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Sextuplets

Skkrrrrrrrpppppt. Skkkkrrrrrrrppppppptt. Ssskkkkkkrrrrrrrrrrpppppppppptttt.

That’s the sound of Netflix scraping the bottom of the barrel. When they’re borrowing the very worst ideas from the 1990s, you know we’ve hit peak terrible. Insert: Marlon Wayans. Not to shit on Marlon Wayans exactly, but has anyone wondered what he’s been up to? No. Has anyone been clamoring to bring this dude back? Certainly not. But ever since Tyler Perry retired Medea, there’s been a hole left in cinema, a hole that perhaps should have been filled in quickly and never again spoken of, but Netflix has instead decided to jump right into it without consulting anyone. Marlon Wayans, aka, the poor man’s Tyler Perry, didn’t need to be asked twice.

And that’s how you get a movie like Sextuplets, a movie that makes you wish for Adam Sandler’s quality programming. It’s just Marlon Wayans playing 6 roles, each one nastier and more cliched than the last.

Alan (Wayans) is expecting a baby with his wife. She comes from a good family who are concerned that he brings little to the table, “generationally” since he grew up in the foster system. It seems a weird thing to get uppity about, an indefensible thing, but the whole movie hinges on Alan really taking it to heart, so he does. And even though his wife is 8.75 months pregnant, he goes off on a road trip to find his birth mother.

And you might want to sit down for this, but *spoiler alert* he instead finds 5 siblings. And each sibling is just Marlon Wayans doing an uncomfortable caricature. Lots of fat suits involved, which are of course cringe-worthy, but even when he runs out of fat suits (male AND female), he only gets more offensive. So brace yourself. And even though his White Chicks self must have been yearning for a little white face, the closest he gets is with a “ninger” and you know I am NOT going to define that for you, but I will let your wildest imagination scold him for even thinking it up. Ugh.

Sextuplets is like a black hole of laughter. I was mad less than 90 seconds in, and he hadn’t donned a single derogatory costume yet. His performances get more and more wild as he desperately searches for a laugh but the truth is, all he hits are sour notes. It’s ugly.

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Otherhood

Three mothers, originally friends because their sons were friends, have stayed in each other’s lives even after their sons have all moved away. We meet them at a mother’s day brunch they’ve thrown themselves because their lousy sons always forget (if any one of them had a daughter, or even a daughter-in-law, this movie wouldn’t exist; daughters are not allowed to forget). Not content to just sit around bitching and whining about their lives, they decide to inflict their neuroses on their grown sons, uninvited. So they pack themselves into the world’s most hostile road trip and storm New York City to make their problems someone else’s.

You likely know a mother or two just like this, and if it’s your own mother, well, god bless you. This kind of mother wants it both ways: she decides she MUST become a mother because her life is incomplete, but then she spends her kid’s life telling him or her that it was a completely selfless act that requires a well of gratitude whose depth cannot be measured as it is bottomless and unending and nothing will ever be enough. And when the child is grown, the mother is lost and without purpose because motherhood was everything and now she is nothing. And improbably, all three female characters in this film are suffering from this affliction.

Personally, I know tonnes of mothers who have managed to maintain a balance between forging a career, having their own life, nurturing friendships, and being better mothers because of it. I don’t imagine that’s easy, but it’s life, and the last time I checked, motherhood IS optional. But these women are acting like life is over because their grown sons don’t immediately reply to their inane and constant texting.

It must have been difficult for Netflix to promote this movie since one of the three women is Felicity Huffman and she’s not exactly winning any motherhood prizes right now (if you’re just poking your head out from underneath a rock, she’s one of the parents accused of believing that her kids are such profound idiots that they could only get into college with the help of large, illegal bribes, and that they still deserved to be there, perhaps taking the place of your own kids, who would have otherwise merited the position, because their mother is rich and famous and quite possibly she just wanted them out of the damn house). Leaving her aside, Netflix managed to convince both Patricia Arquette and Angela Bassett to join the ranks of the pitiful. And frankly, Arquette does nothing to dispel the pity party. She’s gotten a little too comfortably playing the kooky, offbeat, perpetually single mother. When she breaks into her son’s apartment to bake for him, it’s uncomfortably believable. When she fails to learn a lesson about meddling and instead declares that the only problem was that she didn’t meddle soon enough, you believe that too.

