Quickfire round: Yes, God, Yes

I really didn’t get this film. A sexually curious girl attending a strict catholic school navigates a challenging few days at its Kirkos retreat, and discovers that basically everyone is a hypocrite.

A common reaction to the contents of an internet chat room

That’s it. Like, that’s the movie. It’s basically any other coming-of-age film except slower and daintier. The acting was fine, but I just don’t see how it garnered the critical praise it did. Maybe I’m not American (or Christian) enough to understand what makes this such a great watch.

So, a bit more plot. Our main character is Alice, and she’s kinda lonely. She has a best friend, but relationships with others at her school are tense because she’s been accused of sneaking off with someone else’s boyfriend to toss the salad. She doesn’t know what that means, and neither did I before I googled it (suggestion: do not google it).

It’s the summer of 2000, which means beige CRT monitors, AOL, and public chatrooms. Alice asks the chatroom for their wisdom and in return they bombard her with ‘A/S/L?’ and various other sexual advances. Confused and alone, she decides to sign up to the school’s Kirkos retreat, a 3-day residential ran by Father Murphy. Honestly, the retreat is total bullshit. Alice is asked to fill in a questionnaire about her ‘feelings’, which get scrutinised towards the end of the retreat if they are a little too sexually freeing.

Alice soon discovers this for herself as she sees the camp mentors engaging in sexual activity (outside of marriage: oh the horror!) and even Father Murphy himself viewing an adult video on the office computer.

This is all fair enough, but it’s also very pedestrian. I don’t even think the turning point in the film, where Alice runs away from the retreat and tries to get served at a roadside bar, was any good at all. All of a sudden, with the words of a complete stranger, she learns to have a different outlook on life? Okay.

But, like I said, I probably just didn’t get it. Perhaps there are metaphors in here that make more sense if you’re a Catholic Christian who went through the same sort of things. As it stands, I am none of those things and so this mostly felt like a waste of time.

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Quickfire round: Spree

A decent B-movie, this black comedy horror film manages to communicate some kind of actual message hidden amongst the surreal violence taking place on screen.

A totally normal thing to do as a rideshare driver is to make a peace sign as your customer dies behind you

Social media stars are all the rage these days. But how far would you go for a little attention and following online? For Kurt Kunkle (Instagram: KurtsWorld96), there’s practically no limit. Fed up of posting videos for years without much success in the online fame department, Kurt suddenly comes up with a plan to produce some of the hottest content on the internet.

If you had ‘rideshare killing spree’ on your list of ideas to try to become famous on social media, you’ll have to take it off that list as Kurt Kunkle is the all time champion. Kurt is a self-employed driver for Spree, (essentially Uber). He’s rigged his car with about 8 different cameras to showcase every single angle as he streams. Such is the indifference of his customers, half of them don’t notice the cameras and the other half are perfectly fine with them after Kurt offers a brief little explanation.

At this point, Kurt’s stream only has one viewer. A kid he used to babysit, Bobby, who has a much larger following online than Kurt (and who produces the sort of crass prank content you’d find in the real world from Joey Salads and Jake Paul.) “Help yourself to a water” offers Kurt. The passenger duly obliges. Moments later, they start to feel sick and eventually, we assume, they die completely. Poisoned by the contents of the water bottle that Kurt painstakingly covered to make it look brand new (be sure to check out the how-to guide on his YouTube channel). This is Kurt’s primary murder weapon for his spree, but as things start to escalate later on in the movie we see the body count rack up in different ways, too.

Overall, I can’t say much more than that it’s a decent B-movie. Don’t expect anything amazing, but do expect to see some decent creepy-guy acting from Stranger Things’ Joe Keery, and perhaps give a thought to the hundreds of thousands of small-time content creators like Kurt (but hopefully much less homicidal) who are just trying to make it out there.

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Quickfire round: Escape Room

Overall a good horror movie that capitalises on the explosive growth of escape rooms, it was somewhat let down by the revelation of a slightly wider universe/plot towards the end which felt cheap.

It’s getting toasty in there.

Six strangers receive a cube, ostensibly from a friend or relative. It’s a mini-puzzle, and upon solving it a piece of paper pops out inviting them to test an immersive new escape room with a prize of $10,000 up for grabs. Amanda, an Iraq war veteran, Jason, a financier, Danny, a nerdy escape room enthusiast, Zoey, a genius physics student, and Ben, a stockroom worker. After being told by a woman behind a frosted glass screen to take a seat and wait, Ben decides he’d rather leave the room and go outside for a smoke. As he pulls the door handle it falls off, revealing what appears to be an oven dial. This is the first room.

So, it’s an escape room horror movie. It follows the basic premise of escape rooms – there are rooms, and there are genuine puzzles with cryptic clues. Only, the Game Master is nowhere to be seen, and you can’t ask for hints. Oh, and if you don’t escape the room in time, you genuinely die. I’ll spare the details of how each room becomes deadly because it’s a large part of the enjoyment of the movie.

