Pig and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Michael Sarnoski
There are so many movies from 2021 that I’m disappointed I didn’t get around to with this being one of the more glaring omissions. Nicolas Cage has been my favorite actor for quite a long time, but the last few years have really seen a resurgence for the guy as he’s dominated the mid-range and indie scene with a series of really interesting and creative movies. Not all of them have worked of course (Willy’s Wonderland felt like a novelty taken too far) but they always find a way to be interesting, and the idea of Nicolas Cage going after the people who stole his pig is the kind of premise you just can’t pass up on! Will Nicolas Cage strike gold once again with a quest to find his very cute pig, or is this yet another mess that even Cage’s unbeatable charisma and acting chops can’t salvage? Let’s find out!!
A man named Rob (Nicolas Cage) lives alone in a small cabin in a forest in Oregon. He has no electricity, no phone, and interacts with as few people as possible; just the way he wants it. His only is his pig who provides a modicum of companionship and also sniffs out truffles which Cage trades for basic supplies via a bratty rich kid named Amir (Alex Wolff) who doesn’t understand this mountain man’s ways but is more than happy to take those truffles off his hands. Everything seems to be going fine for Rob until his house is invaded and he’s bashed over the head while they steal his pig away. With the last thing he cares about in this world taken from him, Rob has to return to society (specifically Portland) with the help of Amir to track down the people who took it. Throughout this journey, Amir learns more about this strange man in the woods and the life he ran away from all those years ago, and perhaps there’s more to this pig theft than simply finding truffles. Will Rob and Amir track down the pig-nappers before the trail goes cold? What is waiting for Rob in Portland once he gets back there, and will he have to confront his past before he can hope to see his little buddy again? If you had a pig that adorable, wouldn’t you go to the ends of the Earth to get it back?
Well it’s certainly been a while since I had to do one of these! The ramp-up of the Omicron virus, the busy schedule of the Holiday season, and the fact that I lost power for almost a week right at the start of January meant that I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to before the year was up and I felt that my viewing history was a bit wanting. Without at least trying to catch up on some of the big movies of the year, is it even worth putting together a top ten list or try to give some sort of critical evaluation of that year in movies? Well… yes, I mean I always fall short of my movie-watching goal at the end of each year, but 2021 felt especially undermined by everything that happened, so we’ll be doing a few of these catch-ups to try and fill in some of those gaps! Let’s get started!!
Spencer and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Pablo Larrain
The Royal Family gathers together for Christmas, but Diana (Kristen Stewart) has been struggling in recent years to keep up a brave face in the presence of her extended family; especially since the rules and traditions of the Royal Family are not the easiest thing to adhere to, even for someone in the best of mental health. Her husband Charles (Jack Farthing) is fed up with her change in behavior, and while her sons (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry) are much more sympathetic, even they have trouble reconciling this rift between their mother and the rest of the family. Will Diana be able to continue on like this, or will this be the Christmas that changes everything?
Every once in a while I’ll see a movie that I should like a lot more than I actually do. I can see how they approach interesting themes with a great deal of substance and depth, I can tell that the cinematography is very well done while also reinforcing the themes, and I can appreciate the acting as well as the dialogue in the script. Yet even with all these elements working together, I’m left rather nonplussed; engaging with it on an intellectual level but just not feeling enough passion or excitement to walk away satisfied. To elaborate on the film’s strengths, we have an excellent performance from Kristin Stewart who has to carry this movie on her shoulders, the overwhelming weight of the literal crown on her head is palpable in the way that she carries herself and how she reacts to situations around her. The idea of feeling sorry for someone who is literally royalty is not exactly an easy feat, especially with wealth inequality and unrepresentative government indifference being such hot button issues these days, but it makes several smart choices with its narrative and style that it keeps those real-world implications from getting in the way of this one character’s story. It’s uncomfortable and deeply saddening at points with the machinery of the Monarchy proving impenetrable (no one thing can be blamed for each and every stuffy decision and all the soulless pieces of it perfectly fit to reinforce each other), but it also finds catharsis in Diana’s struggle for freedom and peace and never gets so dark as to be an unbearable tour of misery. Still, despite all these strong elements to the movie, I still felt detached from it all; so what about it is keeping me at bay? Well, I think the answer is in what I just said, which is a feeling of detachment. I don’t know the first thing about Princess Diana other than she died at some point while I was still in kindergarten, and the movie is in no particular hurry to provide answers to that question. To the script’s credit, they do provide enough context and details for this particular character to work (meaning they could easily have swapped her out for a fictional character in a made-up kingdom) but the script turns out to be a doubled-edged sword as it does a lot more telling than it does showing. We understand Diana’s ennui and how she is reacting to everything around her, but I still felt like I was observing her from