t have worried. He’s probably one of the consistently best directors making big budget movies around. Look at this list of movies: Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and now Dune, all solid movies.

Maybe I was a bit more worried about Timothée Chalamet as the lead, because, look at him, he’s Timothée Chalamet, for fuck’s sake. He’s no Kyle McLachlan, that’s for sure.

But he does okay. If ever a role called for a moody emo kid in a trenchcoat to look moody and such, well, Chalamet is your boy.

The scale is BIG, everything is really BIG. Production values, through the roof! There’s nothing cheap about this production, no siree.

I am one of the few people who actually has fond memories of the ‘original’ version of this, directed by David Lynch, that came in 1984. I liked it, but I was twelve. That’s not an excuse, it’s just that at 12 I liked a bunch of things that maybe weren’t great. I hadn’t discovered women yet and wouldn’t do so for many more years, so maybe I didn’t have a lot of life experience as to what stuff was great and what stuff sucked back then.

I saw it at the movies, and I saw it a stack more times on a VHS copy in the following years. I know that long arse flick backwards. Kyle McLachlan played Paul Atriedes, Francesca Annis played his mum, and a whole bunch of other legends played various characters. Sir Fucking Patrick Stewart was in it! Dean Stockwell! Sean Young? Jurgen Prochnow? Virginia Madsen? And there were giant worms, and people could kill people with just using their voices. And it had an amazing look to it, both retro and ultra futuristic.

I’m not here to defend that film, just to say while it might have been a bomb, no film David Lynch has ever made has ever been completely worthless (with the possible exception of Fire Walk With Me). And I read the book too, but the film always mattered more to me than the book did.

Fidelity to the book also never really concerned me that much. This flick does everything it can to make this all seem serious and important. There’s no fucking around here: everything is deadly serious. The state of, um, the universe is at stake.

Rating:

Identifying Features

Sin Senas Particulares

This shouldn't be happening, there, or anywhere. Please stop.

Sin Señas Particulares

dir: Fernanda Valadez

2020

I don’t understand. I don’t understand what is happening, what is depicted here, as happening in Mexico.

I understand government violence (well, when I say that, I say it from the safety of distance and privilege, in that I can intellectualise about it, but haven’t lived through it), I understand the concept that criminal gangs commit violence in order to control drug operations and maintain areas of control.

I guess I understand the concept of right wing or left wing paramilitaries, or religious nutters attacking villagers and villages, or ruling suburbs, or any number of things. I think I understand violence as a tool to make the survivors cower, and go along with whatever the group wants.

I don’t understand what is depicted here. Killing just to kill people, and not like serial killers or sadists or crazies or vampires. People, trying to get to El Norte (the States) from all areas of Mexico, being robbed, murdered and their bodies desecrated and burned, just for the hell of it.

And…it’s real, it’s what’s been happening for a long time in Mexico, and I find it terrifying, and I don’t understand it.

A recent film I watched about the Srebrenica Massacre (Quo Vadis, Aida?) during the Balkans War in the 90s, that was horrible, and terrifying, to see a group of people try to exterminate an ethnic group of people they don’t like. That’s horrible, too, but I can at least grasp some semblance of their mentality, of how they justify it to themselves, or try to justify it in front of a war crimes tribunal at The Haig.

I don’t understand this.

The perspective is mostly from that of a mother, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernandez), trying to find out what happened to her son Jesús (Juan Jesús Varela), who went up north two months ago, and haven’t been heard from since. She lives a humble farming existence on a small plot of land, and while she obviously fears for her son, she would understand the son’s drive to go El Norte, cross the border, maybe eke out a living and send some money home. The lure of the better life that only money and not being surrounded by apocalyptic violence could bring.

When he and his mate disappear, his friend having a distinctive patch of vitiligo on his forehead, making his body easier to identify for his mother, at least, Magdalena doesn’t accept that just because the authorities say that he’s dead, that he must be.

She’s fully aware that he might be dead. This isn’t false hope or delusion on her part. She has a weary kind of resignation to what has happened. But she has to know for sure. She needs certainty, a mother needs certainty, to bury her son, to bring him home, somehow, if she can.

Rating:

Lapsis

Lapsis

The Cube is good, the Cube is great.
We surrender our will, as of this date.

dir: Noah Hutton

2020

So…what is Lapsis really about?

