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They Call Me Dr. Miami

Dr. Miami (Michael Salzhauer) is a Miami-based plastic surgeon who specializes in Brazilian Butt Lifts, whose most valued employee is a social media consultant. He has assembled a multinational team of like-minded surgeons who are happy to pay to be part of his network. Salzhauer spends most of his time filming Game of Thrones spoofs and appearing in music videos, and may or may not have time left over to actually perform surgeries in his namesake clinic, within his namesake tower.  Salzhauer is also an Orthodox Jew who seems fully aware of the fundamental conflict between his religion and his work, but believes it is necessary to sacrifice his beliefs to get what he wants. And also believes that everyone else is doing the same.

Dr. Miami should not be a doctor. He is focused on fame above all else, above family, work, and religion. Without even a cursory nod to professionalism, every aspect of his life is secondary to fame, and it’s not close.  Dr. Miami is an irredeemable character who would, I think, be quite happy with how he is portrated in this documentary. So it is a credit to filmmaker Jean-Simon Chartier that a documentary about this unlikeable person manages to stay neutral and, more impressively, stay interesting, as we follow Dr. Miami’s relentless pursuit of more.

If you are anything like me you will be horrified by much of what you see in They Call Me Dr. Miami, and yet you will be unable to look away.  This is an unflinching look at a person whom I cannot resist judging as a buffoon, yet I have to admit he is more introspective and self-aware that I would ever have guessed from his social media content. They Call Me Dr. Miami manages to humanize an individual even as he is trying so very hard to make a caricature of himself. That is no small feat, and it is all due to Chartier’s ability to remain objective, to which every true documentarian aspires but so few acccomplish.

 

Boss Level

Here we go again…

Roy (Frank Grillo) is living the same day over and over. We catch up with him after he’s died about 40 times, only to wake up again to an assassin swinging a machete at his head, and even if he escapes that threat, Roy has discovered he is the target of many, many more killers. Eventually, one of them is going to get Roy, and once they do, he will restart his personal Groundhog Day again and again and again. Who are these killers and why do they want Roy dead? That’s what Roy will have to figure out in order to escape this time loop and save the world, with some help from his scientist ex-wife (Naomi Watts) and with serious opposition from her evil boss (Mel Gibson) and his sidekick (Will Sasso).

Did we need another time loop movie? Definitely not. But Boss Level is not the worst of the bunch. If you can look past some dumb dialogue, such as its insistence that Street Fighter II is an 80s sidescroller (which is so obviously wrong in so many ways), there is a decent action movie here. Again, not a great one, but a serviceable one. It’s no Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, or Palm Springs, as it doesn’t add anything new to the live/die/repeat genre, and doesn’t bother to even try.

Still, it’s a workable popcorn movie and we certainly haven’t had a lot of those lately. If you’re in the market for one of those, this will probably fit the bill, as long as you are willing to put up with a lack of originality, Mel Gibson’s involvement, and the repeated misclassification of a classic 2D fighting game that was released in 1991.

Sightless

After being attacked in a parking garage, Ellen (Madelaine Petsch) wakes up without her sight. The nurse at her bedside tells her the damage to her eyes is irreversible. Unable to see, she is now dependent on her caretaker Clayton (Alexander Koch), whose main job is to help Ellen adjust to her new reality. Clayton spends a fair amount of time with Ellen at her apartment, and when he is not around, Ellen is occasionally visited by the detective investigating her attack as well as her two next-door neighbours, one who is abused and one who is the abuser.

But even without her sight, Ellen sees that something about this situation is….off. She can’t figure out what exactly is wrong but as she pulls at loose threads, her whole world starts unravelling.

Writer/director Cooper Karl establishes early on that the viewer’s eyes cannot be trusted, and it’s a recurring theme on which Sightless’ twists rely. While that approach likely was intended to match Ellen’s experience of being Sightless, it left me feeling disconnected from the film since I kept being reminded that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That disconnect neuters every one of this film’s attempts to shock, surprise and thrill, since nothing on screen can be trusted.

With Sightless lacking any edge due to its structure, you’re better off seeing what else Netflix has on offer.

Asphalt Burning

About 20 minutes into this movie, Jay decided it would be worth throwing her laptop at the TV if it stopped us from watching any more. Honestly, I am surprised it took that long for her to get to that point.