Bassett, on the other hand, is an asset. Her character has certainly invested too much of herself into living for the men in her life (her husband and her son), especially when those men haven’t deserved it, don’t return it, and don’t even want it. But because it’s Basset, her character doesn’t feel pathetic. She holds her head high. She clearly has strength. And she DOES learn her lesson, and earns herself a better life; in the end, she’s the only one we’re really rooting for.

I think a lot of women, and perhaps parents generally, struggle with the transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult. But the truth is, that role is always changing. A newborn baby is a round-the-clock, soul-sucking (and hopefully soul-nourishing) job; a two year old is a battle of wills; a twelve year old is an exercise in diplomacy; a fifteen year old is a test of nerves. You never stop being someone’s mother, but mothering stops being invasive and starts being supportive at some point – if you’ve done it right. Not everyone gets it right, and that’s okay too, because we’re all human and we’re all learning on the job. You might even have to be someone’s kid while also being someone else’s parent. But neither of those things should subsume your entire identity.

Otherhood isn’t a great movie but it’s possibly worth watching just because there isn’t enough Angela Bassett in the world as it is. Stories about women are worth telling. We don’t always get them right. We’re all fumbling around trying to figure shit out. And if you haven’t recently been federally indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, you’re probably doing okay.

The Red Sea Diving Resort

In the 1970s, Captain America went to Africa disguised as Captain Israel, where he assembled a crack team of Super Jews, including a harpoon-wielding Hawkeye and a Black Widow with feathered bangs.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how it happened, and it DID mostly happen.

Ethiopian Jews were being slaughtered in their homes in the late 70s and early 80s, so Mossad agents led families on a 1000km walk to Sudan where, if they survived the journey, they became refugees waiting to be taken to Jerusalem, which was the tricky part. Sudan was receiving a stipend from the UN for each refugee they took in. The refugees starved, but the Sudanese government was not interested in losing easy money. In order to smuggle them out, the Mossad agents posed as hoteliers, actually running a resort, to remove Ethiopians by sea, toward a waiting Israeli Navy Seal ship.

The crew is run by Ari (a bearded Chris Evans), a reckless agent known for running into danger without a plan for getting out. Always by his side, the very courageous local Kabede (Michael Kenneth Williams), for whom this is not a mission but very simply life.

Anyway, I callously poked fun at the casting of Captain America in this film, but it is a genuine problem. Not Chris Evans per se – he’s fine. He’s just too identifiably heroic, and the camera knows it. The story is infatuated with the idea of this rescue mission and it pumps up the hero aspect to 11 while disregarding their humanity. We know the group’s Black Widow (ie, only female component, played by Haley Bennett) is a mother and that she has left her child(ren?) behind for months or years in order to help save strangers but literally nothing is made of it. Who is she? How does she cope? How do the kids? Where are the kids? Ari is also a father, with an ex-wife who is already tired of his bullshit before this story even begins. His backstory is almost as empty as Black Widow’s, but his guilt is exculpated by a crayon drawing that implies his daughter forgives him for his repeated abandonment. What I’m saying is: the Avengers are super heroes who are just doing their jobs. In this case, the Mossad agents are real people with real loved ones and lives back home that they’ve sacrificed in order to save people, not from Loki or Ultron or Thanos, but from genocide, a less-glamourous, real-world problem that most people look away from. But the movie takes the one thing that it’s got going for it and ignores it almost completely.

