Friday, September 18, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: My Octopus Teacher (2020)

In a sea (pun intended) high-strung and flashy documentary movies and series, covering everything from, oh, I don't know, tiger wanglers and drug use, it's refreshing to see a topic that is anything but sensational. A friendship between a man and an octopus is definitely among these topics. Yet, with this premise, My Octopus Teacher managed to create an insightful, informative, and heartwarming (without approaching its audience as someone stupid) tale about a special relationship that bridges space and species.

In the documentary, a burned-out nature cinematographer dives into the shallow but enthralling waters off the tip of South Africa, only to find a particular octopus that truly becomes its teacher. Touching and impactful, the movie is a very interesting and introspective look not just at this fascinating species that might be more like us than we ever suspected. At the same time, it might be able to reveal more about us than we alone ever could.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Two-paragraph review: The Old Guard (2020)


I can see a pattern emerging in the way Netflix produces its high budget action movies. The Old Guard seems to be a perfect representation of this recipe. First of all, you need a famous lead, who is, in this case, the always solid Charlize Theron. Then you need a simple but engaging plot, which is here a story about a band of immortal warriors. You need a setting that suggests a lot of intrigue and geopolitical concepts behind someone hunting down those warriors in the present day, but which explores none of them. Finally, you need a lot of action, but none of it too much at any given time. Instead, it should be spaced out across the runtime of the film in neat chunks. Now shoot, edit, and there you go - you have your Netflix hit.

This film works in the same manner as The Extraction. Even with the fantasy element, it provides a similar viewing experience, where you emotionally barely connect with the characters, as well as their desires or needs. This goes for the plot itself, which might be predictable - still it is never becomes boring or stupid. What you end up with is a cookie-cutter action film that is neither good nor especially bad. If you took out the lead actress from the set-up, as well as a few other characters and one exotic shooting location, you'd have your run-of-the-mill SyFy film.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Greyhound (2020)


If you’re anything like me, you’re probably sick of Tom Hanks commandeering any kind of big vehicle. From boats to airplanes, Hanks was there. So, you can imagine I wasn’t too thrilled about the prospect of watching Grayhound, where he yet again takes control of a ship, this time in WW2 and the Atlantic ocean, as he protects a convoy from Nazi U-boats as a semi-trained first-time captain.

However, the sheer technical focus of the film is very refreshing. I’m clueless about what it was like to hunt subs with a destroyer but this movie paints a very good and dynamic picture, filled with a lot of old-school tech and people shouting orders about things I don’t get. The absence of any other element, besides a slow start and an unnecessary love interest of the aging Hanks, makes the 90-minute movie an ideal thing for all fans of war films who are otherwise more keen on watching a TV show than anything like this.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: The Assistant (2019)

Oddly enough, The Assistant reminded me of a film which is, on the surface, completely different. The movie in question is Das Weiße Band (The White Ribbon). Both movies in a way try to examine and explain what took place in the hearts and the minds of those who either witnessed or will witness (and participate) in numerous horrors. In this case, the focus is not the children who will grow up to invent and propagate Nazism, but a simple assistant, working for a Harvey Weinstein-like figure.

Played brilliantly by Julia Garner, the movie dives deep into the modern work environment which in this case only happens to fully facilitate a sexual predator. Through a range of mundane situations, we witness the pressures and the terrors this setup brings, along with a sad fact that even with these, the main character is just one more of the enablers. So, like the question for WW2 and "how could they do it", The Assistant also takes a long, uncomfortable look at how these people could do it as well. They could and very much did precisely that, just like you and I could.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Force of Nature (2020)


Everything about the movie Force of Nature looks cobbled together. From tired-looking and disengaged main actors, especially the abysmally tuned-out Emile Hirsch, to the lame placeholder script about a heist taking place in a run-down building in Puerto Rico during a hurricane. Of course, the runtime of the movie, which is only 90 minutes, actually morphs into something like 180 minutes of crappy action, mixed in with bland character development. The narration jumps from one group of villains or survivors and goes round and round through the film, never picking up speed or any kind of engagement with its protagonists.

The only bright spot of the film is Mel Gibson, who somehow remained awake during his parts and does give the movie a bit of energy where it otherwise has almost none. But, his presence is nowhere near enough to compensate for the gray puddle that is most of this film, even the conceptual parts like the object of the heist. Also, there was an incredible opportunity to mold the entire film into a glorious so-good-that-it’s-bad work of art, but that somehow failed as well. Force of Nature is not laughably bad. It’s just plain, old boring-bad.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Midsommar (2019)



If there's a highlight in this movie for me, it's the endless bickering it often showcases and which takes place often and among its different characters. Here, their animosity, hidden feelings, ambitions, cult secrets, and social missteps all come to the forefront in a weird and viscerally uncomfortable feeling. This covers everything in their lives from the moment when Dani and Christian, a university couple with a strained relationship, decide to go with their friends to Sweden and celebrate the summer solstice in an isolated commune.

However, as the main storyline of the film picks up speed - which is essentially the Wicker Man all over again - the movie loses this odd but definite edge it has. To make things worse, the ending itself is completely devoid of talking and focuses only on imagery. In theory, I can see how this should have been a huge, allegory of a deteriorating relationship, but the problem is that it took its sweet time getting there. For me, the same trippy experience exchanged bodily horror for some missed opportunities in domains of poetry and natural celebrations. And that won't do at all. After all, nature hates wasting time - just look at the mayflies.