Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Game Shows

This week's TV theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is one that will probably never get old - Game Shows. Will there ever be a time without them? I doubt it. Here are three that are special to me.

1) Jeopardy

I still watch this almost every day. I really got into it again recently when James Holzhauer was tearing it up. It comes on while I'm making dinner every night and it's a fun show to guess along with. 

2) Legends of the Hidden Temple

This was one I watched with my dad quite a bit when it was on Nickelodeon. I suppose it's more of a competition show, but they did have to answer trivia questions as part of it. I always dreamed of going on this show as a kid. It looks so fun.

3) Wheel of Fortune

Apparently when I was toddler if my family had the TV on too loud while I was sleeping and Wheel of Fortune's theme song came on, I would immediately wake up and whine until they let me come out of bed to watch it. I have no memory of this at all, but there's your fun Brittani fact for the day. 

Review: System Crasher

There's nowhere else.

Benni (Helena Zengel) is a nine year old girl in Germany with severe anger issues. She's referred to at one point by the hospital staff as a "system crasher." She can't keep it together, so she can't live with her overwhelmed and rather aloof mother. (Lisa Hagmeister) Her social worker, Mrs. Bafané (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) struggles to find somewhere to place her because she's too young for a closed facility and over 30 group homes have denied her. Her new school escort, Micha (Albrecht Schuch) attempts to get through to her in his own ways.

This was Germany's submission to the Oscars last year and has been on my radar ever since. Even though it didn't nab an Oscar nomination, its now landed on U.S Netflix. 

Helena Zengel gives a very convincing performance. Many child actors would probably take the opportunity to just scream bloody murder - which she has to do a lot here - and run with it but Zengel really captures what it's like to be a kid who can't control her temper. You can see it in her eyes, she's just extraordinary. Schuch is another stand out. Micha dealt with anger issues himself, so he offers a different perspective for Benni.

I will say, this film can be very hard to watch, because no one wants to see a child fail over and over like this. You naturally want her to get the help she so desperately needs. It's definitely worth your time.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "I'm having rescue fantasies. " - Micha (Albreht Schuch)

Review: Bad Education

Who's the real sociopath here?

Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is a popular superintendent at a high school in Long Island, New York. He helped get them "all the way up to #4" as he states at one point. He finds himself in an awkward position when his friend a colleague Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) is caught embezzling thousands of tax payer dollars from the school after an eager junior, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) starts writing a story for the school paper on a new construction project. Frank isn't exactly innocent in all of this either..

The reviews for this film at festivals were strong, and I was excited when HBO picked it up because I knew I'd for sure be able to watch it as soon as it came out. It didn't disappoint. Jackman gives easily one of his best performances in this, along with Janney who is wonderful in this role. I imagine this is going to rack up a ton of Emmy nominations.

I wasn't familiar with the real case this was based on and I didn't look into it prior to watching the film either, so I was fascinated as we get deeper into the hole that Frank and Pam dug themselves in. It's a very dark comedy and I'll probably never be able to hear the word "accelerated" without laughing in the future. I almost felt like the film could've been longer, I was expecting more scenes of Rachel investigating and there's really not a lot of that at all. I was expecting her to feature more heavily, though I did have a hard time buying Geraldine Viswanathan as a sixteen year old so maybe it was for the better there wasn't more. She's very good, don't get me wrong, but that's just something that sticks out to me more the older I get. 

If you have an HBO subscription, definitely give this film your time.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "Don't worry, Frank will fix this." - Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) 


Indie Gems: Been So Long

Time to put yourself out there.

Simone (Michaela Cole) is a single mother living in Camden whose party girl best friend, Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo) forces her to go out and have fun for once. She meets Raymond (Arinzé Kene) who is fresh out of prison and wearing an ankle monitoring device. Sparks fly, but Simone isn't sure if this is right for her. Throw in a bar tender with a crush, (Luke Norris) a strange homeless man with a vendetta against Raymond, (George McKay) and Simone's former addict ex (Joe Dempsie) and some music, and we have our story.

Admittedly, the plot isn't anything new. How many romantic comedies start this way? Probably all of them, but the way we see Been So Long is what makes it stand apart. I can't think of many films that show London drenched in neon or have songs where someone sings that they're going to go out, then sit on someone's face. It's not all vulgar but when it wants to be it sprinkles it in perfectly.

Cole and Kene have amazing chemistry together. Cole in particular is an actress I really enjoy and I love seeing her do so many different roles. Everyone in the cast also has lovely singing voices. I will say that the songs don't always seem fully formed. They're quite short compared to other movie musicals but the actors perform them very well. The most peculiar thing about this film is its subplots. There are many aside from Simone and Yvonne, and they're nearly all a bit whacky..but the end up working in their own strange way.

