Category Archives: Half-assed

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals

A bunch of teenagers get sent to summer school and find they have something in common: they’re all second-born royals. Their older siblings are destined to inherit thrones while they are the spares, side-lined and over-looked. Not this time. This time, teacher James (Skylar Astin) tells them they’ve all been sent here under false premises; this isn’t summer school, it’s a training academy designed to awaken their super powers.

Super powers? You heard right. They’re just as surprised as anyone, but the story checks out: Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) has super senses, Tuma (Niles Fitch) can get anyone to obey him, Roxana (Olivia Deeble) can turn invisible, Matteo (Faly Rakotohavana) can command insects, and January (Isabella Blake-Thomas) can borrow anyone else’s super power by touching them.

This movie is not meant for adults but tween girls 8-12 should be in heaven. It basically borrows from the Netflix blueprint for princess-themed romantic movies that usually air around Christmas with a dash of Artemis Fowl with a light Hamlet twist. Rebellious teenagers, royal jewels, family secrets, cute boys, and what passes for rock and roll these days: what more could a girl possibly want?

It’s definitely wholesome enough for family viewing and while parents probably won’t enjoy it, it’s also not the worst thing to get stuck watching. There’s a training montage that rivals popular game show The Floor Is Lava, sparkling tiaras and the plump little pillows they sit on, some truly terrible CGI, a few surprisingly bottom-of-the-barrel super powers, royalty-free jamming, a dead dad, an extremely brief cameo from Prince Harry, a diverse cast of talented kids, and a dog named Charlie.

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is deeply inoffensive and perfect for family viewing. Find it on Disney+.

The Postcard Killings

Jacob’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) daughter is newly married and on her honeymoon in Europe when he gets an awful call. She and her new husband have been murdered in London, their mutilated bodies posed with chilling exactitude and drained of blood. Jacob flies over to identify the bodies but he doesn’t stop there; he’s a brash New York detective and can’t help but step into the case. Interfering is what London authorities call it, but it turns out they’ve got a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer who’s targeting young newlyweds and posing them like famous art pieces.

The murders are sprinkled throughout Europe and heralded by a postcard sent to a journalist, which means Jacob’s got a trail of clues to follow and a new police force to pester every time. Along the way he meets a German detective (Joachim Król) and a Swedish journalist (Cush Jumbo) who are willing to bend the rules to help him out as the killer continues to evade authorities. The murders are gruesome, each fresh kill linked to the last by a dismembered body part. Jacob’s daughter’s hands still haven’t been found.

Director Danis Tanovic gives us a paint-by-numbers “thriller,” and Tanovic is no Bob Ross – there are no happy accidents here – just another uninspired entry into the serial killer mystery genre. And not much of a mystery either, since the story is told from the point of view of both the killer and the grieving father/detective. It’s based on a James Patterson novel, which just about explains it: pure pablum, an easy airport read that basically repackages the same story over and over, only changing the names of characters and swapping out, say, a knife for an ice pick, Munich for Stockholm, that kind of thing. It’s a thrill-less thriller but the crimes are extra brutal to make up for it. If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed.

The Paramedic (El Practicante)

Angel (Mario Casas) is an ambulance paramedic who gives off major creep vibes as he snatches souvenirs from the accident scenes he works. He himself becomes the patient after an accident leaves him paralyzed, and angry. His accident has guilted girlfriend Vane (Déborah François) into staying longer than she’d like, caring for him even as he spirals out of control, suspicion raging, spyware engaged, but unsurprisingly his insane jealousy does not endear him to her and she leaves. Angel was an angry guy before the accident and he’s angrier now. Angrier still to discover that Vane has taken up with his old paramedic partner Rodrigo (Guillermo Pfening) and they are expecting a baby together. Rodrigo, who was driving at the time of their accident, has stolen his life.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it’s basically peak diversity. Not only is the main character disabled, the script offers equal opportunity serial killing. Anyone can murder if you make it accessible enough. He can’t enjoy sex anymore but he can stab syringes into basically anyone, which disables them enough to be handled. It’s genius, really, to turn the tables this way.

