Category Archives: Sucks ass

Benediction

Benediction is the story of English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He was decorated for bravery on the Western Front, and went on to become one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry vividly described the horrors of the trenches while satirizing the patriotic pretensions that Sassoon believed were responsible for a fueling the war. His was a dissenting voice, protesting against the continuation of the war with his Soldier’s Declaration of 1917, which got him committed to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital. He married because he craved a child (and had one), but also had a string of same-sex affairs. He befriended a priest, converted to catholicism, and joined the Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation organization for ghosts and hauntings. I guess what I’m trying to say is: he was an interesting fellow. But you’d never know it from Benediction.

Peter Capaldi and Jack Lowden portray Sassoon at different stages of his life, both with skill. But director Terence Davies’ fondness for too-long shots of wind rustling leaves as opera plays is trying, and tiring, and no substitution for actual mood or atmosphere. It feels like filler.

Interspersed with real vintage war footage for context, Sassoon’s poems are narrated and layered on top of representative images. It’s cheesy, and reads more like a teenage girl’s diary. Terrible effects and amateurish green screen work add to the unprofessional feel of the film, which is hard to forgive, and harder still to sit through. The story isn’t particularly complex, but it’s still hard to keep everyone straight when all these underfed pasty types all look the same.

It’s a sad film, somber almost to a fault, but I could live with that. Davies seems to have something interesting to say about about time, using with parallels narratives, but some of his artistic choices were like taking a hose’s spray to the face. Thrown unceremoniously more than once from the bubble of the film, I found it difficult to get back in, not because it was impenetrable, but because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated. Failure is the theme to which the film often returned, but for me it wasn’t just part of the story, it was inherent in the execution as well.

Benediction is, nevertheless, an official selection of the 2021 TIFF.

The Story of My Wife

Man makes crude bet with friend, vows to marry the next girl who walks in.

Sounds like the premise of one of those beach-reads romance novels, or a cheesy teen romance, but in fact, this is writer-director Ildikó Enyedi’s latest period drama. So what’s the difference?

Sea Captain Jacob Störr (Gijs Naber) is ready to marry, he declares to his friend. “To whom?” the friend inquires, naturally. Jacob doesn’t know yet, so he proposes that he will marry the very next woman who enters the café. Lucky for him it’s the lovely Lizzy (Léa Seydoux), who proves surprisingly amenable to his plan.

Is it a good idea to marry so impetuously? Jacob and Lizzy will soon find that love and marriage are about as turbulent as the seas he routinely conquers as captain of a large vessel, and not so easily navigated. Marriage without courtship, indeed without even basic familiarity, does pose its challenges. The Story of My Wife is the story of a man discovering his wife after he’s already married her. She’s coy, and teasing, and he can never get a good read on her, and since we know Lizzy only through Jacob’s eyes, neither can we. Is she sincere? Serious? Unfaithful or just a flirt? Whatever charm resides in her mysterious character evaporates in the sheer repetitiveness of the film, Jacob’s jealousy coming to a head over and over again.

Jacob is awkward on land, and even more uneasy when he finds himself unable to captain his marriage and steer it in the direction of his choosing. Used to taking people at their word to a fault, Jacob cannot credit his wife’s womanly wiles. It’s mildly interesting but this clunker takes on water steadily but takes almost as long as Titanic (the movie, about 3 hours) to sink. I’m quite sure that you’ll have jumped overboard long before then. The Story of My Wife beguiles us with its pretty 1920s setting and Seydoux’s luscious ringlets, but it ultimately fails to hold the attention.

The Story of My Wife is an official selection of TIFF21.

Sweet Girl

Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) is understandably upset when he and his daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) watch their beloved wife and mother die of a cancer that is treatable, if only they could afford it. An affordable generic brand is tragically pulled from the market, having been bought out by its larger and more expensive competitor, BioPrime. Ray harbours an inevitable and totally justified grudge, and vows to take it out on BioPrime CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha). It just so happens that Ray is a trained fighter with a passion for justice, so even though there’s a hitman literally hot on his trail, Ray’s going to see this thing through, to avenge his wife and protect his daughter.

