Tag Archives: female directors

The Lost Husband

If you were hoping for a mystery based on the title, allow me to deflate your expectations: the husband is not lost. In fact, he’s the most definitively located husband you can get, ie, buried 6 feet under. His widow, Libby (Leslie Bibb), is the one who is lost. And their home too, lost to the bank thanks to him leaving them destitute. So Libby’s been rootless ever since, and has just bopped from her mother’s house to her estranged aunt’s, with her two kids in tow.

But aunt Jean (Nora Dunn!) isn’t so much welcoming house guests as exploiting free labour for her little farm. Farmhand James (Josh Duhamel) sure could use the help since he does sing to each goat individually. But don’t thinking he looks like a rugged, gruff romantic interest for our newly single Libby. He’s got his own wife to contend with, only she doesn’t have the decency to die. Oooh, yeah, okay, I heard that. It sounds a little crass. But she had a stroke and is either comatose or incapacitated, in any case hospitalized for life, and he’s her devoted caretaker even though we’ve already been given moral permission to hate and dismiss her.

This is a romantic movie with a subtle western flavour. It’s got B-list stars, a Hallmark script, and a truly Texan pace (picture a bow-legged cowboy sauntering unhurriedly in the heat, with a piece of straw hanging from his mouth, a squint in his eye, his thumb hooked behind that oversized belt buckle). Sean calls it slow and boring. A more generous soul might call it unrushed and indulgently lengthy. No matter how you separate the wheat from the chaff, writer-director Vicky Wight delivers an old-fashioned romance, the kind with little heat, chemistry, or passion, but plenty of milk glass, burlap chivalry, and rustic charm.

Nothing in this movie is going to wow you, nothing elevates the material or pushes the genre forward. It’s a very standard, safe entry into the romance genre and should please people already predisposed and win over absolutely no one.

[Confidential to Popular fans: keep your eyes peeled for a Carly Pope cameo.]

Work It

Netflix has been delivering a steady stream of movies for young adults, and for the most part they can be sorted into two broad categories: dance, and the insanely high standards of college admissions. Every generation has a teenage dance movie. My mom had Footloose and Dirty Dancing; I grew up with Save The Last Dance and Bring It On, and Netflix has recently served the likes of Feel The Beat, which failed to get my toes tapping. Am I simply getting too old? I’m definitely feeling sorry for young people who have spawned the second teenage trope: the pressure to be perfect. And as Quinn discovers in Work It, sometimes being perfect isn’t enough. In fact, her dream school seems on the verge of rejecting her for being too good. First we exchange childhood for resume-building, time-sucking extra-curriculars, and now we fault them for it?

Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) really wants to go to Duke. Or her mom really wants her to go to Duke. Or her dead dad really wants her to go to Duke. She’s assembled the perfect college admissions application, and now it’s both not enough but also too much and in any case, she doesn’t get early acceptance. The admissions officer isn’t impressed with all the perfectly checked boxes. She wants to see fire and passion and a willingness to disrupt. Rule following, Quinn is clearly not inclined to any of those things but she is surprisingly good at thinking on her feet and comes up with this juicy little lie: she claims to be on her high school’s nationally ranked dance squad, the Thunderbirds (as seen on Ellen!) (clearly this script was written before Ellen’s big fall from grace). Now all she has to do is make her lie the truth. Fool proof, right?

In fact, Quinn’s best friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy) is on that very dance team, aiming to be a professional dancer. She quite selflessly devotes hours to turning rhythmless Quinn into someone worthy of a Thunderbirds audition. There’s only one open spot on the dance team, and no matter how much dance-cramming Quinn does in the next 2 weeks, she’s never going to earn it even if captain Julliard (Keiynan Lonsdale) didn’t harbour a huge grudge against her, which he totally does. So wannabe disrupter Quinn forms her own dance team, claiming Jasmine as its captain and a bunch of other single-skilled classmates as filler on an already extremely lean team. Jasmine is obviously the world’s bestest friend ever and also incredibly stupid. She has single-mindedly pursued dance, has no fall-back whatsoever, and has now left the team that will guarantee the right scouts see her. Luckily Quinn is resourceful. She tracks down an old champ with something left to prove – Jake (Jordan Fisher) will make an excellent choreographer if only she can coax him out of hiding.