The Paramedic is dark and menacing well before Angel transforms into a murderous stalker. His injury doesn’t make him this way, it merely gives him the opportunity to indulge his most sinister thoughts.

It’s a slow burn, a thriller of a certain type, one you’ll no doubt recognize because we’ve seen shades of it many times before. It’s competent and well-acted but doesn’t distinguish itself from peers. Even if the quality’s variable, the character is chilling enough to give it a chance, and the final act just about justifies the whole watch. If you’re in the mood for a thriller, this is a viable option from Netflix.

Pets United

Like many cities, Robo City grew and grew and did that ugly sprawl thing, pushing nature and wild animals away so that humans and their pets could have all the space they wanted in the city. Roger is neither a human nor a pet; he is the thief of Robo City, a stray dog serving as the un-elected, unofficial leader of the mutts in his alley. And you may have guessed by the title that many robots also populate the city as humans inevitably grew too lazy to do much for themselves. Roger isn’t fond of the “tin cans” (which sounds oddly like a racial slur) but his real hatred’s reserved for cats, of course.

Roger has an especially contentious relationship with Belle the pampered cat, who’s lucky enough to have a beloved owner. Roger’s insistent that he enjoys his freedom, but he’s also pretty happy to make a friend in Bob, a jolly little robot who looks a lot like Baymax, and who’s about to come in VERY handy. Because guess what? They’re about to have a caper! In fact, the big robot AI thingie that’s driving the whole city has started its own revolution, creating chaos and sending people fleeing for their safety. Belle was enjoying a day of pampering at a pet spa when heck broke loose, so she’s stuck there owner-less with a ragtag group of small indulged beasts, including Ronaldo the big-talking poodle, Walter the insecure pug, and Sophie who identifies as a dog, and we’ll leave it at that.

This is a UK – Chinese – German production that steals from at least that many sources – Robin Hood, Secret Life of Pets, Toy Story 3, Madagascar – and yet even with their combined power this movie still can’t find a spark let alone light up a whole Pixar lamp.

The story is generic. The characters are generic. The music budget was apparently non-existent. Some zoo characters do a little rap that gave me major secondhand embarrassment and reminded me of grade school in the 90s when teachers would make you do raps for presentations as if our tiny catholic school wasn’t 100% white and also, apparently, 100% without rhythm and 100% without irony.

Since it has cute dogs and cute robots, young kids will probably give this is a pass, but if you get stuck watching with them, don’t expect funny jokes or quality animation or recognizable voice actors or any of the high standards we’ve come to expect from today’s animation. These guys didn’t care, and neither should you.

TIFF20: The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

In the first 5 minutes of the film, I’ve already heard at least 3 words that made me seethe: marketized, economization, financialized. Directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan are clearly frantic to establish themselves as a credible source, editing in ten dollar words and professor speak to blunt us into submission. Considering you sufficiently dazed, they move on to the second step of their totally necessary sequel: patting themselves on the back.

In their first doc, The Corporation, they compared corporations to psychopaths and they cannot wait a second longer to tell you about it or to line up people desperate for screen time to testify in their favour – “watershed moment,” they might say, “cultural touchstone,” and all the bullshitty words that don’t mean much. Did they hurt corporations’ feelings? Not bloody likely.

Today many if not most corporations appeal to our social consciousness by claiming to do (some) good. Dove is pretending that it loves your body just as it is while selling you products to change and improve it. Hotels claim they’re saving the environment by not washing your sheets but what they’re actually saving is time and money. Apple is encouraging people to vote but they have more money than the US treasury and only pays 2% tax on its profits so to them, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for because they already own Washington either way.

“Corporate responsibility” is a marketing ploy to trick you into thinking it cares, and that your consumerism is somehow for a higher good, but the “cult of shareholder value” is only getting more real, and nothing else besides lining their pockets ever matters.

