Tag Archives: Netflix original

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

You know what they say – “don’t wait for college to start having fun” – or at least that’s what Sarah’s crush tells her out of no self-interest whatsoever. He’s inviting her to some show that Sarah (Madison Iseman) can’t go to because she’s locked down all week between the writer’s block hampering her college essay on fear, and babysitting her younger brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and his friend Sam (Caleel Harris), who are running a secret junk removal business to bolster their true aim of treasure hunting.

Of course the mysterious old lady who contacts them for junk removal refers them to an undoubtedly haunted house, completely abandoned and filled with dusty junk but also an actual treasure chest! Disappointingly, it contains only an old book. Until it suddenly also contains a creepy ventriloquist puppet that is not only sentient, but make shit happen (like homework, and revenge on bullies).

But, because this is a Goosebumps movie, you know this puppet isn’t exactly going to work out like a genie in a magic lamp. This puppet (his name is Slappy) has his own ambitions, and you bet your candy stash they’re evil. So poor babysitting Sarah is going to have an awful lot of trouble on her hands and you know she’s not getting paid nearly enough for this shit (like most oldest sibling babysitters, she’s probably not getting paid at all).

This movie has just been added to the Netflix library, so if you missed it the first time, it’s perfect for your Spook-tober movie nights – family movie night, at any rate. It’s got a PG rating and does have some scary monsters, so depending on the kid and the age, it may not be appropriate for everyone but it will appeal to most kids, at least in the 7-11 range. We’re diving quickly toward our second wave of COVID-19 here so I’m not sure exactly what Halloween will entail this year; trick-or-treating may be off the table. But you can still plan for a special evening (it helps that it’s a Saturday this year!) and a movie like this might be just the ticket. One note, however: while we at Assholes Watching Movies 100% endorse movie snacking, you may want to leave gummi bears off the list, just this one time.

Enola Holmes

Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) has had a strange but delightful childhood, raised and educated by her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) in a manner perhaps inappropriate for a fine young lady of her time, but according to Eudoria’s own standards. Eudoria valued intellect and wit of course, but also independence (hence Enola’s name, alone spelled backwards) and a free spirit. They were happy together, not even lonely though Enola’s father had passed and her brothers left home years ago. But waking on her 16th birthday Enola finds that her mother has disappeared and left her no choice but to summon her older brothers.

Brother Sherlock (Henry Cavill) is a bit of a famous detective – maybe you’ve heard of him? And Mycroft (Sam Claflin) is the persnickety one who finds his sister’s lack of social graces to be untenable. He lines up a finishing school to send her away to, so of course she absconds, not unlike her mother has. Enola has gone to London of course, not just to find out where her mother is, but who her mother is, or was. To do it, she’ll have to stay one step ahead of brother Sherl, who is a a bit of a sleuth himself, and not easy to outwit.

The part suits Millie Bobby Brown to perfection – plucky, canny, charming and engaging, she adds a new dimension to the already beloved and fully realized Holmes universe, not only proving her worth but making room for herself and room for change. Sherlock has always lived very much inside himself, apart from and above the rest of the world, of whom he takes little notice unless they’re part of the case. Enola, however, is very much a product of and a force of change in England, which is already in flux when we meet her in 1884. Though she spent her early years in near isolation with her mother, her future is very much her own to make of it what she will.

The Paramedic (El Practicante)

Angel (Mario Casas) is an ambulance paramedic who gives off major creep vibes as he snatches souvenirs from the accident scenes he works. He himself becomes the patient after an accident leaves him paralyzed, and angry. His accident has guilted girlfriend Vane (Déborah François) into staying longer than she’d like, caring for him even as he spirals out of control, suspicion raging, spyware engaged, but unsurprisingly his insane jealousy does not endear him to her and she leaves. Angel was an angry guy before the accident and he’s angrier now. Angrier still to discover that Vane has taken up with his old paramedic partner Rodrigo (Guillermo Pfening) and they are expecting a baby together. Rodrigo, who was driving at the time of their accident, has stolen his life.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it’s basically peak diversity. Not only is the main character disabled, the script offers equal opportunity serial killing. Anyone can murder if you make it accessible enough. He can’t enjoy sex anymore but he can stab syringes into basically anyone, which disables them enough to be handled. It’s genius, really, to turn the tables this way.