Okay, scrub that: the film had 2 potential things going for it – the heroes, sure, but also the victims. Because these Ethiopian refugees are perhaps the true heroes of this story, and maybe any story. I’ve always thought that, as bloated as End Game was, the only story I was really interested in is the one they never told – that of normal people on Earth, those left behind by the snap, and those who disappeared because of it. What is their experience? Such a global, world-shifting event deserves some story-telling but never got any (they failed to even really touch on it in Spiderman Far From Home, disappointingly). But in this case, the Ethiopians escape with little else besides their lives, and know they are lucky to have that much. Many are missing children and spouses and parents. Many will lose more along the arduous journey, only to end up in a crowded, unhygienic camp where their bodies are worth money to their captors, so they are given just barely the means to stay alive. And that’s only half the trip: next they’re going to smuggled past armed check points, onto rubber rafts, and raced through the choppy waves of the Red Sea onto vessels that will sail them into a new life, one so different as to be unimaginable from their straw hut lives in Ethiopia. Now that’s a story. But by all means let’s eschew that for more of Michiel Huisman in a speedo.

So yeah, The Red Sea Diving Resort fails to overcome the same tired old tropes. It feels like a compilation of other movies you’ve already seen, but not a best-of compilation, more like a cross-section of the just-okay bits. Which is a weird compilation, I’ll grant you that. Who’d want to watch it? Not me. Not really. Not even for a bearded Chris Evans, still very much in Captain America mode.

The Great Hack

We love the internet so much, we sold our souls to keep it growing. There is literally no such thing as privacy online, but we like Facebook and Youtube and Instagram so much, we just kind of shrug our shoulders as we tick those ‘I’ve read the terms & conditions’ boxes without so much as scrolling through. But even if we read all that fine print, and knew exactly how invasively these companies were mining your personal information, we’d still grant that permission because we’re so dependent on social media platforms and apps that walking away at this point feels hardly plausible.

The Great Hack is a documentary that looks specifically at Cambridge Analytica, which is a company that makes its money by gathering and weaponizing your Facebook likes. Data is the most valuable asset on Earth – more valuable than oil. YOU are the commodity and Big Data is doing everything it can to know you, intimately, without you even realizing.

Cambridge Analytica has 5000 data points on every American voter. Think about that. Could you even say 5000 different things about yourself? This company can. It has scanned your private messages, your profiles, your preferences. They know what you watch, what you turn off halfway through, what you share, what you save, what you click on, what you scroll by. We all know that this data has been used for several years to make ads tailored to us. If I’ve been looking into dehumidifiers, suddenly my feed is suspiciously full of ads for dehumidifiers. But Big Data is doing something much more sinister than that. It is using your information to subvert democracy. During Trump’s run for president, his campaign spent one million dollars per day PER DAY on Facebook ads. They knew what you needed to hear in order to consider Trump. They also knew how to turn you against Hilary. They targeted you. They made videos just for you. They made sure you only saw what they wanted you to see. Cambridge Analytica is a full-service propaganda machine, and you don’t get a choice in the matter because they find you wherever you are – in your emails, your online shopping, your dating profile, your mother’s Facebook account.

Facebook Facebook Facebook. You’ve heard that a lot already, and for good reason. Much of this deviousness is happening on Facebook. All these personality quizzes? Data mining. Questionnaires? Data mining. I left Facebook a while ago because I knew I just couldn’t trust it. I try to be smart about my online consumption, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If a friend of yours does all those personality tests, you’re fucked. Because they give the app permission not just to look into their own profiles, but those of all their friends. And often we know who these people are. I’ll give you a hint: it’s my mother. Just 3 days ago, she shared yet another, one in which she shared answers to questions like # of marriage, of divorces, of children, of pets, of vacations, etc etc etc. Thanks Mom! Facebook OWNS our data, our pictures, every single bit of info we’ve ever shared on there. They own the quizzes you take and the videos you watch. They own my mother’s travel iternaries, and the pictures she posts of her grandkids. They know where she works, where she went to school, who her classmates were, who her neighbours are, where she eats dinner on a Friday night. Because she tells them. She volunteers the information and Facebook allows companies like Cambridge Analytica, which refers to ITSELF as a behaviour change agency, to come in and scrape every last little valuable detail from people’s profiles. And they’re using that information for GLOBAL POLITICAL MANIPULATION. Facebook is DESIGNED to get you to give up your info, it CREATED tools to help companies target you, it made BILLIONS of dollars selling your data to the highest bidder – nay – to every bidder – without your true, informed consent.

