Tag Archives: Streaming on Netflix

The Oath

A fear-mongering, power-hungry president has decided to asked his fellow Americans to sign a loyalty oath to prove their patriotism. There are incentives to signing – tax breaks, of course – but signing will be totally optional. Americans have nearly a year – until Black Friday – to opt in or out. No pressure. But during that year, things are not as easy-peasy as first promised. ‘Patriots’ turn vitriolic. Hate crimes increase. Protests often get violent. Protestors start to mysteriously disappear. ‘Concerned’ citizens start turning each other in.

Sound disturbingly plausible?

But of course holidays must still be observed, so we join Chris and Kai as they host is family for Thanksgiving.

MV5BNDM3ODAwMTc1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTM1NDQxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Chris (Ike Barinholtz) is staunchly against signing the oath; he and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) agree on that. But while Kai just wants to survive the family and survive her in-laws, Chris is glued to the television and obsessed with minute-to-minute reports from across the country. It’s hard to blame him: these are indeed crazy times.

Chris’s mother (Nora Dunn) insists on “no politics” at the table, but Chris can’t help but clash with his right-wing, oath-signing brother Pat and Pat’s alt-right, fake news spouting girlfriend. Even Chris’s “more reasonable” sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein) can’t get a word in. The first half of the movie plays out exactly like many of our own family gatherings would under similar circumstances. Ike Barinholtz, who also writes and directs, gets right to the heart of things, satirizing and underlining America’s troubling and polarizing partisanship. He keeps things interesting by casting Chris as equally culpable. He’s on the opposite side of the spectrum, but he’s every bit the blowhard, intolerant of every opinion but his own.

And then John Cho shows up. He and Billy Magnussen play CPU agents – that’s Citizens Protection Unit to you. It seems someone has reported Chris for his unAmerican activities. Cho plays a relatively reasonable guy, but Magnussen plays exactly the kind of guy who would be attracted to the position. Never mind that this oath was supposedly voluntary, he believes Chris is the worst kind of traitor, and he’ll stop at nothing (and I do mean nothing) to serve his country in the manner he’s deemed necessary. Shit goes south FAST. The film takes a detour toward the increasingly absurd, and yet Barinholtz never loses us because it never quite feels unrealistic. And maybe that’s the scariest part.

What I’ve failed to mention is that although this is technically a political comedy, it’s also a horror movie. It’s not gory or graphic or particularly scary to watch, but it is deeply frightening to feel how close we are to this very situation.

I may have enjoyed the concept more than I enjoyed the execution of this film, but damn if it didn’t keep me 100% mentally engaged and 110% emotionally enraged.

Every single character is acting out of love of family and love of country – every single one. But they’re coming at it from such different directions it feels impossible that they should all want the same thing. This is exactly American’s biggest problem right now, and the gap between the sides widens every day. No matter which side of the problem you think you’d come down on yourself, you must admit that in 2019, the most revolutionary act we can commit is one of compassion.

The Oath is a smart, thoughtful movie that I wanted to end only because I couldn’t wait to start talking about it.

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The Dirt

You may not even believe that the dudes of Motley Crue are literate, but in fact, they released their Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band in 2001. The chapters (because yes, of course I’ve read it, I’VE READ EVERYTHING) alternate between the guys, and everyone’s got a version of the story they’re selling. Lots of the details conflict. In fact, lots of the big stuff conflicts too, but that’s part of the book’s charm. The guys sort of interact within its pages, rebutting each other’s alternate versions and extolling their own. The Dirt is even dirtier than you’d imagine.

So it’s kind of surprising that it took someone this long to make a movie out of it, but Netflix has, and it’s ripe for the streaming. 

The film alternates its point of view between the band members but the story is a little more cleanly told than it is in the book. And while almost by definition the antics are somewhat toned down, you’ll still get plenty of the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll that Motley Crue was known for. In fact, you won’t have to wait more than 3 minutes to see a woman squirting. Stay tuned for the heroin overdoses, vehicular manslaughter, and anonymous head.

Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth), Tommy Lee (Machine Gun Kelly), Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), and Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) have some stories to tell. Tommy’s wholesome upbringing contrasts sadly with Nikki’s, while the other two get lost in the dust. The truth is, the 107 minute run time is brisk, and gives more screen time to trashing hotel rooms than it does to insightful backstory, because this is what draws the audience to any Motley Crue show: not the lessons learned or the underdog story, but the fights fought loud and proud and bloody. You come for the famous girlfriends and the venereal disease and the mountains of dope and the increasingly inventive use of leather. And fear not: director Jeff Tremaine delivers. He does best with those scenes of complete debauchery than he does with stitching them together into some cohesive story. And weirdly, the music is very nearly an afterthought. But if you’ve come for The Dirt, I promise you, you’ve found it.

Operator

Is this a poor man’s Her?

Sort of. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

MV5BMjExMTMyOTk3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTU4NzEzMDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_Joe (Martin Starr) is a programmer who’s probably on the spectrum and self-soothes with obsessively quantifying his every thought and feeling. His wife, Emily (Mae Whitman), is a hotel concierge with theatrical ambitions. They are a loving couple; she supports him, literally lays atop him light a human weighted blanket, and he applauds her every written word.

