Tag Archives: Netflix original

Thunder Force

Okay, I’ll say it: I liked it.

I don’t typically think Melissa McCarthy is at her best when her husband Ben Falcone writes for and directs her and this movie hasn’t exactly changed my mind about that, but it was just good enough to make me smile.

McCarthy’s charm is her saving grace; even when she’s not exercising the full spectrum of her talent, she’s still extremely watchable. Joined in Thunder Force by Octavia Spencer, these two ladies have fun chemistry and an even funner premise. A mutation has rendered a handful of lucky sociopaths into supervillains, but unfortunately for the world, no heroic counterparts exist. Thankfully Emily (Spencer) is a real brain, and she’s developed a special treatment that would grant the kind of powers so people could really fight back. It’s possibly that Emily and her childhood friend Lydia (McCarthy) are not the best choices to receive this treatment, but let’s not dwell. It’s happening. Lydia’s getting super strong and Emily’s going invisible and you better believe Lydia’s pretty pissed that Emily’s training is so much easier than hers. Of course, the training’s going to pale in comparison to fighting Chicago’s worst villain lineup, including The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Canavale), and Laser (Pom Klementieff).

Thunder Force is 100% stupid of course, but also like 55% funny. My laughter was often out of sheer confusion, but the kind of confusion that’s curious and maybe even a little awed. It’s still not a great equation but I’ll take it. I may even watch it twice.

Seaspiracy

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch this documentary; how smart could it be, I wondered, if it went with Seaspiracy over the rather obvious and clearly superior Conspirasea.

Film maker Ali Tabrizi is clearly passionate about the subject matter but let me tell you a little secret about documentarians: they’re not necessarily experts in the subjects they’re covering. Of course, some documentarians are well educated, and some are journalists, but some just want to make movies, or get famous. Their films’ content isn’t always deep, or thorough, or correct.

Seaspiracy is so general that I don’t doubt it’s fairly accurate. Its main thesis is: oceans are dying, and the commercial fishing industry is largely to blame. Tabrizi seems genuinely surprised by most of the facts he “uncovers” in his film and not particularly well-versed in basic ecology despite a self-proclaimed love for oceans and marine life. He’s also got a remarkable love for himself, and a good portion of his film is overshadowed by his own presence. Are the oceans being saved by shots of him shaking his despondent head as he scrolls the Internet? Or of him wiping away definitely not manufactured tears? Not likely. But he’s sad, guys, very sad, and worse, he’s disappointed. But he’s also very heroic! Don’t take my word for it – he’ll provide multiple statements to that effect, lauding him for risking his life to “report” on this important subject. Never mind that his courage is a little late to the party; his attempt to surreptitiously film a dolphin hunt at “a cove,” as he calls it, is actually The Cove, you know, the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary?

I don’t have a lot of respect for Seaspiracy but I suppose it’s an able enough introduction to the subject matter, perfect for children raised by wolves, people living under rocks, and mole women rescued from underground bunkers. If, however, you’re a normal human person, this particular doc might only be of interest for Tabrizi’s overzealous use of the word ‘equivalent.’ He loves when things are equivalent to other things! And while Seaspiracy exposes corruption and even slavery, its white saviour complex is as troubling as its integrity is suspect. Even if I agree with it in large part, I believe that almost anyone else would have done a better job.

Bad Trip

Chris (Eric Andre) doesn’t have much going for him – no nice house, or good job, or even a car, but when his childhood crush walks through the door, he feels like the luckiest man in the world. Unfortunately, Maria (Michaela Conlin) is just passing through Florida – though she does suggest he look her up in Manhattan if he’s ever in town. It sounds like a polite kiss-off to me and you, but Chris is desperate to take her up on the offer, so he enlists best friend Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to hit the road with him.

Neither has a car, so they borrow Bud’s sister’s car. And by borrow I mean they take it without her knowledge or permission, which she would never give. But Trina’s in prison, so what can she do? Break out of prison, for one, and pursue them all the way to New York City for another. Trina (Tiffany Haddish) doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Anyway, this flimsy plot is really just the framework to allow Eric Andre to pull a series of pranks on unsuspecting rubes up and down the east coast.