Your data is being used against you. It’s being used to shape world politics. It’s being used to stoke fear. And it’s happening in the same place where you share recipes and baby news and dog pictures.

Cambridge Analytica was partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge fund manager who supports conservative causes. STEVE BANNON was their VP. They did work for Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Brexit. Through paid advertising on Facebook, it received clicks from 270 000 users. But those 270 000 Facebook users gave the app permission to also mine the data of everyone in their Friends network. From those 270K users, Cambridge Analytica then had access to 87 MILLION people. Are you confident you aren’t one of them? Or do you maybe have a mom like mine, or an aunt who overshares, or a friend who always tags you? Chances are, someone you know loves to do quizzes: What % Billie Eilish are you? Can we guess your age based on your Disney movie preferences? Are you more Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana?

Anyway. The Great Hack is streaming on Netflix right now, which also knows an unsettling amount about you, if we’re being honest. So it’s important that we start thinking about ways to protect ourselves, personally, collectively, nationally, globally. By the time my mom’s grandkids are adults, they’ll have 70 THOUSAND data points about themselves, and if things continue as they are, absolutely NO rights to them. We can try to stop our data leaks, limit the info we share, but as citizens of the 21st century, there is no way to live completely outside the matrix. So our information continues to be sold, and we continue to be manipulated. What are we going to do about it?

Point Blank

Brothers Abe and Mateo are criminals accused of some very serious cop-killery stuff. Abe (Frank Grillo) is in the hospital, unconscious with gunshot wounds and under police surveillance. Mateo (Christian Cooke) is determined to bust him out, so he’s hiding in the shadows of the hospital room when unsuspecting nurse Paul (Anthony Mackie) arrives to care for the patient. Mateo steals Paul’s security pass and flees, but Paul’s subsequent police report, to Lieutenant Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden) sets off a series of unfortunate events.

Mateo kidnaps Paul’s pregnant wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) and holds her hostage to secure Paul’s help. Paul is going to a) revive Abe, b) bust him out of the hospital, c) help him escape/ evade police/ find a flash drive the brothers believe is filled with enough evidence to take down the dirty cops they claim have set them up.

Paul is just a regular good guy who of course wants less than nothing to do with this but his wife and their unborn child are on the line, which turns out to be sufficiently motivating to turn him into a mini Rambo. It’s an incredibly difficult situation to be in though, since it’s hard to distinguish between good guys and bad guys when they’re all holding guns.

This brand new action flick recently released on Netflix is directed by Joe Lynch, who some of you will remember from Mayhem, though Point Blank is obviously a very different animal. It’s also not the shitty remake of Point BREAK, just in case any of you are as lazy readers as Sean is, although apparently it IS a shitty remake of a 2010 french film, À bout portant. I mean, there are shittier movies, and Netflix is home to most of them, if that’s your thing. This one is definitely watchable, so if all you crave is a mindless action sequence and don’t mind some questionable momentum and a flimsy stab at buddy comedy in the middle of cops and robbers, she’s all yours – unless you might be offended by Falcon’s blatant betrayal of Captain America, what with all the hooking up with his nemesis, Brock Rumlow.

Secret Obsession

Jennifer (Brenda Song) is frantic for escape: it’s dark, it’s raining, she’s clearly terrified. Dashing from a payphone to an abandoned building, she’s eventually hit by a car, unconscious at the side of the road, and we still don’t know what or who she’s running from. Her husband Russell (Mike Vogel) arrives at the hospital while she’s still in surgery, unable to explain why she was so far from home, at an abandoned service station with no car or ID. When she wakes up, her memory is compromised. She doesn’t remember the accident OR her husband.

