Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

I Care A Lot

Marla cares a lot. SO much, or anyway that’s what she tells the judge. This poor little old lady can’t care for herself and her son’s unfit, so Marla (Rosamund Pike) will step in and be her court-appointed guardian, for a fair fee of course. This is how she makes her lavish living, by “caring” for old people she’s cherry-picked for being old but not too old, in relative good health so she can bilk them for a good, long time, with a sizable nest egg and not too many prying family members around to question her judgment. She colludes with doctors to identify these victims, and with care home directors where she’ll stash them while she sells their houses and all their worldly possessions. Many of these older people are of sound mind and body before Marla gets to them, but not for long. Kept restrained, drugged, isolated, and barely fed, Marla’s aged victims will soon appear to be as far gone as she’s claimed. Marla’s about to meet her match.

Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) seems like a perfect target – a retiree with bountiful assets and no known family. But Jennifer isn’t who she seems, as you may have guessed, and Marla’s in for a whole world of trouble. But Marla isn’t just a crook, she’s a tenacious crook, an entitled crook, and she won’t go down without a fight. And oh what a fight!

This movie starts off shocking you with the ugliness and abuse in the system, the vulnerability of the aged, the potential for corruption, but then good old fashioned greed inspires this story to spin wildly off the rails. It’s an entertaining if not particularly realistic watch. Rosamund Pike gives a committed performance, though it may remind you of her turn in Gone Girl where she also played a harmless looking blonde woman whose innocent smile hid her true nature. Marla is a ruthless conwoman. Director J Blakeson does villainy well, he makes it slick, he makes it glossy, and he makes us complicit.  

I liked but didn’t love I Care A Lot; the script could have used a little more of that care, and the second half doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first. The set-up is amazing but Blakeson doesn’t quite excel at this whole dark-comedy-satire-cum-wacky-violent-thriller thing. It’s a delicate balance, something the Coens have perfected but few others can truly pull off. Blakeson doesn’t quite have the courage to maintain his carefully crafted cynicism right up to the last scene. He flinches. I Care A Lot is still worthy of your attention, but I bet you’ll be able to spot both its flaws and its fun.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Mark (Kyle Allen) is either the most intuitive human being I’ve ever seen, or he’s done this before. In fact, he’s done this many times before. He’s trapped in a day that won’t stop repeating.

I know, I know. Enough with the Groundhog Day remakes. Almost none of them are good. I do have to give this one a chance, though, because last year Palm Springs made me put in the ‘almost’ before ‘none of them are good.’ Palm Springs was good. It was great. Now that we know it can be done, we have to at least go through the motions of pretending it can be done again.

No one’s more surprised than me that it has indeed been done again. It’s not as good as Groundhog Day of course, or even Palm Springs, but it does justify its existence, which is more than I was expecting.

You see, at some point as Mark is living and reliving his day, showing up with precision timing to making tiny, necessary improvements so that person A doesn’t get pooped on by a bird and person B doesn’t get smacked in the face by a beach ball, he meets a girl, Margaret (Kathryn Newton). And Margaret is the kind of girl who inspires him to use the pick up line ‘Are you by any chance experiencing a temporal anomaly?’ Which is to say that Margaret is also reliving this same exact day over and over, and now they’ve found each other. That’s not what makes this movie worthwhile, though Newton and Allen do have interesting chemistry together. No, what makes this movie worth your time is that they’ve put a new and interesting kink into the genre. Mark has of course been going through the day, obsessively trying to find the key that allows him to escape from this time loop. His current project involves a map of the eponymous tiny, perfect things – those small moments of utter perfection. But Margaret isn’t so keen on helping him. Margaret is actually invested in maintaining the time loop.

Cinematic history has taught me there are two kinds of people stuck in a temporal anomaly: those desperately trying to find a way out, and those who are hopelessly resigned to never escaping. Never have I encountered, nor indeed imagined, what kind of person would actually prefer to remain inside. This unique point of view brings a vitality to the genre that is most welcome. And The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is of course also operating under the ‘young adult romance’ subgenre, using a time loop to really emphasize that adolescent angst. The movie works because it uses these familiar trappings as a backdrop against some charming leads and a sweet story. It’s not essential viewing but if you’re looking for a small delight, Amazon Prime is serving this one up right now.