I feel like this movie should have annoyed the shit out of me like so many of its recent predecessors, but the truth is, it’s got some very likable leads in roles that feel grounded and more fully-realized than many similar movies have bothered with. I am not its target demographic but I suspect Work It is about to enjoy a wider audience because it gets the basics right and has personality even though it’s fairly predictable. Dance isn’t going to magically save anyone’s patootie but Work It does make a case for making a little time in all that parent-driven future-planning to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. This generation are perhaps the least rebellious teenagers the world has ever seen. Their youth is micro-managed and filled to the point of bursting with activities and carefully curated recreation but no real leisure. If we’ve learned one thing from this pandemic, it’s that maybe slowing down a bit is not such a bad thing. It’s not going to be dance for everyone – maybe it’s even watching a dance movie on Netflix – but taking time out and time off are so important for well-being, and the pursuit of true passions is what replenishes us when the grind has been too much.

Black Is King

The Lion King live action remake got one thing right: it remembered that it is primarily an African story. To be fair, it was likely the Broadway show that did this for them, but Jon Favreau had the presence of mind to follow their lead and cast actual black actors in the important speaking parts. The Disney cartoon from 1994 wasn’t motivated by authenticity and we as a culture failed to keep them honest. So when Favreau chose only one returning voice actor to serve as a link between the two films, James Earl Jones was both the obvious and the best choice. His is the voice of wisdom that runs throughout both films, but the 2019 version backs that shit up with a stellar cast that is as talented as they are representative: Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Keegan-Michael Key, JD McCrary, Chance the Rapper, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Florence Kasumba, Eric André. But none were chosen more carefully or more brilliantly than our Simba and Nala, Donald Glover and Beyoncé; they aren’t just black actors but recent symbols of owning one’s blackness. If the The Lion King remake justifies itself at all, it’s by putting those two front and centre, sending a powerful message of just who should be King and Queen.

Black Is King is a visual album from genius multi-hyphenate Beyoncé. It reimagines the lessons of The Lion King for today’s young kings and queens in search of their own crowns. It is a love letter to her African roots while celebrating Black families.

Beyoncé is the undisputed Queen of Pop. Her ascension must have come with a lot of racism, overt and covert, attached – she would have been accused of exploiting her culture while also being asked to suppress it – problems the likes of Pink and Madonna and Lady Gaga never considered let alone experienced. This system seems to have caused or at least contributed to the internalized hatred of his race in her counterpart, King of Pop, Michael Jackson. And yet Beyoncé has not just transcended the challenges to her skin tone and hair texture, she has come out on the other side a powerful and vocal advocate for anti-racism. For many of us, the change in her was undeniable at the 2016 Super Bowl, a performance dubbed “unapologetically black,” incorporating dancers in Black Panther berets performing black power salutes, arranging themselves into the letter “X” for Malcolm, a homemade sign demanding “Justice for Mario Woods”, and Beyoncé’s own costume, said to be a tribute to Michael Jackson. The performance reflected the modern civil rights movement Black Lives Matter and handed us her rallying cry in the song Formation, which references slogans such as “Stop shooting us”, riot police, the shamefully neglectful official response to Hurricane Katrina which demonstrated that poor, predominantly black lives were clearly deemed not to matter. “I like my baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils, ” she sang, offering an education in the Black American experience.