Not as political as Borat nor as foolish as Jackass, Bad Trip is thankfully not mean-spirited, but it does get to some pretty outlandish heights (or lows, really), including but certainly not limited to gorilla sodomy and projectile vomiting. I’m not really into pranks but most of their victims weren’t just good sports but good people (discounting one while guy on a golf course), which is sort of heartening to see. And the trio are clearly having so much fun getting away with their tricks it’s kind of irresistible. With a few genuine laughs, this isn’t a terrible option if you don’t mind rude, juvenile (yet still R-rated) humour, but no one’s mistaking this for great. Maybe just a bit of harmless escapism to get you through another weekend in the Red Zone.

Yes Day

Allison is tired of being the bad guy in her family, always the one to say no, to stop the fun before it turns into fights or unfinished homework or the destruction of public property. Moms have such a bad reputation for being the ruiners of fun, and somehow dads seem to get off easy, don’t they? So after one too many dictator jokes, Allison agrees to a Yes Day – a period of 24 hours where the parents have to say everything the kids propose. Yes Day!

Allison (Jennifer Garner) is a stay at home mom, husband Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) the typical overworked dad who likes to come home and take it easy. Their three kids think they’ve got it tough. Mom is SO strict! [Sidebar: I actually thought the mom was perfectly fine and I resent making mothers into villains just for attempting to raise their kids.] But this is why a no-nonsense mom like Allison would agree to say nothing but yes to angelic little Ellie (Everly Carganilla), troublemaker Nando (Julian Lerner), and rebellious teenager Katie (Jenna Ortega) for an entire day.

Now, technically speaking, this is a sweet little family film about getting your priorities straight and spending quality time together. But let’s be real: do you want to give your kids devilish ideas? I know my nephews are very impressionable, and I worried for my sister’s car when Big Ask #2 was driving through a car wash with the windows open. Are you curious now? Do you wonder what kids will ask for if given free reign? Will you lose sleep tonight worrying about what your kids are cooking up? Will they get you in a weak moment and extract a Yes Day promise you’ll live to regret? Or, god forbid, not live to regret? Will your kids be reasonable? Hahaha, just kidding. They will not.

So up to you: is 90 minutes of screen time so you can take a bath undisturbed going to be worth the price you may ultimately pay? If you need help deciding, here are bit a few of the consequences evident in the film: public humiliation, diarrhea, ruined upholstery, incarceration. Sound good to you? If you’re brave enough to continue, know that you’re going to get Jennifer Garner at her Garniest – goofy and super earnest and very believable as a mom who routinely embarrasses her children. She’s hard to resist. Pro tip: if your kids do start agitating for a Yes Day, keep in mind that’s what aunts and uncles are for. We’re physically incapable of saying no.

Moxie

I feel old, I feel embarrassed, and I feel inspired. In that order.

To the young women of today, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t get the work done. I’m sorry there’s still work for you to do. I’m sorry we didn’t break the patriarchy but got broken by it, bit by bit.

Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are introverts. They’re good students, quiet kids, girls who don’t make waves. But on the first day of school, Vivian is inspired by the new girl in class. Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) challenges English teacher Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz) on his syllabus of all white men. Lucy is interrupted by star quarterback Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who, being a white male himself, sees nothing wrong with maintaining the status quo, and belittling her simply for having an opinion different from his. Based solely on this, he starts a campaign of harassment against her, because females who speak their minds need to be put in their place. Vivian, who witnesses much of this, is quietly outraged, but it’s not until the football pep rally (when the whole school worships Mitchell jointly, despite the fact that the football team literally never wins), when the boys’ annual ranking of the girls in their class blows up everyone’s phone and suddenly a switch is tripped in Vivian’s brain. Taking a cue from her mother’s (Amy Poehler) old days of piss, vinegar, and protest, Vivian secretly starts up a zine called Moxie that ends up uniting and igniting the girls in their school (and a few of the more worthy boys). They’re mad and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Amy Poehler, fierce comedian, directs Moxie and shows some of her own. There are few people who can be this earnest and this funny at the same time, but she’s one of them. Although this film is about Generation Z discovering feminism on their own terms, it’s also a love letter to Poehler’s generation, and perhaps to all the women who have come before, women who failed to solve sexism but played a part in moving the needle. It’s also a call-out to adults who value obedience over truth and justice; Marcia Gay Harden plays the school principal who would rather look the other way than be responsible to resolving the actual issues presenting in her school. Madeleine Albright (and Taylor Swift) once said “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and I think it’s important to remember that today, womanhood and its consequences starts earlier and earlier. The patriarchy isn’t going to smash itself.