Greenland

It’s the end of the world as we know it and Gerard Butler isn’t going to take it lying down. A planet killing comet is head for Earth and John’s family has been selected for relocation to a safe haven in Greenland. Unfortunately, it’s a little rough going and things don’t happen the easy way. On to the hard way! In a 24 hour road trip from hell, John (Gerard), wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) are going to battle literally the very worst of humanity just to hopefully get stuck living in an underground bunker with a lot of other pale, stinky losers, eating tinned peas and condemning their kids to incest and bad eyesight. Haven’t they seen any post-apocalyptic movies? The post apocalypse is awful! Stay home and die with dignity.

But they do not. Greenland is a rote, by the book disaster flick, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’re in the market for an action thriller, this one ticks all the boxes, fast-paced and bursting with adrenaline. It will not surprise you in the least but it takes no breaks and no prisoners as it literally races an extinction level event to the ends of the earth. This is Gerard Butler’s niche and he serves up Action Guy as good as he ever did but the script also remembers to make him a human being whose challenges and flaws don’t disappear just because the world is ending. In fact, director Ric Roman Waugh takes the time to show a more human side to the traditional disaster thriller.

I’ve gone on record before – I am not a survivor. I would rather die a thousand deaths than live without clean fingernails, hot soup, pillow-top mattresses, a good light to read by, air conditioning, online shopping…well, the list is nearly endless. I am what they call “high maintenance” and I am not embarrassed. My happiness is not accidental, it is the result of favourable conditions and many comfort items. It’s basic math. More is more. Plus, I think running for your life is undignified. I won’t even walk briskly for a bus. But Waugh does a decent job establishing this family’s dynamic relationship so we buy the bid to keep them together against all odds, to survive even in the face of deplorable hardship. Greenland isn’t great, but it is a great popcorn flick, a precious commodity this day in age, and she’s available to enjoy on Amazon Prime.

Bliss

Greg (Owen Wilson) is having a very bad day: he’s getting divorced, estranged from his kids, living in a motel, and now he’s getting fired. And now he’s accidentally killing his boss while getting fired! And how he’s hiding the body and fleeing the building! A very bad day indeed. In the bar across the street (note: not the wisest place to hide out), he meets Isabel (Salma Hayek), who tells him not to sweat it. Why? Good question. Because this whole world is fake, she tells him, a mere simulation of her own creation. She and Greg are real (in fact they’re “together”) but nearly everyone else is essentially an NPC, just a simulated person able to walk around and interact, but nothing more than a character in a very sleek video game. And there’s proof: Greg and Isabel have powers! They can make the fake characters do things with their minds. How about that?

Greg and Isabel go on a bit of a bender, Greg intoxicated by his newfound powers, happy to forget the woes of his other life and to reap the benefits of a new partner in crime. But there’s more. This world, remember, is a mere simulation. In the real world, Greg and Isabel are scientists, and this is Isabel’s research, and her creation. When they exit the simulation, Greg finds himself in a utopia, a world made perfect by science and technology. A little too perfect, actually; because you need bad in order to appreciate good, the utopia has become less and less satisfying, hence Isabel’s creation – a world in which you can live a rough life in order to better appreciate the perfection back home. Except Greg and Isabel have exited the simulation too abruptly and now both worlds are starting to bleed into each other and they’ll need to risk going back and getting stuck in order to correct it.

Or.

Or there’s another way to watch and interpret this movie. Perhaps Greg’s addiction to painkillers takes a turn for the worse when he loses his job and his home. Maybe Isabel is just a schizophrenic addict and they’re sharing a common hallucination in order to escape their life on the streets.

Bliss is purposely ambiguous and this movie is going to be very divisive because of it. Sean hated it because he made up his mind very early on and felt the whole exercise was pointless once he’d “figured it out.” I felt differently, having embraced the dichotomous possibilities. Writer-director Mike Cahill is careful to scrub the film of any telling language. No one says drugs. No one says addict. Yet there remains evidence for both sides of the coin. Greg has a grown daughter who never gives up looking for him. Isabel is adamant that Emily (Nesta Cooper) is just another fake character, but if that’s the case, why does the story sometimes get told from Emily’s point of view? That would seem to indicate that she’s real. Which goes double for Isabel, who might be just a figment of Greg’s imagination (or a side effect of his high), but she, too, is seen working independently in the movie. Sean insists that Greg is an addict, case closed, but this easy interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that we glitches in the matrix very early on. His wallet, for example, suffers a glitch, unobserved by Greg, seen only by us. Why would Cahill go out of his way to show us this if he wasn’t planting seeds of doubt? Of course there’s a third possibility here, that neither of these worlds is the “real” world and we haven’t seen the end of the simulations. Of course, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out where on the spectrum your belief lays. Some will see this in black and white and others will rejoice in the grays. But I believe there’s some hidden pink, and a very careful watch may uncover it still.

