Tag Archives: Streaming on Netflix

Pets United

Like many cities, Robo City grew and grew and did that ugly sprawl thing, pushing nature and wild animals away so that humans and their pets could have all the space they wanted in the city. Roger is neither a human nor a pet; he is the thief of Robo City, a stray dog serving as the un-elected, unofficial leader of the mutts in his alley. And you may have guessed by the title that many robots also populate the city as humans inevitably grew too lazy to do much for themselves. Roger isn’t fond of the “tin cans” (which sounds oddly like a racial slur) but his real hatred’s reserved for cats, of course.

Roger has an especially contentious relationship with Belle the pampered cat, who’s lucky enough to have a beloved owner. Roger’s insistent that he enjoys his freedom, but he’s also pretty happy to make a friend in Bob, a jolly little robot who looks a lot like Baymax, and who’s about to come in VERY handy. Because guess what? They’re about to have a caper! In fact, the big robot AI thingie that’s driving the whole city has started its own revolution, creating chaos and sending people fleeing for their safety. Belle was enjoying a day of pampering at a pet spa when heck broke loose, so she’s stuck there owner-less with a ragtag group of small indulged beasts, including Ronaldo the big-talking poodle, Walter the insecure pug, and Sophie who identifies as a dog, and we’ll leave it at that.

This is a UK – Chinese – German production that steals from at least that many sources – Robin Hood, Secret Life of Pets, Toy Story 3, Madagascar – and yet even with their combined power this movie still can’t find a spark let alone light up a whole Pixar lamp.

The story is generic. The characters are generic. The music budget was apparently non-existent. Some zoo characters do a little rap that gave me major secondhand embarrassment and reminded me of grade school in the 90s when teachers would make you do raps for presentations as if our tiny catholic school wasn’t 100% white and also, apparently, 100% without rhythm and 100% without irony.

Since it has cute dogs and cute robots, young kids will probably give this is a pass, but if you get stuck watching with them, don’t expect funny jokes or quality animation or recognizable voice actors or any of the high standards we’ve come to expect from today’s animation. These guys didn’t care, and neither should you.

Cuties (Mignonnes)

Amy is an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in a Parisian apartment with a conservative mother, a strict auntie, and several siblings who await their father’s return with a second wife in tow. Her life is so different compared to the other girls at school, so seemingly easy with their bodies, dancing freely, hardly a care in the world. In Amy’s home, money is scarce, modesty is valued, and things are complicated.

Like pretty much every kid ever, Amy just wants to fit in. “The cuties” are a dance troupe at school that she’d very much like to belong to. They’re the cool kids of course, with maybe just a smidge of mean girls. They’re irresistible. Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is so desperate to belong she does whatever it takes: her baby brother’s tshirt is a crop top on her. A stolen cell phone becomes her portal to a world of gyrating, scantily clad girls, simulating sex and calling it dancing. She learns from them, in secret. And when the cuties have a sudden opening, she’s more than ready to step in.

You may have heard that Netflix has caught some major heat over this film, mostly from people who hadn’t seen it. They’ve called for Netflix to remove the title from its streaming platform, and threatened mass unsubscribing if they don’t. Their complaint: the movie hyper-sexualizes young girls. Is it valid?

Sure it is. But this is exactly the point film maker Maïmouna Doucouré is trying to make. Her film is a social commentary about the pressure young girls face not just from social media, but absolutely from social media, which they are exposed to from very young ages. And we are all in some way contributing to a culture that only finds value in females that can be sexualized, treating all others as if they’re invisible. If a girl wants to be seen, and has access to a tablet or a smartphone or peers, she won’t have failed to notice what her (lack of) options are.

Is it fair or necessary to sexualize these young actresses in order to prove a point? To be honest, I sort of hate putting kids in show business altogether. No matter how carefully a director isolates mature themes from the children on set, kids are notorious sponges and almost always absorb more than we think. Child actor turned director Sarah Polley was in the news this week reflecting on having to kiss a man twice her age on the set of a TV show when she was 13. A show Canada prided itself on for its wholesome family viewing. It’s a valid concern, even if it doesn’t have an easy answer.

