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.

Murder To Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story

Netflix is crowded with documentaries just like this one: someone, often a person of colour, has been completely failed by the so-called justice system. And for every documentary made, there are hundreds? thousands? of unnamed prisoners going through the same thing. It’s hard not to burn out on these stories, and we feel so helpless to do anything about it.

Cyntoia Brown was failed many times before the justice system ever had its chance. Her mother Gina was just 16 when Cyntoia was born, already addicted to alcohol and crack. She struggled to raise her for a couple of years, but Gina was herself the victim of childhood molestation and rape, as was her mother before her. When Cyntoia was 2, she was given up for adoption, but she struggled to fit in, and her undiagnosed fetal alcohol poisoning made it impossible for her to thrive in settings that were hostile to her. By the time Cyntoia was 16, she was being pimped frequently by her “boyfriend” and one night, during an encounter that had her feeling particularly vulnerable, she shot the man who had picked her up, fearing and believing that he was about to do the same to her.

The justice system spent very little time deciding her fate: first, to be treated as an adult in court, despite her young age, and second, to sentence her to life in prison for a crime she committed as a scared child in an impossible situation. In 2004, when she was arrested and charged, the court called her a prostitute. Today, it would call her a child sex slave, the victim of human trafficking. But that does her very little good when she’s already been behind bars for 14 years.

But you know what? Some of director Daniel H. Birman’s footage went viral, prompting social media users to retweet #FreeCyntoiaBrown until someone finally paid attention. Her cause went up for review, and Brown pled for a second chance though most of us can see that she never really got her first. Her sentence was commuted and after 15 years in prison, she finally walked free. Now she spends her time advocating for prisoners in similar circumstances, but I think her story is particularly powerful in that it proves that actually we can make a difference. Hearing these stories and sharing these stories is how we begin to mend a broken system.

The Trip To Greece

This is their fourth trip actually; it was Spain before this, and Italy before that, and just a plain old Trip way back in 2010, during which Steve Coogan toured Britain’s best restaurants with best friend (and prime needler) Rob Brydon in tow. These two squabble like an old married couple but they also egg each other on to the greatest heights of comedy, throwing rockets of caustic remarks back and forth, stinging each other with brilliant insults, one-upping each other with first rate impressions.

Since 2010’s The Trip, the subsequent trips have largely followed the restaurant template, but for no good reason. The first one’s aim may have been to savour and review, but what followed was really just an excuse to throw together the same basic ingredients hoping to recapture their recipe for success. And the thing is, with very little effort, they do manage to replicate success. The films may defy traditional categorization but the Brydon-Coogan team is a winning bet, with the added bonus that Coogan continues to churn out content you’re likely familiar with, and Brydon continues to churn out new and exciting to lambaste it. Brydon gleefully pokes at Coogan’s apparent inability to recall an extra from his movie Greed. And he mocks Coogan’s BAFTA nomination for his work in Stan & Ollie – no, not his work, not his acting, his “copying,” his “impersonation,” two meaty jobs right to Coogan’s rib cage all while cajoling him into an impromptu Stan Laurel so that Brydon may offer his Hardy. Tom Hardy.

There’s something eminently watchable about these two. They hardly need the pretense of travel or fine dining; it is a pleasure to watch them under any circumstance. The Trip to Greece is available to rent via VOD, and each of the previous films is just as worthy.

Ophelia

This one’s been sitting idle in my drafts folder for way too long. All I had was the title, Ophelia, which was a freebie.

As you may have guessed (or perhaps you’ve seen the film, released as it was in 2018), this is a re-telling from Hamlet, from the fair Ophelia’s point of view. She doesn’t exactly get a fair shake from Shakespeare. Will director Claire McCarthy finally do her justice?

I’ve seen this described as a “feminist reinterpretation” so many times I want to throw a pewter goblet through a stained glass window. Stories with female protagonists don’t need special labels. It’s like saying the original Hamlet had an “idiotic interpretation” just like all stories with male protagonists. Oh, that seems unfair and perhaps a bit reductive? YEAH I FUCKING KNOW. I have so much rage. Of course I want to give this movie a pass just for having to deal with stupid male critics and stupid male bias and stupid male viewers but the truth is, this female was bored stiff.

Yes, it’s shot extremely well; there’s palpable value in its production. And Daisy Ridley and George MacKay are quite wonderful, really. But the thing is, very rarely are going to improve upon FUCKING SHAKESPEARE. Sure Ophelia got a shitty deal, and yes, it’s nice to see her flexing some agency. But this version just feels like we’re getting the bits of Hamlet that were left on the cutting room floor – and for good reason. There’s only so many jugs of water a girl can fetch. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. But while Ophelia’s background may be fecund in theory, it was rather barren in execution. It fell so far short of the mark for me I rather wished we’d been in Queen Gertrude’s (Naomi Watts) shoes instead, uncomfortable as I’m sure they were.