This movie is about a movement, but it’s also about friendship. These girls, who have been taught to see each other as rivals, realize they have a cause in common. They’re outgrowing the simplicity of childhood friendship and developing empathy and understanding. Moxie brims with hope and optimism. These young people aren’t waiting to inherit the Earth, they’re not afraid to bring change now.

Amy Poehler’s schtick is something like ‘sincere dork’, and there are plenty of those vibes in Moxie. She’s outfitted the film with a genuinely wonderful cast, including Robinson, Tsai, Pascual-Peña, Nico Hiraga, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Josie Totah, Sabrina Haskett, Josephine Langford, and Emily Hopper, who can carry the film’s uplifting message while still seeming like ordinary high school students. Streaming on Netflix just ahead of International Women’s Day, Moxie is the feel-good film of the month.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever

Prepare your tender hearts for possible breakage: this is the third (and final) installment in the To All The Boys series and in it we’ll bid adieu to our favourite young couple, Lara Jean and Peter. They’ve come a long way from merely posing as a couple in the first film to being threatened by charming rival suitors in the second. Seniors in high school, they’re about to graduate and go to Stanford together – or are they?

Back from a spring break in Seoul, Lara Jean learns she hasn’t been accepted to Stanford and suddenly the entire future she and Peter have envisioned together is in flux. With a class trip to New York City, prom, and graduation on the horizon, these milestones might have to be borne solo. If Lara Jean and Peter aren’t going to college together, they may as well just go through with the inevitable break up now and get it over with.

After three movies worth of emotional investment, it’s hard to say goodbye to Lara Jean and Peter, but first loves aren’t necessarily forever, and it’s sort of sweet to see Lara Jean finding happiness on her own terms, with or without Peter. In the first two movies she wondered who she loved but now she’s wondering what else she values and who else she is. Now this is growing up.

Director Michael Fimognari called this movie “an unintentional love letter” and he’s got a point; filmed back to back with the second one, this movie didn’t predict that the class of 2021 would be disrupted by a global pandemic, so this movie’s graduating class is perhaps the only one that will get to slow dance at prom and don caps and gowns without social distancing. Most of their real-life contemporaries have given up so much so in a sense we’re all living vicariously through Lara Jean and Peter.

It’s heartbreaking to say goodbye to these two high school sweethearts but all good things must come to an end and all things considered, this is a pretty fitting farewell for our two star-crossed lovers.

Red Dot

Engaged and pregnant, Nadja (Nanna Blondell) and David (Anastasios Soulis) travel to the north of Sweden for a hiking trip to hopefully check out the northern lights. A little parking lot scuffle involving scratched cars, racism, and dead deer turns into something much more sinister, turning their romance under the stars into a real nightmare.

Sleeping in their tent wayyyyyy out in the middle of the snowy nowhere and “keeping warm,” they suddenly notice lights on the horizon that aren’t northern. Outside the tent, a red dot appears in the middle of Nadja’s chest, and then David’s head. They can’t see anything, but a red dot would make anyone nervous. Trying to get back to their car, the gunshots start. The first to fall is their dog, Boris. Poor, innocent Boris. But no time for mourning! Unknown psychotic gunmen are out there, apparently very upset about some cosmetic bumper damage. Cold and increasingly wounded, Nadja and David are chased out into the frozen wilderness where crazed shooters are only a portion of their worries. Survival becomes all-consuming and increasingly unlikely.