If you’re interested in taking on this puzzle, you can find it on Amazon Prime – but do promise to come back and let us know what you think, because Bliss is only 90% a movie. The other 10% depends on what you bring to the table.

Sylvie’s Love

Picture it: 1950s Harlem. A young man is walking by a record store. Through the window he spots a beautiful young woman behind the cash register, visibly enjoying an episode of I Love Lucy. Something urges him inside – he grabs the Help Wanted sign out of the window just to have something to say. The young woman, Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), attempts a quick dismissal, but her father (Lance Reddick) stops the young man, and engages him on the spot. I’m not sure Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) meant to find employment on this day, but it’s a great excuse to see Sylvie again, so he’s not about to turn it down.

SYLVIEÕS LOVE

In fact, Robert is a jazz musician, he plays the sax, and he’s very impressed by Sylvie’s deep love and knowledge of music. They spend a lot of time together in the record store, exchanging stories, and barbs, and heated looks. You might even say they were falling in love, except for one little hiccup: Sylvie was engaged to be married. Her fiancé Lacy is away for the summer, but they’ve been very much betrothed ever since her mother caught them making out. This little speedbump keeps the flames on low for a little while, but they’re young, they’re attractive, they actually like each other – soon those flames ignite because passion cannot be denied. But then summer’s over and Robert’s jazz quartet is taking him away, to Paris. He invites his love Sylvie of course, but at the last moment she demurs, she stays and he leaves. Sylvie is pregnant of course, but Robert must never know; she believes in his talent and won’t get in the way of his dreams. They part.

Five years later, Sylvie is married to fiancé Lacy (Alano Miller), who married her knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child. He provides for Sylvie and Michelle but it’s instantly clear that theirs is no love match, and we can’t help but compare it unfavourably to that of Sylvie and Robert, and suspect that she must as well. Like any good love story, Sylvie and Robert’s isn’t over yet. They will cross paths again, and try again. Great romances aren’t about the destination, they’re about the journey. It’s the story that matters, the obstacles overcome, destiny pulling them together.

Writer-director Eugene Ashe gives us a lush period romance with Black leads, which the genre has heretofore tended to ignore. But he also grants us a full picture of Sylvie’s life, which doesn’t just revolve around this one crush, but is populated with family, ambition, dreams, and obligation. Because she’s an actual person, her love story isn’t straight-forward. Real life seeps in, threatens to wipe the shine off new love. The triumph is in honouring love despite its challenges. It’s in making the compromises and acknowledging one’s surroundings and still pursuing the heart’s desire. Sylvie’s Love is one for the ages.

Shirley

Shirley Jackson was a wonderfully spooky and wildly talented writer and she undoubtedly deserves a biopic that lives beyond the borders of ordinary. This is exactly that movie.

Shirley (Elisabeth Moss) is a reclusive horror writer known for her gloomy temperament and spiky sensibility. Husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), a literary critic and professor at the nearby college, calls her “sickly” and “unwell” as he philanders all over campus. He and Shirley take in a young newlywed couple, Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose (Odessa Young); Fred is to be Stanley’s protégé, and though Rose was not long ago a promising young student herself, Stanley now expects that she’ll cook and clean and care for his oft-bedridden wife.

Shirley is writing yet another masterpiece and while her creative process is at first disrupted by the new arrivals, she soon finds Rose to be open and trusting and ripe for manipulation. Rose is curious, and fascinated by the brilliant author, and though Shirley seems, at times, grateful for a friend, her only true allegiance is to her work. And she is, of course, filled with neuroses and wildly unpredictable, so the house becomes volatile as loyalties shift too quickly to be counted upon. Meanwhile, Stanley is jealous of his would-be protégé and inappropriate with Rose, which means no one’s motivations are pure and home has become quite hostile. The more hostile things become, the more the film itself blurs the lines between fiction and reality.

