Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

Midsommar

After suffering the tragic loss of her parents and sister, Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to tag along on a trip to Sweden planned by her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his roommates. They are attending the Midsommar festival in a tiny northern town, a nine day celebration involving white robes and dance circles. On the surface, the festival appears to be harmless hippie nature worship but even from the start there are signs that something dark lurks just underneath. Then, one by one, the visitors start going missing.

midsommar4.0When Jay is not feeling well, I have this awful habit of subjecting her to movies she would not watch in her own. Star Wars and Indiana Jones come to mind as films I have foisted on her. Today I decided to add Midsommar to the list, and it actually went pretty well!

Midsommar is deliberately slow paced, and quite beautiful to watch as it unfolds and devolves into a creepy mess. There is a simple lesson here: when invited to a cult meeting, do not drink the Kool-Aid. And if your friends start disappearing, don’t just brush it off, get the hell out of there. Because if you don’t, odds are you’re going to be an unwilling part of the ceremony.

Midsommar is an unsettling movie and most definitely a horror film, but it’s not reliant on jump scares at all, so Jay isn’t even that mad at me for making her watch it. Rather than relying on cheap tricks, Midsommar aims to disturb, to creep you out, and to teach you to never, ever visit Sweden. Ever. It succeeds on all counts.

 

 

The Great San Francisco Earthquake

First of all, it seems cavalier and irresponsible to bloat an earthquake’s ego with an adjective like ‘great.’ The Terrible San Francisco Earthquake, maybe, or Horrific, or Woeful. You know, out of respect for the dead.

The story of San Francisco’s deadly 1906 earthquake has rarely been reported accurately. Today we think of San Francisco as rather liberal, or more specifically: techy, leftist, flaky, homosexual wine snobs who love bikes and brunch. But it wasn’t always so: San Francisco came into its own during the gold rush, populated by gamblers, adventurers, and prospectors.

By 1906, San Francisco was a wealthy city, the economic capital of the west, but its wealth was a magnet for greed and corruption and nobody embodied that sentiment more than its mayor. San Francisco unfortunately is located not just on the San Andreas fault, but over 7 other earthquake faults as well. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Lots of people told the mayor how vulnerable San Francisco was, and that measures need to be in place in case of emergency, but the mayor was buys lining his own pockets. So when the earthquake hit, it was immediately devastating. And then fires broke out, and spread, nearly unchecked. Aftershocks hit fast and often, hampering rescue efforts. The mayor should have authorized a firebreak but didn’t want to sacrifice the homes of his wealthiest constituents/contributors. Instead he issued martial law, illegal for anyone but the president to do, and had “looters” shot on sight, even though many of the looters turned out to be victims trying to rescue their own meager possessions from the ruins of their own homes and businesses.

With the city a pile of ashes and ruins, efforts to rebuild began, and so did the mayor’s big cover-up. To maintain its status as an economic player, the mayor downplayed the death toll, staking it around 500 thought it is now believed to have been near 6000, or about a fifth of the city’s population. It was also rebranded as a devastating fire rather than an earthquake; fires were a familiar enemy, one that could be understood, and planned for. It was also covered by insurance, whereas earthquakes were not. Photos published in the papers were retouched to look more like fire damage, monetary damage estimates were manipulated. San Francisco was rebuilt by the same shady people who let it be destroyed in the first place. The film is imbued with a sense that its citizens today may soon pay a terrible price for the arrogance and greed of their ancestors.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake is a documentary, but it reenacts its events based on the many first-hand accounts left by survivors in heart breaking detail.

Young Adult

Mavis is immediately identifiable as a character who’s a little stuck. She wakes up in her Hello Kitty tshirt, drinks a Diet Coke breakfast, watches a lot of bad reality TV when she should be working. Maybe her stunted growth is what makes her so successful; Mavis writes a young adult series and maybe she’s a little TOO good at putting herself into that head space.

Anyway, Mavis (Charlize Theron) has a tight deadline, so she does the rational thing and focuses all of her energy on obsessing over an email sent from the current wife of her ex-boyfriend, Buddy. It’s a baby announcement. They’ve just had a baby. Mavis assumes that Buddy’s miserable, trapped in their scuzzy hometown by a wife and now a kid. So she drives to said hometown to test her theory.

Mavis is kind of pathetic and kind of unlikable, and yet we’ve all been her, at least a little. She’s 37 but hasn’t let go of her past – perhaps the last time she felt like a whole, complete person. She peaked in high school: ugh. Gross. But the good news is, when she arrives in crap hometown, she hits a wall named Matt (Patton Oswalt). She doesn’t remember him from high school – she wouldn’t, she was popular, they didn’t exactly run in the same crowds – but he provides the little voice of reason that she clearly lacks. Not that she’s going to let a little thing like reason dissuade her; she reaches out to Buddy (Patrick Wilson) and to our communal chagrin but not surprise, he responds. To his ex girlfriend. Who I’m pretty sure he knows is trouble. While he’s dealing with his wife’s breast milk.