The New Corporation wants to hold your hand, look deep into your eyes, and tell you the following newflash: corporations secretly want to make money. They like tax cuts. They hide money in tax havens. Was the first film this smug? I don’t even think Michael Moore himself sounds this self-righteous. It’s actually giving me a sour stomach.

Many of my favourite films this TIFF have been documentaries, but not this one. I can spot companies acting out of self-interest just as easily as I can spot a cash-grab sequel that offers very little in the way of new information.

TIFF20 Penguin Bloom

The Blooms are a happy Australian family on vacation in Thailand when life changes forever. A broken rail on a rooftop lookout is nearly deadly, leaving Mom Sam (Naomi Watts) paralyzed and when eventually back home, terribly depressed. Both ailments keeping her confined to bed, husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) is basically a single father, barely handling life with 3 rambunctious boys, at least one of whom blames himself for his mother’s life-altering injury. Sam’s mother Jan’s (Jacki Weaver) support is of questionable value and Sam sinks deeper and deeper into an identity crisis told deftly between flashbacks to her active part in life and motherhood, and disturbing dream sequences that illustrate the yawning gulf between Sam Now and Sam Then.

Would you believe me if I told you that a magpie named Penguin is what healed her? Well, a wounded bird named Penguin AND a human woman named Gaye (Rachel House) who got Sam out of her chair and into a kayak. The kayak gave her freedom of movement and some independence; Penguin gave her hope.

It sounds like Oscar bait because it IS Oscar bait. Do I say that like it’s a bad thing? Maybe just a little. I hope Penguin won’t take this the wrong way, but you know that old saying, birds of a feather flock together? Well, so do movies about people overcoming catastrophic injury. There are a LOT of them.

This isn’t a bad one, and surprisingly, not an overly sappy one (note: I said overly). Sam is privately bitter and sometimes selfish. Son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) is harbouring secret guilt and putting way too many eggs into one penguin’s basket. But the emotional trajectory is trending upward since that little magpie first chirps with only a few unconvincing, by-the-book pauses along the way. Watts is terrific. The magpie is terrific, if just a little too cute to be entirely believed. Director Glendyn Ivin isn’t doing a darn thing wrong, he’s just another guy telling an inspiring, heart-warming story about churning anger into triumph through the redeeming values, of hope, faith, and family.

Maybe you’re in the market for an uplifting movie with lots of heart and some solid performances. Maybe you’ve got a surplus of tissues and are looking for any excuse to cry. Maybe you just always thought it would be cool to see a bird wear underwear on its head. For me this was too pat and predictable. I always hope for something a little meatier from a world-renown film festival (no offense, Penguin, poultry is fine too), but a bird with a broken wing is just about as ham-fisted (or should I saw chicken-winged) a metaphor as you can get.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Cole is a junior in high school who meets with his school nurse Big Carl to discuss his delusions. I mean, Cole (Judah Lewis) is adamant they’re not delusions: two years ago, a blood cult really DID try to kill him and if there’s no evidence to support that, well, it hardly means he’s crazy, right? Big Carl (Carl McDowell) disagrees. So does the student body, who know about his outlandish claims, and they’re not shy to label him. Even his parents (Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino) are about to kidnap him away to some school-hospital hybrid for psychotic teenagers. But Cole catches wind of this and so he absconds with his only friend Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) and they hit up “the lake” for “some fun.” Melanie has a boyfriend (who’s coming), but she’s a girl and she’s been polite to him, so of course Cole thinks he might get to fuck her. But he’s wrong. Dead wrong.

As Cole should have guessed, the lake is code for murder town. I mean seriously, if you narrowly survive a blood cult, the LEAST you could do is start boning up on horror movies and, you know, get a clue. Lucky for him, the mysterious new girl who he only just met that morning, Phoebe (Jenna Ortega), is also at the lake to “have some alone time” despite the crowded beach party. A very inconsiderate second round of blood cult is about to go down, so they’ll get plenty of alone time to put his freshly purchased Magnum XL’s to good use while literally also running for their lives. Trust me, I know that math does not add up, but that’s called “movie magic” and the first rule of movie magic is you never fucking question it.