I could tell you, but then you wouldn’t spend the 100 or so minutes listening to me that you could otherwise spend watching this strange, low-budget film.

This is exactly the kind of film people say they wish science fiction films were like: For those kinds of people who are bored of sci-fi becoming synonymous with explosions and supeheroics and world ending disasters, this is the exact kind of flick they CLAIM more should be made of.

And then within a few minutes of starting it, if they even hear of it, they’d switch it off and put on another fucking Marvel film. And I include Martin Scorsese in this. Well known for lamenting the lack of art and heart in the Marvel movie making production line, upon popping this on in his state of the art VCR, he’d pop it out again and immediately put on Captain America: Civil War muttering “I just love watching how Winter Soldier fucks shit up old school”.

Lapsis is low-key and fairly quiet, and it takes a long time to get to where it’s going. It seems like it’s a satire about Big Tech and such, but it’s really about the gig economy, and the ways in which the corporate world conspires to keep wages down and keep work insecure and perilous, and keeps workers isolated for its own benefit entirely.

The tech hardly matters. The job hardly matters, wait, no, the job really matters, but when I tell you what the job is that people are doing, it’s going to sound baffling.

This is set in the present world, except there has been one advance, and one other thing that’s gone wrong in the world. Regular, boring computers have been replaced with quantum computers. What do the new computers do that’s different? I have no idea. It’s not particularly obvious. There’s no difference except that when someone says “but the timetable said it’s okay to double park today”, and the parking ticket cop says “nuh uh, you should have used a quantum computer to see the timetable, which would have shown you it’s not okay. Quantum computer, quantum timetable.”

This is not a flick to watch even theoretically to find out anything about quantum computing, which is apparently a real thing in this, the apparently real world. What it means in the context of this film is, that a company, pretending to be many companies, but really it’s a monopoly, puts these metal cubes in forests, and engages trackers to drag a cable from one cube to another cube and attach it thereon.

What does the metal cube do? No idea. What courses through the cables? No idea. Why are they dragging cables through forests anyway and attaching them to cubes? We never find out.

It’s just something that people do, and it’s sought-after work. You have to have a medallion in order to get on the scheme. There are these devices like older phones which confirm your identity, tell you when to walk, tell you when to rest, and chastise you if you vary from the path.

All the while when you’re trying to trudge through the fucking forests and gulleys and such, an automated creepy crawly machine is also following behind you. If it gets to the place where you’re meant to be going before you, whatever moneys you were promised evaporate. If you tamper with the machine, security goons swoop in and hog-tie you, dragging you out of the forest.

There are points systems, hierarchies, reasons to obey and plenty of disincentives not to stray. If you’re injured on the job, they don’t care, and they don’t help you.

Rating:

The Many Saints of Newark

Many Saints of Newark

Now let me teach you how to smoke like a cool guy, capisce?

dir: Alan Taylor

2021

Does there need to be a prequel movie to one of the most famous prestige tv series of all time? Not really, not when you have so many episodes already of the show. Do we learn anything startling and new about the characters of the series that we didn’t know or didn’t know we cared about before? Absolutely not. This is really a flick no-one asked for that no-one needed.

But I still got a lot out of it. This is, despite the very weird framing device, an interesting story about someone who was important to the main character of The Sopranos who we never got to really see because they were long dead before the scope of the series started.

It’s less, very much less an origin story for Tony Soprano, and more a story about his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti, ably played by Alessandro Nivola, who’s been great in a lot of things and is very solid here. The problem from his perspective might be, must be, that Dickie is just a puppet at the hands of fate. The other characters, including the one doing the voiceover, all have a pre-determined fate, and so does Dicky, but for him we know he doesn’t make it out of the 1970s.

Why, becomes our question. Well, and this is about as pretentious as the series creator David Chase has ever gotten, it’s because Dickie’s story is a tragedy. A Greek tragedy, despite the fact that they’re Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot in the film, and not all of it is that interesting. I have to confess that the bits dealing with Tony (who later on in the film is played by James Gandolfini’s son Michael, which really does your head in a bit) weren’t as fundamental as everything Dickie does when Tony isn’t around. But we’re meant to see what happens to Dickie, and what he does or doesn’t do, as being central to why Tony became the way he is.

It’s important to remind myself that The Sopranos used the trappings and clichés of the mafia genre to tell a story, primarily, that wasn’t about life in the mafia. It was always about the therapy, far more so than the strippers, the mob machinations and deals, and the murders.