The Paramedic is dark and menacing well before Angel transforms into a murderous stalker. His injury doesn’t make him this way, it merely gives him the opportunity to indulge his most sinister thoughts.

It’s a slow burn, a thriller of a certain type, one you’ll no doubt recognize because we’ve seen shades of it many times before. It’s competent and well-acted but doesn’t distinguish itself from peers. Even if the quality’s variable, the character is chilling enough to give it a chance, and the final act just about justifies the whole watch. If you’re in the mood for a thriller, this is a viable option from Netflix.

The Social Dilemma

Should you delete all of your social medias right now? That’s the only relevant question here and YES is the only answer. For many people, though, that’s easier said than done, and most won’t even try, despite this film’s very credible, very convincing reasons. Namely that social media is having a measurably dangerous impact on our culture. It’s spying on you, it’s invading your privacy, it’s selling your soul to the highest bidder, and it’s turning the whole world into a machine meant to change your behaviours – obviously so that you spend money on products being pitched to you, but ultimately you yourself are the product, and the ability to change your real world behaviour (without even triggering your awareness, mind!) is being sold to whomever will pay – dirty politicians and their Russian counterparts, say. And fake news proliferates on a site like Facebook, and spreads 6x faster than the true stuff. Because truth is relatively boring, and lies are exciting, and can lead you down a rabbit hole, sucking more and more of your attention. So while you might give a true headline 3 seconds of your time as you scroll on by, fake news can mean you follow one link to another to another, which means that compared to 3 seconds, fake news just got 3 hours of your attention, which convinces the AI that you like this type of thing better, maybe even believe it, so it will recommend even more of them to you.

Cutting the cable isn’t so easy, though, when the software’s been designed specifically to addict you so that their algorithm can mine and extract your attention.

This film is teaching us to think critically about the apps we use and the content they contain. Capitalism is the real pandemic of our age, and if you’re not paying cash for the apps you’re using, you’re paying in some currency you don’t know about, without your consent. Social media sites use powerful AI to suggest the exact right material to you at the exact right time, presented in the way that’s most likely to catch your eye, keep your attention, and ultimately convert you. They’re implanting thoughts that will affect how you vote, what you support, how you interact with people. This is really scary stuff and the strongest vaccine is information, and a good dose of it can be found right now on Netflix.

The Devil All The Time

God may take smoke breaks but the devil sure doesn’t. Little Arvin Russell (Michael Banks Repeta) is a boy living with his parents in Knockemstiff, Ohio in the 1950s – about as rural as it gets, a place where everyone is someone else’s relation but alarmingly that doesn’t seem to stop them from coupling up. The Russells mostly keep to themselves. Mom Charlotte (Haley Bennett) was a waitress when she caught Willard’s eye. Willard (Bill Skarsgård) has recently returned from war, and when the urge to pray hits, he takes it seriously, building a “prayer log” in the backyard where he often drags son Arvin and compels him not only to pray, but to pray well, which means fervently, and loudly. Their prayers don’t work. Charlotte dies. Willard soon follows. A local police officer (Sebastian Stan) comforts Arvin and makes sure he gets to his grandmother over in equally rural West Virginia. There he grows up with a stepsister, Lenora, who hadn’t been orphaned so much as abandoned by mom Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and dad Roy (Harry Melling). Eventually Arvin (now played by Tom Holland) and Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) grow up, and though Arvin remains a humble and peaceable young man, a solar system worth of sinister characters is orbiting him, and he’s on a collision course with all of them.