Anyway, Charlize Theron is disturbingly good in this. Disturbingly. Even when Mavis is being so hateful we can hardly keep looking at the screen, Theron manages the all-important drop of humanity that keeps us from throwing in the towel. She finds and celebrates Mavis’ flaws. Without her, this movie could have come off as seriously bitter. Young Adult is dark and dour, but director Jason Reitman plays to Theron’s strengths and pulls off a serious mood.

All I Want For Christmas Is You

Do you believe in love at first sight? Have you experienced it yourself? I do because I have – four times. That’s how many dogs I have, and that’s how it was each and every time. Two pieces of the same soul recognizing each other, and one of us being small enough to jump into the other’s arms. Now I have four little pieces of my heart running around my house and the factor by which they brighten and add to my life is practically immeasurable.

All I Want For Christmas Is You is a sweet little animated movie based on the very popular Mariah Carey Christmas song, the one that every radio station in the world plays ad-nauseum starting in November. In fact, this year, 25 years after its original release, it reached #1 on the billboards, giving her her 19th hit (only behind the Beatles, who have 20). That’s how popular the song is, and has remained, year after year for a quarter century. It’s the first holiday track to top the Hot 100 chart since The Chipmunk Song in 1958.

So who could blame her from trying to capitalize on it, just a little? Well, a little more. This movie is based on the children’s book she published earlier. It’s about a little girl named Mariah who desperately wants a puppy for Christmas, and has for years. Her parents always eschew the idea; apparently, her father is allergic. But this year she’s even more determined because she’s spotted the perfect specimen at her local pet store, a poo-chon she’s already named Princess, who will be the perfect accompaniment in the school’s charity doggie-daughter fashion show.

Instead her dad brings home Jack, a mangy mutt belonging to her uncle and in need of some pet-sitting over the holidays – a test of sorts. Jack is scruffy and wild and gets into lots of trouble, but little Mariah is the perfect caregiver, determined to earn Princess and prove herself worthy.

It’s not exactly a Christmas classic, but perhaps a nice little addition to your family viewing party, particularly if your family includes some of the four-legged variety.

All Is Bright

I’ve been watching and reviewing all manner of holiday movies for this site for several years now – how did I miss one starring Paul Rudd? And Paul Giamatti? And Sally Hawkins?

Dennis (Giamatti) is fresh out of a 4 year prison sentence and returns home to find that his wife Therese (Amy Landecker) has moved on, and his young daughter thinks he’s dead (of cancer – “You suffered,” his ex informs him, not entirely without glee). This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Well, the first part. I think the dead part was a bit of blow. But anyway, he’s not got a home he’s welcome in and no money in his pocket and since it’s only about a month before Christmas, there are no jobs to be had either. “Live off the land,” his parole officer counsels him, super unhelpfully. His only option to earn cash “on the up and up” is by partnering with his friend Rene (Rudd) to take some nice Canadian Christmas trees down to New York City to sell them at inflated prices.

There’s a few problems with this: first, the Christmas tree margin isn’t much; also, earning money the honest way is hard; and lastly, and perhaps more importantly, Rene is the one schtupping is wife. Does it make it better or worse that Rene loves her, plans to marry her?

New York City isn’t super friendly to them, but then again, they aren’t overly friend to it, either. They live like bums on a street corner they’ve claimed for their little tree operation, but as two barely reformed criminals, they don’t exactly have a lot of business savvy. Their only friend is Olga (Sally Hawkins) who’s barely an upright citizen herself.

Although undoutedly set at Christmas, All Is Bright is lacking in the cheer department. It’s not happy or wholesome or merry or, well, bright. It’s bitter and broken. Dennis is a grumpy, unlikeable guy – perfect for Giamatti who grumbles about looking deranged and unwashed. Rudd, on the other hand, slips easily into the role of charming French-Canadian able to sweet-talk almost anyone into almost anything. But his earring signals something a little douchy, and indeed the films wants and expects us to root for Dennis and boo Rene even though they’ve cast Paul Rudd, America’s Sweetheart, in the role. It’s not the easiest ask.

I’m not sure I really liked this movie. For me, it’s hard to pair the holidays with such cantankerous despair. And their redemption? Not exactly heroic. In fact, I’d say they’ve not only learned very little, but cemented their positions on Santa’s Naughty List. You might find it worth a watch only for the two strong performances, but they’re not enough to save a meandering, aimless script.

The Report

The Torture Report is based on real events as I’m sure you’ve not failed to notice. In the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA went rogue. Or went roguer. It was panicky because as the country’s central intelligence agency, it sort of had a responsibility to avert disasters such as these. And technically speaking, it knew about the specific 9/11 threat and had failed to do anything to stop it. It was embarrassed and tried to cover its embarrassment and perhaps culpability the only way it knew how: with an aggressive show of force. So it started acting both above and below the law, doing whatever it deemed necessary to get things done, but not running anything by anyone else, and not actually getting things done either.