Josephine Decker’s film is provocative and challenging much like the author herself – which, to be honest, means that I didn’t enjoy the film so much as admired it. Certainly I admired the committed, prickly performances, the dedication to some pretty unsavoury characters, and an ambiguous, haunting story-telling style that was nearly a performance in itself. It was an uncomfortable watch though, not what I would consider satisfying, too off-putting for me to truly recommend it. Although I appreciate the boldness it takes to make deliberately ugly art, I always end up wondering what the point is, exactly, if no one wants to watch it.

Herself

Sandra’s husband Gary apparently has such a history and pattern of abuse that she has an emergency protocol in place with her young daughters; the eldest (who is maybe 8), takes off for the nearest corner store with a tool box. Inside is a card instructing the shopkeeper to call the cops as her life is in danger. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter cowers in the backyard, watching her mother get stomped on.

This, apparently, is the last straw. She leaves, but working several jobs still leaves her short at the end of the month, and the three of them are living in a hotel because Dublin is apparently short on public housing. Fed up with welfare’s shortcomings, and with Gary still lurking around, asking for another chance, Sandra (Clare Dunne) takes things into her own hands. With a generous land donation, she prints off DIY instructions from the internet and prepares to build a small home for herself. It’s an unsubtle metaphor for the kind of rebuilding her life needs and deserves generally, and the more she opens up and asks for help, the easier it becomes and the fuller her life is. Abused women are often isolated, which is part of what makes it so hard to leave. Building a life is about more than just pouring concrete and laying floors; it’s about trusting people again and creating your own safe space.

Unfortunately, the abuse doesn’t always stop just because the woman leaves, especially when there are kids involved. She has two adorable little souls tying her to a man she’d rather never see again, and even the court will keep forcing them together.

Phyllida Lloyd’s Herself is perhaps trite, but sensitively told, allowing the power of the performances to take centre stage, and Clare Dunne proves herself worthy of the confidence, never over-reaching the emotional beats. Herself may be a difficult watch at times, but it’s also gratifying; Sandra has a voice, and Lloyd gives her a beautiful cinematic platform from which to use it. She aims a few choice words at an uncaring bureaucracy that deserve cheers from a jaded audience. There are no easy breaks in Sandra’s life, but Dunne allows her empathy and grace, which are more important anyway.

The Man Who Walked Around The World

Anthony Wonke has a wonky way of starting movies. It can never be any director’s intention to confuse the viewer into turning the movie off just to double check they’ve clicked on the right one, and yet that’s exactly the effect he creates when he introduces the topic in the most roundabout way possible.

For those of you who think you might like to tackle this documentary, know that the film will make you believe, for the first 5 minutes or so, that this is about some very bad men in Iraq, but when Mr. Iraq eventually gets to his point, which isn’t very interesting, it’s that whisky saved Iraq. Won Iraq? Whatever the hell they were doing there, whisky helped. And not just any whisky. Johnnie Walker whisky.

Note: I very much want to spell it whiskey, as I always have, and always will, but since Johnnie Walker spelled it whisky, I’ll honour his wishes this one and only time since we are indeed talking about the 200 year history of his well known and well loved brand.

Johnnie Walker was indeed a man, the son of a farmer who poured his inheritance into a grocery store where he blended and sold his own whisky, which his ancestors shrewdly turned into a global brand that may or may not help Americans end wars. Don’t worry, the hyperbole won’t stop there: Johnnie Walker was also the hero of prohibition, and the brave solver of racism. According to this documentary, which I’m beginning to suspect may be a little biased. It is not, however, contributing in any positive way to sexism, because the brand aims to be synonymous with masculinity, so if you’re a woman who drinks whisky, go fuck yourself.

But at least it’s not contradictory. For example, Johnnie Walker is a respected and recognized brand that is its own best advocate and is so sophisticated it would be demeaning to pay for product placement or celebrity endorsement, and don’t just take our word for it, let’s hear from brand ambassador Sophia Bush, or the guy in charge of pointing out it’s the preferred brand of Superman (in Superman 3) and Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, Blade Runner).

