Category Archives: Kick-ass!

Misbehaviour

Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) and Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) have little in common, and they even fail to bond over their mutual cause when they meet at a women’s meeting. But though they usually take a different path toward their ideals, they unite over the upcoming 1970 Miss World beauty competition which will be held right in their backyard – London.

It’s extremely upsetting that women have been protesting the sexism inherent in such a pageant for 50 years now, and yet they continue to happen, judging women on the height of their hair and the curves in their bikinis.

Okay, technically the women were still competing in one-piece bathing suits in 1970, but their measurements were recorded and announced during the broadcast, which leaves even less to the imagination than even the skimpiest swimsuit. Sally, Jo, and their cohorts plan to attend the live broadcast, and to disrupt it.

Meanwhile, feminism isn’t the only movement on the rise. Racism is too, and this year, for the first time, South Africa is impelled to send a woman of colour in addition to the ubiquitous white one, and Grenada sends a Black woman to compete as well. Sally et. al believe that a “family” show judging a woman based on appearance alone shouldn’t exist, but Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) knows what her presence will say to little girls of colour all over the world. They both have a point, and unfortunately, this is a good illustration of how feminism has routinely left its sisters of colour behind. Misbehaviour isn’t about to shy away from that unpleasant fact, and it isn’t afraid to tackle difficult or unpopular topics.

Case in fact: Bob Hope. Legendary, beloved Bob Hope, fondly remembered for his numerous USO trips, on which Miss Universe would sometimes join him, the mere sight of her deemed a boost to morale. Bob Hope had hosted the Miss Universe pageant back in 1961 and was tapped to host again in 1970, to the disapproval of his wife, since in ’61 he’d started a 30 year long affair with the winner. Bob Hope (portrayed in the film by Greg Kinnear, his wife Dolores by Lesley Manville) was a more legendary womanizer than he was a comedian; he carried on more affairs than he could probably count. Knowing that “women’s libbers” were protesting the pageant, he thought it wise to work some extra misogyny into the pageant with remarks like “It is quite a cattle market here tonight and I’ve been back there checking calves.” Har har.

These different story lines help tell a fuller truth and give the events a proper context. The lesson here is a little complicated, but it’s told in an entertaining way by an extremely talented cast and I’m quite pleased if a little surprised to confirm that Misbehaviour strikes the right balance and delivers a movie you’ll actually be glad you saw.

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb

James Tovell’s documentary Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb takes us to Egypt where archeologists are carefully digging up the Saqqara necropolis, just 20km away from the more well-known Giza necropolis. Saqqara is the world’s first and oldest pyramid though, and it has many secrets yet to be unlocked.

Digging isn’t the only part of archeology, or indeed the bulk of it, but it is by far the most exciting, and Tovell wisely nestles us amongst a crew of Egyptian archeologists who have uncovered a tomb untouched for 4400 years and begin to pick it apart, revealing historical artifacts that will astonish their community, and a tribute to a family unit who celebrated each other in life and grieved each other in life.

News of this discovery has lit a flame around the world of archeology and is already heralded as one of the most significant finds in the past 50 years. The team hope to uncover coffins, mummies, and precious belongings buried with the family during the excavation, but what I find fascinating is what the tomb reveals about the family buried there, the family of Wahtye, a priest who served under King Neferirkare Kakai during the 5th Dynasty of Egypt, that is to say, around the 25th century BC or more than 4000 years ago.

The site team is composed of archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists, and diggers discovering unexplored passageways and shafts in a tomb that is remarkably well-preserved. Mummies are always exciting to find – their bones reveal so much about how the people lived, what they ate, what they did for work, and how old they were when they died. But this particular dig unearths more than just coffins and bodies; it contains possibly the world’s first ever case of malaria, a board game played by the elite millennia ago, and the mummified remains of a lion cub, the first ever of its kind.

