I Watched: Horse Girl

How do you draw a definitive line between dream life and waking life when characters and events begin bleeding into both? That’s the question explored in the Netflix fim, Horse Girl, directed by Jeff Baena, written by Baena and Alison Brie, which follows a socially isolated arts and crafts store employee who finds herself more content in the company of horses and supernatural crime shows than people. Have a gander at the trailer:

Sarah (Alison Brie) is that oddly shaped piece that doesn’t quite fit in the societal puzzle, friendly yet friendless–with the possible exception of her boss, Joan (Molly Shannon)–her shy, introverted ways leads her to live a quiet life. Aside from working at a crafts store, she visits the grave of her suicided mother and frequents the horse stable where Willow, the horse she rode in her childhood is boarded, which annoys the stable owners to no end.

On her birthday, when roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan) finds Sarah home alone, she invites her boyfriend’s roommate, Darren (John Reynolds) over for a double date. The four drink and smoke weed and despite Darren talking about his ex all night, he and Sarah hit it off. When the party’s over, Sarah has a bizarre dream in which she is lying in an antiseptically white room with a man and woman and she wakes up face down in the living room on a mound of throw pillows and there are large scratch marks running across the wall that she can’t account for. Shortly after, a series of bizarre incidents begin to befall Sarah and that’s where this recap ends because I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie for you.

So, would I recommend Horse Girl? It’s a yes for me but it’s one of those divisive films and it depends on how you view it, as a psychological drama about the effects of hereditary mental illness or a slow burn science fiction fever dream. Like a previous film I reviewed, Relic, the filmmakers seem intent on leaving the decision of whether Sarah is suffering mental problems or the victim of extraterrestrial forces beyond her ability to comprehend, entirely up to your interpretation.

Whichever way you personally lean, the one thing you will probably agree on is Alison Brie’s powerful and convincing performance as a troubled woman who slips on a patch of sanity and falls head first into the instability of a dream-life/waking-life reality that’s been tilted on its axis.

It’s currently on Netflix (apparently it’s been there a while) and it’s certainly, in my not-so-humble opinion, worth the watch. Besides, city and state reopenings have been a mixed bag, so you’re better off playing it safe by maxing and relaxing in your home, and there are far, far worse things you could be doing with 104 minutes of your self-isolated life. Treat yourself, why don’t you?

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: 7500

In 7500, directed by Patrick Vollrath, written by Vollrath and Senad Halilbasic, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a soft-spoken young American co-pilot aboard a Berlin-Paris flight struggles to save the lives of the passengers and crew when terrorists try to seize control of the plane.

Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and First Officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) board an airplane and begin pre-flight checks before embarking on the flight from Berlin to Paris. Also on board is Tobias’ girlfriend, Nathalie (Aurélie Thépaut), who is one of the flight attendants and they have a brief conversation about which school their son should attend.

Once the plane takes off, a terrorist forces his way into the cockpit and although Tobias is able to shove the cockpit door closed before anyone else can enter, he suffers a bad wound to his arm by the terrorist inside the cockpit who stabs Lutzmann repeatedly before Tobias can knock out and tie up the hijacker.

Tobias signals Air Traffic Control and is ordered to divert to Hannover. Lutzman loses consciousness so Tobias attempts CPR but is unsuccessful. All the while, the remaining terrorists continuously attempt to break into the cockpit. Tobias informs ground control of the situation and is informed under no circumstance is he permitted to allow the terrorists inside. And the terrorists test his resolve by taking a hostage and threatening to kill the man unless they’re granted access to the cockpit. Tobias pleads with the terrorists in vain as they execute the hostage.

Tobias is visibly shaken. He attempts to render first aid to himself when the terrorists return with another hostage, this time a member of the flight crew. You guessed it, it’s Nathalie, Tobias’ girlfriend. Over the PA system, Tobias tells the passengers to fasten their seatbelts as he tries an aerial maneuver to make the terrorists release Nathalie. She manages to get free and struggles with the terrorists but they gains the upper hand and she is once again taken hostage. One of the terrorists holds a glass shard to Nathalie’s jugular and is going to kill her if Tobias doesn’t open the door. Tobias relents and agrees to open the cockpit door but Nathalie tells him not to, repeating, “It’s going to be all right! It’s going to be all right!”

What happens then? You’ll have to head over to Amazon Prime to find that out because I’ve reached the limit of my spoiler reveal for this film.