Valley Girl (2020)

First: a word about Logan Paul. Logan Paul is a Youtube star. “Star.” I know his name but not his content; he’s the brand of entitled-obnoxious that my life doesn’t need so I’ve never seen a single thing he’s done. I do know he’s been controversial, though. The first I heard of him, he’d gone to the suicide forest in Japan in late 2017 and posted a video of the corpse of a recently deceased (hanged) man. Cue uproar, cue “apology.” Youtube gave him a slap on the wrist (with 25M subscribers, their partnership is extremely lucrative to both) but he was back at it just a few weeks later. He’s sexist, he’s homophobic, he’s racist. Basically, he’s a giant douche. Valley Girl director Rachel Lee Goldenberg had the misfortune of casting him in her movie to play…well, a giant douche as it happens. This was in the spring of 2017, before the big controversies started to add up. The film was scheduled for a 2018 release by they scrapped it due to his involvement. This poor movie has languished on some shelf in Hollywood, serving a sentence for crimes committed by a single cast member. So yes, I acknowledge that Logan Paul is a problematic douche nozzle and we all wish he wasn’t in this movie even though he’s actually perfectly cast. With that said, onto the movie.

Yes, this is a remake of the 1983 film of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman. Foreman played Julie, a perfect, preppie valley girl who falls for a punk (Cage) from the wrong side of the hills. In the 2020 version, Julie is a proper grown up. She (Alicia Silverstone) is a mom now, and she recounts this teenage romance to her daughter.

Cue: the 1980s. Cue the leg warmers, the big hair, the jazzercize, the popped collars. A young Julie (Jessica Rothe) frolics on the beach with her gal pals and then hits up the mall. She’s dating arrogant jock Mickey (Logan Paul) but an edgier guy has grabbed her eye. Randy (Josh Whitehouse) is not a punk, because punk is dead, but if she’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock n roll. Her friends think she’s having a nervous breakdown but as far as rebellious streaks go it’s actually pretty tame – just dreaming of leaving the suburbs and maybe prioritizing a career instead of marriage and motherhood.

2020’s Valley Girl is somehow even more 80s than the original: it’s an homage, a love letter, a glossy, hair sprayed tribute, and in doing so, it’s rounded out the edges and presents a sanitized pop version for your nostalgia cravings. This Valley Girl is a jukebox musical which means every song sung will be one you know; the retro soundtrack includes We Got the Beat, Bad Reputation, Hey Mickey, Call Me, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Kids in America, Just Can’t Get Enough, Material Girl, Safety Dance, Take On Me, Under Pressure, I Melt With You…well, you get the picture. The 80s vibes are strong in this one.

Is this a life-changing movie? No. Is this a great piece of cinema? Still no. But if you’re willing to embrace the cheese, it’s actually quite a bit of fun. And the great thing about the 80s is that you don’t actually have to have lived through them to be nostalgic for them. It feels like the nostalgia was baked right into the decade (and quite possibly Tang flavoured). Play I-Spy during the carefully curated costume party: can you spot Boy George – George Michael – Michael Jackson?

This movie is Grease meets Trolls World Tour meets Romeo and Juliet, but feels like it’s a 90 minute version of those Tiffany videos she used to shoot at the mall. Valley Girl knows what it is and isn’t afraid to lean right in. This is the 80s, turned up to 11.

The Lovebirds

Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) are lingering in her doorway as they say goodbye after a one night stand. Neither is ready to part so they go to breakfast, and then the park, and then they don’t even notice where they are because they’re too busy confessing mutual crushes and making ooey gooey eyes at each other and generally just agreeing that this is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Rae and Nanjiani are charming enough that this fills you with joy rather than loathing.

Cut to: four years later. Leilani and Jibran are together, and having one of those fights that couples have, the little thing that turns into a bigger thing, angry words exchanged as they hurry each other out the door, late to a dinner party. The fight continues in the car, and things unravel to the point of breakup. We’re just starting to feel like this is going to be one mother of an awkward dinner party when WHAM, the cyclist that Jibrani just hit rolls up the hood of their car, smashes his skull into their windshield, and then flops back down to the pavement.

It’s funny how killing someone can really put a crimp in your plans. Now they’ll have to put dinner AND their breakup on hold to run from the cops – at least until they can clear their names. You might guess that this does not go well; The Lovebirds is in fact a comedy. The murder aspect is deadly serious but the escalating circumstances in which they find themselves are pretty funny.