So: grief and action. Blood and then more blood. The action’s decent, but it’s definitely a watered down version of better scenes in better movies. Not great movies, mind you; Sweet Girl is a pretty low bar, and no one involved in the movie seems motivated to reach any higher. I probably should have been more motivated to reach for the remote to give this movie the boot, but had I, this review would end here and you’d never know how Sweet Girl turns around.

It gets worse. It goes from generic, forgettable action movie with a superficial social justice heart to a bullshit “twist ending” that thinks it’s quite clever but will only earn eye rolls at best. Nothing feels authentic enough to care about or good enough to enjoy. The acting ensemble is not to blame; Momoa is the weakest link but the others, including Amy Brenneman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and Lex Scott Davis, do a plausible job with implausible words and circumstances. It’s not enough to save a worthless cause. However, if you’d feel content just to watch Momoa throw some punches (and his hair over his shoulder), this movie delivers exactly that, with little else to distract you.

A Week Away

Greetings from my toilet! I don’t normally write movie reviews from my bathroom but I’ve recently developed a severe intolerance to dairy and it seems imprudent to risk sitting anywhere else.

Yes, this movie is THAT cheesy.

Will (Kevin Quinn) is a teenage orphan and a bad apple. Stealing a cop car is the last straw that gets him kicked out of the group home so as a last resort he gets sent to summer camp. Which is actually church camp. And at church camp, in apparently just the space of a single week, a certain young lady helps him develop a crush on Jesus and saves him from himself. Avery (Bailee Madison) is the pastor’s daughter and has a dead mom herself, so they really bond over seeing their dead loved ones again in heaven one day. Hypothetically, of course, which is what atheists call faith.

Faith is great but prayers are not going to get you through this movie, and that’s because this isn’t just a teenage romance that puts marriage on the table but not kissing, it’s also a musical! An eerily perky, God-centric musical with the absolute cheesiest, boppiest choreography I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Generally I like a good musical, and I don’t mind a sappy teenage romance, but this movie made me hate them both, made me hate movies generally, made me hate even cheese, and cheese is practically my religion.

This movie is unabashedly Christian, though I do think paintball and confetti cannons are rather obvious ways to trick kids into thinking Jesus is cool, and I think tricking anyone into religion is technically a cult. But a cult with an arts and crafts cabin and tater tots on Tuesdays. Care to join? It’s currently recruiting on Netflix.

Secret Magic Control Agency

Fairy tales come together in a new and only mildly interesting way in this buddy cop animated film with a magical twist that’ll only prove satisfying to young and undiscerning audiences.

You may have heard of Hansel and Gretel, who in this film are all grown up and sadly estranged. But they’ve reunited, against their will, to work a very important case. Gretel is a dedicated agent at the Secret Magic Control Agency while her brother Hansel is a criminal who uses magic to swindle folks. But when the King is kidnapped by a disgruntled royal chef who can bring food to life to act as her henchmen, for some reason only Hansel and Gretel together can solve the case and save the king. And, I should mention, in the process they get turned into children, making their mission even harder, as people tend to discount kids and not take them seriously and shit.

This movie didn’t strike me as special or interesting or good in any way, but I do think that sentient spaghetti and cupcake dogs will have a certain irresistible cachet with young kids. For adults, though, or even kids over 8 with good taste, this one’s not quite going to cut it.

Berlinale 2021: The Scary of Sixty-First

Worst movie EVER. Not to brag, but there are 2485 reviews on this site, and this one is the worst by a LARGE margin.

Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) are best friends, supposedly, who have just moved into a shared apartment in Manhattan. Not only do they move in immediately, they use the furnishings left behind by a previous unknown tenant. I’m developing sympathy scabies just thinking about the used bedding situation, which is reason enough to have given them nightmares on their first night, but this is a horror movie, not a hygiene movie.