So, would I recommend it? Actually, I would. 7500 (which is airline code for a hijacking) is one of those fly-on-the-wall-almost-documentary-style films that takes place in a single location, in this case, the cockpit of a commercial airliner which is equipped with a monitor so we’re able to see the terrorists on the other side of the locked door. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives an excellent performance as he cycles through a range of emotions in attempting to deal with a situation he is clearly not adequately trained to handle. There are a few logic issues I have with the plot but I can’t mention them without getting into spoiler territory, but I can say they weren’t so severe as to affect my enjoyment of the movie. So, if you’re the type of person who likes a thriller that slowly ratchets up the tension as events unfold in real time, progressing the situation from bad to worse, this film just might be worth your time.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: Greyhound

In Greyhound, directed by Aaron Schneider, screenplay by and starring Tom Hanks, based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by a Nazi U-boat wolfpack during World War II.

Only a few months after the United States officially entered World War II, US Navy Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) receives his first war-time assignment aboard the destroyer USS Keeling, codenamed GREYHOUND, to deal with the problem of German U-boats disrupting convoys of supplies in the Mid-Atlantic gap between North American and Britain where shore-based military air support is sorely lacking. Accompanying Greyhound in the assignment to get the 37 Allied ship convoy safely to Liverpool are two British destroyers codenamed HARRY and EAGLE, and a Canadian Flower Class corvette codenamed DICKIE.

When the convoy is three days away from Liverpool, Greyhound sonar identifies an incoming U-boat closing in on the convoy and the destroyer prepares to intercept. The U-Boat is able to launch a single torpedo before the Greyhound fires a full pattern of depth charges. Luckily, the U-boat torpedo misses, and the Greyhound depth charges effectively destroys the U-boat.

Before the Greyhound crew can celebrate their victory, their sonar picks up multiple targets slowly approaching in the distance. A Wolf Pack of six U-boats are stalking the convoy, staying just out of firing range. Krause suspects the Wolf Pack is waiting for nightfall in order attack under the cloak of darkness.

When night falls, the U-boat attack commences and a number of passenger and freight ships are destroyed by torpedoes. Krause has sonar on a few of the U-Boats but chooses to rescue the survivors of the downed ships rather than engage the enemy. And after their successful attack, the U-boats pull back to a safe distance once again.

The following day, the U-boats mount another coordinated attack and the Greyhound crew are now being taunted by broadcasts from the lead captain of the Wolf Pack in an attempt to affect ship morale. During the Wolf Pack attack, the Greyhound is barely able to evade the torpedoes deployed against her but the Dickie and the Eagle, are less fortunate. The Dickie takes some damage but still seaworthy, the Eagle, however, eventually sinks. Through the combined efforts of the Greyhound and Dickie, another U-boat is destroyed but Krause’s destroyer is now down to only six depth charges and their ammunition is running low and the convoy is still two days away from Liverpool and not yet in range of air support.

What happens next? They would be telling, and you know I hate dealing out spoilers (somewhat) but you’re free to head over to AppleTV+ and find out all on your lonesome.

So, would I recommend Greyhound? I have to admit that based on the trailer, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the theater to see this, COVID-19 notwithstanding, but, surprisingly enough, yes, this gets a recommendation. In fact, of all the films I’ve watched over the past week, I enjoyed this one the most, which is saying a lot because I’m typically not a war film kind of guy. I think it’s because this film takes a different approach by placing us inside the Greyhound along with the crew through the entire skirmish. The adversaries remain faceless voices issuing taunts over the airwaves, and when convoy ships are destroyed it all happens at a distance. There are a few explosions, U-boat destruction is typically marked by oil slicks on the ocean’s surface and I believe there are only three scenes containing blood and they’re minimal at best. Unfortunately, also minimal is character development, though subtle Tom Hanks plays to his strengths in portraying an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances, and I’m a fan of Stephen Graham and Elisabeth Shue, even though they aren’t given much to do here.

Another thing Greyhound is lacking (and this time it’s a good thing) is that mid-movie slump. You know exactly what I’m talking about, when a film comes out the gate strong, then sags in the middle and has to ratchet up the action in the third act to get you interested again. I can safely say, once you’re aboard the Greyhound, your investment in the story and the outcome remains consistent throughout. Despite its shortcomings, it’s a very well-paced film and I’m impressed by Hank’s handling of the screenplay.

In closing, if you’re looking for the intense, high octane tension of a 1917 or Dunkirk, you should probably go watch 1917 or Dunkirk. Greyhound isn’t that sort of war film and it doesn’t have to be. But it most certainly is ninety minutes of streamlined sea battle that’s worthy of your viewing time.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: The Old Guard

In The Old Guard, written by Greg Rucka, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, a covert team of immortal mercenaries are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.

Former CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) hires a mercenary team to rescue a group of kidnapped children in South Sudan. During the mission, however, the team find no children, and are ambushed by a squad of soldiers and are killed with extreme prejudice. The problem is, the mercenaries don’t stay dead. Their bodies spit out bullets, wounds heal rapidly and they slay their attackers, all of which has been recorded by Copley to expose their gift of immortality.

The mercenary team consists of Andromache of Scythia, but you can call her “Andy” (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) all of whom are centuries-old warriors with regenerative abilities who use their vast experience to help those in need.

While the team is hunting down Copely, the scene shifts to Afghanistan where U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) gets her throat slit in the line of duty, dies and recovers without a scratch. She is plagued by a disturbing dream that is somehow shared with the other immortals, who are now alerted to her existence, which forces Andy to track the Marine down and rescue her before the military brass can subject her to testing.

Copley shows video of the ambush to pharmaceutical executive Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), who naturally wants to capture the mercenaries and turn them into lab rats in order to uncover the secret of their abilities for fame and profit. Andy take Nile to France where she’s introduced to the rest of their team and she hears the story of Quynh (Veronica Ngo), Andy’s first comrade, who was captured by priests during the witch trials and cast into the sea in an iron maiden and has been continually drowning ever since, as the mercenaries have not been able to pinpoint the location of the iron maiden. Nile learns that neither she or the rest of the team is truly immortal and one day their ability to heal will stop without warning.

Merrick’s forces are able to track the mercenaries down and in the melee Joe and Nicky are captured and a heavily wounded Booker is left behind as bait for Andy, who has taken damage during the assault and discovers her body is no longer healing in the process. After a bit of computer hacking, Booker locates Copley, and he, Andy and Nile mount a rescue attempt.

And because I don’t like spoiling films (not much, anyway) that’s all I’m telling you. You wanna know how it ends? You know what to do. It’s available on Netflix for you to stream to your heart’s content.

So, would I recommend The Old Guard? Sure. Just go in knowing that this is based on a comic book series written by Greg Rucka and the plot feels comic booky in nature, which is a weird thing for me to say because this film is in my wheelhouse and I should like it better than I do. I suppose my biggest problem is that I have no connection to any of the characters. Oh, I’m told how wonderful the characters are but I’m not shown anything beneath that expositional surface. The story is laid out so matter of factly, interested in hitting story beats rather than providing texture, that it feels more like the pilot of a tv series than a fleshed-out movie. Items are introduced to set up a sequel or possibly a franchise and I know that’s a thing now, with everyone jumping on the How-To-Franchise-Like-Marvel bandwagon, but it shouldn’t be overtly shoved into a film in place of proper character and story development.

If I had my druthers, I would have liked to see Nile, our every-person, resist a little more. Resist coming to terms with what she’s become, resist the mercenaries and their cause, and resist the wholesale slaughter that comes part and parcel with joining the old guard (which she does a little but it’s not enough in my opinion). Having said all that, it ain’t a terrible movie (don’t go by me and my tastes, what the hell do I know?) and if you’re already subscribed to Netflix, you’re not going to be out of any extra money, and Charlize Theron knows how to throw down in a fight and there’s enough action to satisfy your deep-seated need to see bad guys catch a bullet.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: Relic

In Relic, directed by Natalie Erika James and written by James and Christian White, Kay (Emily Mortimer) receives a call from the police that her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing which prompts Kay and her grown daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to travel to their remote family home to investigate.

When they arrive, they find the house is full of clutter and mold and certain sections appear to be deteriorating and Post-It Notes are tacked up in every room with reminders like “set the alarm” and others with warnings like “do not follow it.” Kay remarks that Edna is sometimes forgetful but it’s clear the elderly woman is suffering from dementia.

As is the norm with horror films, there are creepy, unexplainable noises everywhere inside the house, a room (in this case, a walk-in closet) with a lock that spells trouble for anyone who enters inside, and one of the characters, Kay, is plagued by spooky dreams. I don’t mean to diminish this film by any means but some of the tropes simply weren’t handled very well, such as, Kay and Sam hear a noise coming from inside a wall in the living room, a loud thud in response to Kay’s knock and something massive is moving up inside the wall seemingly following a large path of mold. So, what do they do? Why they ignore it, of course. Move along, audience, nothing to see here. Now, let’s inspect Kay’s dream:

Kay is following a shadowy figure through the foggy woods and is led to a rundown cabin (wouldn’t be a respectable horror film without a cabin in the woods) and the interior is covered head to toe in mold. A naked, old, decrepit man is sitting on a bed and there are a series of jump cuts of decaying animals with the sound of buzzing flies and falls off the bed and there’s a jump cut to a decayed corpse who opens his pitch-black eyes just as Kay wakes up.

In the morning, Kay is drawn to the kitchen by the whistle of a tea kettle and finds Edna making a cuppa. The family doctor makes a house visit and despite the large black and purple bruise on Edna’s chest, that she can’t explain, the old woman seems to be in good physical health and has her mental faculties about, though she won’t say where she’s been. The doctor recommends that Kay and Sam stay with Edna to monitor her condition. Kay sensibly decides to look for a nursing home for her mother despite Sam’s protestations.

While cleaning the house, Sam finds a sketchbook from her granddad, and in it is a picture of the cabin from Kay’s dream. It turns out the cabin was the first house on the property, occupied by Kay’s great grandfather who died abandoned by his family. The cabin was torn down but the windows were rescued and reused for the house they’re currently staying in.

Edna’s dementia is getting worse. She’s talking to people who aren’t there, remarking about how unfamiliar the house seems, cutting her hand with a knife, throwing violent tantrums, eating photographs, and burying photo albums in the woods to keep those memories safe.

Sam, in the meanwhile, returns to that creepy walk-in closet and discovers it’s deeper than it appears. Past a pile of items in the back is an entire labyrinth of crawl spaces within but when she tries to turn back, she finds herself lost.

And that’s when things really get crazy. And nope, I’m not gonna tell ya what happens next. I’ve said too much already. If you really want to know, go watch the film for yourself.

So, would I recommend Relic? I suppose I would, though, fair warning, if you’re looking for jump-out-of-your-seat scares or cover-your-eyes-and-peek-through-your-fingers gore, you’re barking up the wrong film. Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut is a well-paced slow burn that successfully creates a unsettling atmosphere with superb acting, but if I had my druthers, I would have liked to see the story played straight without the gimmicky tropes that served no actual purpose other than to make it feel like a “horror” film and having Kay and Sam react to the bizarre and unexplainable occurrences happening before their eyes in a more honest and realistic fashion would have sold me even further. Cutting away from terrifying moments without the characters doing a proper investigation just to move the plot along (it happens twice) took me out of the film. Having said that, you could do a lot worse with 90 minutes of your life.

Ciao til next now.

If You Can’t Blind Them With Brilliance…

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Fair warning: Thar be mild spoilers ahead, so if you plan on seeing Star Trek Into Darkness and wish to go in fresh, turn back now.

Let me begin by saying I didn’t have high expectations for this film, so I wasn’t disappointed at how much I really didn’t like it. Wasn’t a fan of the first film either. Truth to tell, I’m not big on reboots or reimaginings in general. And that’s all this is. A poor reboot of the far superior film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Don’t mistake my meaning, this isn’t a bash on J.J. Abrams. The man does what he’s paid to do. He puts asses in seats, like a professional carnival huckster. He’s under no obligation to provide a solid, well thought out plot or three-dimensional characters. It’s all about bang for the buck, which this movie has in spades. It meets its quota of fisticuffs, phaser fights, explosions, space battles, and winks and nods to the original series to appease actual fans of the franchise. Abrams certainly knows his way around a popcorn movie, living by the old adage, “If you can’t blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

But instead of dissecting Into Darkness (enough fan sites are doing that already), I’d rather talk about what made Wrath of Khan work. It’s one of two films that I can think of off the top of my head that has a near perfect set up. The other is the first Back To The Future film.

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Wrath of Khan begins with the Star Fleet Academy final exam, The Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario simulation designed to test the character of cadets before unleashing them into the harsh realities of interplanetary relations. Kirk is now an admiral relegated to training cadets after giving up his starship command. It’s his birthday, so he’s feeling old. His life lacks adventure, so he feels put out to pasture. He has no family, so he feels alone in the universe. The man is miserable, making him the perfect character in desperate need of an arc.

Come to find out Kirk is the only cadet to beat The Kobayashi Maru, but he did it by rigging the test. He cheated because he doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. And that’s what the entire film is, Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru. An adversary emerges from his past, hellbent on revenge for being stranded on a planet that turns hostile. He’s reunited with an old flame and discovers he has a son. And he’s pitted in a battle of wits against a far superior opponent. Even in his most desperate hour, Kirk is enjoying this. It’s what he was born to do. The only thing he’s ever been good at.

And finally, he’s forced to face The Kobayashi Maru consequences. He’s encountered his no-win scenario. He’s at the end of his tether, with no more cards left to play. He’s not only put himself in the line of fire but his crew and new found family as well. They’re dead. Or they would have been, had Spock not sacrificed himself, quoting the Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities (a present he gives to Kirk on his birthday), “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few“.

Kirk finally faces devastating loss, the death of his closest friend, but as he mourns, he witnesses the creation of a world, has reconnected with a family he never knew he had and is once again in command of a starship. At the beginning of the film, he was feeling old, but as the film wraps, he stares at the Genesis Planet and tells Carol Marcus that he “Feels young.”

That’s a proper character arc.

And you won’t find any of that in Into Darkness. It’s a poor photocopy that lacks the richness of history, the depth of character, or a plot that can bear the weight of scrutiny.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys