Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

A Rose For Christmas

After a series of heart flutters, Big Al is sidelined at his business, so daughter Andy (Rachel Boston) takes over the duties of building a float for this year’s Rose Parade, which jubilantly kicks of the Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day. The floats are made entirely of organic material and thousands of roses, so as you can imagine, it mostly comes together in just a few weeks. This year Andy’s building a float for a Chicago law firm trying to grow their global presence, and the big boss sends Cliff (Marc Bendavid) to supervise the build.

Cliff would rather be in the new Asian office, or anywhere else really, but in Andy’s float barn, where he’s attempting a hosile takeover, he’s really just in the way. The two despise each other immediately as they engage in a useless power struggle for supremacy over a team of…oh wait, it’s just the two of them. And that’s a problem. Apparently the solution is to find volunteers, although it’s rather late in the season for that, and Cliff is of course extremely and vocally critical of Andy’s flyer technique, but his corporate recruitment techniques fail miserably, and they’re lucky if a dozen people show up to do the work of…well, apparently many more. And Cliff, still very very firmly holding down the role of Business Prick, insists that only the top 10% are worth keeping. I, meanwhile, am still scratching my head over Andy and Big Al’s business model…they are charging Cliff’s law firm to build this float, yet they have no employees and rely entirely on volunteers who are lucky to be paid in coffee and pizza for literal round the clock work…AT CHRISTMAS. The few volunteers they do manage to snag come with their own set of problems – colour blindness and allergies, to name the most pressing – so there will be lots of opportunity for Andy and Cliff’s managerial styles to clash. And yet somehow also they fall in love.

A Rose For Christmas is a standard Hallmark Christmas movie, but I enjoyed this one nearly 10% more than others of its ilk merely because of its unique setting, allowing me to learn a little about the Tournament of Roses Parade and how it comes together, even if the story isn’t exactly to my liking. When I visited New Orleans I was thrilled to visit the warehouse where Mardi Gras parade floats are made year round (by paid employees), and in Las Vegas I’ve often had the chance to see elaborate floral designs, but the Rose Parade has the distinction of blending the two in a beautiful if provisional display. Everything on the float has to be organic, so in addition to the 20 000 roses (on a single float!), other natural decoration like walnut shells, lima beans, and coconut husks are used as well. Like many things over the past several months, the 2021 Rose Parade is cancelled due to COVID-19 (amazingly, this parade has been marching since 1890 and was only cancelled a few times before, in 1942, 1943 and 1945 for WW2), but you can recapture a bit of the magic with A Rose For Christmas, which uses real parade footage and recreates a float that actually travelled down Colorado Boulevard just a few years ago.

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.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

This “moviefilm” could have been simply called Borat 2 but clearly Sacha Baron Cohen figured, why not have an 18 word title instead? Considering that Borat 1 had a 12 word title, a troublesome pattern is emerging, and that’s far from the least troubling pattern in the Borat franchise.

Borat is a terrible character and you can rest assured that Cohen has not toned things down in any way for the sequel, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Borat is just as offensive as ever, a racist, misogynistic reporter travelling through the U.S. and A., on a mission to gift a monkey to Vice President Pence as a tribute to Trump’s great success in undoing a hundred years’ worth of human rights. The difference this time is that everyone in America has seen his first movie so it’s much harder for him to sneak up on anyone. Fortunately for him, his non-male son Tutar (Maria Bakalova) stowed away in the money cage, and she has always wanted to follow in her journalist father’s footsteps. Unfortunately for Borat, he does not believe women can be journalists (or really anything other than residents of cages). Unfortunately for both, Tutar had to eat the monkey to survive the trip to America. So naturally, Borat decides to gift his daughter to Pence instead. And off we go on an adventure that includes Borat embarrassing a number of people who should know better, most notably Rudy Giuliani, who I expected to have been better coached by his friends in the KGB in the art of kompromat.

In 2006, I have to admit that I enjoyed Borat’s first moviefilm. Who could believe that people would say such outrageous things on camera after being offered a little bait by Cohen? It seemed unbelievable at the time. Fast forward to 2020, where no matter what Borat “tricks” people into saying, it pales in comparison to what happens every day on President Trump’s Twitter feed, or any given afternoon at Giuliani’s hotel suite. Cohen’s brand of shock humour seems almost quaint in comparison, which is terrifying.