And enjoy it, I did! Don’t get me wrong, it was terrifying and my anxiety went through the roof. But I couldn’t stop watching as the chaos unfolded. Towards the end, though, the story gets a bit more complicated, and not for the better. Up until the final room, the rooms could potentially be completed with everyone surviving (spoiler: they don’t all survive said rooms, but you must have known that would happen given this is a horror movie). But the final room is different, and after that the ‘reason’ behind the escape rooms existing is revealed. What follows is too much of a spoiler to write here but I think, although it was a decent plot twist, it felt tacked on.

The feeling of the plot being weakly tacked together continued after the events of the fateful day itself, with a cheap ‘6 months later’ cut which sets up the sequel to the movie (coming out early this year). Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally going to watch the sequel, but I’m not holding my breath for an improvement to the overall plot.

If you like horror and puzzles and escape rooms and acting that is not terrible but also not particularly impressive, I could think of worse ways to spend 99 minutes.

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Quickfire round: Inheritance

An annoying waste of time, this movie drags you along through its story – littered with boring characters and empty set design – with the promise of a great, mystery-solving payoff at the end. Spoiler: it was not worth it.

Who is she pointing that gun at? If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know how smart this caption is.

“That sounds like such a great story, let’s turn it into a movie!” <- words which were, apparently, uttered by someone, for how else would we have ended up with the 1 hour, 51 minutes waste of time that is Inheritance? I will struggle to write more than a few hundred words on this for that is how hollow the entire thing is.

Lauren Monroe, Manhattan District Attorney and member of a very wealthy family, inherits part of her late farther’s estate including, via posthumously released video tape, the ‘deepest secret’ her family has. I’ll tell you right now: it’s a man who’s been chained up in an underground bunker on the family estate for 30 odd years. Okay, as a viewer, you’re immediately interested, right? What’s this guy doing down here? Who is he? How has he been kept a secret for so long? Lauren tries to uncover the truth without telling anyone in her family about the guy.

So what went wrong? Firstly, this is one of the weakest attempts at creating an atmosphere for the story that I have seen. The entire supporting cast, including her brother, husband, daughter, and colleagues, may as well have not been in the movie at all for all they brought to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for thriller/horror movies to concentrate intensely on the central plot. But only if that central plot is worth it. This… wasn’t. I won’t spoil the exact ending but will say that, essentially, the mother in the family knew about the guy in the basement, and the plot twist he would help execute, the whole time. Whoop-de-doo!

If you’re thinking I added Inheritance to my Watch List after seeing Lily Collins in Emily in Paris, you’d be right, damn you. Honestly, she does as good as job as she can here, but the role feels totally mis-cast.

Give this one a miss.

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Quickfire round: The Babysitter: Killer Queen

This movie would probably have made more sense if I knew it was a sequel and watched the original before diving into it. Oh well, it was still entertaining. Read on for some spoilers.

The shirtless demon is just funny, every single time you see it.

The movie follows on a few years after the events of the first. Put simply, our hero Cole’s babysitter turned out to be a psycho demon who needed to complete a ritual in order to pay her debt to the devil and achieve her dreams. Long story (and actual movie, which I suggest you go and watch first) short, his parents return to see a car embedded in their house and their son trying (and failing) to convince anyone about what had really happened that night.

Having discovered that his parents want to send him away to rehab for his ‘delusions’, Cole skips school with childhood friend Melanie and boards a party boat with her friends. Splat! One of the group is violently murdered in front of him. That’s right, it’s happening again. In fact, there’s double the demon in this movie as the original cast are back for revenge and to finish what they started.

And so commences what I imagine was quite similar to the first movie: Cole escapes and somehow, Home Alone-style, he manages to take out the demons one by one. It’s violent and bloody but also funny – the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously (I don’t think anyone is convinced about the underlying plot, not even the writers) and overall is a good watch for something with Halloween vibe that won’t absolutely terrify you. Yes, it has teen movie tropes (‘Kid, you just need to get laid!’ is the suggestion of his therapist) but some elements are funny in their own right, like Max, a demon who is inexplicably shirtless the entire time, just because.

The movie does half-hearted attempt at misdirecting the viewer into thinking that new girl Phoebe will end up being a baddie, not least because she sticks out like a sore thumb and opens her locker to a message of ‘it ends tonight’. I must admit that, even deep into the runtime, I still had my doubts about her. The way things panned out, however, I think that was more just me overthinking it than intentional writing.

If you haven’t seen the first movie you should probably watch that so the plot makes a bit more sense, but either way this movie hit the mark. Nothing exciting, nothing game-changing, just good (messy) fun.

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Quickfire round: Borat Subsequent Movie Film

What is America like in 2020? Actually, no, don’t answer that. I want to be able to sleep tonight. Instead, let Borat answer it for you, as he presents his latest documentary, journalling his delivery of prodigious bribe to American regime for make benefit once glorious nation of Kazakhstan.

One of the most uncomfortable scenes I have ever watched.

I have never actually seen the original Borat movie. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s skill as a comedian and writer, but I do find some of his character’s presentation a little unnecessarily exaggerated. So when I watched this film, I had to filter out the subtle humour (some of which is particularly excellent) from the more in-your-face absurdity shown by Borat (and his daughter). This requires filtering out about half of the film, which means I can’t really give it more than half-marks.