Roy (Anders Baasmo Christansen) is a Norwegian car junkie and proud Mustang owner who, while celebrating his upcoming wedding, kisses his fiancée’s ex-girlfriend Robyn (Alexandra Maria Lara). Despite Roy’s best attempts, for some reason his fiancée Sylvia (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) does not agree that the kiss shouldn’t count because Roy could not have known the two knew each other. Roy’s only chance to win Sylvia back is to travel from Norway to Germany’s Nürburgring and beat Robyn’s Porsche on its home track, in a race for Sylvia’s hand. Sylvia is surprisingly satisfied with this arrangement despite every single minute of in this movie proving that marrying Roy is a terrible idea.

Having raced on a virtual Nürburgring in both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport I can confirm that Roy’s Mustang would have no chance at all there against Robyn’s Porsche, but of course the race is going to play out very differently in Asphalt Burning than in virtual reality, let alone real reality. Still, despite being totally unrealistic, the final race is actually one of the more believable parts of this film, even factoring in a bizarre tour bus subplot which I cannot even begin to explain.

Clearly, Asphalt Burning had aspirations of being Europe’s answer to Fast & Furious, or at least Cannonball Run, but it comes at least a quarter mile short of that not-so-lofty goal. There is a valuable lesson to be found here for any filmmakers with similar aspirations, though: do not use CGI to stand in for practical vehicle effects. If you can’t make a trick happen with a combination of practical effects and editing, then don’t make that trick a part of your film. Not coincidentally, all of Asphalt Burning’s stunts seem to have been done entirely on a computer.

It’s not helping anyone to include totally unbelievable and unrealistic stunts in your movie. It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and it’s going to make me hate your movie even more than the bad dialogue, dislikeable protagonist, and inane plot points already did. As always, I should have listened to Jay.

Ghosts of War

In 1944, a team of five allied soldiers are assigned to protect a French mansion that the Nazis recently vacated. They are late arriving to relieve the current watch, who are suspiciously eager to leave. Almost immediately after they do, weird things begin happening to each of the five as they split up and check out the mansion. Clearly, this house is haunted, and it’s no surprise since the Nazis seem to have ritual-killed the family who once lived there (the pentagram in the attic is not just decorative, it’s fully operational).

From the moment Billy Zane appears on screen, it is clear that Ghosts of War is not going to be a good movie, and is not even trying to be one. Its goal appears to be to make you jump in terror, with it settling for mild twitches of surprise. Which kind of works, in its way. The house is mysterious enough to keep your attention, and the weird things happening within are clearly not random. These patterns hint that there is a solution to be found somewhere in the house, and our five soldiers are focused on figuring it out.

But then, things go sideways in a hurry, and that is because Ghosts of War has one other secret goal, ripped directly from M. Night Shyamalan’s playbook. Namely, to blow your mind when the truth behind these strange events is revealed. And as in most Shyamalan films, Ghosts of War’s twist feels like a cheap gimmick. Not only does his particular twist make no sense, the movie would have been better if it had just been left out.

That ill-conceived twist turns this uniquely-set haunted house movie into something we have seen done many times before, and seen done better just as many times. Especially because Ghosts of War’s ending seems to have been misplaced, or else it disappeared into thin air. Where did it go? Perhaps Billy Zane can track it down, but until he does, what’s left is a movie that is both a half hour too long and 20 minutes too short.

The Craft: Legacy

If you were a teenager in the 1990s, you probably remember The Craft. It’s a pretty good 90s time capsule, particularly its alt-rock soundtrack that Columbia House was eager to send to you for free*, and also Skeet Ulrich. The Craft did not go out of its way to set up a sequel, which in hindsight is also a characteristic of a bygone era.

These days, everything is open for a sequel, or better yet, a franchise. And Hollywood is retroactively franchising lots of films that seemed like one-offs. Now it’s The Craft’s turn to get sequelized, and possibly franchised(-ized?). That’s a very 2020 approach, especially since due to COVID-19 The Craft: Legacy has gone straight to VOD as a premium rental.

Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Frankie (Gideon Adlon) and Tabby (Lovie Simone) are teen girls who want to be witches. But their attempts are not going well, because as the original film established you always need four witches before things get crazy. Enter Lily (Cailee Spaeny), the new girl in town, who has a really awful first day of school but as a result catches the eye of the witch trio, and once they get together the magic starts to happen.

Speaking of 90s relics, David Duchovny is in this movie as Lily’s mom’s fiance, which is why Lily and her mom (Michelle Monaghan) have moved to this little west coast town, and which I have the feeling is the same town as in the first film. Do those little details matter? They might, in the next instalment!

I expected this movie to be really, really awful, and it’s actually quite fun. A big reason why it’s fun is the way the witches use their powers. They didn’t use their powers to ruin people’s lives or to seek revenge. That bad girl trope is consistent with the longstanding narrative that powerful women are to be feared, but it’s beyond time we got rid of it and let women be superheroes, and that’s exactly what The Craft: Legacy does. After all, there was no doubt that when Peter Parker got magical powers, he was going to use them for good, and this film lets its heroes do the same. The fact that outcome seems unusual or worth mentioning shows the inequality at play, and in that respect as much as anything, The Craft: Legacy shows both how far we have come since the 1996 original, and how far we have to go.

It also happens to be an entertaining film where girls get cool powers and fight bad guys, so it’s win-win.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

This “moviefilm” could have been simply called Borat 2 but clearly Sacha Baron Cohen figured, why not have an 18 word title instead? Considering that Borat 1 had a 12 word title, a troublesome pattern is emerging, and that’s far from the least troubling pattern in the Borat franchise.

Borat is a terrible character and you can rest assured that Cohen has not toned things down in any way for the sequel, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Borat is just as offensive as ever, a racist, misogynistic reporter travelling through the U.S. and A., on a mission to gift a monkey to Vice President Pence as a tribute to Trump’s great success in undoing a hundred years’ worth of human rights. The difference this time is that everyone in America has seen his first movie so it’s much harder for him to sneak up on anyone. Fortunately for him, his non-male son Tutar (Maria Bakalova) stowed away in the money cage, and she has always wanted to follow in her journalist father’s footsteps. Unfortunately for Borat, he does not believe women can be journalists (or really anything other than residents of cages). Unfortunately for both, Tutar had to eat the monkey to survive the trip to America. So naturally, Borat decides to gift his daughter to Pence instead. And off we go on an adventure that includes Borat embarrassing a number of people who should know better, most notably Rudy Giuliani, who I expected to have been better coached by his friends in the KGB in the art of kompromat.

In 2006, I have to admit that I enjoyed Borat’s first moviefilm. Who could believe that people would say such outrageous things on camera after being offered a little bait by Cohen? It seemed unbelievable at the time. Fast forward to 2020, where no matter what Borat “tricks” people into saying, it pales in comparison to what happens every day on President Trump’s Twitter feed, or any given afternoon at Giuliani’s hotel suite. Cohen’s brand of shock humour seems almost quaint in comparison, which is terrifying.

For all its improvised scenes, Borat 2 has a remarkably focused and cohesive narrative, and contains quite a few funny character moments. But by nature, it also serves as a near-constant reminder of the ongoing nightmare that is American politics, which for me sucked all the fun out of the movie. No matter how hard Cohen and Bakalova tried (and they tried hard), I just can’t laugh at this stuff right now.

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

For most of us, David Attenborough is the voice of nature. His soothing narration has taken us across the globe, from the coldest arctic waters to the hottest deserts to the wettest rainforests. The 93 year old Attenborough has spent his whole adult life exploring the world and documenting nature. During that time, he has seen drastic changes, and he has taken it upon himself to try to help us avoid an impending disaster.

Themes of conservation are not new to Attenborough’s documentaries but Netflix’s new A Life on Our Planet has no time for subtlety. Clearly, Attenborough feels he has no time to waste, which is less a function of his age and more an indication that catastrophe is imminent. Wisely, Attenborough’s warnings are interspersed with the beauty of our world, to show what is at stake and what could be saved or lost depending on which path we choose. Even better, Attenborough lays out a plan for saving ourselves, which he presents clearly and sells by pointing out that our planet is going to keep spinning, but our place on it is not guaranteed.