The next day a young woman (Dasha Nekrasova) wrestles her way into the apartment, revealing to Noelle that it used to belong to Jeffrey Epstein. Together they deep dive into the conspiracies surrounding his pedophilia, arrest, and “suicide.” Noelle, clearly an impressionable young woman, is immediately 100% on board. They imagine that the apartment was used for orgies, rapes, human trafficking, the whole lot. Addie, meanwhile, seems to have been possessed by the spirit of a small child. She sucks her thumb while masturbating to images of Prince Andrew (who is alleged to a close friend of Epstein’s, and/or a pedophile himself), and by ‘masturbating to,’ I of course mean rubbing magazine images of his face against her crotch and inserting commemorative items from his marriage to Fergie into her various orifices, while squishing oranges between her toes. None of this seems pleasurable, in case you were wondering.

The acting in this movie is very, very, exceptionally, terribly bad. I realize no one with an actual career or future in the movie business would ever, in their right minds, consent to be in such a film, but even considering that it’s total amateur hour, it’s still unbelievably bad, across the board. In fact, the only thing worse than the acting is the “writing” which I’m confident was simply copied and pasted from the dregs of Reddit. Dekrasova and Quinn share writing credit and it’s mystifying that anyone would put their names on this thing. Even the sweaty Reddit trolls hide behind anonymity.

Dekrasova is also the director responsible for this mess, and it’s impossible to tell if she’s got any talent because she hasn’t got any taste. I’m mostly afraid to ask how this thing got financed because I have a feeling I know exactly how, and I’m deeply uncomfortable in having been involved in this even tangentially. Did these girls pick this topic because it was the only way they’d ever get significant screen time and they were willing to sell their souls for it…or worse, do they actually believe this stuff and are willing to serve as mouthpieces?

Whatever the answer, I’m not sure how this was chosen to screen at the Berlin Film Festival. Film Festivals absolutely have a duty to push the boundaries of the art form and challenge us to step outside of our cinematic comfort zones, but this movie isn’t that. It’s just a piece of trash that’s in very poor taste. After all, Epstein was a real man, a real pedophile, with real victims, and this film only serves to trivialize it in the most disturbing and disappointing way.

Tom and Jerry

Did you ever wonder how Tom met Jerry, and why it was hate at first sight? Well too bad, this movie’s going to tell you anyway.

Jerry is a mouse, newly arrived in Manhattan, and while apartment hunting he comes across a blind, keyboard-playing cat busking in Central Park. Only the cat isn’t really blind, and of course Jerry finds time in his busy schedule to provoke him just before disappearing into his new digs, the fabulous Royal Gate Hotel. Between its floorboards he sets up a little rodent bachelor pad, and he sets out to sample all of the hotel’s fine amenities. The hotel’s manager is none too pleased to have vermin in his prestigious hotel, particularly before the year’s grandest event – the wedding of Preeta and Ben, set to take place in his hotel ballroom in just a few days. Event planner Terence (Michael Pena) needs help, and Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) needs a job, so she fudges her qualifications and through the magic of live action-animated children’s movies, Kayla has herself a job.

Kayla’s first task is of course ridding the hotel of its mouse infestation, and what better way to get rid of a mouse than to hire a cat to do the job. Enter Tom, who we know already has a beef with Jerry due to their earlier altercation in the park. True to their heritage, Tom and Jerry will get up to their same old antics, the same old back and forth, cat and mouse, push and pull of destruction that they’ve been getting up to since the dawn of time (well, since 1940, which is pretty much the same thing). Director Tim Story doesn’t have much of a modern twist to add to the proceedings, nor does he have much respect for his young audience.

Inserting Tom and Jerry into an uninspired live action scenario is not the best use of these vintage television characters. It won’t please older fans, nostalgic for the cat and mouse of their childhood, nor is it likely to impress young audiences meeting Tom and Jerry for the first time. Terence and Kayla are helping to plan the wedding of the century. Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost) are getting married in the most over the top, larger than life way you can imagine; obviously this leaves lots of room for hijinks and lots of opportunity for trouble. The problem is, the hijinks are kind of played out, like, last century. I can’t really guess who this movie is made for, but I do know it wasn’t me and it definitely wasn’t Sean. Will it be you? Probably not. But if you’re willing to find out, wait until the movie doesn’t cost $25 to rent anymore. Even if you don’t hate it, there’s definitely not 25 bucks worth of movie in here and you’ll end up hating yourself, and possibly an age-old rivalry between a cat and a mouse.

