Five Little Bits

It sat in my queueueue forever before I finally hit play, and it was an immediate win from the first five minutes.

Rather than sit down and do a big post on one movie and then never get around to it because there aren’t enough hours in the day, Five Little Bits is a roundup of five films I’ve recently watched, in no particular order, with no particular connection other than I’ve watched them and they are on Instant Watch. Also, in a rare deviation, I have included starred reviews for some quantifiable metric along with the gabbling. Enjoy!

Everything on that poster is true. It was AWESOME.
Everything on that poster is true. It was AWESOME.

Housebound – Housebound is one of my new favorites. It’s a smart, low-budget horror comedy from New Zealand that a friend recommended. Housebound is the story of Kylie, a young woman remanded to house arrest with her cheerful but estranged mother in the Middle of Nowhere, New Zealand. I loved this movie for lots of reasons: Morgana O’Reilly’s strong, unapologetic performance as a twenty-something teenage rebel; Amos the security guy who’s into paranormal research and who has clearly been WAITING for a chance to ghost-hunt his whole life; brilliant performances; the lived-in, cluttered and claustrophobic atmosphere of the house itself; the deconstruction of family history and relationships and subsequent re-connection; and the dialogue all create a delightfully solid little film. It sat in my queueueue forever before I finally hit play, and it was an immediate win from the first five minutes. And that moment when Kylie’s past is laid bare – SO GOOD.

Five out of five stars – if you liked Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, you’ll love this film!

More Truths! Lovely!
More Truths! Lovely!

Thale – A beautiful, multilayered Norwegian film shot on an ultra low budget (only 10 grand! insane!) that deals with huldra folk, a mythical race of forest women with tails from Scandinavian folklore – Stay with me. Tall, stoic and studly Leo runs a bio-cleanup company and gives his longtime friend Elvis a job. We meet Elvis when he is puking into a bucket, grossed out by the job and its gruesome requirements– a bucket which Leo, long inured to the grisly nature of his job and also to much of life, needs to finish the job. While on a job in a remote location, they discover a strange, feral and childlike woman hiding in a basement. Although the eponymous Thale spends most of the movie naked, her nudity is rarely exploited or made sexy; instead, it underscores her vulnerability and isolation from both humanity and the huldafolk. I loved this film, which I would compare to The Troll Hunter except way lower budget. Elvis and Leo’s complex friendship and the secrets they keep from each other add a fascinating layer to the film, especially the understated performance Jon Sigve Skard gives as Leo, whose placid, gum-chewing exterior hides a lonely frightened soul. Also worthy of note is the grim language they use to describe aspects of their job: ‘We have to break up the shed because he flowed out the floor’ should give you an idea.

Four out of five stars because of the sometimes glacial pacing, the film nevertheless gets a LOT of mileage out of its leads, including the performance from Silje Reinamo as Thale, and the interesting plot. And that ending – WORTH it!

Damn good design there!
Damn good design there!

Oculus – A horror film about the devastating effect a haunted mirror had on suburban, upper-class family, Oculus had a solid premise, some strong performances, and a really great subversion of common horror tropes, but ultimately I didn’t care for it. Karen Gillan puts in a hell of a performance as a woman obsessively determined to help her brother no matter the cost and shows her remarkable range as an actress. Unfortunately I just couldn’t like this film. Watching the family violently disintegrate into madness was excruciating, and the ending I found disappointing – longtime readers can probably guess why.

Three out of Five for incredibly effective scares, performances, and solid writing, but personally I just didn’t like the story – others definitely will, though! A great horror film otherwise, with a sequel in the works.


Last Shift – Another intriguing premise that didn’t pay off, Last Shift’s first act is all tension and beautiful character building before it implodes on itself. A rookie cop with a tragic family history must spend the night in the old police station since the new replacement facility has opened. She starts getting weird calls, there’s blinking lights and creepy sounds and an incontinent homeless man and all of that sets a nailbiting scene of dread and atmosphere, and then things go off the rails with a murder cult. Creepy ghosts and furniture rearranging also happen – this wasn’t a bad movie, I just didn’t care for the overall story. You have a great premise – deconstructing the horrors taking place in the shadow of the Thin Blue Line is So Hot Right Now, but it just didn’t pay off. Lead actress Juliana Harkavy is highly charismatic and very watchable, and hopefully on her way to better things.