If her film has inspired conversation, then Maïmouna Doucouré has done her job. You can’t move the needle if you don’t ask the hard questions. So I don’t think that muzzling Netflix or forcing censorship on an emerging female director flexing her voice for the first time is the answer. I know that Doucouré hasn’t included these scenes to entertain us; they are there to provoke discomfort. So let that be the starting point for the discussion that needs to be had. Let’s talk about why this makes us uncomfortable, and what we can do so this isn’t Amy’s story anymore. So the next time someone writes a movie about a girl like Amy, it won’t be about how the only currency she has is her body.

Good Kisser

Jenna (Kari Alison Hodge) and Kate (Rachel Paulson) are ubering to their first threesome as a couple. Jenna is nervous, blabbering to their driver. Kate is excited, anxious to appease Jenna’s insecurities. They discuss code words and safe words and rules and limits but all that good stuff goes right out the door in the heat of the moment.

To Jenna, Mia (Julia Eringer) is a mysterious but seductive stranger. Kate and Mia, however, have some sort of history, one that Kate seems pretty intent on rekindling, pressuring Jenna to get those fires lit quick. But while Kate wants it more, it’s Jenna and Mia who seem to really connect, at least on an intellectual level. They have great chemistry outside the bedroom, but inside is another story, Jenna’s anxieties prevent her from really enjoying an intimate encounter with a random person, an issue that should have been clear to both Jenna and Kate, her partner of nearly two years, well before they got into bed with a third party. But it seems this was an effort to “spice up” their relationship, and is clearly a mostly one-sided endeavour. You’ll never see this coming but – spoiler! – turns out, a threesome isn’t a quick fix for a rocky relationship. In fact, it seems to be extra good at exposing the flaws in the foundation.

This is an indie movie with a pure, pure heart. Talented writer-director Wendy Jo Carlton has put her soul all over the page and the screen. None of the actors are completely natural on camera yet, but their professionalism and eagerness go a long way. And so does the spirit of the project itself, an LGBT movie that speaks to its own people. Far too often, movies about lesbian couples especially get made for the male gaze, the male hetero gaze, it probably goes without saying. That’s how you make a lesbian movie marketable. But Good Kisser isn’t afraid to deviate from the kissing. It’s talky, it’s neurotic, it’s questioning without being judgmental. What started out as a night billed as pleasure turns into one of pivotal evaluation and reassessment. If Good Kisser isn’t quite a Good Movie, it is at least obviously from a Good Director who deserves to have her next project have a Good Budget.

#Alive

Just a week or two ago, Sean and I were doing the Fantasia Film Festival thing and were about to watch a movie called Alive, for which I’d read the following synopsis: The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It’s funny how we watch movies differently now that we’ve been living in pandemic-related isolation ourselves. Now I can’t even watch people in movies without face masks without feeling a bit of a fever coming on. But it turns out we were watching a different movie, also called Alive, no hashtag, and only now are we getting around to the more social media ready one, which is in fact the one with the raging infection.

Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo) wakes up alone in his apartment. His parents and sisters have gotten an early start, and Joon-woo isn’t exactly an early bird. Although he appears to be more or less a grown man, they’ve left him grocery money to restock the fridge, and his mother’s last plea is that he not spend the whole time playing video games while they’re away. Commence: video games! Except this turns out not to be just another ordinary day in Joon-woo’s life, as attested by the running and screaming of seemingly everyone else in his high-rise apartment building. Bits of news filter in from various media: some sort of infection transferred through blood is making victims extra violent and quite cannibalistic. You and I might call them zombies, or at least we did before we started battling super-bugs in real life. What will our zombie movies look like now? I bet they’ll cough.

A garbled final message from his parents implores him to survive, so he vows to stay in his apartment, but a) you’ll remember he never went for groceries and b) his apartment isn’t exactly invulnerable. Many days later, on the brink of starvation and in the throes of understandable depression, Joon-woo is all but resigned to his death when a laser pointer indicates another human presence. Out his window he sees that someone else has survived in the building across from his – a young woman named Kim Yoo-bin (Shin-Hye Park). Too far apart for real communication, and with flesh-craving zombies crawling around both their buildings and the parking lot between them, they remain alone but just a little less lonely.