Beyoncé has always been a proud African-American woman and artist. She pursued movie roles in Dream Girls and Cadillac Records. Her wondrously thick thighs became politicized in her Crazy In Love video. There were criticisms with racial undertones when she headlined Glastonbury in 2011. She sang At Last to the Obamas for their inauguration dance. She and fellow Destiny’s Child Kelly Rowland started a charity to help Katrina survivors. Husband Jay-Z has been critical of the injustice of the profitable bail bond industry, with over 400,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime incarcerated simply because they can’t afford bail, often set at less than 5K. Beyoncé didn’t suddenly discover her blackness in 2016. Whether the political climate pushed her over the edge, or becoming a mother to her own Black daughter did it, or she realized that her success and popularity gave her immunity, Beyoncé started using her voice and her platform quite blatantly, and quite brilliantly. There are few people in the world with her kind of power, and she’s been able to snatch back the Black narrative from the fringes and help spotlight it centre stage. But it was also a risk to have her name synonymously linked with black rights, but as she states rather directly in this film, “Let black be synonymous with glory.” If 2016’s Super Bowl half time show was her coming out party, her 2018 Coachella performance cemented her mythic, iconic status. As the first black woman to headline the festival, her show was explicitly black, triumphantly black. Look no further than her documentary Homecoming to see how deliberately, lovingly, boldly she created every element in her show to be marinated in cultural meaning. She didn’t just pay homage to those who came before her, she used her two hour set to unpack a lesson in black music history. She literally used her platform to honour and recognize black art; the performance was a revelation to the predominantly privileged white audience of Coachella, but it created a real moment in time that reached into the hearts and souls of those could fully appreciated it. Having already achieved pop royalty status, Beyonce is free to make the strong personal and political statements that have defined her career ever since. Her success is no longer measured by mere radio plays; freed from having to abide by what makes her white audience comfortable, she and Jay-Z are reigning from a throne of their own making. She no longer has to shrink or contain her blackness and it’s clearly been a boon to her creativity and craft. Black Is King follows in the footsteps of Lemonade, defiantly blazing her own path, and returning to the African desert that clearly still calls her name.

This visual album is of course an occular and audible delight. It jumps off from The Lion King, swapping lions for Black men and women. It highlights the extremely varied beauty of the African landscape, and of its people. There are set pieces in here where you can readily imagine the ka-ching of literally millions of dollars spent per second of film.

The Gift, Beyoncé’s Lion King-inspired album, takes us beyond Disney’s version of Hollywood’s Africa. Her original contribution to the film’s soundtrack, Spirit, is a gospel-charged anthem, but she didn’t stop there. She found up-and-coming African artists, songwriters, and producers to join her on the album, creating an international vibe with a strong and undeniable heartbeat.

The accompanying film is stuffed with imagery, implication, poetry and practice that feels like such an intimate declaration of love and admiration that I watched on the verge of a constant blush. Even Kelly Rowland felt it, being the recipient of Beyoncé’s sincere serenade, breaking the beaming eye contact with an overwhelmed giggle.

The visual album exists to toast beauty, observe beauty, create beauty, memorialize it. But a visual album from Beyoncé is to define and redefine it, to find beauty in new or forgotten spaces it, to celebrate a spectrum of beauty, to infuse it with ideas of culture and identity, to own it, to actually physically own it. And for that reason, I almost wish I could watch it at half speed. There are so many lavish tableaus set with precision and abundance but only glimpsed for a second or two; I want so badly to just live in that moment, to possess and savour it a minute longer.

And like a true Queen, she steps aside and allows herself to be upstaged by African collaborators, like Busiswa from South Africa, Salatiel from Cameroon and Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi from Nigeria. This album is a show of solidarity, an act of unity. She places herself among them, among the ancient beats and contemporary sound.

A thousand words in, dare I only broach the subject of fashion now? The sheer quantity of couture from Queen B is nearly numbing, except each look is so bold and unique you do your best to keep up to the dazzling, nonstop parade: Valentino, Burberry, Thierry Mugler, Erdem. But also a barage of Black designers from around the world, curated diligently and I’d guess rather exhaustively by Beyonce’s longtime stylist, Zerina Akers: D.Bleu.Dazzled, Loza Maléombho, Lace by Tanaya, Déviant La Vie, Jerome Lamaar, Duckie Confetti, Melissa Simon-Hartman, Adama Amanda Ndiaye…you get the picture. It’s MAJOR, every one of them re-imagining a wardrobe fit for an African Queen, their number so plentiful that no one garment or gown overpowers the beauty of their canvas: brown skin.

Beyoncé surrounds herself with Black beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Adut Akech, and Lupita Nyong’o, but also her own mother, Tina Knowles Lawson, and daughter Blue Ivy. Her family is often presented as a symbol of her strength, young twins Rumi and Sir making appearances as well, equating “kingship” with engaged fatherhood.