Through 6 seasons the questions were asked and sometimes answered as to why a person ends up the way they are, and whether any amount of therapy can ultimately change them, or improve them, or help them and the people around them. The series quite definitively came down on the side of charming sociopaths, like Tony, ultimately not changing at all, but finding new ways to manipulate the people around them through using the verbiage and cover of therapy speak.

Put more simplistically, it can help okay people with stuff, but it makes monsters worse.

The main character of the show literally decides nothing means anything, so he might as well keep being the monster he’s always been.

Rating:

Fried Barry

Fried Barry

He's got the whole world, in his hands

dir: Ryan Kruger

2020

Fried Barry. It’s fucking bonkers. And it’s South African!

I cannot recommend this enough, in that I cannot recommend this at all. It is an utterly bonkers endeavor in el cheapo gonzo filmmaking that is reminiscent of both Repo Man and countless video clips that I used to watch on Rage back in the day – no budget anarchic wonders that had energy and movement and little else.

It even has a weird intro where a serious looking government man is warning us that the content is going to be pretty racy and enjoyable in this ultra 18 Plus rated flick. He looks all official and serious, and like he’s just about to drop a defence of apartheid on us, but it looks so officially official. I think it’s a parody of warnings that used to be in front of flicks in the 1980s, but since I’m not from around there, these aren’t memories, they’re guesses.

Fried Barry is not only about a heroin addict called Barry (Gary Green) – it is about an addict who gets abducted by aliens, probed in all sorts of horrible ways, and then comes back to Cape Town even less well-adjusted and socially able than before. Whatever it is that comes back, it’s not really Barry – it just looks like Barry.

And what does Barry look like? Well. He looks like a demented, emaciated drug addict, with a bug-eyed stare, teeth that never have seen better days, a lot of acid wash denim. And now he mostly can’t even talk anymore.

People throw drugs at him now. Everyone wants to share their drugs with him. Women, always inexplicable in their choices in movies, all now must have sex with him. A woman drags him home from a club, projects hardcore pornography onto the walls of her apartment, has her way with him then promptly tells Alien Barry to fuck off.

Wherein another woman feels compelled to engage physically with him as well, but this time at least she can be assumed to be doing it for money. Joke’s on her, though, if this bonkers film has any message, it’s that you shouldn’t have unprotected sex, ever.

How bad an idea is it with Barry? Within seconds, the working girl pretending to writhe around in ecstasy is undergoing childbirth, and has a newborn Barry to remember him by?

Huh? Wuh?

Alien Barry’s journey is not really that much of a journey, in that he’s not really trying to get anywhere. He’s often standing in place as drugs are thrust at him, violence is perpetrated upon him, or everyone tries to have sex with him, but we don’t really get a sense that the alien at the controls has a mission or an intention, really, beyond seeing what life is like for a degenerate in Cape Town.

Turns out, at least from Barry’s perspective, it can be a lot of fun, if you survive it.

Rating:

Together Together

Together Together

They look like they're about to interview you for a position
at their tech start up, but as an unpaid intern drowning
in coffee / energy drink orders, and abuse, but you'll
do it for clout / exposure maybe?

dir: Nikole Beckwith

2021

Together Together is a very modest, very small-scale flick, which is part of why I found it so charming. It mostly has two actors acting all the time on the screen, but the stakes are pretty low.

It’s a plot you haven’t heard and seen a million times before. A guy called Matt (Ed Helms) who’s in his 40s wants to become a dad. He does not have any partner, or seemingly ever had a partner, and wishes to get a surrogate to have the baby for him (for cash money), and then she can fuck right off out of their lives forever. The baby itself is from a donor egg, so there would be no genetic connection to the child for the surrogate.

Typing those words makes the whole process sound so awful. I assure you this is a light hearted comedy. It’s mostly about the awkwardness and the foibles of the two main characters.

Anna (Patti Harrison) is in her early 20s. She is one of those dreaded millennials that we were regularly told pre-covid were ruining everything for the rest of us. She had previously had a kid as a teenager but gave it up for adoption.

This time, at least, she wants some money for her troubles. She is… an interesting low-key character, in that she seems a bit isolated, but at least she has one friend / co-worker (Julio Torres) whose purpose in the film is to be extra annoying. Any of the millennial clichés she gets to avoid, Jules totally embodies.