I had no idea Joe Dempsie was in this movie (or that he could sing) so his few moments were nice. McKay's character doesn't have a backstory and when he's first introduced, I assumed he was supposed to be a tweaker but as the film went on that probably wasn't the case. His plot is completely bizarre but the way it culminates was very satisfying and kind of sweet. The friendship between Simone and Yvonne was another high point and I loved how the actresses play off each other.

Now if the reviews on letterboxd are anything to go by (and they seem to be all from George McKay stans) I had a very different reaction to this film than most but I thought it was delightful and I'm never going to say no to a modern musical.

Grade: B+

Watched on: Netflix Instant

Memorable Quote: "Jury's still out on that.." - Mandy (Mya Lewis)

Thursday Movie Picks: Verbal Altercations

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is for all those times when a regular conversation just doesn't cut it. Sometimes we just need to shout and yell and say stupid things and freak people out to get our points across. We're talking about verbal altercations. There's no shortage of these, so I picked three very powerful fights and one bonus fight that always makes me laugh.

1) The Godfather Part II

Michael and Kay's fight at the end of this film is the final nail in Michael's "family man" coffin so to speak. He can become Vito on the business end, but he can't keep his family together. Pacino looked like he was about to explode during this scene.

2) Take Shelter

"There's a storm coming and none of you are prepared!" This is what Michael Shannon's Curtis chooses to yell at a club full of people after he's had just about enough of everyone assuming he's crazy for thinking a massive storm is coming. This should've been Shannon's Oscar clip, but it went completely unnoticed by the Academy.

3) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This movie is essentially one long fight but as the altercations keep getting worse, the film gets better. The actors are just tremendous in this. 


BONUS: Step Brothers

There's a scene where Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) are yelling at each other on opposite ends of a staircase and Brennan calls Richard a "geriatric fuck" and I lose it every time. I don't know why that particular insult is so funny to me but I love it. 

Review: Disappearance at Clifton Hill

What do you remember?

Abby (Tuppence Middleton) has returned to her home town following her mother's death to settle her estate. She's plagued by a memory of something she witnessed as a child while spending time at Clifton Hill with her family. She was seven years old, and wandered off only to run into another child with a bloody bandage over his eye, who was then thrown into a car by two adults. In some of her family photos from that day, her mother had captured said car. When she tries to tell her sister, Laure (Hannah Gross) and report it to the police, she's met with skepticism. We learn Abby is a pathological liar and her sister believes this is another tall tale until she starts coming up with more proof, including a run in with a conspiracy theorist podcaster played by David Cronenberg. (seriously) Abby becomes obsessed with cracking the case.

I love mysteries and after reading a few positive reviews around the blogosphere, I was sold on this. It's available to rent on demand for $6.99 which is ultimately worth the price tag. The tone of this film is perfect. It's gloomy and grey and matches the mystery surrounding it well. Abby at one points finds a VHS related to the case and the director chooses to incorporate that 80's video feel into certain scenes. I was genuinely guessing the entire time, which makes for a good mystery.

Middleton was wonderful as Abby. There's plenty of supporting characters about but none get the amount of time she does. She's the closest thing we have to a fleshed out character, but it does bring me to one of the film's weaknesses. We're told Abby lies constantly, but we're never really told why. There's a throwaway scene about her conning people but the film never takes the time to really dive into why she's like that and I think it would've been important. While the film spends time telling us she lies, it never frames her as unreliable when it comes to this particular memory. And because they don't explore her psyche it feels a bit disingenuous.

I'm curious to hear what those who watched it thought about the ending. Personally, I wasn't a fan. The first movie I thought of while writing this was Inception. Inception has an ending that makes you question the nature of what you just watched, but it also leaves it at a satisfying place. One you can say "Oh, well maybe..." but accept where you left off. This one introduces what could've easily been another 10-15 minutes of the movie and feels like it comes out of nowhere. It doesn't ruin the film that came before it by any means, and I wouldn't call it a "terrible" ending, I just think it was kind of cheap. Especially considering how the actor this moment is about played their character throughout the entire film. 

That aside, if you're into mysteries this little thriller definitely deserves your attention.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "What you're doing here is kind of dopey." - Mrs. Moulin (Marie-Josée Croze)

DVD Review: A Dark Place

Steel Country

In a small Pennsylvania town, a socially awkward (and likely on the autism spectrum) sanitation worker Donnie (Andrew Scott) becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of a missing boy that he recognizes from his route.