This film has a deep cast. I haven’t yet mentioned Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, or Jason Clarke, some of whom don’t appear until 45 minutes or more into the film, but all them are leaving quite an impression. Holland is the real stand-out though, and well he should be, since he is the sun and the others are mere planets. Nearly all of them have two things in common: religion, and violence. There will be lots of both.

It helps to remember that the title is The Devil All The Time. Not part time. Not even full time. ALL OF THE TIME. He’s relentless. Arvin, though, doesn’t care much for religion. He’s had a bad experience with it, and you can hardly blame him. So he’s establishing his morality based on other concepts, on his own internal sense of right and wrong, one that snakes in and out of every last one of these characters, and eventually it leads him back to the town where he was born, and to the officer who once led him away from a crime scene. No matter how far you go, you always end up right back where you started.

Director Antonio Campos indulges his cast, giving them ample time and space to breathe within scenes, and who can blame him when everyone is doing such excellent, and often against-type work. The movie is bleak, and violent. It is most definitely not an action movie. The violence isn’t stylized, it isn’t fun, it isn’t entertaining. It makes you cringe, and coupled with religion, makes you think.

The film is gritty, atmospheric, its inky fingers slowly unfurling themselves, choking the characters on their own nefarious intentions, sending tendrils of shiver down your spine as the tension increases. It is not a perfect film, nor an even one. The tone suffers, and just plain cannot be sustained during the film’s bloated run-time. But I enjoyed it, overall, enjoyed the riveting performances and the interesting take on narration, performed by the book’s author, Donald Ray Pollock. It’s got some disturbing imagery and some graphic violence too, but when the film is over, it’s the issues you’ll still be thinking about, trying to tease out what it all means.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Cole is a junior in high school who meets with his school nurse Big Carl to discuss his delusions. I mean, Cole (Judah Lewis) is adamant they’re not delusions: two years ago, a blood cult really DID try to kill him and if there’s no evidence to support that, well, it hardly means he’s crazy, right? Big Carl (Carl McDowell) disagrees. So does the student body, who know about his outlandish claims, and they’re not shy to label him. Even his parents (Leslie Bibb, Ken Marino) are about to kidnap him away to some school-hospital hybrid for psychotic teenagers. But Cole catches wind of this and so he absconds with his only friend Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) and they hit up “the lake” for “some fun.” Melanie has a boyfriend (who’s coming), but she’s a girl and she’s been polite to him, so of course Cole thinks he might get to fuck her. But he’s wrong. Dead wrong.

As Cole should have guessed, the lake is code for murder town. I mean seriously, if you narrowly survive a blood cult, the LEAST you could do is start boning up on horror movies and, you know, get a clue. Lucky for him, the mysterious new girl who he only just met that morning, Phoebe (Jenna Ortega), is also at the lake to “have some alone time” despite the crowded beach party. A very inconsiderate second round of blood cult is about to go down, so they’ll get plenty of alone time to put his freshly purchased Magnum XL’s to good use while literally also running for their lives. Trust me, I know that math does not add up, but that’s called “movie magic” and the first rule of movie magic is you never fucking question it.

This horror film newly available on Netflix is a sequel to 2017’s apparent hit, The Babysitter, as astute readers will have guessed from my casual use of “two years ago” up in the first paragraph, which you can now appreciate for having been deeply meaningful. I never saw the first one and you won’t have to either because the sequel makes heavy use of flashbacks, but honestly, it’s also just pretty darn shallow. Blood, knife, run. You know the drill. It’s a classic teen slasher flick and by god there will be slashing. This movie is not big on actual horror, it’s not scary, it’s not even tense, but it is gory and rather graphic. It takes perverse pleasure in ripping bodies apart at the seams and showing every stringy inch of it.