Bigfoot Family

New on Netflix this weekend, Bigfoot Family is the sequel to 2017’s Son of Bigfoot (but don’t worry, if you missed the first one, I’m confident you’ll still be able to navigate the plot of the second).

In the first film, teenage Adam went on a quest to find his long-lost father and found him hiding out in the woods. After a science experiment gone wrong mutated his DNA and turned him into Bigfoot, a pharmaceutical company got wind of things and Adam’s dad felt the only way to protect himself and his family was to go into hiding.

In the sequel, Adam’s father is technically back home but rarely there because his Bigfoot status has accorded him some fame. Adam has learned that he, too, is a Bigfoot – aside from the really big feet, he can heal himself and talk to animals, which is a good thing because several of his father’s four-legged forest friends have since moved in with them, including Wilbur the bear and Trapper the raccoon. Adam’s dad has decided to use his fame in a positive way, lending his celebrity to a village in Alaska concerned that a power company claiming to be 100% clean is actually damaging their ecosystem in secret. But when Adam’s dad goes out there to help out, he quickly disappears. Adam, his mom, plus Wilbur and Trapper, pile into a camper and drive up to Alaska to save their dad, and hopefully also stop the Big Bad Oil Company from doing their thing.

While there’s nothing really wrong about this movie, there’s also nothing very right, or very memorable. There are no big names lending their voices, there are no energetic pop songs, and the plot’s details are going to be a little frustrating to anyone above the age of 5. If you have kids under the age of 5, this might be an okay watch for them, as long as you don’t have to be in the same room. Otherwise this is an unfortunate skip, even knowing how much we need family-friendly fare right now.

Bachelorette

You know when you’re on a deep dive into Netflix’s back catalogue and you come across a movie that’s packed full of A-listers that you’ve somehow never heard of before? There’s always a reason.

Bachelorette is a deeply offensive and rarely funny movie that probably meant to be Deep Impact to Bridesmaids’ Armageddon, but wasn’t. It stars Rebel Wilson as bride-to-be Becky and Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher as her horrible best friends. This trio are quite cruel to Becky, to her face and behind her back. They discuss amongst themselves how impossible it is that their fat friend is the first to be married, and to a good catch at that – rich, handsome, and totally in love with her. They’re jealous, they’re mean, and they’re determined to fuck up her wedding.

On the eve of the wedding, Becky heads to bed while her “friends” get drunk and do coke and fail to find a single ounce of happiness for the bride. In a fit of particular cruelty, Regan (Dunst) and Katie (Fisher) decide to try on Becky’s dress, without permission, and at the same time. The dress does as most would do when taxed with two wearers: it rips down the middle. The rest of the evening is spent in a “hilarious” race to somehow fix the dress before the morning wedding. They’ll get more drunk and do more drugs, and cross paths with the bachelor party on more than one occasion. The dress will be dragged along the sidewalk, get tossed in the trash, and be besmirched by several bodily fluids. And through it all, none of these women ever feels bad or learns a lesson. They’re disgusting human beings but they never face a consequence and they never get called out. I’m half afraid the script doesn’t even realize that they’re pathetic, ugly people.

Bridesmaids was crude and edgy, serving up women behaving badly with style though not always class. It got away with it because underpinning the gross gags and lewd humour was an essential sweetness and an elemental bond that made its hot mess relatable, and grounded. This movie is anarchic but tonally confused, and its characters hideously irredeemable. Even ringing its theme for all it was worth, the film failed to squeeze out even a drop of entertainment. There’s a reason I’d never heard of this movie – I just wish that had stayed the case.

Music

You may already know about this movie even if you haven’t seen it. Sia, the popular singer-songwriter with the oversized wigs, is its director and co-writer, but more importantly, is the woman who made a movie about a young woman on the autism spectrum without casting or seemingly consulting anyone on the spectrum. And when she was called out about it, she got kind of defensive. Understandable, maybe, but not a great look. She has since half-apologized, the very definition of too little, too late.

