Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Our reviews and thoughts on the latest releases, classics, and nostalgic favourites. Things we loved, things we hated, and worst of all, things we were ambivalent about.

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.

Just Mercy

As much as we may want to pretend otherwise, the justice system has two distinct tiers.  Those with money get an easier path than those without.  That disparity is never acceptable but is especially offensive in the criminal context, where poor people who find themselves in the system are likely to stay there whether or not they are guilty of the offences charged, because they lack the ability to pay for legal representation or to post bail.  Those disadvantages result in innocent poor people being locked up for extended periods of time, many of whom are on death row. justmercy

These effects are arguably a feature of the system rather than a bug, since these circumstances disproportionately affect black people in the southern United States (see Ava Duvernay’s 13th for more on that terrifying but logical conclusion).   Incidentally, the reason my criticisms are focused on the American justice system is simply because the U.S. is basically the only western civilization that still applies the death penalty.  

Walter “Johnny D” McMillan (Jamie Foxx) was one of those innocent poor black people waiting on death row in Alabama. Convicted of the murder of a woman he had never met, by a jury from which black people were excluded, based entirely on the false testimony of a convicted felon, Johnny D seems resigned to his fate. Which is understandable, as there is no point in hoping for merciful treatment from a justice system stacked against you. That changes when Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a young Harvard law school graduate arrives in Alabama to provide legal aid to the disadvantaged, takes up Johnny D’s case, and challenges the conviction despite constant opposition from the district attorney, the sheriff, and the legal system. Brie Larson is also in this movie, as Stevenson’s operations director, but it’s a bit role. Foxx and Jordan get most of the screen time and all the best scenes. The two of them are excellent and are worth the price of admission on their own.

Their performances helped me get through the depressing fact that this is a true story, and worse, a true story we have heard many times before. Just Mercy does a great job of shining a light on injustice but is also an entertaining courtroom battle in its own right, that more than holds its own against any fictional legal drama. I was particularly impressed that the drama was allowed to play out with a minimal amount of Hollywood glitz, so that the courtroom scenes were close to how they would have played out in real life. Clearly, the filmmakers believed the real story was compelling enough to stand on its own, and they were absolutely right.

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 Muppet Movie (1979)

Is it fair to say that the best use of the Muppet Movie (1979) may be as palate cleanser?  We found it on Disney+ while in need of something easy, after slogging through The Platform.  Instead of three Care Bears seasons, as recommended by Dr. Jay, we opted for one dose of classic Muppets silliness. The medicine worked well enough; it just tasted a little stale.2004_WC_TheMuppets

The Muppet Movie (1979) tells the origin story of the Muppets, though Kermit the Frog readily admits at the outset that some liberties have been taken. Kermit is discovered singing in a swamp (The Rainbow Connection, naturally) by a big Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) who has rowed the wrong way.  Turns out, Hollywood is in dire need of frog talent. After a few seconds of deep thought, Kermit decides to move right along to the West Coast to try his luck at stardom, but Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a local purveyor of frog legs, is set on having Kermit be the face of his restaurant chain, dead or alive. As he tries to stay one step ahead of Hopper, Kermit happens upon all your favourite Muppets, who join up with Kermit on his journey, and ultimately make it big enough in Hollywood to star in the very biopic you’re watching.

I am sure the long list of celebrity cameos was top-notch in 1979, as the Muppets have always excelled at drawing other stars into their orbit, and any movie that includes Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin is doing something right. But most of the faces were not familiar to me, and I know they were expected to be (I certainly recognized most of the names once the credits rolled). Admittedly, I am only a few years older than this film, so your mileage may vary, but the Muppets Movie (1979) felt dated for me because so many of the cameos went over my head.

Still, the Muppets have lots to offer on their own, sight gags, silly banter, and especially a great soundtrack that literally propels them on their journey (I dare you to find me a more aptly titled song than Movin’ Right Along). The Muppets Movie (1979) remains an entertaining kids’ movie, but it has lost some of its lustre with age.

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.