Frank (Dennis Haysbert), the detective on the case, is having a rough week. It’s his daughter’s birthday, but she disappeared when she was 10 and he still beats himself up for not finding her as he weeps in a closet with years worth of wrapped gifts. His guilt and grief push him to work this case more obsessively than usual.

In the meantime, Jennifer’s been discharged, headed back to a life she doesn’t remember with a husband who’s a virtual stranger. They have a beautiful home, but it is remote, and we constantly get that little tickle at the back of our necks that indicates that some sort of danger may still be out there.

Amnesia is a great way to create tension because the protagonist’s experience is ultra unreliable. Jennifer must question everything, and anything she fails to question is of course something that we, the audience, must sweat. And we end up sweating all the small stuff! You can’t trust anything, which is a very tenterhooky way of watching a movie.

So yeah, we’ve got a lot invested in Detective Frank. I mean, not as much as Jennifer does. She’s fearing for her life and I’m just kind of stressed out watching a movie that I’m technically allowed to stop or pause or walk away from, and unlike Jennifer, I’m not hobbled from a mysterious accident.

For Jennifer, recovered memories are a blessing and a curse. While every bit of information remembered is helpful to understanding her situation, it’s often quite distressing stuff. I think I’d prefer the bliss of ignorance myself. So yeah, Secret Obsession is a pretty suspenseful movie. It is not remotely original and it doesn’t really try to hide any of its twists and turns – this movie doesn’t so much keep you guessing as make you a jumpy pack of nerves.

Writer-director Peter Sullivan is known for making Hallmark movies, and while this movie is a step above, it’s also perhaps a step below what might normally get released in theatres. Of course, this movie is a Netflix original, so the standards are a little different. Maybe it’s not great, but it’s new, and sometimes that’s enough.

Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein

David Harbour had a career before Stranger Things: The Equalizer, Black Mass, Suicide Squad, and various TV roles. But Stranger Things is the thing that made him a household name, playing the gruff police chief who adopts science experiment Eleven. It’s what allowed him to secure the lead role in the Hellboy remake. But despite his various roles, I didn’t know him for what is clearly a deep and quirky sense of humour.

In this Netflix short film, he plays “himself”, David Harbour III, plus his father, Harbour Jr., and his grandfather Harbour Sr., as well as Frankenstein. David Harbour (the third) is ostensibly looking into his family’s rich acting legacy, and particularly at a made-for-TV play he starred in called Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein. It’s a mockumentary, in case you’ve failed to glean that.

In the needlessly complicated play, the monster is posing as the doctor Frankenstein, and the good doctor is posing as the monster, in an effort to get funding from a lovely young woman (Kate Berlant), who for some reason falls madly for the monster, who is actually not the monster, though she doesn’t know that. At first.

David Harbour (the third) screens footage from this weird TV movie for us, and not just the movie, but the commercials that ran between episodes, giving us a glimpse of vintage product placements that will make you appreciate the content all the more. In fact, it seems this play as being broadcast live on television, and was subject to the whims of its blowhard, egotistical star.

The more Harbour (the third) looks into it, the more his idea of his father, the acting legend, unravels. Turns out, he as a real piece of shit.

It’s a crazy, wacky project that’s not for everyone, but I love seeing this kind of stuff from Netflix. It’s deliciously indulgent, and it takes a sudden turn that you wouldn’t buy from more traditional material. It breaks all the rules. This truly is a new era for television, if Netflix can even be classed as such – not quite TV, but not quite the movies, it’s clearly a lawless, magical place where classic lines can be redrawn and anything goes.

Harbour fully commits to the weirdness, even if I’m still not sure what to call it. Is this sketch comedy? Just an odd idea he had one night, in a fever dream? A side project devoted to pushing boundaries? In the end, at only 30 minutes, it’s an easily digested bit of fun, which actually demands to be rewatched immediately, to pick up the little Easter eggs you didn’t know where planted. I’ve never seen this side of David Harbour before, and it’s not so much a new side as like half a dozen new sides, all at once. Enjoy.