This might be one of the dumbest movies I've seen in a long time but man was it a wild ride. At one point I almost shrieked with laughter at the sheer audacity of a plot point this movie had. It was so bonkers that I'm forgiving Amazon Prime for bait and switching me once again into thinking I could watch something because of my Prime membership. (You can watch this film for free, but technically it's not from Amazon but IMDb TV so you have to watch it with ads)

The script is so beyond belief stupid. See Donnie might be strange, but he's a good person! He takes care of his elderly mother like every other strange single guy does in film because it's so original and how are we supposed to know they're GOOD people deep down if they don't take care of their mothers? He's also the father of an eleven year old daughter, which is what kick starts the whole mystery. She lives with her mom, who had a drunken one night stand with Donnie because let's face it, he still looks like Hot Priest even with his silly winter cap on in the middle of summer and she's of course a stereotypical bad mom who is called a "whore" by Donnie's friend, and co-worker Donna. (Bronagh Waugh) 

So tropes and cliches aside, everyone in this town seems to know there is something suspicious going on, even the police, yet no one wants to help and everyone seems more than eager to have Donnie of all people try to crack the case. He's given leads by people who lets face it, could have helped him at any time but chose not to. It leads to so many bizarre circumstances that Donnie should've either been at the very least arrested for, and at worst, possibly murdered. 

Andrew Scott is a wonderful actor and he's trying his best here. It's a different type of role for him but this movie is just atrocious. The script fails him (and all the other actors) on every level.

Recommended: No

Grade: D

Memorable Quote: "Donnie and Donna, it just doesn't sound right!" - Donnie (Andrew Scott)

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies with Numbers in the Title

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is films with numbers in the title. I made myself a rule not to use anything from a franchise. I've also already used a few films that had numbers in the title so here are a few more I enjoy that I haven't used yet. 

1) Cleo from 5 to 7

I came so late to the Agnes Varda party a few years ago but this is such a wonderful film. For a story about a woman waiting to find out if she has cancer it's quite light and lovely. It's one I'd love to rewatch again.

2) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

This was on a past Blind Spot list and yes, everything I had heard about Jack Nicholson's performance in this was true. It's a solid film all around.

3) 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

This Romanian film is about a woman who assists her friend with having an illegal abortion and it packs a powerful punch. There's one particular scene in this film that gets the most attention and is quite shocking but it shouldn't distract from how well made the rest of the film is. 

Review: Swallow

I feel in control.

Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a newly pregnant stay at home wife. Her husband, Richie (Austin Stowell) as his name suggests, is super rich and also very controlling along with his parents. (David Rasche and Elizabeth Marvel) As they consume her life, she begins to compulsively swallow random objects around the house in order to regain control. 

Frankly, Richie and his family are lucky that all Hunter felt compelled to do was swallow marbles and batteries and not meticulously plan their murders, chop them up into little pieces, then hide them in the walls. They are the worst. You are never for a second on anyone's side but Hunter's.

This film is hard to watch at times. It's almost body horror, watching Hunter swallow something like a thumb tack. But those moments are thankfully spaced out quite a bit, and the rest is filmed with easily the most gorgeous cinematography I've seen all year. The production design is also stunning. Everything is so neatly placed and aligned. Writer/Director  Carlo Mirabella-Davis doesn't leave a lot of this open ended. We get our answers for why Hunter starts doing this eventually.

Haley Bennett is wonderful in this role. She's so child like and innocent, yet you can see so much pain in her eyes. It's a brilliant performance.

Swallow is currently available to rent on VOD (in the U.S, at least) It's definitely worth the $6.99 rental price. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "I'd like to keep this private." - Hunter (Haley Bennett)

2020 Blind Spot Series: Re-Animator


What I knew going in: That it was essentially a body horror type film.

Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a strange new medical student who has found a way to reanimate dead people with his experiments. He ropes his new roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) in on this as well to disastrous results. 

Have you ever watched a film and felt okay about what your were watching? Maybe you like it, maybe it's not perfect, but not bad, then one thing happens. ONE thing that makes you do a complete 180 and immediately lose all hope? Well, that's what happened here.

I generally like campy 80's horror. It's not free of misogyny, a lot of them have a very exploitative view of women that some would call "dated" even though it was wrong back then too and no one gave a voice to those who objected, but Re-Animator is easily the grossest example of this that I've came across. And consider this spoiler territory a favor. 

Why the hell is there a rape scene in this movie? Why does the only female character, who is minding her own goddamn business until her cat is murdered suddenly get labeled a "bitch" then subjected to a horrific sexual assault that I'm sure some neckbeard thought was "wicked cool!" even though the camera is practically reveling in this assault? This was some sexist fuckery that I just do not have the time for. (and don't "But Evil Dead!" me. I know this isn't the first film to do this but today it's the one that's bothering me.)