I’m fond of movies that are about how life goes on even during the worst of circumstances, like how little boys still need to live their childhoods, even in Nazi Germany (Jojo Rabbit). And how romance can bloom even while a blood thirsty army is banging down your door. Ideal circumstances? Definitely not. But since when has that stopped anyone?

Director Il Cho navigates the complexities of a zombie-horror-romance in the smart phone age with blood, guts, and selfie sticks. Plus vlogs and drones for good measure. South Korea often does horror very well, and while I might not put this in Train to Busan territory, it’s a pretty decent watch, and since we are, for the most part, still social distancing as much as possible, it’s a good reason to stay home and stay safe, and let others take the stupid risks and internalize those consequences.

Stay #home, stay #Alive.

Unknown Origins

Detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) is being put out to pasture, but he’s showing his young replacement, Detective Valentine (Javier Rey), the ropes before he goes. They inspect a gruesome crime scene together, a possible homicide of course, a maniac bodybuilder so intent on building muscle mass he winds up with a windpipe crushed by his own weights. Cosme is meticulous and organized in his habits, in direct opposition to his son Jorge (Brays Efe), your classic lazy slob, a good for nothing grown son who works at a comic book store when and if he gets out of bed and still lives at home. But luckily for Cosme and Valentin, Jorge spots something neither of them ever could: the crime scene looks suspiciously like a panel from issue #1 of The Incredible Hulk. And the next murder scene they’re called to seems to be another comic book recreation. Madrid has a serial killer on its hands, and Valentin will have to tolerate Jorge’s help to stop the man bent on using seemingly random victims to imitate various superheroes’ origin stories. Oh, and did I mention Valentin’s beautiful new boss Norma (Verónica Echegui) is a bit of a cosplaying geek herself? Yeah.

This cop movie is spiced heavily with super hero flavour. If you know and love comics, you’ll likely predict the outcome a lot faster than the rest of us, and pick up on clues and cues planted specifically for your discerning eye. The film is a little uneven, sometimes cheesy heroic catch phrases, sometimes gritty police procedural, sometimes real horror and gore, other times goofy costumes. And yet it’s obvious that director David Galán Galindo is not only offering a send up to the super hero genre, he’s inspired by it, influenced by it, and given it a more real-world setting than others have been able to. It’s less slick than M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, less glossy, less ambitious, but it’s obvious too. The script is occasionally awkward and juvenile, and the sole female character could use a fuller and more subtle approach, but mostly Unknown Origins is a story we know very well, and it works because we love the genre and we can never get enough.

Fearless

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Fearless (Fe@rLeSS_) is a not very good animated film on Netflix. It’s not even a very good video game handle, but that’s what we’re dealing with.

Reid is a teenage boy who is definitely “not” going to sit on his couch playing video games all weekend while his parents are away (at least that’s what he tells his mom when she calls to check up on him – he’s not even that convincing). Logged in as Fe@rLeSS_, Reid (Miles Robbins) is on the last impossible level of a very difficult game into which he’s already sunk many, many hours of play. When fat shaming the monster (I guess this is what passes for PG trash talk?) doesn’t work, he realizes that his character, Captain Lightspeed (Jadakiss), doesn’t have the necessary weapon to defeat the ultimate boss, Arcannis (Miguel). As Fe@rLeSS_ and sidekick/teammate Fleech (Tom Kenny) discover, Captain Lightspeed has one weapon in his arsenal they’ve never deployed: babies. Babies? What kind of creepy code name is that? It’s not. They’re actual babies, triplets actually, who all have some sort of super power like their dad, only they’ll have to be deposited into daycare so they can “grow” into them, or something like that. Obviously they should have been cultivating the baby potential a long time ago. But then something really weird happens (bear with me, and don’t shoot the messenger): the babies end up in Reid’s living room. Reid who is a real, human, teenage boy, with science homework due on Monday, and the babies, who are fictional video game characters, just a bunch of 0s and 1s, are now living and breathing and crying and pooping in his living room. As babies do. Real ones, anyway, which these ones aren’t…and yet here they are, adorable, needy little monsters, encouraging the awful screenwriters to commit a multitude of heinous poop puns. Thank goodness for Melanie (Yara Shahidi), Reid’s unsuspecting lab partner, who shows up to do “homework” (I see you, Melanie: don’t go thinking you invented that move yourself) but gets redeployed into babysitting/saving the world. Which is when this movie tries to rip-off The Incredibles but clearly got a pirated version and a bad stenographer.

Which may still satisfy young audiences, who have notoriously bad taste in EVERYTHING (sorry, but: velcro, Lunchables, Caillou, Baby Shark, toys with sirens, etc, etc), but it lacks Pixar’s more universal appeal. In fact, it’s so far out of Pixar’s league it would be unfair to compare them had they not brought it on themselves by making a carbon copy of The Incredibles and delivering the 7th or 8th carbon down and not pressing nearly hard enough. If you got that reference, you’re way too old for this movie. But you will get the one throw-away E.T. reference, which is hard to miss because it’s both lazy and obvious. I can’t seem to keep the contempt out of this review even though the film itself is relatively harmless. It just reminds me of the kind of forgettable movie Dreamworks would have put out 12 years ago, the kind that only ever gets played in the back seats of minivans (a local car dealership once had a “promotion” – buy a car, get some dijon mustard. Incredible, I know. Yet true. I never saw the numbers on the avalanche of deals that were made that day or just how enticing that $4 jar of mustard was on the back end of a $20 000 investment that starts depreciating the minute you sign on the dotted line ((did lines used to be dotted, or is that just a really stupid expression?)), but I’m sure the Grey Poupon ((I hope it was Grey Poupon)) was better bait than not one but TWO copies of Megamind. Two because mini vans come standard with not one but two screens that have better picture quality in a moving vehicle than even the movie theatre itself had when I was a kid, and how dare you ask your glazed-eye children to choose between The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie for the 6 minute drive to Nana’s?) (Whew, someone sure woke up on the ranty side of the bed this morning!)

Anyway, what was I saying?

Oh yeah, Fe@rLeSS_.

More like Dickless.

Heh. Cross that off the old bucketlist: end a children’s movie review with a swear. Peace out, motherfuckers!

We Summon The Darkness

Picture it: a road trip circa 1998. The car is fully stocked with ding dongs, and there’s some snack cakes in there too (ba dum tss). Friends Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson), and Beverly (Amy Forsyth) are a trio of metalheads on their way to a concert. The newspaper and radio warn that satanic ritual killings now number 18 in the area but so far the biggest threat on the road seems to be from a van full of rowdy boys splashing chocolate milkshake across their windshield. It’s super awkward when they all meet up in the parking lot of the show later, but nothing a little light-hearted mutual pranking won’t fix.

The boys can’t believe their luck, really. Bandmates as well as vanmates, Ivan (Austin Swift) and Kovacs (Logan Miller) are just a touch resentful of Mark (Keean Johnson) who will soon be leaving them to pursue fame and fortune in California. But with the drugs and the rock and roll already taken care of and the promise of sex in the air, they’re feeling generally pretty stoked. Gathered around a fire, playing the classic drinking game Never Have I Ever, none of them can yet take a shot for ‘been stalked by a murderer,’ nor would they even think to name it, but by the night’s end, things will have changed.

The film’s score features televangelist Pastor Butler (Johnny Knoxville) telling American that rock music is to blame, corrupting the youth and all. It’s clear director Marc Meyers is a fan of horror movies and his production is pretty slick. I was, however, a little disappointed by the 80s backdrop. If anyone has an excuse to really camp it up, it’s a horror movie, but this one takes such a subtle approach it comes off as inauthentic. If it hadn’t blatantly stated that it was set in 1988, I likely wouldn’t have noticed until people failed to pull out cell phones in an emergency (and even that’s not a dead giveaway since these dildos had access to a landline they also chose not to use). We Summon The Darkness is a bit of subversive send up to slasher flicks but while there’s plenty of blood, there’s absolutely no tension. I get scared by horror movies about as easily as cats get surprised by zucchinis (translation: very, very easily, if you somehow missed this trend, look it up), but this one was so easy peasy it felt more like an unfunny parody. Are you into those, perchance?

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.]

Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave

So apparently Malibu Rescue is a show that people watch and is popular (cheap) enough to have already spawned a “movie.” This is its second, but we’re just jumping in here totally blind, literally never having heard of it before and yet somehow trusting that we’ll “get it.”

We didn’t get it. I mean, we followed the plot, such as it was. It’s basically Cool Runnings meets Baywatch where not only do you wish you were watching Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson instead, you’d even take Doug E. Doug and be grateful for it.

First, we’re going to need to swallow our pride for a minute and realize we’re not getting the Malibu Rescue team but the Junior Malibu Rescue team. The real team is busy competing in an apparently very serious international beach obstacle course that they treat with the reverence of the lifeguard Olympics.

But oh no! Tyler (Ricardo Hurtado) accidentally/on purpose poisons the A team so the Junior squad has to sub in. Luckily Gina (Breanna Yde) has a natural drill sergeant inclination but she’s got just 3 days to whip her team into shape. Dylan (Jackie R. Jacobson) and Lizzie (Abby Donnelly) break poor Eric (Alkoya Brunson) out of summer school (resorting to animal abuse and an uninspired not to mention insultingly bad mannequin ruse to get the job done). Cue up the obligatory training montage featuring a lot of sand eating and nobody’s washboard abs glistening in the sunshine (Zac!).

This is the kind of kid show that has such over-the-top acting that you start to feel bad for the adult actors. It can’t have been anyone’s dream to play a bus driver named Vooch who routinely gets overshadowed by diarrhea pranks. It really makes Pamela Anderson’s slow-mo running look dignified by comparison.

Is this a good movie? Not remotely. But I suspect if you like the show, you’ll like the movie. I mean, not only does the movie play like an extended episode of the show, it’s a barely extended episode at just 68 minutes, which sounds like a light commitment but I assure you it does feel like a hard 5 hours. However, if you’re in the market for some Malibu rescue with very little actual rescue and a side of obnoxious American patriotism and just a smidge of G-rated flirtation, wow, that’s an oddly specific fetish, but you’re in luck! And I’ll be relieved not to be alone on the watch list this movie is obviously bait for. Trust me: nothing can be unintentionally this bad.

Almost Love

IMDB describes this film as ‘An ensemble comedy about romance in the smartphone era’ which, if you read my review of Jexi, you’ll know made me want to find the nearest toilet and throw my phone right in, but since that thing knows my contacts AND my passwords, I just punched myself in the face instead. But I still watched the movie, through two swollen black eyes.

And I’m glad I did. Had you not read this description, you never would have paid much attention to the phones. They are, as in most people’s experience, simply an accessory to our daily lives. This is how we live now; they are as omnipresent as Ubers and pumpkin spice lattes and Donald Trump’s nonsensical tweets.

A group of grown-up friends in NYC is figuring shit out in life and love. It’s like Friends, if Rachel fell in love with a minor, Monica fucked a homeless dude, and Chandler made counterfeit paintings. Roughly speaking.

Haley (Zoe Chao) is trying to disentangle herself from a dependency situation of her own making; Cammy (Michelle Buteau) is realizing that the dating pool is so dire her deal breakers are surprisingly few; Marklin (Augustus Prew) is too busy carefully curating his Instagram posts to notice his actual life is a whole lot messier; Adam (Scott Evans) has so much suppressed rage it’s manifesting in physical blows; and Elizabeth (Kate Walsh) has for so long been the mascot for love in her circle of friends she’s having a hard time telling them she’s getting a divorce. When life isn’t perfect, do you lower your standards? Your expectations?

Mike Doyle writes and directs this low-key comedy, which works about as often as it doesn’t. Well, “doesn’t” is unfair. It’s more like: moments of thoughtful introspection, moments of surprisingly zany comedy, and moments that are achingly predictable. All elevated by a talented cast, the stand-out being Buteau, who I’ve seen stealing scenes in several Netflix movies now, and was glad to finally hold on to for more than just a few minutes at a time.

This movie kind of snuck up on me. I was enjoying it in a modest sort of way but then the end was somehow more than the sum of its parts. Love is hard. Life is hard. Everyone just wants to be seen, and when a film can reflect back your neuroses, your insecurities, your pettiest resentments without making you feel small or unfit, when it knows that finding true love, be they friends or be they lovers, means finding someone who sees the good and the bad and loves the whole package, then I think that movie has done its job.