I should mention here that the movie is directed by McG. Not that anyone else is fool enough to start calling himself McG, but yes, that McG, the McG who directed all those crazy annoying earworm 90s music videos you’re still having PTSD about: Smashmouth’s All Star AND Walking on the Sun, Offspring’s Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) and Why Don’t You Get A Job, Fastball’s The Way, Sugar Ray’s Fly, Barenaked Ladies’ One Week, and yes I could go on but I won’t because ew. But maybe just remember this is how he got his start, so that if, just for random example, this horror movie has a quick music video sidebar in the middle of it, you won’t be too surprised. He also directed Terminator Salvation, but don’t worry, you needn’t remember that because this movie references it HEAVILY.

We recently reviewed Get Duked!, an actually funny horror-comedy. This one isn’t a horror-comedy but it IS unintentionally funny. It doesn’t take itself seriously though, it embraces the absurd with open arms, it’s an odd kind of film and it knows it. For that reason alone, perhaps, I couldn’t hate it. I didn’t think it was good, but it was definitely having fun and I guess it rubbed off. Plus, if you liked the first, you’ll likely be pleased with the second. Are you in it for Robbie Amell’s random absence of a shirt? Done. Want to see if Bella Thorne finds a way to top her self-compliments? Go for it. This movie takes a lot of weird turns, plays a lot of unexpected tunes, and really keeps you guessing. Not in terms of plot or anything, you know how it’s going to end, you’ll just be pretty surprised at some of the pit stops they take in getting there.

If this sounds remotely interesting, it’s on Netflix so the risk is low. So’s the first one if you’re curious, but believe me, you can easily treat these as stand alone movies. Just don’t get attached to anyone. Or their heads.

Rising Phoenix

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann worked in a hospital with British WW2 veterans with spinal chord injuries. He quickly realized that some of the best physical therapy for their healing, both physically and mentally, was sport. In 1948 he organized the International Wheelchair Games. By 1960, no longer open solely to war veterans, the games were dubbed the Paralympics, held in Rome, with 400 athletes competing from 23 countries. Though the games were held for wheelchair-bound athletes, the “para” in Paralympics is not a references to paralysis, though that’s a common misconception. It was compound word formed to indicate that these games would run parallel to the Olympic games, and every year since 1960 they have taken place in the same year. In 1976, athletes with different disabilities were included for the first time. Able bodies all look the same, but disabled bodies can be disabled in so many different ways. The Paralympics can be broken down into 10 eligible impairment types: impaired muscle power (such as paraplegia), impaired passive range of movement (impairment of a joint), limb deficiency (amputation), leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia (reduced ability for a muscle to stretch), ataxia (lack of coordination), athetosis (involuntary movement), vision impairment, and intellectual impairment (the Special Olympics are also for children and adults with intellectual impairments, but it’s for building community and enriching people’s lives through sport no matter their skill level; the Paralympics are for world-class athletes). For many years now, the Paralympics have taken place in the same host city as the Olympics, almost immediately following them, and using the same facilities.

This documentary covers two major wings of the Paralympic experience:

  1. We hear from members of the International Paralympic Committee – Xavier Gonzalez, Philip Craven, Andrew Parsons talk about issues that have threatened the games such as subpar conditions in Atlanta, poor attendance and coverage in Athens, Russia’s refusal to host them at all in 1980 because they “had no disabled people” in Russia, and most recently, Rio’s Olympic committee running out of money before the games and stealing from the Paralympic pot to cover the Olympic expenses.
  2. We hear from the athletes themselves: Jonnie Peacock, the 100m runner who beat Oscar Pistorius; Bebe Vio, a beautiful young woman with no limbs whatsoever who still managed to win gold in wheelchair fencing; Jean-Baptiste Alaize, who survived a genocide to compete in the long jump despite losing a limb to a machete; Ryley Batt, who must be at least a little crazy to ram himself around the brutal court of wheel chair rugby; and many more besides. Everyone has an incredible story, but the athletes seem to appreciate that when they are competing, the sport becomes the story rather than the origins of their disability. The games are not about disability, but about people who have super abilities despite any impairments their bodies may have.