afar instead of getting inside of her head. This may also just be a flaw on my part, being rather unintuitive or perhaps a bit callous, but the lack of context also left me unclear as to what actual consequences there would be if she just stopped playing along, and the big dramatic ending of the movie kind of loses something when you realize that Diana isn’t actually risking or giving up anything to get to where she needs to go. Sure, there’s the shame and disdain of her royal family that burrows deep into her psyche and are perhaps just as effective chains around her as the threat of genuine consequences would be, but it definitely feels like a critical piece of the puzzle is missing here. On top of that, the movie is very sparse with long shots of mundane action and a very straightforward score. None of it is bad per se, but there’s not a lot to perk your interest as far as spectacle; not in the sense of explosions or CG monsters, but I doubt it would have been too out of place for some dynamic camerawork or even some creative editing. This means the movie relies almost entirely on its script and performances which, once again are very good, but to me, a movie about someone’s psychological issues should use all the tools at the filmmaker’s disposal and it never seems to want to go past a certain level of offbeat imagination. I’m still gonna give this a recommendation if for no other reason than Stewart’s deeply heartbreaking performance, but it hews a bit too close to the cliché of the stuffy –drawing-room film than I would have expected from the studio that gave us I, Tonya. Perhaps expecting that level of creative verve would have been inappropriate for a movie whose themes are about the stifling conformity of the aristocracy (especially one that’s ostensibly based on real people), but a few more flourishes here and there wouldn’t have hurt!
Parasite and all the images you see in this review are owned by CJ Entertainment and Neon
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
The first movie I ever saw on Netflix streaming was Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook who is one of the filmmakers in the South Korean New Wave of cinema; along with the director of this film who’s made The Host and Snowpiercer; neither of which I’ve seen which is why I referenced an incidental fact about a tangentially related movie a moment ago. As much as I’ve liked the films of Park Chan-wook like Oldboy and The Handmaiden, I haven’t really explored the rest of this movement in South Korean cinema as much as I should as I’ve seen MAYBE ten minutes of I Saw The Devil and twenty of The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. That all changes today however as I’m here to see a movie that has gotten a bajillion awards and even breaking through at the US box office! Is this the movie as good as everyone says it is, or will I end up being a Grumpy Gus yet again telling you that everyone else is wrong and you should always listen to me? Well, I mean… you should listen to me ANYWAY, but let’s find out!!
The Kim family, consisting of son Ki-woo, daughter Ki-jeong, mother Chung-sook, and father Ki-taek (Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Jang Hye-jin, and Song Kang-ho) are a family living in South Korea that are so lower class that they literally live below everyone else in a basement apartment. They can barely afford food on a daily basis, they have to steal wi-fi from the people upstairs, and pretty much all the life has been sucked out of them. And yet the family being rather smart and talented for the most part (I’m not sure what the dad brings to the table) which makes you wonder if that whole “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing is total nonsense perpetuated by those who were already handed everything in life! Well things might just be turning around for them as Ki-woo’s friend Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon) drops a huge opportunity on his lap with an English tutoring gig for the daughter of a very wealthy family nearby and all he has to do (despite being very good at English already) is pretend that he actually went to university and make up some backstory that sounds impressive. Fortunately the wealthy Park family is somewhat gullible as the mother Park Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) buys Ki-woo’s ploy so easily that he thinks it might be worth getting everyone else in on the scheme as well. While he’s teaching Park Da-hey (Jung Ji-so) English, his sister will teach the son Park Da-song (Jung Hyun-joon) art therapy, their mother will be the housekeeper after they find a way to oust the current one Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun) and the father will become the chauffeur for the father Park Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun)
The Beach Bum and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Harmony Korine
Did you know that I once asked John Waters a question at one of his shows? Yeah, unlike people who actually do this for a living, I don’t have any celebrity stories to speak of, but I saw him at a show once and he picked me during the Q and A. Anyway, my question was whether I thought his work had been a major influence on modern filmmakers and if anyone in particular came to mind. He said that he doesn’t really see himself DIRECTLY influencing people, but that he did break down barriers for others who would come later… and he also said that Todd Solondz as Harmony Korine have PROBABLY seen his films. I don’t know if that means much in relationship to the latter’s most recent film, but I figured this is probably the best chance I had to tell that story, so there it is! As far as Mr. Korine himself, I’ve only ever seen Spring Breakers which I actually liked quite a lot, though I haven’t seen it in years and I get the feeling that it’s more uncomfortable moments don’t hold up all that well, but that’s why directors solider on and film NEW movies such as this one here! Is The Beach Bum another success for this unique voice in Hollywood, or has his worst tendencies come to the forefront even more so than usual? Let’s find out!!
Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) is just some dude who spends his time in the Florida Keys bumming drinks off of people, sleeping on the beach, and finding joy in life wherever he can find it. Oh, and he’s also a famous writer, super rich, and has a loving family who he can go back to any time he needs to dry out from his latest binge. His wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) adores his free spirited attitude towards life, love, and the law, but that last one kind of gets them in trouble as the two end up drinking and driving on the night of their daughter’s wedding (Stefania LaVie Owens) and Minnie ends up dying in the crash. In her will, she tells Moondog that he won’t inherit her vast fortune until he finishes his latest novel which he’s been procrastinating on for some time, so he decides to do just that. Of course he’ll be getting drunk, having sex, and… well doing what he’s always been doing as well, but he’ll find time to write a few lines here and there! With adventure, drugs, friends including his buddy Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), is there anything that can keep Moondog down? Will he eventually finish his book before he runs out of whatever money he has left as well as the goodwill of the people he’s met throughout his wild and bombastic life? You know how some movies are clearly made so the filmmakers can take a vacation? Why do I get the feeling that was the case here but less luxury hotels and more drinking tequila under a bridge and calling it “research”?
Assassination Nation and all the images you see in this review are owned by NEON
Directed by Sam Levinson
Wow, people are really liking this, aren’t they? Unlike Mandy or The Predators, I actually did catch a trailer for this at some point so I knew it was something like The Purge but also about divulging personal information, so basically that episode of The Simpsons where the kids reveal all their parents secrets, only with a MUCH darker ending. Still, The Purge films are a pretty high bar to reach even if NEON has a pretty solid track record with their movies. Can this latest effort from a much smaller studio hope to compete with the franchise that got to the party way earlier and with a much bigger studio behind it? Let’s find out!!
Lilly, Sarah, Bex, and Em (Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Abra) are four teenage girls in the town of Salem; living out there days being the baddest crew in school who appreciate the little things in life; such as gossip, boys, and tearing down the patriarchy! One day a hacker starts leaking personal information of Salem’s citizens; starting with the corrupt mayor, but then moving on to the kind principal and then eventually everyone else. The secrets being revealed are causing some… stress you could say with some people opting to wear masks, others starting violent militias, and everyone just going all in on showing the worst sides of themselves. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, all of the above and more, just starts running rampant once the façade has been stripped away by the leaked data. One of the more prominent victims turns out to be Lilly who has her own secrets she was trying to hide and makes her a pariah to basically everyone except her friends who are standing with her, at least for now. What more could be revealed that could make the situation even worse than it is? Just how far will these people go to inflict pain on others for dubiously justifiable reasons as well as to cover up what secrets they may have themselves? Is it just me, or do things seem REALLY tense lately!?
Upgrade and all the images you see in this review are owned by OTL Releasing and BH Tilt
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Well if it isn’t my good friend Blumhouse Tilt! How’ve you been, buddy!? Sure, you’ve released two of the WORSTmovies I’ve seen in the past few years, but let’s let bygones be bygones; especially now that you’re teaming up with Neon who’ve made one of the BEST movies I’ve seen in the past few years! Your newest movie is certainly getting a lot of buzz recently with great word of mouth and a kick ass trailer, so maybe there’s some hope for you yet, as long as you don’t work with Eli Roth ever again! Can Blumhouse’s latest film turn out to be an under the radar smash hit from a studio that’s VERY hit and miss? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the sad tale of Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) who’s living his average Cyberpunk protagonist life in a slightly cyberpunk future with his soon to be a cliché wife Asha (Melanie Vellejo) and everything is going about as well as you could expect for the first ten minutes of one of these movies! Grey fixes up old cars for rich people, Asha works at a cyber prosthetic company, and they couldn’t be happier if they tried! That is until their automatic car goes haywire, drops them off on the wrong side of the tracks, and they’re immediately assaulted by a few punks who kill her off (wow, what a surprise…) and leave poor Grey for dead! He somehow manages to survive however, though not without losing the use of his arms and legs, and he’s ready to give up on life when one of his wealthy customers Eron (Harrison Gilbertson) offers him a chance to test a medical miracle called STEM which is basically a small computer they insert into the spine that still hasn’t gone through OFFICIAL testing, but will surely give him back the use of his limbs along with a few other bells and whistles. After some initial hesitance (Grey isn’t one for all this new-fangled technology stuff), he agrees to do it and sure enough starts walking again almost immediately. Slight side effect though, there’s an AI inside the chip starts talking to him and STEM (Simon Maiden) seems more than eager to help Grey find the men who killed his wife and bring them to some sort of justice. Well Grey is certainly up for that, especially since the cop on the case (Betty Gabriel) hasn’t turned up many leads, but they have to be careful because not only does Grey need to keep the rest of the world from knowing he can walk again (he even signs a NDA about the procedure), he also has to keep his activities hidden from Eron who’s more than likely following his every move and wouldn’t be too pleased if his next step in medical science was used to rip people’s hearts out. Will Grey and STEM find the people who killed his wife and get him that sweet sweet vengeance he so desperately craves? What other side effects besides hearing voices and kicking extra amounts of ass will Grey have to deal with now that he’s got STEM sharing brain space with him? I mean, it’s not THAT bad, right? Who WOULDN’T want your operation system constantly reminding you to install critical updates right into your auditory cortex!?
I, Tonya and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Craig Gillespie
We can’t have an Oscar Season without at least ONE off the wall biopic, right!? Sure, you’ve got the more straightforward historical dramas like The Post and Darkest Hour, but despite Scorsese striking out with The Wolf of Wall Street at The Oscars, it still made a huge impact and many have tried to recreate its success since then. Not only that, but the fact we’re starting to look back at the nineties in a historical context with at least two recent OJ Simpson projects getting a huge amount of critical praise, it’s no wonder that right after him we get to the other big crime story of that decade; the assault on Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding’s possible involvement with it. Does this reexamination of one of the biggest names in nineties pop culture end up being a phenomenal look at her life and the decade around it, or is this a cynical cash grab trying to get a jump start on Gen X and Millennial nostalgia? Let’s find out!!
Back in the early nineties, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was one of the most prominent names in Women’s Figure Skating; having come from a very poor background and taking a lot of her social upbringing into her performances. Despite Figure Skating being a sport that prizes tradition and perfection in its (none of that uncouth “rock and roll” music!), they could not ignore Harding who was a natural on the ice and the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel (a feat accomplished by Midori Ito and Mao Asada from Japan a few years earlier). Still, it wasn’t an easy road as she had to deal with her abusive mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) and her just as abusive husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan); both of whom seemed hell bent on making her life miserable despite swearing they were only looking out for her best interests. Things get complicated though when Tonya’s anxiety and even paranoia start to get to her as the weight of her modest celebrity as well as the skills of other skaters made her quite distressed. From here, we start to get speculative about what happened, but the general idea is that one of Jeff’s friends Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) has a friend of his attack one of Tonya’s rivals Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) and the big mystery surrounding it is just how much did Tonya know about what was happening. Did she orchestrate the attack herself? Was she aware that it was going to happen but said nothing to stop it? The movie addresses these questions and more as this dramatized retelling of her story gives us not only a look at the facts as we know them of the case, but the media circus that built up around it and the… interesting characters that were involved. Oh, and there are a few skate numbers as well!
Ingrid Goes West and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Matt Spicer
Everyone likes Aubrey Plaza, right? I mean sure, she played Grumpy Cat that one time… and she was in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates… but even those can’t take away from her amazing work in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Parks and Recreation, even stuff like Legion which I haven’t seen yet but have heard good things about. Though, she doesn’t have to push it with stuff like Dirty Grandpa. Anyway, this film seems to be quite a departure for her, at least as far as the stuff I’ve seen, and seems reminiscent of stuff like The Cable Guy or One Hour Photo where you take a famous comedian and have them go SO far against type that it’s practically the key selling point of the movie. It’s not ALWAYS a winning formula, but it can at least make for an interesting movie which this certainly looks to be at the very least! Does Aubrey Plaza have what it takes to branch out of her comfort zone and blow us all away in a completely different genre, or are we stuck watching the same old shtick over and over again to diminishing results? Let’s find out!!
Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) has had it rough as of late. Not only did her mother just die, but her best friend had a wedding and didn’t even bother to invite her! Okay, TECHNICALLY they were FACEBOOK friends and her way of handling the situation wasn’t the BEST show judgement (mace is usually not the best tool when trying to express your disappointment in someone), but hey! She got some help at a nearby hospital and she even got a decent amount of money from her mother’s insurance policy! This is the perfect chance for her to start fresh and find someone NEW to stalk! But the million dollar question is… who!? Well, she finds out about a photographer named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) while reading a magazine and follows her on Instagram; immediately falling in love with the life that Taylor leads and decides that she wants a piece of that. She ends up going to California (oh NOW I get it!) and rents a pool house from some dude name Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr) who’s writing an unsolicited spec script for the new Batman movie, and proceeds to find a way to ingratiate herself into Taylor’s life. She manages to do so (I won’t spoil how here!) and soon becomes close friends with both Taylor and her husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell), but how long can this charade go on before the two find out just how obsessive Ingrid is or are on the receiving end of her wrath? Well Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) might just have something to do with it who seems to be able to see through Ingrid’s bullshit. Probably because he’s manipulative and evil in just the same ways that she is; or perhaps even worse! Will Ingrid find the connection with people she’s so desperately seeking, or will she find a way to ruin everything once her façade starts to crack? Will Dan realize that Ingrid is up to no good before he gets sucked into her world of lies and impulsive violence? Is it just me, or is this an unnecessarily dark turn to take a Parks and Recreation spin-off!?
The Bad Batch and all the images you see in this review are owned by Neon
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
So has anyone else heard of this? I certainly hadn’t heard of it until I was looking up movies to watch during a trip I was taking, and once I saw the cast I was IMMEDIATELY excited to see just what the hell it is! We’ve got two actors who are quite possibly in the prime of their careers (Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves) and they even managed to fish Jim Carrey out of obscurity who’s been one of my favorite actors since I was a kid; personal stuff and recent filmography notwithstanding. How the hell did this movie manage to fly under the radar!? Is it one of those weird obscurities that’ll be a treasured masterpiece to its target audience, or is this movie unsalvageable even with its all-star cast which is why it was dumped as a limited release? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with a woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) being dropped off in some desert wasteland which appears to be the dumping ground for “societal undesirables” that this dystopian future government has set up in Texas. I don’t know why they don’t just shoot them in the head instead of letting them wander the desert with no water, food, or supplies, but whatever. The point is that she’s in a harsh and lawless world filled with other terrible people that want to hunt and eat everyone they come across. That’s right, we’re dealing with cannibals in this movie that honestly probably don’t NEED to be eating people (there are scenes that confirm editable plant life exists out here) but just like the extra protein I guess. The bad news is that she gets caught rather early and loses an arm and a leg (literally), but the good news is that she escapes and manages to make it to a cannibal free sanctuary city known as Comfort ran by what is essentially a cult leader named The Dream (Keanu Reeves). A bit on the nose, but I guess when you don’t have TV to watch, you basically have to add theatrics to your own life just to keep things interesting. Anyway, from there we’re basically following Arlen who’s trying to find her place in this harsh and merciless world as well as meet a colorful cast of wasteland wanders who have their own shit to deal with, such as another cannibal known as The Miami Man (Jason Momoa), a wandering hermit who’s pretty much a True Neutral in all this (Jim Carrey), and even a little girl (Jayda Fink) who winds up with Arlen after a… particularly grim confrontation. Will Arlen lose her soul in a world that never rewards those who are Good Samaritans? Just what does The Dream have planned for the people of Comfort, and is it any less awful than what The Miami Man does? Is this what a Mad Max movie would be like without the cars, interesting characters, fast pace, and exceptional cinematography!?