And then it all goes to hell.

Basically, he’s working on one of those phone operating systems where a customer calls in wanting to talk to a human but instead gets lost in a sea of options. His operating system is very sophisticated and intelligent, and like Alexa and Siri, she’ll need a voice, a calming but confident presence, and Joe figures: who better than his own wife and empathic helpmate, Emily?

Meanwhile, Emily has just joined a troupe of actors who put on teeny tiny plays that are achingly revelatory and personal. She has promised Joe not to use him as material, but he proves too tantalizing a subject.

So when their marriage hits the rocks, Joe starts dialing in to hear the operating system that sounds like his wife but never says no, and Emily starts flinging Joe’s most innermost personal shit across the stage just to see what sticks. It’s ugly, but it’s also fascinating.

Operator is funny, actually funny, and it’s anchored by two very bright performances by Starr and Whitman. But it’s also analytical and thoughtful and satirical. In short, it’s well-balanced and interesting, and if it doesn’t 100% work out in the end, it gets close enough. It will inevitably be compared to Her, but even if it’s a less attractive cousin, it’s still pretty good company to keep.

 

 

Behind The Curve

I have a friend, Luc, who listens to talk radio. There are only two kinds of people who listen to talk radio: conservatives and masochists. And Luc isn’t conservative. Somehow giphy (2)he can listen to crackpots blowing steam out of their ears without losing his mind. Oh, he gets riled up – that’s kind of the point – but it doesn’t make him lose his faith in humanity. I cannot say the same for myself, which is why I avoid indulging in or even acknowledging this stuff in the least. People who are willfully ignorant really get my goat. Sean knows this, and it was not without a gleeful glint in his eye that he proposed watching Behind The Curve, a documentary on Netflix about the flat earth conspiracy.

Flat Earthers are…ugh. There’s no excuse and there’s no understanding them, not from a rational perspective. Although I did get the feeling that they, and conspiracy theorists in wp-contentuploads201306Brave1.giffit-in__1200x9600general, share a common mistrust for authority. They’re a group of outsiders who find a brotherhood in “believing” this stuff. And I’m still not 100% certain they’re not just having us on. I mean, can they truly believe that the Earth is not a sphere? That Big Globe has been the sinister force behind science and reality for hundreds of years?

Thankfully, this documentary doesn’t try to give credence to their impossible theories. But we do get a brief look into their psyches, into what might attract an otherwise 978672a0-cf17-0131-693e-423d576c0d42reasonable human being to the murky world of hating science and believing in baloney. And what we uncover are basically just some sad and lonely people looking for connection, and maybe a moment or two in the spotlight. On the fringes of society, there aren’t a lot of options for these people. How fantastic that all it takes is inventing an inflammatory piece of fake news, and building a community around it. That’s all it is – that, and making a few coins from the merch, which seems to double as evidence as far as these people are concerned.

The interesting thing about this documentary is that it doesn’t just give a soapbox to giphy (1)crackerjacks who put a little too much value into Youtube and not enough into critical thought. It tells us how we contribute to the problem – and I think the message transcends beyond just the conspiracy nutters. I think it’s also a reminder on how to speak to anyone whose views are polarizing to your own. It gives us all something to aim for as we hurtle through space on our beautiful, round planet.

Whitney

The tape deck in my mom’s forest green Ford Aerostar minivan ate a tape and never spit it out, so I spent my childhood listening to one album and one album only in the car: The Bodyguard soundtrack. Whitney Houston was no stranger to us at home either. I think my Mom had all her CDs, and our home was almost never without music, and therefore, rarely without an impromptu dance and singalong. It was very exciting when the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack came out but much less exciting when the movie did; my mother and I rented it from the local Blockbuster, not understanding what we were getting ourselves into. Sex scenes go on forever when you’re a kid watching them with your mom. FOREVER. Some part of me is still on that sectional sofa in our basement, stiffly watching, rapt, but trying to seem uninterested, and maybe a touch confused, for my mother’s benefit. And some part of her is still there too, trying to breathe normally and appear blase while secretly inching her hand toward the fast forward button on the remote.

Anyway. Whitney Houston. A luminescent talent that captured the whole world’s attention. She was a model, a singer, an actress, and an undeniably massive talent. But despite her fresh and innocent image, her success was often eclipsed by damaging headlines. Her marriage to Bobby Brown being a big one. And her drug use an unfortunate other.

mv5bodbiztq2nzctmte4ns00yje3ltk5mwmtywe0nde0zde0ytjjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodazodu1ndq40._v1_sy999_sx648_al_This documentary explores the highest highs and lowest lows of her life and career. Featuring archival footage of Houston herself and lots of interviews with friends and family and those who knew her best, the message is often complicated and conflicting. Did she have a hard childhood? Yes and no. Her mother was also a professional singer who groomed her for a career in the industry. She proudly sang in the choir of her church – where her mother had an affair with the pastor, ultimately causing the collapse of her marriage and Whitney’s parents divorced, leaving her devastated. Whitney director Kevin Macdonald manages to find new ground, and to probe beyond the headlines.