The far more problematic character is Matt, in that there isn’t any diagnosed personality disorder or spectrum related discussions, but he is fairly horrible at talking to people in general and Anna specifically. His polite exterior covers a gaping, howling void inside. Immediately upon meeting Anna, and once she signs on the dotted line, he begins acting towards her like she’s an untrustworthy employee who needs to be heavily supervised at all times.

From that as a starting point he graduates to talking to her the way no man with a pregnant partner ever should, no matter how controlling or overbearing. The relief comes from when Anna pushes back against his bullshit, in a way that almost made me think he was the movie’s secret villain.

Rating:

Land

Land

Whenever I see shots like this, my first and only thought
is always "what the fuck are they looking at?"

dir: Robin Wright

2021

You have to feel a bit bad for Robin Wright. I mean you personally don’t have to; you’ve got more than enough on your plate.

Always the bridesmaid. She was in that series House of Cards where they discovered Kevin Spacey had been the main character for years, like it was a surprise, then they got rid of him, and it didn’t last another season with her as the lead. She was married to Sean Penn, which couldn’t have been easy, but she gave some tremendous performances in films he directed. And now she thought, it’s my time to shine. She tried, goddamnit. Along came a story she felt was so good, she had to star in it and direct it, and it would give her the plaudits and respect she deserved after such a long and celebrated career.

It’s a story about a woman who’s isolated, who’s grief-stricken, who sets out to live a different life from the one she led before away from civilization.

But the problem is, well, this came out just after Nomadland, didn’t it, so she looks like an also-ran, even down to calling her flick Land.

So probably not for the first time in her life, all the awards and adulation that could, that should have flowed to her, instead flowed to Frances McDormand.

Fuck, that’s got to burn you up inside a little bit. Maybe not. Maybe Robin Wright is just happy if a handful of people see what she put together with her own two hands. Because, considering the timing, I doubt even Wright’s friends and family have gotten to see this thus far.

It’s…they haven’t missed much. It feels churlish to compare the two films, even if they start from a similar place, even if they start with similar protagonists. The character here has so much grief about something that she doesn’t even tell anyone what she’s grieving until the very last few minutes of the movie. So for most of it we’re wondering why she longs for death so much.

A city woman moves to the very remotest part of Wyoming, with no intention or plan of ever leaving. She buys an unpowered shack, and basically, though she has taken some rudimentary steps to prolong her life, and brought some tools with which to live off the land, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and it really looks like cover for wanting to die without explicitly committing suicide.

Which is a pretty grim fate.

Before she made the move, we see her desperate sister (Kim Dickens) trying to make contact with her, and when this main character of Edee played by Robin Wright throws her mobile into a bin we know she doesn’t want that contact at all.

When she gets to the cabin she asks the realtor to organise for someone to come and collect the rental car and the trailer she used to get there. When he says something like “you need to have a vehicle, being out here, so isolated” she makes noises like “yeah, nah, not an issue.”

Rating:

Nomadland

Nomadland

Life is brief and all too long, together or apart

dir: Chloe Zhao

2020

Nomadland is a beautiful, sad film. I have no doubt it’s about something to the people that made it, but mostly, it just seems to be about a woman with no home who drives around, does odd jobs, and meets a few people.

Imagine trying to sell that idea to a studio, to get them to make your film.

Well, it helps if the person is Frances McDormand who read the book by Jessica Bruder, and thought “this would be a good movie with me in it”, and she was not wrong, because she’s rarely wrong. She’s been a tremendous actor for decades, but she’s not as beloved by the media as the Streeps and, I dunno, the Cate Blanchetts of the world because she doesn’t seem to give as much of a shit about the fanciful stuff around the movies versus the movies themselves.

If a person was being uncharitable one could argue being married to a Coen Brother is an incredible advantage in such a ruthless world of cinematic shenanigans. You might argue that’s how she got her first Oscar, but that doesn’t explain the other two, or all the great roles she’s assayed, in pretty much everything she’s ever done. Plus she was great in Fargo independent of who directed it.

The keen intensity she brings to most of her roles is directed elsewhere here. Her character of Fern exists, does things, has a backstory, but she’s not really the protagonist of this story. This story doesn’t need or have a singular protagonist. She does things, a bunch of things, and talks to a bunch of people, but she underplays everything in a way that people confuse with naturalism or underacting, which, if ever you’ve seen non-actors act whenever a camera is on, we should know is anything but easy.