The Man Who Walked Around the World is either a very bad documentary or a very good commercial. If you hit the red label hard enough, it probably doesn’t matter which. If you’re sober, however, you might want to…well, keep walking.

Mangrove

On Amazon Prime, there is a series of films by Steve McQueen under the title Small Axe; they are related in that they are based on the real-life experiences of London’s West Indian community in the recent past. Mangrove is the first film in the series. The Oscars and the Emmys are perhaps more invested in hashing out whether they are technically films or episodes or something else entirely, but at 2 hours and 7 minutes of first-rate film-making, I’m just going to go ahead and review it.

Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) is the proud (Black) owner of Notting Hill’s Caribbean restaurant, Mangrove, a lively community base for locals, intellectuals and activists, not to mention the best joint for anyone looking for spicy foods in the 1970s. But it’s also beleaguered by constant police raids in what can only be described as a reign of racist terror (the cops are pretty upfront about it actually). Frank and the local community fight back the only way they can, by taking to the streets in peaceful protest. The cops, of course, strike back in what is by now such a familiar pattern that we can only despair. When nine men and women, including Frank and the leader of the British Black Panther Movement, Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright), and activist Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), are arrested and charged with incitement to riot, our blood boils with injustice but not particularly with surprise. A highly publicized trial ensues, and the pattern of discrimination and abuse by police emerges – but will that even be enough?

As I mentioned earlier, Mangrove along with the other films in the Small Axe series are based on true events, but director McQueen manages such vigour in his story-telling that it almost feels more like a documentary. The authenticity seems to lend itself so naturally to the film and the performances that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches, but it’s the passion and the commitment with which it is delivered that really seals the deal. Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 really reinvigorated the courtroom drama for me earlier this year, so it seems improbable that this one would come along so shortly after and do so again, yet I’m amazed to be so fully invested once again in a genre that’s been tired and limp for so long. Sean and I kept up such a constant hubbub that I worried mean Judge Clarke (Alex Jennings)would find us in contempt and throw us out of his court. Mangrove, however, has its own internal engine, churning with emotional heft outside the courtroom. The movie may take a few beats to really get going, but once it finds its momentum, it is downright riveting.

Frozen In Love

January is the most depressing month of the year; the 24th has the unfortunate reputation of being the absolute worst day of all. The joy of the holidays is over, the bill are due, the work has piled up, and there’s lots of long, cold winter months ahead. Maybe you’re feeling down because you’ve already broken your new year resolutions, maybe you’re feeling blue because you’ve hardly seen the sun, or maybe it’s because what feels like a “winter wonderland” on Christmas feels more like a “snowy, slushy shithole” just a week later – pass the Advil, my back is killing me from shoveling all that goddamned snow.

Bear with me, I do have a point. OR MAYBE the reason you’re feeling a little less happy is because the Hallmark Christmas romance movies have dried up, and you’ve had to tuck away the corner of your heart that enjoys them in the same storage bin as the wreath and the wrapping paper. But rejoice! The Hallmark channel is actually all year round now, and you can be enjoying generic winter romance movies like this one RIGHT FREAKING NOW!

Mary (Rachel Leigh Cook) is the owner of a severely struggling book store (also just known as a book store these days). It’s facing closure if she doesn’t magically rebrand it into something people will choose to overpay for books at in a really big way. She’s got a friend in PR who vows to help, but I think we should check her credentials because her great idea is to use a “buddy system,” pairing 2 of her clients (her only 2 clients as far as we know) together to somehow turn each other’s luck around. If Mary, a book store owner, doesn’t know how to run her book store profitably, why would anyone who is not a book store owner? And Mary doesn’t wind up paired with anyone, she winds up paired with Adam (Niall Matter), the bad boy of hockey. He’s been kicked off any number of teams and has recently received a 10 game suspension for being naughty again. He has to rehab his image and you know what they say: only a failing book store can do that!

Naturally, Mary and Adam hate each other at first; she’s a know-it-all but never-do, and he’s a jerk. But working together to solve their common book store-hockey problem turns their animosity into instant attraction. Hubba hubba! Only one problem: if they’re successful and his team takes him back, it’ll take him away from Mary and back on the road to unspecified glory. Oh well, that little wrinkle is their problem, not yours. It’s January. Take some time for yourself. Pour generously. Sit cozily. Munch happily. And watch guilt-free, because you deserve it, year round.