There is so much to unpack in this film, from the frenzied and joyous dancing of black bodies, to their posing as sculpture on pedestals, to the recreation of moments from her own storied career, there is more here than I can enumerate let alone appreciate. Like the star herself, Beyoncé’s concept of blackness is a hyphenate of her ancestral lands and the country of her birth. It’s an amalgamation of black art and black history and a vision of black power, of ethnic and cultural splendor. And what a time to have dropped it, in a world where white people are just now opening their eyes to the racial injustice and inequality that has yoked people of colour for centuries, where black bodies are being discriminated against at best, black minds suppressed, black art appropriated, black experienced denied. And here is a woman who could easily coast on her laurels but instead is serving her people by framing the Black experience not only in a positive light, but a powerful and empowering one. Black Is King is not a cure for racism, not even a vaccine, but it may just be the booster shot of pride we all need right now.

Latte & the Magic Waterstone

The animals of the clearing are worried about drought. Collectively they have only 4 pumpkins full of water left, and the sources are drying up, but Latte, a spunky young hedgehog and an outcast from the forest community, has her own small reserve. A young squirrel named Tjum tries to seize her water for the communal coffers but in the ensuing fracas an entire pumpkin is upset, spilling a quarter or more of the clearing’s dwindling water supply. Yikes. The animals are, as always, quick to point the finger at Latte, but this time Tjum recognizes the anti-hedgehog sentiment and takes sole responsibility for the accident.

It’s nice and all but still doesn’t account for the water shortage. Luckily a crow with impeccable timing arrives to tell them all about this mythic waterstone that once rested at the top of bear mountain, allowing water to flow abundantly down to to everyone in the forest and beyond. But then the bear king stole it for himself, leaving all the other animals to go without. Latte resolves then and there to retrieve that stone, and Tjum follows after her. If the bear king doesn’t sound scary enough, they’ll have to cross a perilous forest to get to him, encountering predators like wolves and lynxes who are just as thirsty and even more desperate, not to mention a cockeyed toad whose motivations are mysterious.

Latte & the Magic Waterstone is a German animated film, and German fairy tales aren’t exactly known for their light-hearted joviality. Nobody gets their eyes pecked out (Grimm’s Cinderella) or any kind of blinding (Grimm’s Rapunzel) indeed; eyes are largely safe in this one. But there is some real sadness to contend with: a sweet little hedgehog alone in the world, a community content to shun her. But the movie doesn’t really dwell on such matters. It sticks to its simple and predictable story, an easy little adventure to find or not find a stone that may or may not exist. Dying of thirst or dying of loneliness: what’s the difference?

This movie is occasionally visually stunning and mostly just a forgettable little cartoon about a hedgehog who probably deserves better.

Romance Doll

Yeah, I know about sex dolls. Sure. They used to be inflatable, although I believe/hope those were mostly novelty items since I’ve sliced my finger on the vinyl seam of a beach ball and don’t think you’d want to risk more favoured appendages to a similar fate. By 2007 things had improved somewhat, if Lars and the Real Girl can be believed. And earlier this year, a Canadian sex doll rental company expanded its locations to better serve the community. For $189 for two hours or $289 for the night, you can peruse their catalog of “girls” (they each have backstories and personalities) and have them discreetly delivered to your door with a guarantee of cleanliness (hopefully the process is a little more rigorous than the whole spray of Lysol into the bowling shoe scenario).The dolls are incredibly life-like, at least to the touch. They have soft skin, chic wigs, and joints that can accommodate any number of positions. They’re so impressive they’re called love dolls now.

Or Romance Dolls, if too many movies have already been titled the former. Tetsuo (Issey Takahashi) never meant to get into the sex doll business, but he was an unemployed art school grad and money talks. As a sculptor, he is tasked with making as realistic a doll as possible, but his first attempt is ridiculed for not being grope worthy enough. He confesses to coworker Kinji (Kitarô) that he hasn’t seen breasts in years, so the two hatch a harebrained scheme to lure a model to sit for a plaster cast by posing as doctors doing research for prosthesis use. Sonoko (Yu Aoi) is a luminous angel, but her session with Tetsuo perfectly sedate. Sonoko is shy and demure, her coyness inspiring “doctor” Tetsuo to catch feelings. It’s a divine miracle that when he runs after her to profess his love, she doesn’t blow her rape whistle. This girl has very poor creep radar.

Like so many love stories, the fairy tale wears off after the wedding. The Sonoko doll proves quite popular, so Tetsuo works overtime, returning home late, so tired from making sex toys for others that his own sex drive is dead. Pressure mounts even more when Tetsuo starts working on Sonoko 2.0. He’s obsessed with the silicone Sonoko but neglects the actual, real life Sonoko sleeping in his bed. Plus there’s the problematic secret between them; Tetsuo never did come clean about his job, so his wife still believes he’s in medicine rather than erotic toys.

Impressively, Yuki Tanada not only adapts from her own novel, but directs the thing too. And it’s got a lot of good pieces: the objectification of the female body, the ultimate rejection of one’s muse, the cancerous nature of secrets…but like a sex doll (I hope/imagine), you can have all the right parts and they still not add up to a satisfying thing. The husband gets a pass because he’s an artist, his wife makes all the sacrifices, and female sexuality is handled in a rather depressing way. Plus there’s the whole “husband preferring the version of his wife who is undemanding and never talks back.” It’s enough to make a feminist ejaculate anger out of her eyes.

And just a quick head’s up to our Dutch readers: in the making of this review, I learned that sex dolls are often referred to in Japan as “Dutch wives.” You, erm, might want to look into that.

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

Why watch a documentary about a man you’ve never heard of? Do you really need to learn “more” when you know nothing?

To be fair: millions of people DO know his name. He was the world’s #1 astrologer for decades, but because he broadcasted mostly in Spanish, he never made it into my home or into my cultural lexicon (and to be super fair, I can’t name a single English or French speaking one either; astrology just isn’t my thing).

Whether you know his name or not, you should probably check out this documentary. He is indeed a curious character. Lin-Manuel Miranda describes him as dramatic and fabulous, and in Mercado’s case, those are vast understatements.

Androgynous? Asexual? Those are not words people used in Puerto Rico in 1969, when he got his start, nor are they words Walter Mercado uses even today. Labels? He’s not above them – he’s beyond them. Today Mercado resembles a cross between Julie Andrews, Joan Rivers, and Sean’s recently deceased Granny. His wardrobe isn’t so much a cross between Liberace and Elvis as a one-upmanship of both, with a touch of Siegfried & Roy, and a cape collection that would make Lando Calrissian cry. He admits to “a little arrangement” when it comes to plastic surgery, and some botox “like Nicole Kidman.”

Mercado has an origin story to rival a super hero’s, a primo sidekick in faithful assistant Willy (who warns us not to get too bitchy with him), a legendary catch phrase, and a super power. Unfortunately, he’s also got a nemesis because every story worth telling has a villain. And if Walter has a kryptonite, it would be trust.

Trusting his business manager Bill Bakula was his downfall. They battled in court rather than in Gotham, but there were hits, there were injuries, there was damage. Neither had a mother named Martha.

At times known as a miracle-worker, a magician, a psychic, and a sorcerer, most remember him simply as a source of inspiration. Mercado knew there was power in positivity and his horoscopes gave people a reason to believe in themselves. His fandom has keenly felt his absence and many in the community would champion a reboot of the Mercado franchise but not all super heroes are meant to rise again (especially not when their jewel-encrusted capes weigh more than 30lbs).

This is a fascinating documentary, well told, and well worth the time. Mercado is quite a character, and if he is a Hispanic hero, this movie is his legacy.

Father Soldier Son

Let’s be real: this documentary is a super duper emotional watch.

We’re going to get to know the Eisch family over the next decade of their lives, but when we meet them, dad Brian is deployed to Afghanistan while sons Isaac, 12, and Joey, 7, live with uncle Shawn since their mother is out of the picture. The kids are proud of their dad, they think of him as a super hero, but they not only miss him, they worry about him. They’re young but they understand the consequences of his job.

In fact, Brian does return injured. He nearly lost his leg, so the dad they get back is not the same one that left them. He can’t do the camping and fishing and outdoorsy stuff that they used to enjoy together, but he’s also struggling just to be a loving and attentive father. War sucks.

Brian is lucky; besides having some very helpful relatives, he finds love again, a saintly and patient woman who’s willing to abide his mood swings and care for his children as she cares for her own. Brian’s pain is such that he finally agrees to an amputation, but healing post-surgery isn’t as swift as he’d hoped and his prosthetic the answer to all his problems. As depression sets in, a war video game becomes his sole focus. Brian is grappling with his new limitations and his sons are adapting to a family constantly reacting to the aftershocks of war.

Directors Catrin Einhorn and Lesley Davis capture some truly stunning and intimate family moments. Brian of course goes through some major transformations mentally and physically, but I found the young sons to be much more compelling. And remember: we’re with them for an entire decade. We literally watch them grow up, something they perhaps do a little too quickly. Juvenile ideals of patriotism and valour melt into questioning the real cost of war and whether it’s really worth it. As hard as it is to hear a 7 year old say “You shot my dad, I kill you,” it’s even harder to watch him learn the true meaning of sacrifice.

The Eisch home matches their wardrobe completely: plaid and American flags adorn both. Brian coaches his sons to “be tough” and to hold back their tears. Meanwhile, he’s wrestling with his own sense of masculinity, purpose, and self-determination. He’s a third generation soldier who’s no longer mission ready. Is the fourth generation destined to walk in his boots, or has this family paid enough?

This family portrait is painted with generational tragedy but it’s not asking for sympathy. It’s serving real, raw moments of joy and sorrow and we are their solemn witness.

MILF

Three middle-aged best friends are on vacation, more or less. They have left behind children, lovers, and burdens to spend some quality time together, although they may not all agree to which degree they are technically vacationing. Elise’s (Axelle Laffont) daughter is spending time with her father, Sonia (Marie-Josée Croze) is planning to meet her married lover in Spain, and Cécile (Virginie Ledoyen) is hosting them at her former family home. She hasn’t been there in 3 years but finally intends to clean it up and put it up for sale. She has mourned her husband and will now mourn the house. Elise and Sonia, however, are a little more open to fun.

In between packing and dusting, Elise and Sonia lure Cécile to the beach where they catch the eyes of some handsome young men who are leading a junior sailing expedition. Desperate to be noticed, Paul (Waël Sersoub) deliberately capsizes a child in his care so he can showily strip off his shirt and engage in some heroics. Most seasoned ladies would be wary if not downright insulted by such an obvious pick-up scenario, but Elise and Sonia are at least down for some harmless flirting. When they are spotted by the same guys at a club later that night, it seems like the vacation god Tequila is determined to make a match. Elise pairs off with Paul, while Sonia, still waiting to hear from her married boyfriend, spends time with shy and sensitive Julien (Matthias Dandois), who is easily smitten. The next day the boys bring a third friend for the ladies’ third friend, though Cécile, who is already scandalized by the age difference, is horrified to recognize Markus (Victor Meutelet) as her children’s not-so-long-ago babysitter.

The world has long since come to expect May-December romances and is usually fairly tolerant of them, so long as the December is male. In this case, the ladies are the more mature (and for their sake I feel compelled to point out that the boys are April-ish at best, and the ladies are perhaps late August to mid September). Is such an age difference the end of the world? Surely not. Has it the makings for an exciting summer fling? God yes: boys in their 20s are in their sexual prime – athletic, energetic, full of lust and dripping with stamina. Nearly a perfect match for a woman in her mid to late 40s who is just now hitting her own sexual peak; unburdened by the fertility aspect, she’s learned what she wants and how to get it. There may be fireworks in bed, but considering how women already mature faster than men, can this dynamic really work outside of the bedroom? MILF doesn’t really have an answer. It lacks purpose, and frankly, even passion. When Stella got her groove back, both Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs brought the heat. Their Jamaican romance may be partially responsible for global warming. MILF doesn’t come close, except as a cautionary tale for young men to get the fuck off of YouPorn before it ruins you for good.

The movie thinks MILF is a compliment (as opposed to cougar, which suggests that the older woman is purposely hunting), but for most of us, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and even isn’t accurate since one of the women isn’t even a mother.

Axelle Laffont’s direction isn’t particularly inspired, a fine pairing for a decidedly lacklustre script, though it must be said that she’s certainly not afraid to objectify her own body through a camera lens. There was no need to convince us: these 3 ladies are hot and could believably land any man they wanted. What of it? Well, no one’s really thought much beyond the sex, and if nothing else, these experienced ladies should have known better.