For all its improvised scenes, Borat 2 has a remarkably focused and cohesive narrative, and contains quite a few funny character moments. But by nature, it also serves as a near-constant reminder of the ongoing nightmare that is American politics, which for me sucked all the fun out of the movie. No matter how hard Cohen and Bakalova tried (and they tried hard), I just can’t laugh at this stuff right now.

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.

Countdown

Quinn (Elizabeth Lail) is a young nurse working in a hospital. She befriends a teenage patient who was injured in a car accident and awaiting surgery. Evan (Dillon Lane) is very nervous about the surgery, and Quinn’s reassurance doesn’t help – he has an app on his phone that predicts the exact moment of his death, and guess when his time’s up? That’s right, the very next day, scheduled mid-surgery. Quinn is dismissive on the app but Evan explains his certainty; at a recent party, his girlfriend and a bunch of friends had used the app as a drinking game. Everyone had downloaded it, and the person nearest to his or her death had to take a shot. Evan’s girlfriend drank the shot – her countdown to death was just 3 hours away. She wisely turned down a ride from drunken Evan but wound up dead anyway, and Evan crashed his car, a tree limb stabbing through the passenger seat where his girlfriend would have been sitting. At shift exchange, Quinn relays this conversation with her peers, and all are excited to download it themselves. Most have countdowns decades away, meaning long lives ahead, but Quinn’s clock is counting down from just 3 days from now.

Quinn’s little sister Jordan (Talitha Bateman) is scheduled to die right around the same time, so they team up with fellow near-deather Matt (Jordan Calloway) to seek out any possibility of extending their lives, including the help of a priest and some salt. The thing about death, though, is that it comes for everyone.

This movie isn’t exactly going to uplift the genre or defy expectations or win awards, but for what it is, it’s pretty decent. The countdown clock is an effective if often-used tool. Elizabeth Lail isn’t exactly given first-rate material to work with, but she’s a good actor and the character’s not a ditz, and those things alone put Countdown in the top half of all horror movies. The story’s generic and predictable but the jump scares still work enough to get your heart pumping, and that’s always worth something in the horror genre. If you’re up for a little fate-dodging, and are prepared to meet Death himself, choose Countdown, but leave your phone in another room.

Home Sweet Hell

Furniture salesman Don Champagne (Patrick Wilson) has a picture-perfect life – a beautiful wife, high-achieving children, a lovely home…and yet all is not as it seems. His business isn’t thriving, his home was purchased with help from the in-laws, his son isn’t quite as successful as his daughter, and all of those things are carefully monitored and measured by wife Mona (Katherine Heigl), who carries a goal tracker around and expects everyone to conform to its (her) high standards.

I was really not feeling this movie when I first turned it on. The cold, bitchy wife trope is overdone and offensive. She’s controlling. She’s exacting. She schedules everything obsessively and won’t do anything that wasn’t pre-planned. Kill me now. Her poor, welcome mat of a husband Don is practically a saint for putting up with her. When he starts up an affair at work, we’re very understanding. His wife is practically frigid, their sexual activity under-scheduled. He’s not a bad guy. He’s earned this affair, and the new salesgirl Dusty (Jordana Brewster) seems like the perfect opportunity. In fact, he is the target, and their affair a convenient excuse for blackmail. Shit. Since Mona controls the purse strings along with everything else, Don has no choice to come clean. And that’s when things get spicy.

It’s just enough to make me wonder if there’s mayyyyyybe something here. Is it satire? Black comedy? I’m going to be generous and say yes: that was probably the attempt. But something gets sorely lost in translation and what we end up with is something that looks and feels a lot more like misogyny. The men in this film are no great shakes but the women are relentlessly vile and the 3 men who wrote this shit are probably moderating incel chatrooms right now. It’s not a good look for anyone, not even my precious Patrick Wilson. His perfect, angelic smile has been tarnished by this film.

Home Sweet Hell is probably meant to skewer suburban conformity through Mona’s obsessive need to preserve the perfection she meticulously portrays. What it actually does is send out some serious toxic masculinity vibes and I should have listened to my first instinct that said: no.

Black Box

Nolan (Black Box) just suffered a devastating car accident that took his memory and his wife’s life. Trying to piece his life back together after the trauma, Nolan’s amnesia would seem particularly problematic since he is now a single father to Ava (Amanda Christine), is far too little to have such an unreliable caregiver, never mind doing most of the caring herself.

Nolan is desperate, so he agrees to undergo an experimental treatment, the eponymous black box, which wears and looks like a VR helmet and seems to almost hypnotize patients back into their subconscious minds where Dr. Lillian (Phylicia Rashad) attempts to guide them into recovering their inaccessible memories. The process is agonizing, and while some progress is being made, it’s also further confusing Nolan, who finds that his memories aren’t quite matching up to what he’s come to expect. Thank goodness for Gary (Tosin Morohunfola) who not only provides priceless babysitting duty, but also serves as a touchstone, the only one who can confirm or deny the memories that Nolan seems to be recovering.

While I wouldn’t classify the film as a horror movie (though Amazon Prime sure does, including it in its “Welcome to the Blumhouse series), it is creepy in a way that’s hard to shake. Nolan’s memories remind me a bit of Inception in that sometimes they are hostile toward him, which doesn’t exactly do any favours to his healing. I’ve been a fan of Athie for many years now, and it’s always exciting to see Rashad pop up in things; the two together make for a well-acted and interesting film. I enjoyed the story, and the frantic search for identity, and I’ve appreciated how many of these Blumhouse films have considered parenthood from different aspects. Black Box doesn’t deliver my scares, but it’s chilling like an extended episode of Black Mirror, slightly sci-fi-ish, exploring the unintended consequences of new technologies.

See our other Blumhouse reviews here.

Evil Eye

Pallavi’s mother is a little overbearing. Or a lot overbearing, depending on your perspective. As far as Indian parents go, Pallavi’s aren’t so bad, maybe. They love her a lot. Mom Usha (Sarita Choudhury) calls every day, with good intentions and motherly concern. Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is nearly 29 and still single, a matter of daily discussion. There’s an ocean between them but no shortage of meddling, even if, as Usha points out, there aren’t a lot of Indian men in New Orleans. Pallavi is unconcerned with her marital status but she’s a smart woman and quickly judges that it’s easier to agree to yet another of her mother’s fix-ups than to argue uselessly. Fortunately or unfortunately, Pallavi’s date stands her up, but she ends up meeting someone else that day, and Sandeep (Omar Maskati) is everything both Pallavi and her mother have been looking for in a man.

I know what you’re thinking: Pallavi’s going to fuck things up. But not if Usha beats her to it! Yes, it IS ironic that the very mother who has preached marriage and family above all, stability over romantic love, partnership rather than independence, that same Usha who made her daughter feel like as long as she’s single, she’s a disappointment, that very Usha – well, now she’s trying to hit the brakes all the way from India. Usha’s astrologer assures her it’s a very auspicious match, and her husband Krishnan (Bernard White) does his best to soothe her, but Usha cannot be dissuaded. Her reasoning, unfortunately, is unconvincing: she’s pretty sure that Sandeep is the reincarnation of her abusive boyfriend come back to finish the job. Whether or not Usha’s tendency toward superstition is playing a part, or her PTSD is being triggered, Usha’s panic is as real as her desperation.

This is not your typical “horror” movie even if it is a Welcome To The Blumhouse member. It’s a mother-daughter drama with some seriously sinister supernatural overtones to it. Also, the fact that it’s set in both America and India gives it a unique structure. As much as Usha fears for her daughter, you bet Pallavi is also afraid her mother’s mental health is crumbling, and the distance only makes them both all the more distraught.

Choudhury and Mani both give compelling performances but directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani are less confident, and less inspired. Evil Eye doesn’t quite reach its true potential, but its strong sense of identity goes a long way in making this worthwhile.

The Lie

I watched this movie several years ago, when it was called We Monsters, and starred German people. Then some American saw it and thought: I bet we can make this worse! And they were right. They always can.

