Thursday, July 15, 2021

Seen in May & June

Spectacular lava flows in Werner Herzog's Into the Inferno. Image via The Movie Db.

I must really be enjoying the summer to have let this post slip two months late. Maybe I was too busy, or too sick as a dog, to spend more time in front of a computer than I needed to. Either way, it's here now and I think you'll find plenty to fill your summer nights.

The Gig’s Up
Hot Docs
The Gig Economy is the new reality. It has unlocked the economic potential for many people who may have been shut out of typical financial means. For some it has been a life saver but for others, it may take a life. This short film explores all those aspects and more with personal and intimate insight.

Hot Docs
Visit Cézanne's last studio virtually in this quiet, calming short documentary.

The Mitchells. To know them is to love them. Image via The Movie Db.
The Mitchells vs the Machines
Never has a robot apocalypse been so much fun. This animated film is a sci-fi family road trip movie about coming closer through crisis and about maybe not trusting your smart phone quite so much.

The Guardian
As a young girl in France, Colette joined the Resistance and fought Nazis. Meet the now 90-year-old Colette and the young woman who wanted to share her harrowing and inspiring story as she visits the concentration camp where her brother was killed. This film won the Oscar for best documentary short and it's easy to see why.

Brockmire S04
This comedy about a down and out, alcoholic baseball announcer finds the titular character, Brockmire, played by Hank Azaria, finally having ascended from the depths of his personal and professional nadir. Unfortunately, it's not a rose garden, but then again that's where the comedy lies. For some reason, they decide to jump some 15 years into the future to play out Brockmire's final season.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
DC movies. What to say? No matter how many talented people you throw at this cinematic franchise, it seems beyond redemption. I'm out. The odd title is probably the most creative thing about this dud, which is the story of the Joker's ex-girlfriend, Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, who finds freedom wrecking mayhem on her own.

Detroiters S01-02
Oh Detroiters, your flame burned twice as bright, but half as long. This weirdo comedy about two best friends who run a terrible ad agency in Detroit that only have clients such as local mattress stores and used car lots, is one of my favourite things in the last year. Unfortunately, they only made two seasons. Now, I have to admit, this show is not for everyone, or even for most people. I accept that I am in the minority but for the record, it's a very fun minority. 

You will be confused by Christopher Nolan's math-problem-movie, Tenet. Image via The Movie Db.
In the words of Jim Brockmire, why does every Christopher Nolan film have to be a math problem? This film is a little like, James Bond meets Back to the Future and Memento, with a touch of Interstellar and Inception. Yes, that's right, it's a cool spy flick, with the awesomely cool John David Washington as the lead, and some kind of strange, unknowably convoluted backwards time travel, science-fictiony, save the world, art heist. I love-hated it and may even grit my teeth in anger watching again (cannabis infused edibles optional). Oh and yes, we noticed the title of the film is a palindrome (can you hear my eyes rolling?)

Good Boys
Remember the movie Superbad? OK, now swap the teens for "tweens" and you kind of get the picture. This adorable trio of 12-year-olds learn the facts of life, the trials of friendship, self-discovery and being true to yourself. It's also great fun watching kids unload a few F-bombs and other curses they only half understand.

Hell or Clean Water
Hot Docs
It's heartbreaking and inspiring to watch Shawn Bath, formerly a sealer and a fisherman, also a professional diver, devote himself fully to cleaning up Newfoundland harbours. He dons his diving gear and collects garbage from the sea floor surrounding the wharves in countless bays. He personally has hauled tons of tires, car parts, cans, plastic, fishing nets and bottles from the water. It all seems rather hopeless, even more so as he can't seem to get any funding from any level of government. At one point in the film we see the son of a man who had died on the water, donate the very boat Bath had hoped to buy. It is a quietly powerful scene. Hopefully, this film will help change some of those funding troubles. You can donate and find out more at here.

Jupiter’s Legacy
Since The Boys on Amazon, and Invincible, also on Amazon, there seems to be a new sub-genre of superhero shows wherein powerful caped crusaders are super dicks. I did not expect to like this show, but I couldn't help myself. It's an odd concoction of nostalgia, sci-fi and family drama. This first season brings us a superhero union of crime fighters who are struggling to maintain their 'no-kill' code in increasingly violent times, while also giving us a sort of King Kong-esque origin story set at the start of the Great Depression. The special effects are particularly good yet there is something odd about the production values where the computer generated sequences actually feel more real than the scenes filmed on a sound stage. Apparently, my mixed feelings about this show were shared by Netflix as it's already been announced they won't be making a second season.