Her character has lost her husband of however many years, but she’s also lost her home, her sense of place, any feeling of a safe harbor in the world. The town she lived in disappeared not because of her husband’s death, but because the town itself died when the one business shut down. The town of Empire, Nevada, is a real place, and all that’s referred to actually happened. A town with a population of 750 fell to zero when US Gypsum closed the mine. No mine, no reason for the town to exist.

Rating:

Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within

Rarely have I wanted every character to die in a movie

dir: Josh Ruben

2021

Werewolves Within. Is a film. That exists. And I watched it. But I am not proud.

It stars the delightful Sam Richardson who is just about the nicest sonofabitch you’ve ever seen in any medium. His guiding light in life seems to be Mr Rogers, with all the niceness and tweeness that conveys.

He plays a forest ranger or something similar, who moves to a town called Beaverfield that seems to only have 11 other people in it. Something mysterious seems to be going on in the town which will force all or most of them into the confines of a hotel, where maybe they’ll be picked off one by one?

I think, despite the werewolf theme and horror elements it was intended to be a snappy and light kind of comedy with a smidge of social commentary? I don’t know if that’s the case because I didn’t really find any of it that funny, like not even smile funny.

Problems with my approach: I saw it on my own; I saw it stone cold sober; I was already in something of an impatient mood and kept wanting to turn it off or watch something else or compulsively check my phone. And that’s despite the fact that I thought most of the people here are great performers who’ve delighted me in other stuff.

As characters start to die, I found I didn’t really care, because it was impossible to care about any of them. One character is always getting handsy with the ladies around who aren’t his wife, and of course we would want him to die, but when his handsy hand gets ripped off I felt kinda bored.

What it really feels like is a premise without a great idea on how to stretch things out? It feels really belaboured, like, pointlessly meandering all over the place, and almost winking at us with its arbitrary pointlessness. And that would be okay if it was fun along the way.

As in, at one point all the remaining people decide they need to stick together in the hotel. So they do so. Until they decide, well actually, let’s all just fuck off to our own homes, and then they do so. And you’re like “the fuck didn’t you do that half an hour ago?”

Rating:

Lorelei

Lorelei

Young love, ages like a poisonous wine

dir: Sabrina Doyle

2021

I did not know what to except with this movie, and it totally delivered on that uncertainty.

Set mostly in a tiny town in the Pacific North West, this is a fairly grim story about people who had hopes and dreams when they were young, but life came along and crushed them, but they kept on living, so, now what do we do?

People on the lowest rungs of society, especially in gleefully capitalistic wonderlands like the States, don’t really have as much of a chance to pursue their “dreams” as all the motivational self-help boilerplate statements would lead us to believe. Working hard and making sacrifices doesn’t make you Jeffrey Bezos. Jeffrey Bezos could sit in the corner of a darkened room motionless, unblinking all day long and still “makes” millions per second, more than any of his employees who could work twenty four hours a day and never take a bathroom break could make over their entire lives.

Those who grow up in a small Oregon town, who get involved with drugs, crime from a young age, having kids way too early, well, the system isn’t designed to let them get anywhere with all the will and hard work in the world. The system needs them to stay isolated and desperate so there’s no upward pressure on wages, and they’ll work themselves to death for peanuts, and that there proves how well the system works.

Wayland (a phenomenal Pablo Schreiber) has just been released from prison. He’s done hard time for 15 years. He wasn’t unfairly or unjustly incarcerated. He isn’t vowing revenge on the cops or on some criminal enemy. He committed a serious crime, got caught, kept his mouth shut, and that was that. His crew, his family, a bikie gang called The Night Horsemen, as in, presumably, the Night Horsemen of the Apocalypse (unless they all met at pony club at a very young age, brought together by their love of all things equestrian), are there to greet him and welcome him home.

Rating:

Lucky

Lucky

Luck ain't got nothing to do with it

dir: Natasha Kermani

2021

I have, this past year, sat through so many takes on Groundhog Day that it was inevitable that there would be a horror take on it as well, and here it is.

May (Brea Grant) is a self-help author whose books seem to have the message that you’re on your own, no-one else is going to help you (including her) so get your shit together and look after yourself.

Why anyone would need to buy multiple books to realise such an obvious but cold fact is the only real mystery here. Her books don’t seem to be selling that well anymore, which, granted, means she needs to shift her message. She takes her box of remaindered copies to her car in some underground garage, and something happens, but the camera cuts away.

Later on, in the middle of the night she awakes to noises downstairs. Some man appears from nowhere and attacks her and her husband. She is really freaked out, her husband less so, who bizarrely seems to think this has happened forever, and will happen again. People are hurt. The assailant disappears. The cops are…unhelpful.

And the whole process repeats itself again and again.

Is it a loop? Is some supernatural force at play? Is May hallucinating everything? Is someone terrorising her, gaslighting her? It seems like people are dying, like people are being severely hurt. There’s blood on the carpets and the walls. But no bodies. Whenever she is lucky enough to stab, bash, throw down the stairs or otherwise do stuff to The Man (Hunter C. Smith) that would otherwise kill a mortal human being, no body is ever left behind.

It’s…perplexing. She is convinced something terrible and strange is happening to her, but the world doesn’t seem to agree. The cops especially are baffling. They return, every day and night, to the same house where windows have been smashed in and blood has splashed all over the place, and they seek to placate the alleged victim without believing or helping her in any way.

Cops can’t help you; you’ve got to help yourself.

May’s husband goes missing, for a long period of time, and most of the cops’ questions align around “So did you husband do it, why would your husband do it, what did you do to make your husband do it, it’s your fault your husband did it” etc. The disappearance is…strange. It points to something that happened, something that either May feels guilty about or that someone should feel guilty about.

Rating:

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:

Old

Old

Sun protection is important because the sun hates us

dir: M Night Shyamalan

2021

I don’t think there is a three part name that inspires more dread than M. Night Shyamalan. Either that or derisive laughter, take your pick.

Every time he has a new film come out people fall over themselves to say “it’s finally a return to form for the director of The Sixth Sense”, and every time they’re wrong. Every time Shyamalan makes another movie he finds new ways to make actors sound like speaking in human languages with human words is an almost impossible feat.

Dialogue so bone-headed, so ripe that it defies the best efforts of even decent actors, let alone crappy ones. This film Old is really delightful, no, it really is. It’s about a family, and some other people, who go to a beach, and the beach ages people really quickly. Like, a day is like 50 years.

So when the flick starts, you have a mother saying to her tween daughter “Oh, you have such a lovely voice, I can’t wait for you to grow up”, because little does she know that by the end of the day, her daughter will be collecting a pension.

From the perspective of what happens on the beach, it’s actually well done, sort of. The mystery is actually mysterious for much of the flick’s length. It gives you time to wonder as to what’s actually going on, whether there’s a cautionary tale aspect to it, like, appreciate what you’ve got in the present instead of living in the past or the future (a fighting couple actually say this in dialogue to each other), or don’t take your kids on a holiday as part of a ruse in order to tell them at the end of the holiday that their parents are separating.

I mean, worst holiday ever, unless you want your parents to separate, in which case, yay?

You wonder if the people running the resort on this immaculate island are like Mr Rourke on Fantasy Island, giving people what they think they want, only to see the folly of their grasping greed or how the path not taken is way worse than the trodden one, for it all to be revealed as a dream at the end, the dreamer relieved that the bad things didn’t actually happen, returning chastened to their regular life.

No. It’s none of that. It’s an explanation so bad, so terrible that I laughed out loud. I didn’t send the abbreviation to someone in a text message, I actually shook my head and guffawed, and said out loud “M. Night Shyamalan, how do you keep getting to make movies?”

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:

The Card Counter

Card Counter

So broody and intense, you can fill up two hours with it

dir: Paul Schrader

2021

Yeesh. Like, I’m sure a lot of other directors fuck up the endings of their films, but holy fuck does this go off the rails.

Although, being honest, it’s not really on decent rails before it falls off of them and into a ravine abundant with mediocrity and yet somehow still empty.

It’s such a shame, because I love Oscar Isaac. He’s usually dependably great in what he does. He does okay for much of the flick, but the film feels so flimsy after a while, giving him a heavily weighted and freighted character who doesn’t really have anything to do and to whom nothing believable happens.

And then he flies back to his home planet, never to be seen or heard from again.

It’s that abrupt. Either they completely ran out of money or they just didn’t know how to end things.

That in itself would be fascinating, in terms of how you can run out of money when your budget is probably miniscule as it is. There are times when Isaac’s character is wearing what I’m pretty sure is Target brand clothing, and there’s no real story reason for it, so the times when he’s wearing decent clothing I’m assuming he’s wearing his own stuff.

There is something serious, something important the flick is trying to do, or at least it’s pretending it’s about serious and weighty subjects. The main character, who tells people his name is William Tell, is a very cold, very robotic person who counts cards at low rent casinos. He’s not trying to make a bundle; he’s just trying to make modest winnings, and then move on.

He doles out his story to us, the audience, by writing in a journal and then telling us things in voice over. His writing is neither profound nor overly revealing, and all it does is imply to us that this very shut down man still has thoughts percolating in that noggin of his.

The weight that he carries is that he was in the military, and was stationed at some place like Abu Ghraib where US personnel, contractors or otherwise, tortured and tormented people for intel, for revenge, for shits and giggles.

He wasn’t one of the victims – he was one of the torturers.

But I guess there’s the argument that torturers can also carry the burden of the trauma they inflicted. There are other flicks, even ones I’ve seen recently, which look at what impact execution has on people, not just the victims, but on society, including those who the state compels to end the lives of others. The Iranian flick I’m thinking of, There Is No Evil, was a brilliant and affecting examination of the topic.

The Card Counter isn’t even vaguely in the same ballpark, at least, not to me. William Tell was jailed for his crimes. He lives a life that seems strange to the observer, but we never really get a sense of why he lives like this, what it means to him, until a character sees one of the odd things he does, being, that he travels from cheap motel to cheap motel and brings his own sheets.

That bit makes perfect sense. But what he does is wrap those sheets around the furniture, and it’s not because of germophobia, which I would otherwise completely understand, but because he needs the space to be monochromatic, to perhaps make him feel like he’s back in jail.

Okay, so he doesn’t feel like he has paid enough for what he did, he needs to suffer more.

Rating:

Pig

Pig

It's true that there are few real things for us to care about in
this life. But why oh why, for me, did it have to be movies?

dir: Michael Sarnoski

2021

Pig is an amazing film, in that it’s amazing to believe that of the twenty or so movies Nicolas Cage still makes a year, very occasionally there will be an okay one, an almost better than okay one. Pig is surprising for that reason, if no other.

It’s a simple enough premise, but it’s the same premise taken to absurd lengths that underpins other far more violent flicks where the death of a pet or the loss of an animal is an excuse to kill a bunch of people. The action in John Wick kicks off with the shooting of a dog. The Rover with Guy Pearce has a man kill a whole bunch of people in a post-collapse landscape because he wants to get his dead dog back.

Pig has a guy searching for his pig, which has been stolen. But it’s not used as an excuse to kill a whole bunch of people. While there is a small amount of violence in the film, it is visited upon the protagonist, rather than him visiting righteous vengeance upon others. It subverts not only the expected path for these kinds of films, but for Nicolas Cage films in general.

I’ve heard tell, quite often, that Portland, Oregon is an odd place, and this film doesn’t make it seem any less weird. The main character, Rob (Cage) and his odyssey through the curious culinary underworld of Portland is a journey of a broken, barely speaking man who looks like he’s been destroyed by life. The pig was his only companion, and with whom he sought out truffles, which he gave to Amir (Alex Wolff) in exchange for food basics. They lived in a shack in the woods, somewhere near the Willamette River. How do I know it’s the Willamette River? They talk about the Willamette all the fucking time. Considering that I even know about the Willamette River mostly due to the Wildwood novels written by Colin Meloy of The Decemberists fame, I get the feeling there’s not much else going on there other than the river and rare culinary treats.

Rob, as he’s known, takes a beating from two shady characters who pilfer the pig. Rob then embarks on his journey to getting the pig back by going towards a place he has avoided for over a decade. He only goes to the kinds of places that are somehow tied to the food services industry, but more on the exotic produce and ingredients side. In such an imagined world, a truffle finding pig of high quality would be extremely valuable, and everyone would somehow know about it.

Where I live, if I had a pig, and someone stole it, and then I wandered around the local restaurants and markets grunting about my pig, most likely I wouldn’t find the pig, and people wouldn’t answer my questions, and I’d probably get arrested. There isn’t much visual disparity between how I generally appear at my best and Cage’s character appears at his worst, but my name doesn’t carry the weight that his character’s does here.

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:

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