Which is not a total write-off of The Lie. It’s got pretty middling reviews from other critics and I should say right upfront that I disagree with its ‘horror’ classification though it is 1 of 4 ‘Welcome To The Blumhouse’ supposed horror films released as a block to Amazon Prime for your Spooktober viewing pleasure. It’s a thriller. The horror is not so much in what happens but that it COULD happen – perhaps to you.

Pop quiz for parents: what wouldn’t you do to protect your child? If your kid, no longer a child but not yet an adult, made a mistake, a very bad mistake, would you urge them to confess? Force them to confess? What if the very bad mistake could ruin their lives? Would you turn them in? Or help them hide it? Would you lie to save your son or daughter prison?

Kayla (Joey King) did a very bad thing. She argued with her best friend and shoved her, out of anger. Intentionally or not, the friend fell to her death. As Kayla shakily confesses to dad Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), he drops his search and rescue attempt, he does not summon help. He immediately, without qualm or question, starts to cover up her crime. The first lie is told. When they bring Kayla’s mother Rebecca (Mireille Enos) into the fold, the cover up expands, the lies multiply. You tell lies to prop up the first lie, to divert attention, to plug up holes in the story, to improve plausibility, to create alibis, to misdirect, to suggest alternate theories, to feign innocence, to smooth out wrinkles, to put out fires, to gaslight cynics, to reframe the narrative, to deny knowledge – it’s an unending cesspool where one lie only and always begets another and another. And then even if you think better of the first lie, it’s too late, because you’ve already told so many more, and lots of those are illegal too.

This complicated spiral of causation has popularly been referred to as a web of lies, which in this case, almost sounds like a euphemism. This is an avalanche of lies. Cataclysmic. The parents have now implicated themselves, and yet neither hesitates. It’s for their daughter, so of course. Director Veena Sud does an excellent job of seeing this through to its ugliest conclusion. It is meant to make you feel uncomfortable, even if you don’t disagree with Jay and Rebecca’s actions. If the question is one of ethics, there is a right answer, and then there is the way you’d actually handle it, and the discrepancy between those two disparate answers creates a pit of dread inside your stomach that only grows as the film pushes forward.

The Lie is far from perfect, but I do think it’s worth a watch. We could all use an exercise in theoretical morals and their practical applications once in a while. To keep us sharp. Because you’ll never know when a sticky situation may be just around the corner, or one frustrated shove away. This movie exists for one reason, really: to ask “What would you do?” and then to leave you to sit with your answer, which may in fact be your first lie, and let the horror seep in.

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Nocturne

Juliet and Vivian are twin sisters studying at an elite academy of the arts. They both study piano, they both hope to be classical musicians, and they both want to go to Julliard. It is widely thought that Vivian (Madison Iseman) is the more talented twin, and Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) the less successful. It is tough having such fierce competition and such a direct comparison; Vivian isn’t just the better musician, but the better student, the better daughter, the better friend, the better girlfriend. Oh, and she just got in to Julliard. Juliet did not.

It would seem Juliet it is in for a lifetime of second place, but a suicide at her school opens her up to the possibility of a Faustian bargain – is she desperate enough to sell out her own sister, or, just maybe, is getting to sell out her sister the whole point? Nocturne unravels sibling rivalry on a whole new level, and in a way that keeps you guessing as to how much this “deal with the devil” is a literal event, and how much is perhaps just the very idea of it empowering Juliet to come out of her sister’s shadown and challenge her for supremacy. Oh boy.

Director Zu Quirke sidesteps easy chills and obvious gore in favour of something that is more subtle, and far more unsettling. With teenage protagonists you expect something flashy and slashy, blow out parties and surrendered virginities, but this horror is of a more creeping variety, eerie and unknown.

The cast is uniformly solid, but Iseman and Sweeney deliver spell-binding performances that make the tragic relationship between sisters so difficult to crack but so interesting to watch and interpret. Your sympathies may switch teams several times before the last act, which is predictable, yes, but dizzying and vital. The horror bits are actually Quirke’s most conventional beats; her strength is in story-telling. The academic setting is both cutthroat and ripe for predation and exploitation. The interesting is figuring out who, or what, is behind it all.

Nocturne is one of four “Welcome to the Blumhouse” horror offered in a bundle on Amazon Prime. Stay tuned for more reviews, and be sure to let us know if you’ve taken the plunge.