Director Alain Darborg’s movie really has nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the fray and we go limping along with it. If you’re in the mood for a harrowing movie about constantly almost dying, this might be right up your alley, or across your frozen tundra or what have you. The pursuit is relentless and after a while, borderline monotonous. And then there’s a twisty ending that’s kind of infuriating because it comes out of absolutely nowhere and is kind of unfair and totally unearned. But there it is. If you’re in it just for the action I bet you can overlook it but if you were hoping for a good, satisfying movie, keep moving, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Malcolm and Marie

Malcolm (John David Washington) returns home after the premiere of his movie in celebration mode, having lapped up nothing but praise in its wake. His longtime girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), however, is in a darker mood. As she prepares some kraft dinner for him, she cautions him that they should wait until morning to discuss but Malcolm doesn’t recognize good advice when he hears it and insists on airing things out.

Is Marie mad because Malcolm forgot to thank her in his speech? Yes and no. It’s a symptom, she thinks, of a larger disease in their relationship. At any rate, it’s the starting point to a very big, very bad fight that will last for hours – that is, in fact, the entirety of this movie. Sam Levinson writes and directs, and shoots these two in just a handful of room in a rental house where the feeling is claustrophobic, and the need for air is never quite satisfied. Marcell Rév’s cinematography is to die for, and sometimes you feel as though you just might, because this fight is so tense and raw and horrible it seems easier to just drop dead than to continue on in this vein.

That said, is this a fun watch? No it is not. It feels very heavy at times. But you continue watching, almost glued to your seat, transfixed by two heavy weight performances. John David Washington shows full spectrum range, his character careening wildly from love to hate and back again, always at full steam, full froth, full strength. Malcolm goes off on several volatile tangents, taking shots at Hollywood, criticism, perspective, and identity; in this state, anything and everything makes him angry and nothing escapes his vitriol. Zendaya as Marie is perhaps slightly more stable but no less emotional. Giving your heart to someone else also means giving them ammunition and these two know how best to wound each other, and neither is pulling any punches. With deliberate cruelty, they pick at every scab they’ve inflicted over the course of their relationship and it’s hard to watch.

Malcolm and Marie will understandably be polarizing. It’s hard to spend any of your precious time watching another couple fight, yet I believe the performances are so stunning and relentless that it makes it all worth it. There’s no plot at all, just insults and accusations, yet this is how Levinson’s script allows us to discover these characters, their back story, their hurts and hopes and ambitions and secrets. Levinson carefully balances and imbalances the dynamics of this relationship over the course of the night. Neither comes off as overly likeable or entirely sympathetic. A fight like this inevitably shows you at your worst, but for Washington and Zendaya, these performances are career best.

Finding ‘Ohana

Pili (Kea Peahu) is Hawaiian born but Brooklyn raised, a competitive pre-teen geo-cacher who chases treasure all over New York City with her best friend. They’re so good they win a trip to a geo-cache summer camp in the Catskills, which makes Pili the only person in the history of the world to be mad about going to Hawaii on summer break. But her grandfather’s had a heart attack and mom insists.

Mom Leilani (Kelly Hu) left Hawaii when her husband died, but with her father Kimo (Branscombe Richmond) struggling physically and financially, she’s beginning to wonder if a move back to the family land is in order. Her kids Pili and Ioane (Alex Aiono) aren’t super excited by this news, as you can imagine, but Hawaii grows on Pili exponentially when she finds a journal detailing long-lost pirate booty. It’s like real-life geo-caching, with centuries-old Spanish gold as the prize! If they can find it, that is. Pirates are pretty shrewd when it comes to this stuff. Luckily Pili’s got a treasure map and a new friend named Casper (Owen Vaccaro) to help her navigate it. We get some stunning Hawaiian views and a genuine adventure not unlike The Goonies. Pili and Casper are joined by Ioane and new friend Hana (Lindsay Watson), and the foursome will encounter peril and mystery as they negotiate unknown and possibly haunted cave systems. Pirates are pretty serious about protecting the treasure they bury. Soon even the kids realize they’re in danger, but the only way out is forward, no matter how many dead bodies warn them away.