Cut to: Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) puts together a task force led by staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) to investigate the CIA’s so-called Detention and Interrogation Program. And the thing is: the work is easy. Their guilt is dripping off each and every report he reads, and poor Jones reads literally millions of pages of documents. Jones of course finds evidence of torture, but also that the CIA then attempted to destroy evidence, subvert the law, and keep things secret from even the highest offices in the country. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the truth was that their torture techniques didn’t even work. Although they were so brutal that more than once the prisoner died while being tortured, not once (worth repeating: NOT ONCE) did their EITs result in information they didn’t already have. So either the torture was ineffective or the prisoners truly didn’t have any dirt to spill, and the CIA couldn’t tell the difference anyhow. In fact, afterward even the CIA admitted that at least a quarter of its prisoners should never have been detained in the first place – and keep in mind that people died in their custody. And that’s just what they admit to.

By ‘things’ I mean torture. They basically invented a whole new kind of torture to get information out of terror suspects and they called it ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EITs) in order to not have to call it torture. But that’s what it was. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is strutting around telling the world that the USA does not torture prisoners, confidently saying as much because the CIA was saying that to his face while crossing their fingers behind their backs.

Adam Driver is playing a desk-sitting paper-shuffler in this, and it can be hard to make that very cinematic but the truth of his performance lays in how passionate he is about the work. After spending more than 5 years in a secure, windowless office, working nights and weekends to put this thing together, and being constantly confronted by the shady, unlawful, and shameful actions of his country, it wears on Jones. He can’t help but be emotionally invested.

The film, directed by Scott Burns, earns its tension in that despite this being his life’s work, and obviously vital knowledge, there are tonnes of people who want to bury the report. Even Senator Feinstein wavers. The CIA is not just torturing people abroad, they’e keeping secrets from their president (and openly lying wherever necessary), and spying on their own people, including on the Congress of the United States of America.

It’s kind of amazing that the film ends up feeling gripping and vital. There’s a momentum to it that really brings the subject alive and Driver injects the thing with urgency and humanity.

 

A Knight’s Tale

We were perusing the New Rentals section and not feeling very inspired. True, we’ve already seen all of the good ones and most of the bad ones, leaving mostly the stuff no one’s ever heard of. But we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to select any of it: not the chilly Liam Neeson flick, and not the Stallone one, and definitely not the one based on the impossible true story. It’s probably a bad sign for movies that we preferred to jump back to Amazon Prime and watch a known entity.

William (Heath Ledger) is a young squire, dutifully serving his master as he makes the rounds of jousting tournaments. But when the master dies suddenly, in between rounds, William convinces his cohorts Wat (Alan Tudyk) and Roland (Mark Addy) to suit him up in armour that makes one man nearly indistinguishable from another and send him out on the horse to finish the job. He does. He wins the game and earns the trio a little gold, which is necessary as they haven’t eaten in days. Bellies fed they can go their separate ways, but William’s always hid a little ambition in his heart, and now he sees the opportunity to improve his peasant’s lot in life and pose as a knight, making money by winning more tournaments. On the road to the next one, they bump into a florid writer, Chaucer (Paul Bettany), and he helps sell their case by forging genealogy papers and basically being his hype man. But then Williams meets two of the most inconvenient people: Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell), who will stop at nothing to see him lose, and Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom he immediately falls in love, but she’s so far out of his league that his lies can only increase in order to keep her.

You may remember that director Brian Helgeland married this period piece with (sort of) modern rock, making the stadium jousting tournaments feel much more like hockey and basketball games of the modern era, except with cat meat and hot wine instead of hot dogs and cold beer, which is hardly an improvement. Purposefully anachronistic, it rattled some people’s cages back in 2001, but successfully interested younger audiences in historical films. A Knight’s Tale is a work of fiction, but based very loosely on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and including several of the known nobility of the time. Once you get past that, it’s a rather predicable entry into the sports movies genre. But it’s got Heath Ledger on horseback, which goes a long way. It’s still not a great movie, but it’s fun and it’s rousing and it’s only a little sad to see Heath Ledger in his prime. He was still relatively unknown before he landed this lead role; although 10 Things I Hate About You came out in 1999, Helgeland hadn’t seen him, and cast Ledger based on rushes he saw of him while filming The Patriot. The movie filmed in Prague (which is why a lot of the extras do not seem to readily respond to Chaucer’s prompts), on a soundstage next to the one where From Hell was filming; it’s how Heath and Heather Graham first hooked up. Ledger proved to be an excellent gamble, as did leading lady Shannyn Sossamon, who was briefly Hollywood’s IT girl. She was a complete unknown, having been discovered by Helgeland when she accompanied her friend, a DJ, on a job which turned out to be Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday party. Her hair and costumes are wildly period-inaccurate, but they give her character a punk aesthetic that’s backed up by a feminist bent.

A Knight’s Tale is slightly edgy, slightly pandering, and perhaps just slight in general, but it’s interesting to watch, and was fun to revisit after so much time has passed.