This horror film newly available on Netflix is a sequel to 2017’s apparent hit, The Babysitter, as astute readers will have guessed from my casual use of “two years ago” up in the first paragraph, which you can now appreciate for having been deeply meaningful. I never saw the first one and you won’t have to either because the sequel makes heavy use of flashbacks, but honestly, it’s also just pretty darn shallow. Blood, knife, run. You know the drill. It’s a classic teen slasher flick and by god there will be slashing. This movie is not big on actual horror, it’s not scary, it’s not even tense, but it is gory and rather graphic. It takes perverse pleasure in ripping bodies apart at the seams and showing every stringy inch of it.

I should mention here that the movie is directed by McG. Not that anyone else is fool enough to start calling himself McG, but yes, that McG, the McG who directed all those crazy annoying earworm 90s music videos you’re still having PTSD about: Smashmouth’s All Star AND Walking on the Sun, Offspring’s Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) and Why Don’t You Get A Job, Fastball’s The Way, Sugar Ray’s Fly, Barenaked Ladies’ One Week, and yes I could go on but I won’t because ew. But maybe just remember this is how he got his start, so that if, just for random example, this horror movie has a quick music video sidebar in the middle of it, you won’t be too surprised. He also directed Terminator Salvation, but don’t worry, you needn’t remember that because this movie references it HEAVILY.

We recently reviewed Get Duked!, an actually funny horror-comedy. This one isn’t a horror-comedy but it IS unintentionally funny. It doesn’t take itself seriously though, it embraces the absurd with open arms, it’s an odd kind of film and it knows it. For that reason alone, perhaps, I couldn’t hate it. I didn’t think it was good, but it was definitely having fun and I guess it rubbed off. Plus, if you liked the first, you’ll likely be pleased with the second. Are you in it for Robbie Amell’s random absence of a shirt? Done. Want to see if Bella Thorne finds a way to top her self-compliments? Go for it. This movie takes a lot of weird turns, plays a lot of unexpected tunes, and really keeps you guessing. Not in terms of plot or anything, you know how it’s going to end, you’ll just be pretty surprised at some of the pit stops they take in getting there.

If this sounds remotely interesting, it’s on Netflix so the risk is low. So’s the first one if you’re curious, but believe me, you can easily treat these as stand alone movies. Just don’t get attached to anyone. Or their heads.

Good Kisser

Jenna (Kari Alison Hodge) and Kate (Rachel Paulson) are ubering to their first threesome as a couple. Jenna is nervous, blabbering to their driver. Kate is excited, anxious to appease Jenna’s insecurities. They discuss code words and safe words and rules and limits but all that good stuff goes right out the door in the heat of the moment.

To Jenna, Mia (Julia Eringer) is a mysterious but seductive stranger. Kate and Mia, however, have some sort of history, one that Kate seems pretty intent on rekindling, pressuring Jenna to get those fires lit quick. But while Kate wants it more, it’s Jenna and Mia who seem to really connect, at least on an intellectual level. They have great chemistry outside the bedroom, but inside is another story, Jenna’s anxieties prevent her from really enjoying an intimate encounter with a random person, an issue that should have been clear to both Jenna and Kate, her partner of nearly two years, well before they got into bed with a third party. But it seems this was an effort to “spice up” their relationship, and is clearly a mostly one-sided endeavour. You’ll never see this coming but – spoiler! – turns out, a threesome isn’t a quick fix for a rocky relationship. In fact, it seems to be extra good at exposing the flaws in the foundation.

This is an indie movie with a pure, pure heart. Talented writer-director Wendy Jo Carlton has put her soul all over the page and the screen. None of the actors are completely natural on camera yet, but their professionalism and eagerness go a long way. And so does the spirit of the project itself, an LGBT movie that speaks to its own people. Far too often, movies about lesbian couples especially get made for the male gaze, the male hetero gaze, it probably goes without saying. That’s how you make a lesbian movie marketable. But Good Kisser isn’t afraid to deviate from the kissing. It’s talky, it’s neurotic, it’s questioning without being judgmental. What started out as a night billed as pleasure turns into one of pivotal evaluation and reassessment. If Good Kisser isn’t quite a Good Movie, it is at least obviously from a Good Director who deserves to have her next project have a Good Budget.