Sure, there are some fireworks, but too little fire in Wonder Woman 1984. Image via The Movie Db.
Wonder Woman 1984
I was really keen to see this but the "wonder" of the previous Wonder Woman was somehow lost in a simplistically silly plot that takes far too long to materialize. The story is that a mysterious wishing stone which has empowered a greedy huckster who doesn't seem to understand the terrible consequences that happen whenever someone's dream comes true. It's akin to a Twilight Zone episode where a man in fallout shelter with years of canned food, forgets his can opener or something. Someone pointed out that the movie really felt like it was aimed at kids, which may have been true, but I love plenty of kids' movies far more than this dud. Lasso of Truth time: I don't think any DC movie beyond Batman will ever be of interest to me.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Part of some "Herzune" programming (we had intended to dedicate June to Herzog films), this is Werner Herzog's  documentary about Dieter Dengler, the German-American pilot whose plane crashed over Vietnam and he was held captive by the Viet Cong. Dengler survives his crash, then is held in unbelievably inhumane conditions in the jungle. He's injured, in constant pain and starving to death when he, along with other American POWs decide to make a run for it. The problem is the only place to run is the jungle. His harrowing tale of survival was so compelling, Herzog later revisited the story in a scripted feature, Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale as Dieter.

Train Wreck
This romantic comedy written and starring Amy Schumer with Bill Hader as the love interest, is in many, many ways a typical Judd Apatow comedy. There's lewdness, grossness, jokes, laughs and a few feels. I suppose what separates this film from the crowd is that it's a female led film about a sexually active, heavy drinking lout - but the lout in question is the female lead. Meanwhile, Hader, a comedy stalwart, plays the good guy who falls for Schumer's hot mess. Again, it's all pretty standard stuff (self-hating hard living protagonist only learns to love after learning to love themselves etc) but the gender switch injects some life into the story. Also, it's worth watching for LeBron James who is surprisingly good as Hader's patient/client/wing man.

It gets a little weird. Image via The Movie Db.
Bo Burnham: Inside
Bo Burnham is a comedian, writer, and performer who is also a gifted musician and director. His standup specials are a mix of musings, and humorously catchy pop tunes. This special was filmed entirely during the pandemic lock down, in what appears to be a small shed in Burnham's back yard. What's sort of amazing is that through the use of a couple of digital cameras, some programmable lighting, a projector and maybe a some other camera rigs, Burnham pulls off something entertaining, funny and wholly unique. A couple of the songs are hilarious and absolute bangers, namely "White Woman's Instagram" and "Everything All At Once" (about the information overload and ubiquity of the Internet).

It also gets a little weird. Image via The Movie Db.
Close Enough S01 & S02
From the creator of the absolutely absurd animated Regular Show, JG Quintel, comes this animated comedy about a new kind of co-habitating family. A 30-something husband and wife live in a small apartment with their daughter and the wife's best friend and her ex-husband. Further members of this familial arrangement include their building's handyman and his adoptive mother who live in the apartment next door. In this show, simple, run of the mill, slice of life moments such as school fundraisers, or juggling two jobs or getting back into the dating scene all begin with situation-comedy normality but usually escalate to epic sci-fi/fantasy adventures rather quickly. One odd thing that probably indicates this isn't a Netflix original as touted, is that each 23-24 minute episode is usually two shorter 12-minute episodes which in truth, keeps the tempo up, the jokes flying with high-paced, quirky and idiosyncratic action. If you like Regular Show, you'll like this too, but if you aren't familiar with it, prepare yourself for some lovable weirdness.

Old Guard
I could explain the plot of this film as a group of four mercenaries who, for unknown reasons, are immortal. To be clear, they die when shot, then quickly heal and come back to life; standard sci-fi action stuff. More importantly though, this is another action thriller vehicle for Charlize Theron. Normally, I'm on board and this movie is apparently popular but for me it's more of a time-filler than action thriller. The plot that sets up all the explosive action sequences is that an evil pharmaceutical company has tracked this squad of gun-toting immortal good guys, to extract the genetic information that makes them immortal. To raise the stakes a bit, Theron's character, Andy, has wearied of her immortality which inexplicably can end at any time, without notice. Andy notices she doesn't heal from a recent wound just as the team realize that they've found a new immortal to join their squad, an American marine, Nile Freeman. Now Andy wants to live long enough to mentor Nile and to exact some revenge. I'll never understand why I buy into some movie concepts and not others. For whatever reason I get that in a Marvel movie there's a talking raccoon and a god of thunder but for some unknown reason I find it hard to believe a pharmaceutical company has its own private army that appears to fly uninhibited into combat zones or mobilize hit squads on remote abandoned churches in France or start a gunfight in downtown Paris without repercussions.

You'll wish you are a ten-year-old Italian as you watch Luca. Image via The Movie Db.
Another lovely and beautifully animated film from Pixar over simply referred to as a "coming-of-age story" in a small 1950s seaside Italian town. It might be more than that. Quiet but curious, Luca is pushed to explore the world by his new friend Alberto, but the world they explore is on dry land, when in fact, the two boys are sea creatures who normally live underwater. When they dry off they look like normal kids, but as soon as they get wet they change to their multi-hued fishy selves. Is it a "coming-of-age" story? Sure. Yet there are themes of acceptance, trust, friendship, family, and love too. That has led a lot of other people to hypothesize that this is more a film about gay love and acceptance versus intolerance. I think the artistry of the storytelling is you could read the film as either that of a young boy wanting to explore more of the world and his family supporting that he has grown or a story about living a closeted gay life until you are accepted fully based on your merits and character and not by who you love. The Italian-American director has recreated through nostalgia the time and beauty of the part of Italy where he grew up, which makes this a great summer movie (and definitely makes you want to go to Italy). There are also some very strong similarities to a famously gay-themed love story, Call Me By Your Name, which is also a coming-of-age story set in beautiful coastal Italian town but that film is most certainly gay. Like, super-gay. The gayest of the gayness, but also about acceptance, trust, friendship, family and love.

Oppenheimer and Herzog enjoy the view. Image via The Movie Db.
Into the Inferno
Werner Herzog's documentary and collaboration with Clive Oppenheimer on the scientific, historical and cultural influence of volcanoes is fascinating, stunningly beautiful and at times a bit dull. Herzog's mind seems to easily wander to whatever interesting fact he comes across and at points in the film he's explored some complete non sequitur to the point when you've forgotten what movie you're watching.

Something wicked this way came. Image via The Movie Db.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds
Apple TV+
This Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer collaboration feels like a companion piece to Into the Inferno but is much more focussed on meteorites and their impact (pun intended, I guess) on our planet's formation, history, culture and future. A visit to a remote Mexican village on the seaside leads to a truly Herzogian quote for the ages, "this place is so godforsaken, it makes you want to cry." Another moment of note is when Herzog congratulates Hollywood and the film Deep Impact on the accurate depiction of the epic scale of destruction that a meteorite would bring if it hit off the Eastern Seaboard (New York City gets messed up).

Deep Impact
Apple TV + (rental)
After seeing Herzog & Oppenheimer's film on impactful meteorites and the clip from this film they used, we decided to check this flick out. I have to admit the visual effects from 1998 are quite something and hold up but on many other counts this film is standard disaster flick fare with the many, many micro-cameos and subplots. From the family of the an amateur astronomer, to Washington politicians, to nosey reporters and all the way up to the astronauts sent to space to blow up a meteorite the size of Everest, everyone has some role to play. Like another more recent catastrophe film, Contagion, there is some great attention to detail from stacks of cans of Ensure to traffic clogged highways. One odd thing is how this film, that has so many catastrophic deaths, is weirdly sentimental. On one hand, many characters crucial to the telling are sacrificed but on the other, American gumption and know-how somehow still rule the day? The Earth was saved and a great many lives were lost, now who wants a hot dog and little American flag? I was also slightly put off by the ease of having two teens marry yet encouraged that Elijah Woods found his way back to his love first on his bicycle, then by seamlessly switching to a dirt bike.

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