Category Archives: Half-assed

Godzilla vs. Kong

If nothing else, Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures have been surprisingly persistent in trying to make their MonsterVerse into a successful franchise. This is the fourth film they’ve released since 2014’s Godzilla reboot, and as the title boldly announces, this is the one where the new version of Godzilla meets the new version of King Kong. Of course, by “meets”, I mean “fights to the death in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers”.

Like the previous films in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs. Kong is exactly as advertised. It is essentially plot-free, because that would get mean less time for the monsters to try to murder each other. And monster fights are why this film exists. In between fights there is a small amount of filler in the form of serious science-talk about the origins of these monsters and the “hollow earth”, but feel free to ignore it as I did. Because all the science-talk in the world won’t explain why these giant monsters are saving the environment through killing each other, or why the hollow earth is as bright as day when it is literally the centre of the earth. And the next monster fight is just around the corner anyway.

No one will ever mistake Godzilla vs. Kong for a good movie, but it is a movie that you have to respect if only for its self-confidence. This movie is just so damn sure of itself. So damn sure that you have paid to see monster fights and so damn sure that you do not care about plot or character development or anything else that a normal movie contains. And at least in my case, it was right. I did not miss that other stuff one bit. If you have read this far and still want to see this movie, it will not disappoint. Just pick your favourite monster, sit back, and enjoy the show!

Thunder Force

Okay, I’ll say it: I liked it.

I don’t typically think Melissa McCarthy is at her best when her husband Ben Falcone writes for and directs her and this movie hasn’t exactly changed my mind about that, but it was just good enough to make me smile.

McCarthy’s charm is her saving grace; even when she’s not exercising the full spectrum of her talent, she’s still extremely watchable. Joined in Thunder Force by Octavia Spencer, these two ladies have fun chemistry and an even funner premise. A mutation has rendered a handful of lucky sociopaths into supervillains, but unfortunately for the world, no heroic counterparts exist. Thankfully Emily (Spencer) is a real brain, and she’s developed a special treatment that would grant the kind of powers so people could really fight back. It’s possibly that Emily and her childhood friend Lydia (McCarthy) are not the best choices to receive this treatment, but let’s not dwell. It’s happening. Lydia’s getting super strong and Emily’s going invisible and you better believe Lydia’s pretty pissed that Emily’s training is so much easier than hers. Of course, the training’s going to pale in comparison to fighting Chicago’s worst villain lineup, including The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Canavale), and Laser (Pom Klementieff).

Thunder Force is 100% stupid of course, but also like 55% funny. My laughter was often out of sheer confusion, but the kind of confusion that’s curious and maybe even a little awed. It’s still not a great equation but I’ll take it. I may even watch it twice.

SXSW 2021: Sound of Violence

Alexis is a helpful, happy little girl at the age of 10, and although she’s lost her hearing in an accident, she still loves to listen to music. But when she not only witnesses the brutal murder of her mother, but intervenes, managing to kill the assailant with a meat tenderizer, something very strange happens. The experience awakens synesthetic abilities; spontaneously recovering her hearing, Alexis also discovers that she can “see” sound – the sound of violence in particular.

Cut to: Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) is now a young woman, pursuing her passion through academia. Everything seems to be going well for her, despite having been orphaned and survived a tragedy at such a young age. But not even Alexis’ closest friend and roommate Marie (Lili Simmons) knows that Alexis’ hearing is once again in flux, and before she loses it again, she’s determined to complete her masterpiece. Of course, the addictive synesthesia that haunts and inspires her requires some increasingly gruesome sound design. The music she creates is accompanied by orgasmic cinematography, fueling her obsession with bloody, graphic violence and its beautiful sounds.

Sound of Violence is indeed a horror film; Alexis may be a composer, but the pursuit of her music sends her on a killing spree that will rank this film quite high in terms of gore. You’ll come to distinguish the sounds of hearts being perforated, skin being peeled from bone, bloody stumps still plucking at stringed instruments, blood pouring out of orifices from too much song. It’s a symphony unlike any other. It pushes past conventional boundaries, and I’ll admit, the movie lost me on more than one occasion, having asked of me just a little too much. But those inclined to horror will appreciate the marriage of savagery and sound – not music to my ears, perhaps, not exactly a pop tune meant for radio, but a rare orchestral piece whose movements will surely awaken something in you.

The Marksman

Jim is an aging rancher and recent widower who still patrols his land along the Arizona border to protect his few remaining cattle even though he’s about to lose everything to the bank. Once in a while he spots IAs (illegal aliens) sneaking across his land, and he dutifully reports them to his stepdaughter Sarah, who works for border patrol. But one day Jim (Liam Neeson) comes across a young Mexican boy and his mother, who aren’t just smuggling themselves across the border, they’re fleeing the cartel. And the cartel is SUPER motivated to eliminate them! Which is how cowboy saviour Jim becomes the unlikely defender of a kid named Miguel (Jacob Perez) against the assassins whom will pursue them both across the United States.

The Marksman feels more like a Clint Eastwood movie than a Liam Neeson movie; a mildly racist old man, patriotic through and through, becomes marginally less racist through an unlikely friendship/ white saviour relationship with a person of colour.

Jim and Miguel, in an epic, odd couple road trip, are pursued by both border patrol, including Sarah (Katheryn Winnick), and a Mexican drug cartel led by the evil Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba), who are super invested in murdering a ten year old kid who probably knows less than nothing. But this is the premise, and while you don’t have to believe in it whole-heartedly, you do have to at least accept it in order to enjoy this action-thriller spanning from Arizona to Chicago, which is quite a commitment.

There isn’t anything new or terribly exciting about this movie. You’ve seen it, you’ve been mildly amused by it. Liam Neeson is of course watchable as ever, though he’s getting pretty grizzled, and not a super believable southern cowboy. Director Robert Lorenz puts in the bare minimum effort. He’s not making a masterpiece here, he’s making a fairly disposable movie about an old, implausible guy taking the law into his own hands, with his own guns. Do you need The Marksman in your life? Absolutely not. But if you love old white dudes realizing that illegal aliens are people too, you could do worse than Liam Neeson.

Seaspiracy

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch this documentary; how smart could it be, I wondered, if it went with Seaspiracy over the rather obvious and clearly superior Conspirasea.

Film maker Ali Tabrizi is clearly passionate about the subject matter but let me tell you a little secret about documentarians: they’re not necessarily experts in the subjects they’re covering. Of course, some documentarians are well educated, and some are journalists, but some just want to make movies, or get famous. Their films’ content isn’t always deep, or thorough, or correct.

Seaspiracy is so general that I don’t doubt it’s fairly accurate. Its main thesis is: oceans are dying, and the commercial fishing industry is largely to blame. Tabrizi seems genuinely surprised by most of the facts he “uncovers” in his film and not particularly well-versed in basic ecology despite a self-proclaimed love for oceans and marine life. He’s also got a remarkable love for himself, and a good portion of his film is overshadowed by his own presence. Are the oceans being saved by shots of him shaking his despondent head as he scrolls the Internet? Or of him wiping away definitely not manufactured tears? Not likely. But he’s sad, guys, very sad, and worse, he’s disappointed. But he’s also very heroic! Don’t take my word for it – he’ll provide multiple statements to that effect, lauding him for risking his life to “report” on this important subject. Never mind that his courage is a little late to the party; his attempt to surreptitiously film a dolphin hunt at “a cove,” as he calls it, is actually The Cove, you know, the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary?

I don’t have a lot of respect for Seaspiracy but I suppose it’s an able enough introduction to the subject matter, perfect for children raised by wolves, people living under rocks, and mole women rescued from underground bunkers. If, however, you’re a normal human person, this particular doc might only be of interest for Tabrizi’s overzealous use of the word ‘equivalent.’ He loves when things are equivalent to other things! And while Seaspiracy exposes corruption and even slavery, its white saviour complex is as troubling as its integrity is suspect. Even if I agree with it in large part, I believe that almost anyone else would have done a better job.

Bad Trip

Chris (Eric Andre) doesn’t have much going for him – no nice house, or good job, or even a car, but when his childhood crush walks through the door, he feels like the luckiest man in the world. Unfortunately, Maria (Michaela Conlin) is just passing through Florida – though she does suggest he look her up in Manhattan if he’s ever in town. It sounds like a polite kiss-off to me and you, but Chris is desperate to take her up on the offer, so he enlists best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to hit the road with him.

Neither has a car, so they borrow Bud’s sister’s car. And by borrow I mean they take it without her knowledge or permission, which she would never give. But Trina’s in prison, so what can she do? Break out of prison, for one, and pursue them all the way to New York City for another. Trina (Tiffany Haddish) doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Anyway, this flimsy plot is really just the framework to allow Eric Andre to pull a series of pranks on unsuspecting rubes up and down the east coast.

Not as political as Borat nor as foolish as Jackass, Bad Trip is thankfully not mean-spirited, but it does get to some pretty outlandish heights (or lows, really), including but certainly not limited to gorilla sodomy and projectile vomiting. I’m not really into pranks but most of their victims weren’t just good sports but good people (discounting one while guy on a golf course), which is sort of heartening to see. And the trio are clearly having so much fun getting away with their tricks it’s kind of irresistible. With a few genuine laughs, this isn’t a terrible option if you don’t mind rude, juvenile (yet still R-rated) humour, but no one’s mistaking this for great. Maybe just a bit of harmless escapism to get you through another weekend in the Red Zone.

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

SXSW 2021: Disintegration Loops

William Basinski may not be a household name, but among avant-garde ambient music composers, there are few who stand shoulder to shoulder with him. Best known for The Disintegration Loops, an elegy to the 2001 attacks, Basinski reflects on his legacy as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

The music consists of found sound sources, shortwave radio, and delay systems recorded on tape loops that, when played repeatedly as he transferred the sound to a digital format, gradually deteriorated as they passed over and over the tape head, the ferrite eventually detaching from the plastic backing, with increasing gaps and cracks in the music as it played on. The crumbling tapes leave a haunting musical memorial of their own demise. The mournful sound, produced by catastrophic decay, became the soundtrack for the terrible aftermath of the terrorist attacks. A resident of New York City, Basinski watched the towers fall from the roof of his building, and dedicated the album to the victims.

The events of 9/11 are eerily paralleled in the documentary as it is shot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews over Zoom are threaded with shots of a dramatically empty New York City, and Basinski is once again composing music for the time.

SXSW 2021: Kid Candidate

Hayden Pedigo is a 24 year old experimental musician who makes weird performance art videos that go semi-viral. His go-to character is a politician, and he gets just enough attention from these silly uploads that he decides to actually run for city council, as if having played one on Youtube somehow makes you qualified.

Pedigo may have honourable intentions, and he certainly loves his city, Amarillo, Texas. He’s even got a couple of ideas for improving things – almost, though not quite, some policy. But he does not have the heart for shaking hands and kissing babies or giving speeches or raising money or being criticized or talking to people. It’s going to be quite an uphill battle campaigning against an incumbent backed by the town’s elite, not to mention their very influential dollars.

It’s great to want to fight corruption and to unite communities, but let’s be real: Pedigo doesn’t actually stand a chance. And like its subject, Kid Candidate lacks the vision and ambition to really make a go of things. However, film maker Jasmine Stodel does get one thing right. She backs a youth movement that’s attempting to be the change they want to see. Maybe their inexperience and naivete mean they’ve failed today, but they’ve seen how dirty the game is, how rigged the system is, and they know the only way to change it is from within.

SXSW 2021: The Lost Sons

In early 1960s Chicago, newborn baby Paul Fronczak is taken from his mother’s hospital room and vanishes. Months later, a toddler with a black eye is abandoned in Newark, New Jersey. His foster parents call him Scott, and local police are astonished when no one comes forward to claim a missing child. Recalling the snatched baby in Chicago, they do the math and send little Scott to Chicago, where his parents reclaim him, restoring the name Paul, and immediately burying the disturbing truth of his disappearance. Paul doesn’t even discover that he was kidnapped until he’s 10, and his mother quickly shuts down any follow up questions.

Middle aged now, and with a child of his own, Paul once again attempts to open up this mysterious chapter of his life. This time he’ll circumvent his parents and follow the trail of his birth and disappearance down some fascinating paths – fascinating to us, anyway; understandably it would be much more difficult to be questioning your own heritage and provenance and identity.

Director Ursula Macfarlane does an excellent job of setting up an improbable premise and then guiding us down its many fantastical twists and turns. It’s such a cliché to say something is stranger than fiction, but truly you couldn’t get away with such an incredible story if you were writing it from scratch.

Unfortunately, this documentary isn’t as tasty or as satisfying as you might think. It’s certainly packaged like a true-crime doc worth devouring, but it’s got several major ingredients going against it. First, the re-enactments are a little amateurish, and feel like they’re just adding bulk to a thin serving size. Second, if you’re already familiar with the story, there aren’t any big bombshells to make this worth your time. The few new details push the boundaries of relevance. Third, the story is frustratingly unresolved, the loose ends dangling tantalizingly in front of us just begging for closure. And finally, the biggest problem is with Paul himself. A former musician and actor, he clearly enjoys having an audience and several of his answers feel rehearsed and self-conscious. But at the same time, he’s also very guarded, rarely allowing us beyond his carefully bricked wall. His refusal or inability to display emotion makes it hard to connect with him, and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel empathy for a story like this. Paul is his own biggest obstacle, and while his story is remarkable, The Lost Sons isn’t anywhere near as engrossing as it should be.