Unknown Origins

Detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) is being put out to pasture, but he’s showing his young replacement, Detective Valentine (Javier Rey), the ropes before he goes. They inspect a gruesome crime scene together, a possible homicide of course, a maniac bodybuilder so intent on building muscle mass he winds up with a windpipe crushed by his own weights. Cosme is meticulous and organized in his habits, in direct opposition to his son Jorge (Brays Efe), your classic lazy slob, a good for nothing grown son who works at a comic book store when and if he gets out of bed and still lives at home. But luckily for Cosme and Valentin, Jorge spots something neither of them ever could: the crime scene looks suspiciously like a panel from issue #1 of The Incredible Hulk. And the next murder scene they’re called to seems to be another comic book recreation. Madrid has a serial killer on its hands, and Valentin will have to tolerate Jorge’s help to stop the man bent on using seemingly random victims to imitate various superheroes’ origin stories. Oh, and did I mention Valentin’s beautiful new boss Norma (Verónica Echegui) is a bit of a cosplaying geek herself? Yeah.

This cop movie is spiced heavily with super hero flavour. If you know and love comics, you’ll likely predict the outcome a lot faster than the rest of us, and pick up on clues and cues planted specifically for your discerning eye. The film is a little uneven, sometimes cheesy heroic catch phrases, sometimes gritty police procedural, sometimes real horror and gore, other times goofy costumes. And yet it’s obvious that director David Galán Galindo is not only offering a send up to the super hero genre, he’s inspired by it, influenced by it, and given it a more real-world setting than others have been able to. It’s less slick than M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, less glossy, less ambitious, but it’s obvious too. The script is occasionally awkward and juvenile, and the sole female character could use a fuller and more subtle approach, but mostly Unknown Origins is a story we know very well, and it works because we love the genre and we can never get enough.

Freaks: You’re One of Us

Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel) is a wife and a mother and a waitress at a German pork chop fast food joint (!?!?). She goes to weekly therapy sessions and wishes she could be more assertive at work. Money is tight and she could use a raise. She is a good mother and generally content in life. One evening, while running some trash out to the dumpster behind her work, she comes across a vagrant man, digging around for scraps of food. She’s decent to him, but it’s he who has a message for her: “you’re one of us,” he tells her. “Follow the mermaid.” It’s exactly the right kind of mysterious and intriguing that she can’t help exploring at her earlier convenience. But what she finds is totally unexpected: not only does she have dormant super powers, the pills she’s been prescribed her entire adult life are what’s keeping these powers sedated, unbeknownst to her. Wendy’s beginning to unravel a vast conspiracy that’s been keeping her and others like her in the dark. But why?

This is a dark, live action version of The Incredibles where the government has medically suppressed super powers as much as possible, and driven outliers underground. Usually such a movie would tend to be sympathetic toward those denied their true potential but this one makes a pretty strong case for government interference, which is interesting, especially because the film itself tiptoes awkwardly around the “Hitler” thing. But even the mostly well-intentioned Avengers leave behind some pretty serious collateral damage.

The first half of the movie, the secret uncovered and the powers tested, is the much better half. The second half falters a bit without a strong stance or identity, and is too often tempted into outright cheesiness. Which is too bad, because I liked how grounded in reality we were, how Wendy seemed poised to embody the meek inheriting the earth. But it seems that neither director Felix Binder nor screenwriter Mark O. Seng is willing to commit to super powers being a net gain or a net loss, a feature or a bug. Are they something to be feared? Controlled? Exterminated? Should the government be legislating ANYONE’s body? Is it okay to ask some people to change who they are for the greater good? And what exactly is the greatest good, how is it measured, and who does the measuring? My mind takes off racing in a thousand directions and unfortunately the movie just stalls out. Missed opportunity.