I think archeology is immeasurably fascinating and this is the site with maximum bang for your buck. You won’t have to put up with the heat or the dust or the claustrophobia as you stream into Egypt via Netflix.

Kajillionaire

Miranda July’s Kajillionaire is absurd, absurdly absurd, but the slightly off-kilter universe she concocts for her characters is eminently watchable and surprisingly endearing.

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) (yes that’s her name) (yes it’s horrible) was named after a homeless man who’d won the lottery. Her parents hoped this might get her into his will. It was the first scheme the family worked as a threesome, but not the last.

Living “off the grid” seems like it involves a reclusive shack, enough farm land for self-sufficiency, and possibly an underground bunker. Old Dolio and her family – mom Theresa (Debra Winger) and dad Robert (Richard Jenkins) – live in the city, but outside of society. Their home, if it can even be called such, is condemned office space that is flooded with bubbles on a daily basis. They are charged a nominal rent for these quarters but they can never seem to pay it. Many months are overdue. The family subsists on a series of scams, most of which feature Old Dolio on the front lines. Old Dolio, it goes without saying, is a strange young woman having had such an untraditional upbringing, and, it must be said, some pretty faulty parenting. Theresa and Robert aren’t exactly the loving, supporting types. Their family runs more like a business (an unsuccessful business) where expenses and profits are split 3 ways. Having never known anything else, Old Dolio doesn’t notice anything amiss in this arrangement before her parents meet and all but adopt another young woman, Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), who is quickly taken into the fold and absorbed into their schemes.

Miranda July has crafted some characters that are unique and interesting yet completely (hopefully) unrelatable. Still, she uses their unusual circumstances to speak toward larger themes of toxic relationships and learning to identify and fulfill one’s own needs, which are universal tenets of growing up. Old Dolio hasn’t had the opportunities, or even considered them, before now; only in comparing herself to Melanie does she begin to realize the iniquities she’s been suffering. We only know what we know.

With strong, engaging performances across the board, a knowing script, and a unique vision from writer-director Miranda July, Kajillionaire is must-see independent film and genuine oasis in the cinematic desert that is 2020.

Totally Under Control

It feels almost mean to be posting this today of all days, when things are particularly “totally under control.”

That’s a direct quote from a certain president, of course, in reference to a certain virus, and you will not believe how many times he can work it into the same sentence. It’s also unbelievable that he can say it with a straight face, that he can so easily, so thoughtlessly lie to the very people he is supposed to protect. Or – so much worse it’s almost inconceivable – does he really believe it himself? He can’t possibly be THAT dumb, can he?

It was a pandemic that swept across the globe in a matter of weeks, with over 48 million now infected and more than a million dead. It was not under control then and it is even less so now, thanks to months of American non-response by its leader. Ignoring it didn’t make it go away. Not testing for it didn’t make it go away. Not reporting the numbers didn’t make it go away. Totally Under Control is an “in-depth look” at how the United States government handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but of course it’s a testament to the lack of appropriate response and will serve as evidence as to how Trump’s actions directly contributed to the deaths of 233 000 Americans and counting.

Film makers  Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger are telling a story that’s still unfolding. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, the film devastating and dizzying with the litany of warnings gone unheeded. Viruses can be dangerous. Pandemics can be deadly. But the kind of incompetence and negligence seen in America is a crime. Preventable deaths are a tragedy. This documentary doesn’t bother to point any fingers; it doesn’t have to. Trump’s action speak louder than murder charges.

For more pandemic docs, check us out here.

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.

The 40 Year Old Version

Radha was a promising playwright; she took home a 30 under 30 award, but she’s rounding the corner to 40 now, and instead of producing the play of her dreams, she’s teaching ambivalent students at a college and stalling out on all that promise. Welcome to Radha’s midlife crisis.

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With that milestone birthday looming over her shoulder, Radha is desperate for a breakthrough and knows she has to shake things up to achieve it, but if it were that easy, she would have done it already. Exploring her contacts and the compromises it would take, she dabbles in hip hop, straddling the world of both hip hop and theatre to find her lost voice.

This movie succeeds on one woman alone: Radha Blank, who writes for and directs herself in a tour de force performance. Her writing is strong and incisive, she manages to be wild and free, fierce and determined, while also seeing her character’s evolution through some uncertain and confusing times. If Radha is a little mature for a coming of age, this is perhaps her second age, one in which her wisdom and lived experience have inspired her to create her own space and define the ways she fills it.

If Radha the character is finding her voice, Radha the multi-hyphenate talent responsible for the film has found hers, and found a bold, radical, brilliant way to display it.

Odd Thomas

Odd is his actual name, and according to townspeople, he lives up to it each and every day. If they knew he had powers that justified what they called him, they’d REALLY be upset. Odd (Anton Yelchin) is a short-order cook who can see the dead. They can’t speak but they are often frantic to impart a last message, sometimes about how they died, and who might be responsible. Thank goodness for Chief Porter (Willem Dafoe), who pursues Odd’s leads and doesn’t ask too many questions that can’t be comfortably answered.

“Wheel of Misfortune”

But there’s something more sinister than usual hanging around this California desert town. Dark and threatening forces (seen only by Odd of course) are clustering around a mysterious man, and Odd has a very bad feeling that something very serious and very deadly is about to go down.

The movie is pretty wobbly as far as tone goes: romance, tragedy, comedy, supernatural thriller. It’s scary, witty, goofy, silly, and yes – odd. And while some may find it tough to breach the ever-changing landscape, Anton Yelchin is just the man to incorporate all of these facets into something that makes sense. While Yelchin’s loss is still keenly felt, it’s a little more palpable when he’s addressing a child’s ghost and offering condolences for a life cut short.

Odd Thomas is a quirky comedy-horror if ever there was one, but I couldn’t help but like it. It is oddly entertaining; Odd has the makings of a paranormal investigator that I could watch again and again – I kind of wish it was a series and not a film so that I could. Writer-director Stephen Sommers adapts from a Dean Koontz novel which I have not read but imagine the film manages to capture a good bit of the source material’s spirit. It’s an engaging deviance from the usual approach, a more whimsical, almost quaint approach to horror, quite a feat for something involving satanic cults and mass murder.

Doctor Sleep

You remember Danny Torrence, right? Loved to ride his Big Wheel down quiet, carpeted hallways. Called his index finger Tony and spoke for him in a creepy voice? Avoided being chopped up into tiny pieces by his father by outsmarting him in a hedge maze?

Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining you didn’t know you’d been waiting 40 years to see, starring survivor Danny Torrence, now all grown up and going by Dan (Ewan McGregor). Dan is an alcoholic, struggling to beat the disease that claimed his father. He’s alone in the world, nothing but a string of bad decisions behind him, not to mention some haunting memories which he tries to repress. He’s trying for a peaceful life these days but when teenager Abra (Kyliegh Curran) reaches out to him via their mutual power (we’re still calling it the shining), he can hardly ignore her, especially because she’s in danger. Her powers are pretty significant and she can feel other kids like her getting brutally murdered. A mysterious cult known as The True Knot, led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), preys on children with powers, drinking their pain and eating their fear to remain immortal.

Of course this struggle will ultimately end up at the Overlook Hotel, where the final showdown takes place. It’s been abandoned literally since the last time Danny was there, and it’s got plenty of trauma triggers just waiting to trip him up. The hotel itself is not unlike the True Knot, sucking at whatever shining powers it can get, and Dan’s presence certainly revives this.

The film has a great supporting cast including Emily Alyn Lind, Zackary Momoh, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, and especially Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay, and Cliff Curtis. Director Mike Flanagan knows how powerful it is to situate us back into the setting of one of the most famous and successful modern horror movies ever, but he wisely uses it sparingly, creating his own almost separate story that merely feels adjacent to the great Stanley Kubrick oeuvre. Likewise, he doesn’t seek to recreate Kubrick’s style, though the temptation must be great. Doctor Sleep takes a more brooding, almost meditative approach, which might be a nice way of saying slow. It is a bit slow because we take the time to get reacquainted with Dan Torrence and incorporating his infamous past with what we know of him today, because those events have certainly shaped him. There has always been a reason to revisit The Shining; in the first film, Danny’s special powers are relegated to subplot and never get fully addressed. The Shining seems like it’s named after Danny but it’s his father’s story; Jack’s writer’s block and cabin fever and alcoholism and isolation culminate in a rather explosive way. The fact that his son is ‘weird’ is a relatively minor factor in his downward spiral. Finally with Doctor Sleep we get some answers – what is it more than why is it, but it’s still satisfying to tie up some long-nagging loose ends. Of course, it also opens up its own universe of terror and intrigue.

Mike Flanagan’s film hits different notes than Kubrick’s did, though, apart from the synth ones in the score that inspire instant dread. It’s respectful of Kubrick’s masterpiece, but draws a lot on the book by Stephen King, and winds up forging its own identity. To be honest, I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. Flanagan is smart to build his sequel on familiar bones but not to make the film in Kubrick’s image. It helps that they’re very different stories about very different family members. Rebecca Ferguson is a lot of fun as Rose The Hat, and Kyliegh Curran is clearly going to be a huge star. It takes a while to get them together but not only is it worth the wait, it doesn’t feel like a wait, it’s a genuine pleasure to have this creep up on you on all sides until you’re surrounded and the only thing to do is to surrender.

Over The Moon

When Fei Fei is a little girl, her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) tells her about the moon goddess Chang’e. The popular myth says that many, many years ago, ten suns rose in the sky together, scorching the Earth. The archer Houyi shot down nine of them, and was rewarded an elixir for immortality. He did not take it as he did not wish to become immortal without his beloved wife Chang’e. But one day his apprentice broke into his house to steal it, and to prevent him gaining it, Chang’e drank it herself. She ascended to the heavens, choosing the moon as her residence, where she mourns her husband to this day, because true love lasts forever.

Fei Fei’s mother passed away, and every year when her family gathers for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, there’s an extra reason to remember her mother. But this year she is surprised to learn that her father (John Cho) has invited an unexpected guest: his new girlfriend, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) and her son, Chin. Upset by this sudden turn of events, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) decides to build a rocket ship to the moon so she can enlist Chang’e’s help to remind her father that true love (ie, his first love, ie, Fei Fei’s mother) is forever. She and bunny Bungee (plus stowaway Chin) are surprisingly successful, but the moon isn’t exactly what she’d anticipated. Her first friend is Gobi (Ken Jeong), a pangolin former royal advisor who was exiled 1000 years ago; he has some important wisdom to impart about loneliness, if only Fei Fei would listen. But she’s still determined to enlist Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), a goddess in the form of a rock star, and every bit as demanding and self-interested as one.

Over The Moon is a new offering from Netflix, an animated musical film appropriate for the whole family. It’s more in the style of Laika films than Disney or Pixar, but unfortunately doesn’t reach the heights of any of these. Although it does use one of Disney’s favourite tropes, the dead mom, it teaches a lesson about a different kind of grief. The visuals are stunning and the moon adventure is sure to please any young child, with rap-battle ping pong games and softly glowing creatures, it’s hard to deny. But the moon adventure is book-ended with family scenes reminiscent of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, another movie that used food as an excuse to gather and grieve. These scenes are tinged with loss but also hint that life can move on. It is heartfelt but not emotionally manipulative. Some of the feelings are nuanced enough that they may be complicated for very young audience members to understand, but anyone who has loved and lost will feel something familiar here, and that’s a pretty good reason to watch.