I was fascinated to hear more about the incredible people who work so hard to make these games happen and to learn not just how much they mean to the people who train so hard to compete into them, but to the rest of us, who have our notions of disability challenged when we see people competing at the top of their game. At the top of anyone’s game, frankly speaking.

Prince Harry, or the Duke of Sussex rather, at least at the time of filming, chimes in as the founder of the Invictus Games, which ironically have gone back to Dr. Guttmann’s original concept, giving wounded and sick veterans the opportunity to rehabilitate with the power of sport. We will likely be seeing more of him and wife Meghan since they’ve decamped from the palace to become Hollywood producers, signing an exclusive multi-year deal with Netflix to produce whatever kind of inspirational content they deem fit, be it documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows or children’s programming – and quite possibly all.

While Harry adds a little something, he’s probably the least compelling subject, despite his title or notoriety. These athletes are more than enough reason to tune into Rising Phoenix, which is inspiring without even trying to be.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

A woman, our unnamed protagonist, gets into boyfriend Jake’s car. After just 7 weeks of dating, they are driving to meet his parents for dinner at their secluded farm. The woman (Jessie Buckley) doesn’t particularly want to go, she’s got stuff to do, and she’s been concerned about some bizarre phone calls, but more importantly, she’s thinking of ending things. We are privy to these unvoiced thoughts as she and Jake make their snowy drive, but she keeps them from him. Or at least she thinks she does. Does she? They discuss life and philosophy in strange and circular ways, they quote poetry to each other, and we see flashes of someone else’s life, a school janitor. Whose memories are these? We don’t know.

Pulling up to the farm, Jake (Jesse Plemmons) tempers his girlfriend’s expectations with some warnings about his parents, who may come off as odd. The girlfriend starts to wonder if they’re even expected or indeed welcome, but such thoughts are quickly swept away when his mom (Toni Collette) pelts her with prying and invasive questions all dinner long and his dad (David Thewlis) seems more and more angry. Right around dessert time, what has up until now been merely creepy starts to turn toward the surreal. Time, identity, and memory start to dissolve, and as the girlfriend begins to doubt herself, so do we. Meanwhile, that mysterious janitor only seen in flashbacks (flash forwards? flash sideways?) is now watching a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and our own director Charlie Fucking Kaufman, seems really intent that we watch along with him. But why, Kauf? Why?

Back on the road, with a blizzard coming down around them, wrapping the car in a bubble of white, we’re feeling off-kilter, disoriented, disturbed, claustrophobic. And the Jake leaves the dark and deserted road to take an even darker, more deserted road. Turn back, you want to scream, you know they should, but they don’t.

If you were a fan of the book by Iain Reid, you’ll have some idea of what awaits them ahead, but you won’t be totally right. It’s Charlie Kaufman who’s adapted this, and the dude has some IDEAS. All told, I think the movie ends up less scary than the book, but weirder, if you can believe it. And it’s Kaufman we’re talking about, so you best believe it. If you’re a fan of his, you knew you were in for a strange and unique experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

There are strings pulled in the very beginning that see you through to the end if you were alert enough to follow them, and not distracted by the red herrings, or the terrific and layered performances by the cast. Luckily Netflix is the perfect home for such a movie. If you’re into this kind of thing, you can immediately give it a rewatch, searching for those breadcrumbs, reinterpreting with the benefit of a view or two under your belt. And it’s still not enough, but it’ll give you a fighting chance. Kaufman’s movies reward your due diligence. They’re meant for cinema snobs who will invest their time and energy into a story, who are willing to work for it, and work at it. Deciphering the ending is its own adventure, and in some ways I suppose you get to choose your own – it’s ambiguous, unexpected, and a little bit haunting considering Kaufman’s leaving us with his own spin on longing, regret, and the frailty of the human condition.

Best of luck.

Love, Guaranteed

In need of a good old fashioned romantic comedy?