The Old Guard

Andy (Charlize Theron) is one weary warrior. She leads an elite team of mercenaries but when they’re called for a new job, she hesitates. She once believed they were doing ‘good’ but as she scans the news channels and her friends’ faces, she can no longer find any proof. The world isn’t getting any better. Is it even worth it? But client Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is insistent: a bunch of young girls are being trafficked and only the very best team – her team – can save them. So Andy swallows her cynicism and leads Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) once more into battle. Except Andy’s instincts were right: it’s a trap.

Copley’s been secretly tracking her team all along, on behalf of “the youngest pharma CEO ever” (Harry Melling). Eager to make a splash, not to mention a billion dollars, he wants to study Andy and her team to see what make them so special – and to replicate it, of course. Because humans are both greedy and vain and we never, ever learn a lesson.

This could have been a fairly by the numbers action movie, even if the action is pretty impressive. Of course, it kind of has to be these days; John Wick went and raised the bar on that, and now even a fairly trash movie like Extraction needs some intensely choreographed and inventive sequences. And of course, somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron has become a bonafide action star. But what makes The Old Guard stand out from the rest is its philosophy, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s instinct to slow things down and instead of asking ‘what’s next?’ asks ‘why?’

It’s hard to know whether to categorize The Old Guard as a sci-fi movie or a super hero movie or a straight up action adventure. But like Wonder Woman, a film easily among the best in any of those genres, this movie doesn’t just explore the extent of their so-called super powers, it wonders when to use them, why to use them, and if they should be used at all. If Andy’s Guard isn’t quite human, the people they fight, and the people the save, are. The cost is high and the price is grief; Andy’s body may be strong but so is the emotional toll. And when new Guard member Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the whole group has to decide whether it’s all been worth it.

The Old Guard isn’t a perfect movie but it dares to depict heroics occurring somewhere between survival and sorrow. It shows us not just its true cost, but both the weighing of it, and its weight.

Desperados

Wesley (that’s a woman’s name now) is just beginning to realize that all of her failed relationships and all of her failed careers have one thing in common: her. A blind date rejects her after about 10 seconds, and an extended job offer is rescinded after she runs her mouth for a bit. Wesley (Nasim Pedrad) resolves that her personality is “an acquired taste” and vows to suppress it, and thanks to a head wound on her first date with Jared (Robbie Amell), she’s actually able to follow through, and Jared takes the bait!

After a blissful month together, Jared ghosts her out of the blue. Five days go by and not a single word. She and her friends hit the rose a little hard, and one thing leads to a rambling, raging email telling him what he’s missed out on, and shaming him for his ultra thin dick. So it’s a little awkward when he finally reaches her from Mexico, where he’s had an accident and been in a coma these past several days. I think by now we’ve established that Wesley isn’t the best decision maker, so she begs pals Brooke (Anna Camp) and Kaylie (Sarah Burns) to accompany her to Cabo so she can delete the offending email before he gets discharged from the hospital. It’s a fool proof plan!

Obviously the unfoolproofness of the plan is supposed to be the source of comedy, but you’d have to be pretty generous to give it even a chuckle (pedophilia is a recurring theme). But even if Desperados had what you might call traditional jokes (ie, funny ones), this movie still wouldn’t work because Wesley isn’t just a flawed character, she’s a terrible human being. I don’t want to saddle anyone with this woman, not even Jared, who, to be honest, kind of deserves her. He’s not exactly a great guy himself; he falls for “blank slate” Wesley and actually praises her for being the last “normal woman” in L.A. Exsqueeze me? Jared wants a woman with the personality of a potato, and we’re supposed to like him? And then there’s the problem of her two weird friends. Both are in their 30s and yet somehow have so little going on in their own lives that they can, at a moment’s notice, fly to Mexico on any given day of the week, for something as lame as one wonky email sent to a dude Wesley’s been seeing for less than a month, and who we already know has a disappointing dick. And yet they can also easily afford to do it. We don’t know how because each woman only has one trait that she’s known for: Brooke is going through a divorce, and Kaylie is desperate for a baby.

This movie was disappointing even for a Netflix movie I’d never heard of before starring decidedly second-tier (third tier?) actors. I wish I had the temerity of Wesley’s first blind date, who’d had the courage to walk away after just 10 seconds. No matter how desperate, Desperados isn’t fit for anyone.