Category Archives: Jay

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.

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.

The Golden Compass

I watched this back in 2007 because I adored the book(s) (by Philip Pullman) and was optimistic. Oh 2007, the days of wild optimism.

The movie is…not good. It’s not rotten, there are some attempts at goodness, especially from Nicole Kidman and the visual effects department. But it’s like someone put The Golden Compass through a strainer to sift out all the best bits and made a movie with the wrong bowl.

Yes, movie studios were desperate to recreate that Harry Potter magic, but Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was always a little more cumbersome than its wizarding counterpart; Pullman’s work was not specifically meant for young audiences. But some intrepid readers found him anyway, and loved the way he combined physics, philosophy, and theology but made them accessible via a young protagonist. Those are not exactly movie-friendly themes, and the trilogy’s criticism of religion was of course controversial. When the film got released, christians boycotted it for its anti-religion reputation but secularists balked at this theme’s dilution (and some would say absence).

The film shows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), an orphan living in a parallel universe where a dogmatic ruling power called the Magisterium opposes free inquiry and every person has their inner spirit manifested as an animal, which they call a daemon. Before settling into a single shape in adulthood, the deamons of young children tend to shape shift quite a lot. Which is not much use when children are being kidnapped by an unknown group called the Gobblers who are supported by the Magisterium. Lyra joins a tribe of seafarers on a trip to the far North, the land of the armoured polar bears, in search of the missing children.

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There’s more to it than that, a lot more to it. It’s not so bad when you’ve got the book in your hands. You can take a break when you need to think on things, or digest others. You can flip back a few pages, read with new insight and understanding. But movie audiences have to take what you’re given, and if a director foolishly tries to stuff too much detail into too thin a story, it’s not just overwhelming but it turns what should be a fun entertainment or a version of escapism into an exercise in fact sorting and memory retention.

There are some dazzling effects and I’m not going to lie: armoured polar bears are kinda the best. Which is why so many of us rooted so hard for the movie. But the movie was too self-important, too busy setting up the next in the series that it forgot to give us a satisfying experience in the present. Which, as you know, not only resulted in its poor performance at the box office, but it ground production on the next two to a complete and final halt. No one will reattempt this for another quarter century. Which is really too bad, because if you’ve read the book(s), you know there’s a compelling story in there, and it shouldn’t be this hard to tease it out.

The Invisible Man

Lots of movies have been rescheduled due to COVID-19’s impact on world box offices, but a few movies were released just as things got tricky and got short shrift releases. Movie studios are fighting back but they’re basically inventing their responses as we go so right now they’re experimenting with what people at home might tolerate. Disney released Frozen 2 early on its Disney+ platform, and Onward will soon follow, on April 3rd, which is a real coup for parents who are dealing with the challenges of having kids on their hands full-time.

Universal took 3 of their big titles – Emma, The Invisible Man, and The Hunt, each of which were performing as well as they could at theatres where attendance has been understandably low – and that was before they all closed down indefinitely. So each of these titles has been released for early rental, at a premium. They’re called Home Premieres and they rent for $20 for 48 hours. It’s certainly more than you’d normally pay to rent a movie but it’s quite reasonable compared to a night at the cinema – you can provide your own snacks, your own wine, you don’t need a babysitter, and as an extra bonus, you won’t put your health at risk from exposure to germs.

You’ve already seen our review for Emma, which we very much liked and very much thought was well worth the 20 bucks.

The Invisible Man, however, is a whole other thing, isn’t it? We all know I’m a chicken and there wasn’t a slightest chance of my seeing this in theatres. Sean and I stopped going to movies well before the theatres closed since I’m high risk for the virus, with both an underlying illness and immuno-suppressing medication, but let’s face it: the true reason is that I’m just too fragile for horror. And though I’ve made exceptions for exceptional films (A Quiet Place, The Witch, and Midsommar, for example), I felt comfortable not making an exception for this, though it was relatively well reviewed.

But now that it’s available for Home Premiere, it seemed like the perfect chance to step outside my comfort zone while in the privacy of my own bedroom.

Basically, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) goes to great lengths to leave her abusive boyfriend. She’s clearly terrified of him but he’s a respected scientist and inventor, and his money has gone a long way in insulating him from repercussions. He’s been controlling but with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and friend James (Aldis Hodge), she’s able to slip away – barely. He soon after takes his own life, but Cecilia isn’t convinced. She becomes haunted by a presence – she believes it to be her supposedly dead ex, Adrian, but that theory doesn’t hold a whole lot of water with anyone else. I mean, how do you prove that your ex is so vindictive he faked his own death to taunt you via some invisibility cloak? Try it, I dare you. It doesn’t go well for Cecilia. She’s mistaken for a raving lunatic, but Adrian’s invisible actions are getting increasingly violent and looking crazy is the least of her worries.

Director Leigh Whannell creates and sustains a painfully tense atmosphere from start to finish, constantly ratcheting up the stakes and guaranteeing our breathing is shallow at best.

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I had help getting through the movie: dogs, and caramel popcorn, and some eyebrow tutorials on Youtube. But I still screamed a few times and even upturned the popcorn bowl (which was mercifully lidded at the time). Like any good horror movie, the director knows that your own imagination will always be far worse than anything he can conjure, so he allows for lots of lingering, vaguely threatening shots containing worlds of possibility around every corner. And the score by  Benjamin Wallfisch informs your anxiety, feeds it, and capitalizes on it.

Mostly I got through the movie by telling myself it was basically a comic book movie and that this is exactly what they were warning us about in Civil War. At any time, some “hero”could turn villain on a dine just because his ego’s a little sore. Certainly Adrian incurs an awful lot of collateral damage in the name of revenge against the only person who’s ever left him. The suit he’s engineered is exactly the kind of tech that Iron Man might have, or Batman, and all that stands between them and villainy is a broken heart, which is alarming since the one hallmark of a so-called super hero besides their super powers is treating women like shit.

Anyway, The Invisible Man is a pretty good movie. It’s not just an exercise in jump scares, it has a wholly realized story and a character who has to reclaim her agency. Elisabeth Moss’s costar is invisible, so the whole thing rests on her very capable shoulders. She’s equally believable as both victim and conqueror. And though it wasn’t an easy watch for me, it’s survivable for even moderate wusses, which is saying something indeed.

The Platform

Guys.

GUYS.

Has anyone else watched this? Is anyone available to hold my hand and/or a paper bag as I desperately suck air in and out of it?

This was a DOOZIE.

It’s basically a vertical prison called The Pit, a high-rise building where each floor is a prison cell containing 2 prisoners, 2 beds, 1 toilet, and a giant hole in the floor. There are hundreds of floors. And for each day, for 2 minutes, a platform descends with a table laden with the best foods. Ostensibly there is enough to feed everyone but in reality, all of the food is gone by floor 50 and everyone else starves for a month at a time at the end of which, you and your cellie are randomly reassigned to another floor – maybe better, maybe not. You get gassed and you wake up either prepared to stuff yourself or condemned to do without. Does this bring out the best in people? Of course not.

The Platform is fascinating because whatever kind of world exists beyond the prison’s walls, we aren’t shown it, but I wouldn’t blame you for assuming these aren’t the best of times. The entire film is contained within just a few floors of the prison, with just a few characters to meet (and not get attached to, if you know what I mean).

It’s also a perfect metaphor for human nature, if not a flattering one. This is a movie of tough questions and extremely dark themes. It is not a pleasant watch. It is deeply, deeply disturbing. Deeply. And also gross. GROSS. Oh Mylanta is it ever gross.

So, to be clear: I suspect less than 3% of people will appreciate this movie in any sort of way. It’s a horror-sci-fi hybrid that will haunt you.

If you’d like to hear Sean and I come to a rather obvious conclusion about it, please consult Youtube immediately.

Emma.

Emma is 21, handsome, clever, and rich. She is her father’s last unmarried daughter and she fancies herself a successful matchmaker. It is the thing upon which she prides herself the most (and there is quite a bit of pride), but though she seeks the best matches for her nearest and dearest, she has no interest in or plans to marry herself.

Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) currently has her sights set on  her good friend Harriet (Mia Goth), a young woman of questionable parentage and no wealth. Though Harriet already has a romantic interest in a farmer of little means, Emma persuades her to reject his advances in favour of a better (read: richer) match, Vicar Elton (Josh O’Connor).

Of course, Emma’s meddling could never be as straight-forward as that. George (Johnny Flynn) accuses her of vanity, her father (Bill Nighy) implores her loyalty, Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) pesters her continually, Jane (Amber Anderson) seems to best her at everything, and the sudden appearance of handsome, mysterious Frank (Callum Turner) has everyone in a twitter.

First, let me say I am fully on team Alexandra Byrne for costume design this year. The dresses, the jackets, the trousers, the hats – they all share a romantic, period feel, but they’re all elevated, better than real life, and believe me, if I thought for a second Byrne could live comfortably in my closet, I’d kidnap and hold her there in a heartbeat (note to Byrne, should she read this: please don’t take that as a threat, though it does share the same qualities as a certain felony – I am merely a great admirer with a tendency to over-dress).

Second, Bill Nighy. I mean: Bill Nighy. He lights up every scene he’s in, he snatches giggles like they’re his life force, he’s an absolute treasure and I simply could not get enough.

And of course, the script. I love how Eleanor Catton has adapted it from the Austen. Altough it is hard to improve upon a classic, Catton’s Emma. is a lot of fun (sorry if that’s confusing, the one-word title has a period at the end, apparently emphasizing that this is a “period piece”). Emma is young, obviously, and quite sheltered in her father’s home. In her naivete she reinforces a classist and of course sexist social construct and can’t see the error of her ways until it’s reversed. Austen’s comedy works because there’s quite a lot of tension, quite a few misunderstandings, and some very complicated love triangles.

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Anya Taylor-Joy is up to the task, though I couldn’t help wondering what it might have been had Florence Pugh stepped into the role. Besides Nighy, which is a given, the performances I enjoyed best were from supporting players Miranda Hart and Tanya Reynolds, who add a lot of life to film.

But even with the sumptuous gowns and the glittering brooches and the tasseled coaches, I wouldn’t want to live in this period where a woman’s only achievement is in marrying “above her station,” dead birds are offered by way of apology, and a twisted ankle is considered top-tier flirting.

In response to the closure of cinemas due to the COVID-19 corona virus, Emma. has been given a VOD release. You can rent the film for $20, which may sound hefty for a rental, but it’s less than you would pay to see it in theatres, and while this is still early days of terms of quarantine and chill, even Netflix’s deepest back-catalogue will exhaust itself at some point. And Emma. is a pretty great way to fill that void.