Unfortunately, Attenborough’s pleas will probably be dismissed by those who deny the changes that Attenborough, and all self-respecting climatologists, are documenting. Instead of ignoring the problem, I wish the deniers would be honest in their selfishness, and admit they don’t want to make sacrifices to preserve the future for coming generations. Of course, that would require them to admit they’re bad people, so I’m not holding my breath.

It is up to the rest of us to take action. A Life on Our Planet shows us how to do it, and more importantly, Attenborough reassures us that we can still undo the damage we have caused. A Life on Our Planet manages to be hopeful without minimizing the problems we face. It is a nature film that is about us, and it is a fitting capstone for Attenborough’s life work.

Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) is an assassin who has started making things very personal at her job(s). She’s started asking her targets what bad thing they did to get themselves added to her hit list, which is a no-no in her line of work. Things get worse for Ava when faulty intel blows up one of her jobs and her employer deems her a loose end. She’s now a target herself. Clearly, Ava needs to disappear but before leaving town, she wants to try to make amends for leaving her family eight years ago without any explanation.

This film surrounds Chastain with lot of familiar faces, including John Malkovich as Ava’s handler, Geena Davis as Ava’s mother, Common as Ava’s former lover/sister’s boyfriend (super awkward), and Colin Farrell as Ava’s boss. After a troubled development, which included a director stepping down due to allegations of assault and abuse, and the movie being renamed, Ava then went straight to VOD because of COVID-19.

All in all, VOD is probably the best place for this film. It’s an interesting portrayal of an assassin’s daily life, which is not as glamorous as some films make it out to be. Ava is an addict who has no one close to her and struggles with guilt. She’s trying to reconnect with her family after walking out on them, a task made much harder when she can’t even tell them what she’s been up to since.

The character bits are solid but due to the nature of Ava’s work, this is an action movie, and the action sequences simply aren’t as good as they need to be. The game has been raised by John Wick and Ava does not measure up. This isn’t a casting problem, as Chastain appears eager and able to follow peers like Charlize Theron and Gal Gadot into action star territory. But Chastian is let down by a lack of imaginative choreography or stylish cinematography. The fight scenes just don’t pop like they need to, and the action sequences need to be stronger for this film to really shine. As it is, Ava is a decent but easily forgettable film, which in the time of COVID still makes it better than most rental options.

Terminator: Dark Fate

After so many disappointing sequels, I had given up hope that there would ever be another good Terminator film.  So I skipped Terminator: Dark Fate in theatres last year, figuring that there were far “better” movies that I would want to drag Jay to in the coming months, rather than another convoluted time travel story of undoing a life-changing apocalypse.  Judging from the paltry box office numbers for Dark Fate, I was not the only one who stayed away.

01TERMINATOR-3-jumbo-v2Since then, of course, a life-changing event of a different sort has occurred.  With theatres being shuttered for four months and counting due to the pandemic, Jay and I have seen most of what’s available, especially lately when new digital releases have slowed to a trickle.  Even as we were running out of movies and Dark Fate kept begging us to rent it for 99 cents, I passed repeatedly.  But when it popped up for free on Amazon Prime this week, I figured I’d give it a shot, and Jay was on board.

Jay remained on board for less than five minutes.  I hadn’t even gotten to the end of my Terminator 2 recap when gave up on the movie and the franchise.  I pressed on alone, hoping for the movie to not suck.  And if the bar is not sucking, Dark Fate can be considered a success.  But shouldn’t the bar be a lot higher?

Dark Fate is likely to be the last of the series (though I thought that before) because it has shown that Terminator has nothing new to offer.  It may be that the series feels stuck in the past because the original Judgment Day came and went almost 23 years ago without incident.  But the real problem is that the series hasn’t evolved at all in response.  The new apocalyptic futures provided by the franchise’s ever-changing timeline have just been copies of the original Terminator’s bone-filled landscape, and neither the villains nor the action have come close to any part of the consistently brilliant T2.

Dark Fate was wise to ignore all the other entries since T2 but despite its best efforts it ends up sharing their fate.  Dark Fate is not a bad movie but since it doesn’t offer anything new, this franchise still is stuck in the past.  In the end, Dark Fate made me wish I had asked Jay to watch T2 last night instead.  I bet she would have lasted longer than five minutes with that one.