Two out of five stars.

Hi Jaime Lannister! *waves*
Hi Jaime Lannister! *waves*

Hodejergerne (Headhunters) – Another Norwegian film, and I will fully disclose that I watched Headhunters because Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) was in it. I could easily drop two thousand words about my feelings on this actor, but I will save that for my secret smut diary. MOVING ON. Headhunters is a sort of American Psycho/Film Noir mashup with an intriguing premise: Roger Brown, a prominent corporate recruiter who suffers from a case of terminal Short-Man Syndrome, has an expensive lifestyle and wife he can’t really afford. He supplements his income as an art-thief who robs his high-powered clients, replaces their artwork with knockoffs, sells the good shit and then buys his Scandinavian fembot wife expensive earrings and supports her art gallery, while screwing some other lady on the side. I found him a somewhat likable protagonist despite his terrible actions AND his occasionally jarring resemblance to both Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi – AT THE SAME TIME. He meets Clas Greve (Jaime Lannister), the kind of Handsome Man Alpha that other men both loathe and secretly aspire to be. Charming, disgustingly good looking, a retired millionaire, and a former special forces agent, Clas has a lost Ruben in his house and Roger finds out and sets out to rob him, and of course it is The Wrong Thing To Do. What follows is a bloody and sometimes gross deconstruction of Brown’s vanities until his long-buried humanity finally rises to the surface – it’s very much in the vein of Park-Chan Wook’s Vengeance trilogy. It was an interesting watch but stretched credibility in many moments (I don’t know how they do it in Europe but in the U.S., Special Forces people don’t usually have their pictures all over the internet) and there was a thread of jet-black dark humor running through it that… I never quite laughed out loud, but I think it’s because I don’t enjoy Schadenfreude.

Four out of five stars for lavish production value, great performances and an intriguing premise, but the story and any emotional attachment falls apart in the third act.

So that was Five Little Bits! I hope you enjoyed this little roundup and there was something here you found interesting enough to check out.

Have you seen something lately you think I’d enjoy? Please give it a shout out in the comments!

Apples and Oranges Entry: OZ and Orange is the New Black

I love Orange is the New Black. Unflinching without being obnoxious, it was brave and awesome and it took a huge risk and totally paid off. It brought Laverne Cox onto the world stage, and started a lot of intelligent conversations about race and how people of color are portrayed in the media. It was AWESOME. And to compare apples and oranges, I am comparing it to HBO’s brilliant prison show OZ.

Welcome to Apples and Oranges! This is a new feature I’m trying out where I compare incomparable things only because of a thin thread connecting them.

[Some spoilers, but I haven’t finished the 3rd OITNB season yet so please avoid spoilers in the comments!]

Ain't no party like a Litchfield party!
Ain’t no party like a Litchfield party! Also this is clearly from season 2. 

I love Orange is the New Black. Unflinching without being obnoxious, it was brave and awesome and it took a huge risk and totally paid off. It brought Laverne Cox onto the world stage, and started a lot of intelligent conversations about race and how people of color are portrayed in the media. It was AWESOME. And to compare apples and oranges, I am comparing it to HBO’s brilliant prison show OZ.

OZ was literally what gave HBO its middle name of “god damn this is some fine television right here.” It began airing in 1997 – almost twenty years ago! – and depicted the lives of inmates and staff at the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility. It contains many alumni of other HBO shows, particularly The Wire. OITNB is similiar in a lot of ways, although WAY less brutal.

I admit it’s unfair to compare the shows because OITNB takes place in a prison, and OZ takes place in a max facility. Basically, it’s the prison where you go if you don’t behave in regular prison and they get tired of your shit. Please also note that I am not going to try and make some grand point about the difference between men’s and women’s prisons, because that would be asinine; these are fictional products inspired by reality, but do not function as examples of such.

In OITNB, people get their feelings hurt and sometimes get beaten up, or even beaten to death.

In OZ, they got their faces caved in or fed ground glass until they bleed out.

So, you know, different playing field, different rules.

Oz’s legacy is so ubiquitous its title sequence was lampooned on the Venture Bros, which is a major benchmark of pop culture– sort of like being parodied by Weird Al.

AND when Homer went to jail on the Simpsons, his little hat was a nod to Simon Adebisi’s own ever-present accessory. THAT Is a whole other level of pop-culture achievement!

Requirement of Being Cocked at A Sassy Angle: Check!
Requirement of Being Cocked at A Sassy Angle: Check!

And the original in all it’s glory:

Granted it's a little bigger, but it's ALL in the angle.
Granted it’s a little bigger, but it’s ALL in the angle. Also if you find this picture frightening, you should; Adebisi is not a nice man. 

That photo accurately depicts the real Simon Adebisi; he’s a handsome, highly intelligent man played to the hilt by the magnificent Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, but my GOSH was Adebisi a great villain. On the show, almost every character, no matter how brutal, was given some kind of humanizing moment that allowed another facet of their personality to shine through. My memories of the show are hazy but I don’t recall Adebisi ever having that moment (although dropping his pants and fiddling with his bits during his physical was hilarious, and apparently the actor’s improvisation).

One thing that OZ did so much better than OITNB was letting the viewer pick their narrative; for white, middle-class viewers like me, the story of Tobias Beecher heading to prison after drunken vehicular manslaughter was our window to this world. But the beauty of the show was how it drew us into those other windows as they opened wider and wider, providing other characters – Alvarez, Augustus,  Poet,  Kareem Said, Wangler, a forum for their stories.

I will totally admit that the premise of the first season of OITNB, of a ‘good girl’ going to prison, was what drew me in. That and curiosity about what women’s prison might be like, especially since I’m too lazy to go read about it myself. And naturally at the base of such curiosity is the self-absorbed First Wonder of the First World, Could I make it on the inside?  Piper’s story was the main narrative, and that got me watching. But you know what? By about midway through the second season I was absolutely done caring about Piper because the characters around her were so much more compelling and had eclipsed her. At this point, everyone else in the prison is more interesting to watch.

So when season 3 began with her reunion with Alex and the selfish thing she did to achieve that, I sort of stopped giving a shit. Now obviously I have a lot more of this season to get through and since it’s OITNB, shit will go down and things will happen, but I’ll be honest, every time Piper is onscreen my mind starts wandering. She doesn’t seem to be growing as a character and her emotional gurning is so infuriating. When Red tells her to get in touch with her inner Russian and she immediately puts that into practice by pretending to ignore Alex and then having hatesex with her, I threw my hands up into the air because I just didn’t care. And then Alex forgave her! I get that they’re stuck inside and have to make the best of it; I suppose the one character’s (can’t find her name, sorry!) monologue about how prison is a band-aid and nobody who’re friends on the inside can sustain their relationships outside comes into play here, or will later in the season.

I wouldn’t mind if the story wandered away from Piper and her boring entitled bullshit to focus on more worthy characters. I know that Taylor Schilling is doing her best with her performance, and the show has certainly pulled back from her narrative, but I wouldn’t mind if it left her even farther afield. It still feels like she’s the sun and all the other characters orbit around her, but she’s very slowly collapsing in on herself and in danger of becoming a black hole.

Awful But Accurate Depiction
Awful But Accurate Depiction. Also I think they PS’d Chapman’s eyes blue; in the show her eyes are dark brown. Also Daya looks AMAZING here! That glow! Those lips! 

Oz’s strength lay in the showrunners following ALL the stories, not just one. It feels like when Piper finishes her sentence, OITNB will end, and that’s just not what the show is anymore. It’s done too much for the LBGT community (Laverne Cox was on TIME MAGAZINE!) and for actresses of color to go out that way.

Have you watched either show? What are your thoughts?

A Daredevil Fan Video

Things have been a little heavy lately. To lighten them up, here’s a fanvideo some geniuses made showing Daredevil’s Matt Murdoch losing battles with his greatest foe…..

…. gravity.

That man hits the ground A LOT.

Also people drink a lot on that show.

I’m still not done with the first season but it’s a lot of fun so far!

Terrible Decisions Entry: The Babadook (2014)

I’ve always preferred horror that was multileveled, and The Babadook DEFINITELY delivers on that front. Mature and atmospheric, it ambles along at its own speed but draws you inexorably to the climax. There were times when my skin literally crawled, and others when I cried or gasped or wrung my pillow in anguish. At one point my eyeballs dried out because I was afraid to blink.

All these statements are true times a billion.
All these statements are true times a billion.

(Watching the movie was not a terrible decision: it was great and deserving of all the acclaim it’s received lately. Watching it alone, in the dark while a thunderstorm raged during an absinthe-related hangover – not one of my best decisions as an adult.) In this entry from a while ago, I lamented the state of modern horror movies and how much of a slog it can be to find good ones. Imagine my excitement to hear about The Babadook, and then imagine me being too damned lazy to actually see it when it came out.

THEN imagine me scrolling through the ‘What’s New’ queue on Netflix and finding that the mountain has come to me, so to speak. The story is a trope familiar in horror movies lately: a single mother, a weird little kid, a big spooky house, subtext of mental issues. Social isolation, inept cops, and a boogeyman monster that is terrifyingly effective in its simplicity: a hulking outline in stovepipe hat, its hands ending in spiky talons, and its face a white suggestion with a huge toothy grin. It’s a manifestation of everything we expect to find upon opening up a darkened closet, in the shadows under your bed, or in the rearview mirror of your car at night.

Just… just let me have a moment here…

Seriously I'll be all good in a minute.
Seriously I’ll be all good in a minute.

Ahem. All right!

So all that stuff I mentioned before is in the movie, and it’s totally effective and scary and atmosphere and underlying themes of trauma and maternal guilt and Freudian, possibly Oedipal stuffs also. Mom* is a widower, she was in labor with Samuel when she and her husband were in the car accident that killed the latter. The movie blew up the way that it did based on the performances of Essie Davis, who plays Mom/Amelia, and Noah Wiseman, who played Samuel. Wiseman is going places. I mean I hope making this movie didn’t traumatize him and make him never want to act again because he’s really gifted. He doesn’t go in for the precious, cutesy stuff at all. He reminds me of Luka Haas in Witness, actually. Samuel is strange and spooky, but also sweet, awkward and undeniably loves his Mummy, and at one point in the movie promises to protect Amelia from the Babadook if she will protect him. For lots of reasons, it’s an incredibly poignant and effective moment, with not an iota of schmaltz to be seen.

I’ve always preferred horror that was multileveled, and The Babadook DEFINITELY delivers on that front. Mature and atmospheric, it ambles along at its own speed but draws you inexorably to the climax. There were times when my skin literally crawled, and others when I cried or gasped or wrung my pillow in anguish. At one point my eyeballs dried out because I was afraid to blink.

Yes! Yes that's it exactly!
Yes! Yes that’s it exactly!

I’m not going to spoil it and I don’t want to describe it too much, but it DOES NOT have a downer ending; it worked as both a horror movie and as as dark drama, and it doesn’t go in for the cheap scares. It’s the kind of horror that stays with you, that will come back to you in the middle of a meeting at work or in a well-lit restaurant. Although I WILL leave you with this pleasant little image, because you really ought to know what you’re in for. People who are well-versed in horror will like it, people who aren’t but like good movies will like it, and people who don’t like horror movies at all and are easily scared are encouraged to AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

Living alone, I find situations like these are best met head-on with the shovel I keep under my bed.
Living alone, I find situations like these are best met head-on with the shovel I keep under my bed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some windows to board up.

*You could easily make a drinking game where you take a shot every time Samuel shouts ‘Mam!’ in his adorable accent, but you’d also kill yourself because half his lines are him doing that. Somehow it never got old, though!

Oh THAT’S Why I Haven’t Watched it in 27 Years Entry: The Fox and The Hound

[Spoilers Ahead!]

Somewhat recently, a whole slew of older Disney movies have come available on Netflix. A lot of them are the older animated ones, and the combination live action/animated ones from the 70s and earlier. Think Aristocats, Pete’s Dragon, and some of the wholly live action ones like The Parent Trap.

There are movies you grow up loving, because you remember them as you age and, as they hold up to repeated viewings, you re-familiarize yourself with them every few years, and remember why you loved the film all over again. Some of it is nostalgia, and some of it is just that the movie stands up after all the years.

I had no memory of the Fox and the Hound other than a vague sense of unease, like I knew it was one that I’d seen but never been overly fond of, but I couldn’t have explained why. I had seen someone post a scene from it on a few days before and, as I had some time while I was home sick a few weeks ago, decided to check it out.

Good LORD.

Copper and Tod chilling
Friendship! Togetherness! Splashing!

As I mentioned, there are movies you grow up loving. I am convinced that every generation views the newest generation’s entertainment as some how lesser than their own; sort of an outgrowth of the ‘kids these days!’ mentality, which is usually accompanied by a world-weary eyeroll. We’re all guilty of it; I know I myself have done it. And then some things are enjoyed multi-generationally, as parents and older siblings/family members introduce children to things they themselves grew up with. Sometimes there’s a bit of culture shock: a child (or anyone, to be  honest) who grows up watching very modern entertainment might be deeply upset by something like Bambi, The Black Cauldron, or The Dark Crystal. 

I am here to tell you that I cried through MOST of The Fox and the Hound, and it sure wasn’t the cold medicine. There were several times when I bawled out loud, to my sniffling boyfriend, ‘How is this a CHILDREN’S movie??!?!?!?’

I mention these not because I am condemning the movie, or think it is anything but fine filmmaking. But JESUS. If you saw it when you were about 5, haven’t seen it since, and think to yourself ‘Hey that’s a children’s movie! I will watch it with my small child!’ then perhaps you might want to watch it yourself first.

To wit, here are a few things that happen:

– In the first 5 minutes, Tod’s mother is killed after hiding him at the base of a fencepost. She laid the little bundle of her baby down, gave him a last look, and then ran off. My tear ducts immediately began production.

–  Amos tries repeatedly to shoot Tod.

– A dog gets hit by a train. SERIOUSLY. He doesn’t die, but the dog falling down a rocky hillside to land in the water was pretty goddamn upsetting. Tissues were again deployed.

– The Widow Tweed drives Tod into a game preserve and leaves him there, to keep him safe. Her taking his collar off KILLED. ME.

– Amos and Copper go into the game preserve for the express purpose of hunting Tod. They leave traps all over the place for him, and watching him pad amongst the leaves, juuuuuuust missing the traps was nerve-wracking.

– Amos sets fire to the treestump where Tod and his mate, Vixey, live. They struggle to escape and are almost burned alive.

– Tod, Copper, and Amos all fight with a bear. The ensuing fight leaves Amos wounded and trapped by his own fox traps, and Copper knocked aside. Tod takes it upon himself to save Amos and Copper, doing his best to fight and distract the bear.

– Copper positioning himself between Amos and an exhausted and wounded Tod, refusing to allow his oldest friend to be harmed.

I certainly enjoyed the movie, I just wasn’t expecting to to punch me in the gut the way that it did. I totally underestimated it because I had filed it under ‘lesser Disney’ of the 70s, when they had run out of Princesses and were doing a lot of animation recycling. Basically, I forgot that it doesn’t matter what medium a good movie is in, if it really is a good movie.

I think the most interesting and perhaps the hardest lesson of all in the film is the fact that even though Tod saved Amos and he and Copper could become friends again, Tod remained in the forest with his mate. The wild was his place, and he was not a pet. Of course there are efforts to domesticate the fox, and plenty of anecdotes about them living with or near people, but they are still largely wild animals.

Long story short, The Fox and the Hound is a masterful piece about putting differences aside in the name of friendship. There are a few charming songs and cute moments, including a subplot with a caterpillar and some hungry birds. As always, you would be the best judge of what’s appropriate for your children (or yourself!).

Just, you know, keep some tissues handy!