While I definitely believe that inclusion is good and right, and representation important, I decided to see if I could set the controversy aside and enjoy the movie anyway. The short answer is NO. The long answer is:

Music is not about a young woman on the spectrum named Music. Music (Maddie Ziegler) lives with grandma Millie (Mary Kay Place), who has carefully constructed a safe space in which Music can exist. Music is barely verbal, but she likes to go for walks and visit the library, and she’s never without her headphones. But then Millie suffers a deadly stroke and Music’s sister Zu (Kate Hudson) has to step up and take custody, which is a real head scratcher since Zu is an addict and a drug dealer recently released from prison and currently on parole. How she gets custody is beyond me. She can barely care for herself, she’s 40 but hardly an adult. Caring for a special needs sister seems wildly beyond her, which is probably why things get so wildly out of control. Anyway, this movie is not about Music, it’s about Zu. Music is merely used as a prop to help Zu achieve her goals. She’s a plot device on Zu’s road to redemption.

While this is hardly Hollywood’s first ‘marginalized person as a plot device’ narrative, it is a particularly offensive portrayal by Maddie Ziegler, who, by her own admission only prepared for the role by watching Youtube videos of kids on the spectrum having meltdowns. Ziegler’s performance is without depth or nuance. It’s one-dimensional, insensitive, and doesn’t begin to describe a person as a whole. But director Sia doesn’t understand this, and the script, co-written by Sia and children’s author Dallas Clayton, isn’t interested in fully-realized characters anyway. Music remains opaque and unknowable, Zu is hardly treated to anything resembling an arc or development, and other characters aren’t just basic but sometimes downright offensively stereotypical. It’s surprising that Sia was able to get the likes of Hector Elizondo, Mary Kay Place, Ben Schwartz, and Leslie Odom Jr. to sign on, but then again, none of them would have seen Ziegler’s patronizing performance until everyone was already on set and the ink on contracts was good and dry. But the whole notion that Zu can achieve some sort of absolution merely by learning to love her “challenging” sister is gross. Music doesn’t exist to make Zu look good. She shouldn’t be used as a way to illustrate someone else’s good vibes and positive intentions. She’s not an instrument or a stop along her big sister’s victory tour; her depiction as such is cruel and irresponsible. Why does a movie named after her fail to see Music as a person?

This patronizing and poorly judged filmed is frequently interrupted by an entire album’s worth of Sia songs – performed by Ziegler, Hudson, and Odom Jr. – and their accompanying music videos, which masquerade as insight into Music’s interior life but are really just an excuse to trade on the director’s only real talent. If only she had merely put out 10 videos instead. The musical interludes are of course pastel pieces of choreography heaven, but they not only have little if anything to do with the film itself, they also get really old really fast. Sia lacks the skill to connect these interjections to the larger story and the videos feel shoe-horned into a film that doesn’t want them. And though Maddie Ziegler’s other Sia collaborations (on her videos for Chandelier, Elastic Heart, and Big Girls Cry) are borderline genius, these are of course tainted by Ziegler’s self-evidently problematic aping of disability.

The film’s ignorant and infantilizing portrayal of autism is disastrous, so it might be a good time to yet again point out that actually involving people on the spectrum in this film’s conception, casting, development, and shooting would have resulted in something more authentic and representative. I know it’s tempting, in today’s cancel-prone culture, to dismiss or boycott this film, but I think that we can still learn valuable lessons from bad art. And Music is very, very bad. It’s so bad that it should serve as a new benchmark for productions going forward. It’ll be harder for mistakes like this to be made in the future. That’s not so much a silver lining as a tin foil lining, paltry perhaps, meager consolation, but it’s important to remember that a movie like this doesn’t just do a disservice to a marginalized community, it sets us all back, our understanding and our empathy and our ability to build a more inclusive society. Music isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom, and the only way we can be part of the cure is to talk about the way forward.