Finding ‘Ohana is a delightful family film and a throwback to epic action-adventures fit for kids. With grown-up stakes and real-life threats, the kids search for treasure but instead (or also?) find a connection to the land and to their heritage. Director Jude Weng knows the true treasure is friendship, and these bonds will only be strengthened throughout the film – perhaps even belabouring the fact, if we’re being honest. The film doesn’t really need to be two hours long. But it’s charming and well-made, with set pieces to impress and entertain, and stunning visuals you won’t get tired of admiring. The young actors are surprisingly excellent and the story is character-driven. It’s a fun film your family will surely enjoy this weekend, and on repeated viewings in the future.

Outside The Wire

Robot soldiers fight alongside human ones in the near future – and against them, robots on either side of this conflict, a storm of bullets raining down. Two men are hit, and their commanding officer makes plans to pull them to safety, but an ocean away, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a young drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris) eats gummy bears and disobeys orders, launching a strike that kills the two in order to save the other 38. Harp is court-martialed and sent to the demilitarized zone for a reminder of the human cost of his lethal button pushing.

There he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an A.I. enhanced cyborg soldier who’s selected him for a mission outside the wire. Leo’s biotech is extremely convincing (he can even feel pain) but make no mistake – he’s a military machine. A military weapon, in fact, a supersoldier who’s excellent in close combat and whose A.I. is so advanced it can follow the threads of these conflicts in ways that no human leaders ever have. Which is what he needs Harp for, a man he turns out to have hand-chosen because of his ability to think outside the box. They’re going to dodge robot soldiers and angry insurgents to chase a warlord hellbent on securing himself some neglected nukes. Leo can’t pursue this one his own; he’s got built-in fail-safes to prevent that, but where his investigation would constitute a flaw in his programming, Harp is free to do so based solely on a human hunch.

I enjoyed this movie for a couple of reasons. First among them is the Asimov angle, the king of sci-fi who wrote all those clever rules of robotics, and whose every thesis went something like: beware artificial intelligence, because it will inevitably figure out that humans need to be protected from themselves, and we won’t like the measures they take to do so. Except in Outside The Wire’s case, what Leo establishes fairly quickly is that the real enemy is the U.S. military, even though he’s technically meant to be fighting on its side.

Robots, it turns out, aren’t as blindly patriotic as we might like. Lee sees things from both points of view, and he comes to some conclusions that the American government might not appreciate. It’s a little sad that it takes a robot to consider the the socio-political aspect, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and examine other perspectives, but there you have it. It’s what we’ve come to. Asimov is always right. A.I. will always find us lacking. Is this the movie that’s going to help heal America after this most divisive period in its history? Highly doubtful. Most people will just be watching or the action sequences, and that’s fine too.

The truth, however, is that Outside The Wire isn’t a terrific movie. It’s not the blockbuster stuff you’ve been craving. Leo can’t reveal his master plan to Harp all at once, so it’s hidden from us as well, making for an occasionally confusing and scattershot plot. It feels like it takes us through a series of switchbacks that aren’t entirely earned. What it’s really counting on is that you’ll be so pleased by the Transformer-like Gumps (the scary robot soldiers) that you’ll only be paying half attention to the story.

Still, the action is decent, and so is the relationship between Leo and Harp, like Training Day if Denzel was also the Terminator. That kind of thing. It’s kind of fun to watch Mackie play a cyborg soldier since we’ve seen him be a flesh and blood soldier in Hurt Locker, and an enhanced super hero in the Marvel universe. This character kind of melds those roles together, a robot pretending to be human with his own thoughts and feelings about this war and what its outcome should be. Of course, a global conflict is tough for a single robot to take on alone – though now that I think about it, I suppose we’ve seen A.I. do much more, and much worse, so I think it’s fair to say: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.