“Things going increasingly badly for good people” is one of the most tired tropes in the comedy genre, and The Lovebirds is pretty much exactly what you expect. Happily, Nanjiani and Rae are talented enough and compatible enough that their chemistry saves this thing from mediocrity. It’s too bad the movie really leans on them to carry this thing, but it’s a relief that they can, and they do. The movie’s uneven, there are funny parts, draggy parts, parts that don’t work, and parts that really do. But on the whole I found it fun and enjoyable – light fare from talented actors who deserve to use this film as a vault to better roles and bigger spotlights. And since you may be cooped up with your own partner for the tenth weekend in a row, it’s not a bad idea to pour yourself some sangria and wonder how YOU’D react under similar circumstances.

Love Is Blind

Bess is a strange young woman. She’s studying ocular health, has a white peacock named Argus, sees a bizarre psychotherapist, has a treehouse that looks as though Big Bird built it, and can’t see her mother. Well, either she can’t see her or she’s not there: that point is a little contentious. Bess (Shannon Tarbet) maintains that her mother (Chloe Sevigny) died 10 years ago in a car crash while her father (Matthew Broderick) speaks to her like she’s still there. Either Bess has weirdly selective vision or her dad Murray is demented with grief.

To be fair, Murray might be a bit demented. He has Parkinson’s, which is often linked with dementia. His advancing disease may be partially to blame for Bess’s failure to launch. She’s still at home, not particularly excited about optometry or her boyfriend or the state of her life. The only thing that really holds her attention is her therapist, Farmer (Benjamin Walker), with whom she has worked intensively for the past several years. Is she cured? In fact, she is not even so much as diagnosed. But on his way to another degree, and in the name of research, Farmer attempts therapeutic approach after therapeutic approach, and finally he plays the last card in his deck: group therapy. He pairs Bess with “therapy buddy” Russell (Aidan Turner), a suicidal demolition man. Two problems. Russell is in love with Bess. And Bess can’t see Russell.

Love Is Blind is an experimental kind of film, and a beautiful one, perfectly framed shots, vibrant colour palettes. It has a distinct vibe and simply asks the viewer to go with the flow. It’s a tiny bit opaque in that we don’t know for sure who’s having the mental breakdown so we’re basically just sifting through opposing evidence, but all of the evidence is saturated with an aesthetic that I totally bought into, so instead of totally obscuring things, it’s like watching a movie through the filter of unicorn skin.This movie literally made me say OUT LOUD “I thought that was a metaphor, but it wasn’t.” Don’t tell me you’re not interested! I, for one, was enchanted.

Capone

Be careful what you wish for. Over on our Youtube channel (won’t you kindly hit our subscribe button?), Sean and I have very diligently reported on all the movies as one by one they were cancelled by corona, and have continued to update folks on new release dates, some delayed as much as a year, and others headed straight for VOD. Such as the case for Capone: it was to be available for rent as of May 12; we searched but we did not find…until now. And to be honest, I would have had more fun had I taken my 5 dollar bill, torn it up into chunks, surreptitiously inserted them into hamburger patties, and bet on Sean never noticing (cheese covers all manner of sin).

We knew going in that this wasn’t your typical gangster movie. Al Capone (Tom Hardy, hiding his good looks behind distracting prosthetics) spent a hard 10 years in prison…for tax evasion. Syphillitic singe the age of 13, the disease had begun to rot his brain, and though only 47, he had full-blown dementia. Don’t go thinking this was some sort of compassionate release: the Feds watched his every move, hoping to recover the rumoured $10M that he’d buried. But if that buried treasure does exist, its location has long since evaporated from Capone’s head. He rambles about his lavish Florida estate while “doctors” try to unlock the secret and family members try to make sense of his thoughts. If the movie is to be believed, his memories are as scrambled as his slurred speech (seriously? ANOTHER mumbly Tom Hardy role?). He may be haunted by his past but his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) is haunted by his present, which is marred by incontinence. If your vision of a mob movie includes an addled-brained patient, his trademark cigar replaced with a carrot (for his “health”), a droopy diaper instead of pants, the only pin-stripes the one on his pajamas, carrying around a gold-plated tommy gun with half a mind (literally) to shoot someone or something, then you’re one lucky weirdo. Capone is the movie for you.

Hardy’s giving it his all but the movie’s just too aimless and disjointed to give anything back. The truth is, writer-director Josh Trank might also giving it his all, and his all just isn’t any good. He’s tanked a few movies with potential now. Maybe it’s time to start believing him. He isn’t ready.

Neither is this movie. I think there’s an interesting story in there somewhere, but Trank does his damnedest to obscure it. The result is an uncomfortable watch, and ultimately an unrewarding one.