Any goodwill I had for this movie, which had an interesting start to a story, campy acting, and amusing special effects was completely gone the moment they decided to show an assault for titillation. Sorry, cream of rapey bullshit is not the soup of the day here.

Recommended: No

Grade: F

Memorable Quote: "I gave him life." - Herbert West

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies About Animals

This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves is films about animals. I feel like this would be a good opportunity to once again bitch about how much I hate sad dog movies but I did that already. So this week, I'm focusing on films I like that have animals in the cast.

1) Zootopia

This is one of the best animated films to come out in recent years. I love that it teaches lessons on classism and prejudice that children can understand and adults can enjoy. 

2) How To Train Your Dragon 

Of course my favorite animated franchise had to make an appearance here. Sure, dragons aren't real, but it's an animal nonetheless.

3) Robin Hood

Yes, my favorite adaptation of Robin Hood is still the 1970's film where he is a fox.

DVD Review: Give Me Liberty

I depend on you.

Vic (Chris Galust) is an overworked medical driver in Milwaukee, WI who tries to balance his severely understaffed position and caring for his grandfather. After a van meant to take his grand dad and several Russian friends to a funeral, Vic, already running late is guilted into taking them in his transport van along with a con man Dima (Maxim Stoyanov) and a few of his regulars, including a social worker with ALS, Tracy (Lauren 'Lolo' Spencer) unfortunately have to tag along for the ride.

Every single person in this chaotic film is in need of the liberty mentioned in the title. The first 45 minutes or so are very hectic. It's meant to be comedic, and I did laugh a few times but I found it so stressful to watch. Vic spends the majority of this film getting screamed at to do this and that. The Russians he's driving around overwhelm the film when it's clear that Vic and Tracy should be getting the focus. But the audience is meant to feel stuck like they do so we endure. When the film finally does slow down, it makes a few bizarre editing choices that threw me out of it momentarily and then introduces even more characters to the mix when again, I'd rather just be spending time with Vic and Tracy.

It's been a minute since I've been this torn on a film. I really love the idea of it more than the execution. Galus and Spencer are wonderful. Spencer in particular is a youtuber who really does have ALS. The casting in this film is very inclusive by actually featuring actors with disabilities in the roles they are playing. Stoyanov is excellent too, even though I'm still a bit confused on why he was conning his way into this family in the first place. 

I loved the quieter moments and the overall story, I just didn't care for how everything came together. I'm not going to say "the director should've done x" because what do I know about directing movies, there was just something about it that didn't work for me.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "So glad the accordian got off this bus before me." - Tracy (Lauren "Lolo" Spencer)

Review: Onward

It's magical if you believe.

It's Ian's (Tom Holland) 16th birthday and he lives in a world where magic was once everywhere, then tapered out as newer and newer technology was made. His older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) is still a big believer in magic. Their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives the boys a present from their late father, it's a magical staff with a spell meant to bring him back for one day only to see how his sons have grown. Ian, not believing in himself fully messed up the spell and only brings back his legs. Now they must go on a quest to bring back the rest of him.

I'm not gonna lie, I had no interest in seeing Onward (mainly because I don't want to listen to Chris Pratt's voice) until I started reading reviews from my fellow bloggers saying the film surprised them. So when Pixar dropped this on Disney+ and my local theater started selling curbside popcorn, I figured it would make for a nice family movie night at home.

And everyone was right. Onward did surprise me. I liked it a lot better than I expected to. It certainly doesn't tie everything up in the way that you would think, and I appreciate that departure. I also legitimately laughed out loud several times which I can't say happens very often in animated films anymore.

There's plenty of little Easter eggs in there for fantasy fans and kids will like how wacky it is. It also has a nice message about siblings taking care of each other. This won't crack my Top 10 Pixar any time soon, but it's a nice addition for now. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "I needed that rope." - Ian (Tom Holland)

What I Watched on TV in March

If there's one thing social distancing has been good for, it's for catching up on a lot of TV. Here's what I watched last month, and I imagine April will be full of shows as well.

The Outsider

Talk about going out with a fizzle. I still really liked this season but I was not impressed with the finale at all. The way the entire finale was shot made all the sets look so cheap and it was confusing for no apparent reason. Why did Holly say "Who's Terry?" When did she get scratched? wtf is going on?

Mcmillions


I loved the last episode of this where they talked about who the informant was. This was really interesting. HBO has been killing it with documentaries lately.

Better Call Saul

I'm getting so frustrated with Kim's story so far. She's one of my favorite characters and seeing her make these horrible decisions with her job and bringing Jimmy into it when you know that shit is going to backfire is just hard to watch. Then when she finally tries to stop it, and Jimmy shows his true colors, she proposes marriage....what?!?!

Who Killed Garrett Phillips?

This was another documentary I found on HBO about a 12 year old boy who was murdered in his own home and how the police focused on his mother's ex boyfriend, Nicholas Hillary. Why him? Because he was guilty of being black in a mostly white area. This was interesting because it's still asking that question. Who did kill him? Not Hillary, who we watch get completely rail roaded but still continue to fight his way through. They do slightly hint at another man possibly being responsible, but they didn't elaborate on it much. I had to fall down a reddit rabbit hole for that.

The Boys

I finished this at the beginning of the month, but now towards the end I'm struggling a bit to even recall parts of it. It was fine, but it's not something I'm dying for the second season.

Westworld

After last season was so underwhelming the first few episodes (minus that awful D&D cameo) have been really promising! Many questions haven't been answered yet, but they have my attention.

The Plot Against America

We're only a few episodes in on this one as well and honestly, it's like watching the 2016 election all over again. Horrifying. Great cast and production design, but horrifying.

Insecure

I finally got around to watching this show after putting it off for ages and it's so funny. It absolutely stresses me out about dating though. Is that what it's really like now? I love all the ups and downs Issa and Molly have though. Easily becoming one of the most interesting female friendships on TV.

The Dark Side of the Ring

I've been an on-off wrestling fan my entire life, and I had forgotten that Vice had this series to begin with. To kick off their second season, they went back to arguably the darkest time in professional wrestling history with the Chris Benoit murder/suicide. I thought it was very well done, they had interviews with Chavo and Vickie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko, etc and they talked a lot about how Eddie Guerrero's death affected them. They even interviewed Benoit's son from a previous marriage (though they inexplicably pretend his daughter doesn't exist. Maybe that was her choice not to appear but it was so strange) I liked it enough to go back and try to find some of the earlier episodes from last season online. I watched the one about The Fabulous Moolah, who I've never been able to look at the same since hearing about those stories years ago. Hopefully I can find more.

Thursday Movie Picks: Seven Deadly Sins - Greed

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is another Seven Deadly Sins edition! This week we're talking about greed. There's plenty of that going on in film so here are a few of my favorites.

1) The Wolf of Wall Street

Can you get any greedier than Jordan does in this film? I'm not sure but this is one of Scorcese's best and is the film Leonardo DiCaprio should've won his Oscar for.

2) There Will Be Blood

Daniel Plainview is so greedy that he'll take all your land to drill oil on AND drink your milkshake too.

3) Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

This documentary follows one of the biggest corporate greed scandals of all time. Kevin recommended this to me long ago and I'm glad I watched it as it's one of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen.

Review: Lost Girls

They deserve answers

Based on a true story, we follow Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) whose daughter Shannon (Sarah Wisser) goes missing while working as a prostitute. On a coincidence, police uncover several bodies of other missing sex workers but refuse to take Shannon's case seriously even though she's checking many of the same boxes. Mari is forced to take things into her own hands and press for answers.

It's a sad reality we live in that people treat sex workers as less than. The cops in this movie (and in real life) are a special kind of inept at their job. They lose evidence, don't take anyone seriously, and refuse to search basic areas. It's frustrating, and if this were fiction, Mari would swoop in and single-handedly save the day.

But it isn't fiction. This really happened, Marie doesn't get her answers easily. In fact she doesn't even get all of them. The film doesn't make anything more straightforward for the benefit of entertainment. It very plainly tells it like it is. In regards to the real thing, the film does take some liberties. Mari technically had four daughters, her daughter Stevie is omitted and daughters Sherre (Thomasin Mackenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence) are aged down to teenagers. 

Amy Ryan has always been good at playing these "hard" type of characters. She's good here, but it's not a huge stretch from her other work. The standout for me was Thomasin Mackenzie, Sherre is the audience's eyes. She has insight to Shannon, she questions her mother and immediately grows found of the group of woman who lose their sisters, daughters, and friends. She also comforts Sarra, who is greatly affected by all of this.

Which brings me to the end of this movie. I suppose it's not a spoiler because this is a true story, but I did not know anything about Mari Gilbert before watching this and it's absolutely horrifying what happened to her after the events of this film. I'm honestly at a loss for words, it's not the first time I've had the text at the end of the movie surprise me, but never as much as this.

For a Netflix film, I think this is a solid watch. It didn't blow me away, but it didn't bore me either. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "I will not be silenced." - Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan)