Summer Night

Mere hours ago I wondered to myself what “the kid” from Boyhood was up to. I vaguely remembered seeing him in one other thing, maybe, and then all of a sudden this movie pops up on my Netflix recommendations, and there he is. Ellar Coltrane. So yes, he has continued to have a career after that one seminal experience. By the looks of him he’s had more movie roles than he’s had hot showers, but who knows, I guess “unkempt” is a look, more or less, and “shampoo” could be an allergy. I suppose.

Anyway, he’s just one of many 20-somethings in this film. Others are played by Lana Condor, Analeigh Tipton, and Victoria Justice. In a 24 hour period, they mostly mope about, wondering what they’ll do with themselves, bemoaning the state of their relationships while also avoiding their relationships, and just generally succumbing to small town ennui. Until night beckons, and they all turn up at a bar which may actually be the bar. As in: one and only, but not particularly happening. The bar’s about one third full, and not only does everyone there know each other, most of them are playing in one of several bands featured on this night, and yes, we’ll hear quite extensively from all of them. Not to worry, this still leaves plenty of room for exes to side-eye each other, and future exes to eye-fuck each other.

This is Generation Z, so they are named Harmony and Corin and Jameson, and nobody ever shortens it or gives him a nickname, it’s just Jameson every time because if his mama went to all that trouble to give him a name that’s as special as he is, his buds are all going to respect it.

They’re young and they think they’re the first people to ever have these problems, and they seem so important when nothing has really ever happened to you yet. I don’t think all young people are vapid and clueless, but they are in this movie, and it was nearly unbearable.

I haven’t been this bored by a movie in a long time. First, there were entirely too many characters, and it’s impossible to keep track of who is who. Don’t even bother trying because their problems are interchangeable and their identities are non-existent. It’s impossible to care for people you know nothing about and it is far too easy to be annoyed by people who wear “don’t care” as a badge of honour.

Between director Joseph Cross and writer Jordan Jolliff, there’s a lot of Richard Linklater wannabe-ism going on but you can’t really call this a coming of age when it’s mostly just a lot of treading water while having remarkable unprofound conversation. This movie has no spark, no joy, no life. Forgettable characters go about their banal little lives and no one gives us a reason to take notice.

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts

Sean and I are so movie-intensive that we don’t leave a lot of room for TV and we don’t mind that one bit. But we make exceptions for the exceptional, and if nothing else, Rupaul’s Drag Race is just that. Squirrelfriends, if you’re not watching it, I simply cannot fathom why. This is not mere reality television, it is LIFE. Over its many seasons we have had many favourites – and truly, with so many outsized personalities, it’s hard not to fall just a teensy bit in love with them all. That said, Trixie Mattel’s all-star win just about knocked our fishnets off with sheer delight. But with this documentary, Moving Parts does one better: it gives us a glimpse of the man behind the makeup.

Brian Firkus doesn’t get recognized often. Without a wig and heels, you might not guess that this mild-mannered, handsome man is capable of confidently captivating an audience, but in Trixie’s shape-wear and rhinestones, there’s nothing but sass and sparkle. Trixie is clearly the more dominant side of Brian’s personality; even outside of drag, he seems to reach for her persona and distinct speech patterns when he’s uncomfortable. But to give Trixie her own special trademark, he’s made accessible a more vulnerable side, channeling his life experiences into music. On stage, Trixie is vivacious and funny, but when she’s strumming a guitar, or playing an autoharp, she is somehow more than the sum of her (moving) parts. Like any great artist, from David Bowie to Dolly Parton, there’s a certain amount of glitter and pizzazz, but behind the warpaint is someone willing to take risks.

Director Nick Zeig-Owens documents Trixie’s enormous success, but if he catches her at her highest, he also catches her at her lowest. Trixie is a fantasy and a character, not built for disappointment, so it’s Brian who handles the blows. And perhaps the most revelatory nugget from the documentary is that Brian, unlike alter-ego Trixie, seems to be a bit of an introvert. So no matter how many people line up outside the venue just to shake her hand, or how many tiaras she’s crowned with on stage, Brian is at heart a humble guy trying to navigate the same murky waters as everyone else.

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts is a nifty little peek behind the curtain of one of drag’s most successful performers – but climbing to the top always comes with a cost.

The Yellow Birds

Sean and I have been sharing the 90s movies we’re nostalgic for, movies that I so treasured in my youth that they still make me feel young to this day. I wondered if there was a specific movie that made me realize I’ve crossed over to old. Does such a movie exist? I do remember watching a not very good movie called Better Off Dead and realize that rather than empathizing with the young John Cusack character, I actually sympathized for the dad. Gah! And lately, because we’ve been able to binge-watch 30 years worth of The Simpsons on Disney+, I’ve realized that when that show first came on the air, I was Lisa’s age, and now I’m older than Homer and Marge. Oof. But today I stumbled upon the real answer: war movies. I’ve never been more acutely aware just how young 18 is than watching war movies.

Daniel Murphy (Tye Sheridan) is 18 and still has no need for a razor when he enlists in the army. He makes fast friends with Bartle (Alden Ehrenreich), who is barely older than he is, but just barely is enough for Murph’s mom (Jennifer Aniston) to make Bartle promise to look after him. Then, before they can fully lace up their boots, they’re shipped to Iraq.

I think 18 is young to choose a major in college. Not necessarily for a lack of maturity but at 18 you’ve hardly seen the world, you hardly know the choices, or what that degree actually means, and whether it will actually translate into a well-paying job you won’t immediately hate. Eighteen is certainly too young to make a commitment that could get your limbs blown off – or worse. It’s too young to really understand what you’re getting into, and what’s truly on the line. It’s too young to understand the politics of war and whether all engagements are worthy (and even seasoned politicians don’t understand, but nor do they care – it’s not their asses on the line). It’s too young to really understand the sacrifice; the teenage brain still believes itself to be invincible. Statistics are just things that happen to other people who aren’t and never could be you.

It’s achingly young; Murph sees some shit that no kid should ever see. He’s not supposed to think for himself. Orders are orders. But killing people is killing people and young Murph just can’t make that right in his head. And I don’t need to tell you how very scant the mental health resources are in the army. The army eats up young people and spits out mangled bodies and mangled souls. Murph becomes a lost soul, disconnected and disillusioned. Bartle is haunted by that promise to Murph’s mom.

When Bartle returns home, his mother (Toni Collette) finds him changed, disturbed. But Murph’s mom finds that her son is missing. Bartle knows the answers but might be too broken to tell.

The Yellow Birds has uniformly stellar performances. It’s a little familiar, perhaps not a very distinguished addition to the war movie canon, but I do think its message is worthy. We all know that war is hell, but this film reminds us that the hell extends beyond the battlefield.

The Parts You Lose

Wesley (Danny Murphy) loves being at home with his sister and his mother (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is loving and fiercely protective. She’s had to be – she’s alone with the kids much of the time, and Wesley going to a school for kids with special needs. He’s deaf, but there’s something else that sets him apart. He’s bullied at school and on the bus, and the space where he’s comfortable and safe shrinks even further when his father returns from whatever labour keeps the men in North Dakota away from home for weeks or months at a time. His dad is less kind, less patient. And sometimes unkind and impatient.

And then one day Wesley makes a friend. I should say, Wesley stumbles upon a badly injured fugitive (Aaron Paul). But with so few friends, Wesley endeavours to show this man kindness. He hides him, feeds him, cares for his wounds, all very stealthily. The police presence is increasing, his father ever-watching, and the pressure mounts as it dawns on Wesley that there perhaps isn’t going to be a happy ending.

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Wesley is a young boy who is weighing the difference between right and wrong, and determining the gulf between morality and loyalty, and which circumstances are worth compromising one for the other.

For all that, the movie is rather small, mostly revolving around an abandoned barn where one might hide a wanted man. There’s not much plot, not much action. It’s a lot of static, which is wonderful for establishing character and portraiture, but for a thriller, it’s awfully contained. Still, with fine performances and decent direction, The Parts You Lose is a worthy gamble.

Uncorked

Another entry into the “dad wants to mould his son into his own image” trope. Dads. Can’t live with them, can’t make life without them (yet). We ask so little of them but so many manage to screw things up anyway.

Louis (Courtney B. Vance) isn’t a bad dad, not exactly. He just assumes that son Elijah will do as he did – subsume his own desires and dreams and follow his father’s path, keeping the family business going. The family business, a barbecue joint, isn’t a huge money maker but that’s not why Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) isn’t interested. The truth is, he’s a wine guy. In his spare time he works in a liquor store just to be near it. He’s mustering up the courage to try sommelier school and while his mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) doesn’t understand it, she supports him. His father, however, is another story, varying from passive aggression to outright hostility. If even a tiny fraction of him is proud of his son, he doesn’t show it.

This may be a tired trope, but both the setting and the actors perfume it above its normal station. Vance and Athie craft very watchable characters, grounded in sincerity and tenderness.

Between commitments to class and a new relationship, Elijah has less time for the Memphis bbq joint, which Louis of course reads as personal rejection. But children aren’t clones. They’re not meant to be replicas of their parents. And parents are supposed to want better for their kids. Easier said than done, especially for a certain brand, and perhaps generation, of father whose manhood and identity is so tied up in work that they can’t really see around it. Movies like this give them permission to let go, to find new sources of pride, and maybe even a new sense of self. Which is a lot for one little movie to accomplish of course, but even if Uncorked doesn’t quite manage to heal all the father-son bonds of the world, at least it’s got some very charming performances and an honest attempt at connection.

Keep the fun going on Youtube!

The Occupant

Javier is a middle-aged job who has lost his job, and his dignity. He interviews for jobs that are well beneath him and is turned away for being too qualified. Next Javier (Javier Gutiérrez) loses his luxury apartment, and his car. Well he should have lost his car, he certainly told his wife he sold it, and yet he drives it still, unable to let go of this last tangible trace of his former life, his former self, his very identity.

And yet Javier is not a sympathetic man. He bullies his son. He belittles his wife when she takes a job cleaning to support the family. And through it all he feels very, very entitled. He’s certain he’s better than everyone else, and he’s filled with rage when his lifestyle cannot reflect his ego. So Javier does what any fragile white male’s ego would: he begins to stalk the family living in his old home.

Yeah, it’s not a great trajectory and yet it gets so much worse. It gets so much worse in an inexplicable way. One day he’s a bristling interviewee and the next he’s a complete psychopath. He makes terrible choice after terrible choice and we never really understand why. This is not mere anger, not disappointment or even resentment. Javier’s soul turns completely inside out, his actions cross the line into evil, and the film never bothers to justify or explain it. So while Javier is never a man you root for, he quickly becomes a man you despise, and no fate imaginable seems harsh enough.

Javier Gutiérrez must be a very good actor because his character turns on a dime. You don’t see it coming but nor do you doubt it. The rest of the cast, including Mario Casas, Bruna Cusi, and Ruth Diaz, are equally adept, but unfortunately this film just doesn’t live up to its premise or its promise. The concept is good but the execution is bad. Written and directed by David Pastor and Àlex Pastor, you can’t help but wish the film were more grounded, less concerned with shock value. It plays like a psychological thriller but we’re deprived of the psychology. And because Javier is so despicable and without any apparent or sufficient motivation, the thriller aspect is hard to buy into. There’s definitely tension but it never pays off. The film leaves you with an ending that won’t satisfy even the most lenient critic among us. Netflix hasn’t yet stepped up to help us fight the boredom of self-isolation and instead has stuck to its schedule of dumping really heavy, really gloomy titles on us. But even in the best of times, this movie would still rank among the worst.

3022

In 2190, four American astronauts are taking their turn peopling a refueling station halfway between Earth and a moon of Jupiter where an outpost is being built. It’s a long shift: 10 whole years. Jackie (Kate Walsh) says goodbye to her daughter and joins captain John (Omar Epps), Richard (Angus Macfadyen), and Lisa (Miranda Cosgrove) aboard their space station, all of them in it for a very long haul.

The first year goes smoothly – the nobility of their calling, the novelty of outer space, yadda yadda yadda. The second one is fine: they dance, they play soccer, they hop beds. By the third year, the veneer has worn off and the mission is sprouting cavities. John in particular is having difficulty, experiencing night terrors that are increasingly violent and problematic. They don’t even make it halfway before the doctor on board, Richard, decides John is unfit for duty and they should pull the plug on the mission and return home. No one is happy with this decision, but in either case it gets taken out of their hands when something even more concerning happens. Experienced on board as a flash, Earth seems to have disappeared, had an extinction-level event, or at least that’s what happened to the best of their knowledge now that communication’s been cut. And if you thought they were going a little nutty before they were the last four humans in existence, guess what’s coming down the comet!

The movie takes places entirely aboard this refuelling station so we don’t get any outside knowledge, outside context, or any backstory on any of these characters. Their astronauts, that’s all you’re going to get, and the qualification for astronauting seems to have diminished quite a bit somewhere in the next 150 years. I wish we had known them better, known their grief, known their motivation, known how a mother could leave her daughter to be raised by someone else.

Although there are some plot holes (inevitable in sci-fi, probably), director John Suits does a good job of cultivating tension. And you can’t deny the premise is a good one. It’s just a little wasted in this movie. They start rationing food and life support, but for what? There’s no one to save, nowhere to go. At what point is life not worth preserving? To be fair, the film does take a stab or two at fear of death versus fear of dying alone, and that theme is its own black hole. Bobbing around out in space, rational decisions already on short supply, nothing retains the same value. And yet some will always struggle to live on.

This isn’t the worst thing on Netflix. It isn’t great, but it may satisfy a craving for science fiction. Just know that some details will niggle and learn to let go. Or bring a calculator and prepare to double check some math.

Check out our review on Youtube.