There’s rare concert footage and resurrected recordings and plenty of joy, but the whole thing still feels a bit macabre. In life, her increasingly erratic behaviour tainted her image and her downfall felt, if not inevitable, then at least unsurprising. It’s a painful reminder of how little it takes to extinguish even the brightest of lights.

The Bleeding Edge

Medical devices. We can’t help but be grateful for them. You may have a grandparent kept alive by a pacemaker or a friend kept mobile with a metal plate holding pieces of bone together. I’ve been bodily attached for months to a device that kept my wound from going septic and though it was a pain in the ass, it’s sort of a miracle to even have access to it – a piece of motorized equipment that hadn’t even been around during a similar surgery 5 years prior and sped my healing by quite a wide margin. The reason my mother walks around at all today is that both her knees have been replaced by metal ones. They make a ruckus at the airport but I know she’s happy to have them. Think about how many people you know who would be dead today if they’d been born just a few decades earlier. Science advances, technology advances, and the medical field innovates to keep our bodies running more smoothly.

But The Bleeding Edge is here to warn us that the for-profit world of medical devices isn’t just here to do good. In fact, it often feels that any good they do is secondary, an afterthought to simply churning out products that make money. You’re probably used to thinking about big pharma in this way, but medical devices may be even more guilty, especially because they’re less regulated. You wouldn’t be crazy for assuming that the FDA regulates them the same way they do drugs and vitamins, but this is not the case. These things may be made to go inside your body, but few tests are done to see how they actually fare inside there. And this documentary unfortunately finds a lot of people who’ve had their lives ruined by untested devices – things as simple as contraceptive devices. But in a rush to sell as many of these devices as possible to doctors, sales reps don’t actually care whether or not a doctor can safely use this new device. And the scarier thing is, when something goes wrong, there’s not a single doctor who knows how to take them out.

This is one of those documentaries that makes us all uncomfortable because we’ve likely all be complacent about asking the right questions before we consent to medical intervention. We do assume that someone has done their due diligence, and I think that should be a fair assumption, but it isn’t. So what a film like this is an important reminder that we are all our own best advocates. We have the right to be concerned about what goes on in our bodies, and perhaps we should slow down a bit when making these life-altering decisions. We can do our own research. We can ask the right questions. And we can demand stricter guidelines and regulatory bodies. Because medical ‘innovation’ isn’t good to any of us if it’s making things worse.

Lady-Like

Allie is a codependent college student with not much going for her. She’s lazy, sloppy, and mean. She’s crass enough that we struggle to understand how she has any friends at all – and in fact, she does not appear to have many other than her bff Kort. Allie (Stephanie Simbari) and Kort (Allie Gallerani) live together in a share house full of girls who have an assortment of small to medium to large resentments against each other, but manage to drink cheap wine together on a regular basis anyway. You know, friendship in your 20s. It’s a mix of backstabbing and jealousy and holding each other’s hair while you puke. Good times.

Also: frat parties. Ugh. Is there anything worse? But it sorta kinda works out for Kort, whose adorkability is noticed by some cute guy and he asks her out. He asks her out! That may seem like pretty standard stuff to you (and certainly to I) but these millennials make it pretty clear to us old fogies watching that this is cultural insanity. Nobody asks anyone out anymore. Not on actual dates. Not out for dinner. Who does he think he is, a Kennedy?

So then typically, Kort gets busy with her new relationship and she neglects her friendship. And Allie acts out in frighteningly immature ways. While normally I mv5bzwi1ytdhn2mtymq3zi00ztmylwi4yzktngm1zte4zwzmm2ezxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjq4odcxmdq@._v1_sx1777_cr0,0,1777,999_al_would agree that it’s problematic that we tend to let friendships slide when we have a new relationship, in this case I was glad to see Kort get out of Allie’s evil clutches. I don’t understand how anyone would consent to sit on the same park bench as Allie, let alone be her actual friend. Allie has no idea what a friend actually is and has a LOT of growing before it’s even within her skill set. So in that way, I think the story is a little lost on us. I feel zero sympathy for passive aggressive Allie and her selfish ways. Allie is a tough character meant to straddle a line, but for me she pretty much pulverizes it, defeating the point.

One of the first things I liked about this movie was the convincingly shitty student housing. The shared house looks extremely lived in, bearing the marks of many previous tenants, and the ambivalent at best housekeeping of its current occupants. Turns out, that’s about all I liked about the movie. The girls seem to attend a good college but none of them have jobs yet they do have $90 to spend on yoga pants even though no one does any yoga. There’s a shopping montage worrisomely early on in the film where the two girls try on very few outfits (strung out in a very long montage) in a very posh looking boutique, and then freak out about the price. Um, yeah, no kidding. You two belong in a Forever 21 at best. As if you didn’t go to the mall.

Lady-Like is a bit of an archaeological dig among the millennial way of life, but it’s not particularly enlightening or entertaining. It just sort of is.