Like the vast majority of human beings this century, Nick joins a dating site after a failed relationship, looking for love. And looking and looking and looking. Since the site literally guarantees love, the next place he eventually looks is the fine print: guaranteed, it reads, as long as you’ve gone on 1000 dates. So he does.

Does that seem like a lot? Yes it does. How does he do it? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner dates. But no one ever works out. There’s the one who brings her parents, the one who’s allergic to everything, the one who jumps the gun…no one is quite right. So while he’s a perfect gentleman on the dates, Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.) keeps a file on each and every one of them because he’s building a case. When he’s got date #986 in the bank, he looks up lawyer Susan Whitaker (Rachel Leigh Cook), a hard working litigator with a reputation for crusading for just causes. She’s not overly keen on this case but she is rather keen on keeping the lights on in her fledgling little office, so she takes it, and the rest is history.

You know the kind of movie this is and so you know the path is must take to get to where it’s obviously going. It is not a long and winding road; it’s pretty darn straight forward. There are, however, some nice ornamental benches along the way, a few surprisingly tasteful streetlamps, and even some lovely flower beds lining the path.

I’m usually the last person to say this about a traditional rom-com, but it didn’t suck. Late 90s it-girl Cook pops up from out of nowhere and has some pretty believable chemistry with Wayans. Heather Graham plays a Gwyneth Paltrow type with a Goop-like empire. Even Susan’s ugly little car, haunted by the ghost of Tiffany, is so ugly it’s cute. Plus, the script by  Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy is just a little smarter than the usual Hallmark-y stuff we’re stuck with lately (thanks to a chasm left by Nora Ephron in the genre). The two leads have cute, sparky banter, the supporting roles have identifiable personality traits, and there are fun little side-bars lampooning namaste bullshit and the fad diet trend of intermittent fasting. What’s not to love?

Wait: did I just say love? Love is a many-splendored thing but let me be clear that this review is NOT guaranteeing that you will love this movie. Only that should you tolerate rom-coms fairly well, this one is a nice addition to the lineup, and is now available to stream on Netflix.

Freaks: You’re One of Us

Wendy (Cornelia Gröschel) is a wife and a mother and a waitress at a German pork chop fast food joint (!?!?). She goes to weekly therapy sessions and wishes she could be more assertive at work. Money is tight and she could use a raise. She is a good mother and generally content in life. One evening, while running some trash out to the dumpster behind her work, she comes across a vagrant man, digging around for scraps of food. She’s decent to him, but it’s he who has a message for her: “you’re one of us,” he tells her. “Follow the mermaid.” It’s exactly the right kind of mysterious and intriguing that she can’t help exploring at her earlier convenience. But what she finds is totally unexpected: not only does she have dormant super powers, the pills she’s been prescribed her entire adult life are what’s keeping these powers sedated, unbeknownst to her. Wendy’s beginning to unravel a vast conspiracy that’s been keeping her and others like her in the dark. But why?

This is a dark, live action version of The Incredibles where the government has medically suppressed super powers as much as possible, and driven outliers underground. Usually such a movie would tend to be sympathetic toward those denied their true potential but this one makes a pretty strong case for government interference, which is interesting, especially because the film itself tiptoes awkwardly around the “Hitler” thing. But even the mostly well-intentioned Avengers leave behind some pretty serious collateral damage.

The first half of the movie, the secret uncovered and the powers tested, is the much better half. The second half falters a bit without a strong stance or identity, and is too often tempted into outright cheesiness. Which is too bad, because I liked how grounded in reality we were, how Wendy seemed poised to embody the meek inheriting the earth. But it seems that neither director Felix Binder nor screenwriter Mark O. Seng is willing to commit to super powers being a net gain or a net loss, a feature or a bug. Are they something to be feared? Controlled? Exterminated? Should the government be legislating ANYONE’s body? Is it okay to ask some people to change who they are for the greater good? And what exactly is the greatest good, how is it measured, and who does the measuring? My mind takes off racing in a thousand directions and unfortunately the movie just stalls out. Missed opportunity.