Borat, apparently ridiculed in his home nation of Kazakhstan due to the events of the first film, is sent back to the US by his glorious leader to provide a tainted gift to a US Vice President Mike Pence (a porn star monkey, if you must know). The plan is somewhat ruined when, in place of the monkey, his daughter shows up instead.

I should explain that this film is a sort of mix between reality and acting. It reminds me of Nathan For You (review coming… eventually), whereby an exaggerated character engages with real-world people who are slightly more willing to accept the character’s absurdity by the mere fact that the cameras are rolling and they signed a release form. So, we see Borat interact with a cross-section of American society, from plastic surgeons and bakery owners, to babysitters and extreme Trump supporters. Oh, and yes, Rudy Giuliani, who doesn’t come out of the movie looking particularly good.

Okay, so – what do you want me to say? Was the film any good? Well, like I said, I can only give it half marks. It was funny and it was cringey and some of the stuff he did was quite impressive. But it was also obscene and cringey and some of the stuff he did was unnecessary. I watched it because it’s current and I can talk to people about it. I certainly wouldn’t watch it for fun.

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Quickfire round: Enola Holmes

Put simply, this film delivered. A necessarily witty, intelligent, and stereotype-busting Enola Holmes, portrayed excellently by Millie Bobby Brown, investigates the disappearance of her mother, all while trying to outrun her two brothers (including, yes, that Sherlock Holmes).

Enola escapes to London dressed as a boy – the costume department did a great job.

Holmes spent much of her life being home-schooled by her mother, who taught her all manner of skills and knowledge which, if you were of the prevailing attitude of the time, girls ought not to know. Then, one day, her mother just disappears. Enola’s two brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, return to the family home to investigate their mother’s disappearance. Mycroft, who in this adaptation is really a bit of a dick, disapproves of Enola’s education and arranges for her to be sent to a finishing school. The thought of attending such a place pushes Enola over the edge and she runs away in the middle of the night – taking clues of her mother’s whereabouts with her. Enola knows a lot of things – but does she know how to cope in the real world?

I can’t help but see this film as a box-ticking exercise. That’s actually a good thing – let me tell you the boxes it ticks. There’s a strong female lead. The costume design is on point. There’s a slight twist I didn’t see coming. The cinematography is good. There is humour. There is action. The mix of action and humour and violence and education is perfect for the target audience.

It could easily become a franchise.

But what the film doesn’t do is over-deliver. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance fizzles out and isn’t executed to its fullest extent. There could do with being a bit more mystery. I never gasped, I rarely laughed out loud, and I didn’t come away thinking ‘you know what, that was brilliant!’

It’s just a good film. Know that you won’t be disappointed if you watch it, and you won’t be missing out much if you don’t.

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Quickfire round: American Murder: The Family Next Door

Despite its forgettable title (is it American Family: The Murder Nextdoor? Or America Nextdoor: The Family Murder? Neither!) this documentary uses incredible original footage to tell the chilling story of how, and why, Shannan Watts and her two children were cruelly murdered.

One person in this photo escaped death. Can you guess who it was?

I’ll start off by saying that this documentary shows how far we’ve come with technology in our society that it is able to tell the story in such a coherent manner with absolutely no voice-over and only first-hand footage (from police body cams and interview rooms, neighbours, news crews, text messages, and Shannan herself).

This method of telling the story makes it all the more terrifying. We start out with police body cam footage – after Shannan’s friend and colleague called the police, concerned for her whereabouts as she wasn’t responding to texts. The footage – otherwise entirely routine – immediately captures a scene of confusion and mystery as Shannan – and her two young children – are nowhere to be seen. Her phone is there and switched off, but the children’s blankets are gone. Her husband, Chris Watts, raced back from work at a remote oil well, and seems distracted as he speaks to officers about the last time he saw his wife alive and who – or where – she could have gone to.

Incredibly, the documentary also features Shannan herself. She was a prolific Facebook user, recording and posting footage of family moments almost daily. What a juxtaposition these happy videos of her and her husband are to the text messages she was exchanging with her friends and colleagues shortly before her death – telling a story of how her husband had become distant and uninterested in her.

I think I know what makes the documentary so gripping. The Facebook videos and text messages are all pre-death, of course. And the police footage is post-death. We therefore see the story unravel from two perspectives – Shannan’s, as she hurtles towards her murder, and the police, as they piece everything together. Everything is revealed in sync with each other – the text messages become more surreal and desperate as the police interviews become more dramatic and revealing. It’s great storytelling, if incredibly tragic.

If you like true crime, you absolutely don’t want to miss this.

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Quickfire Round: The Social Dilemma

I’m glad this documentary exists, as it’s made a lot of people wake up to the fact that massive social media companies like Facebook are hardly being generous by giving free access to their platform. Alas, corny acting prevents it reaching its full potential.

Haters gonna hate.

First, the good bits: this film presents first-hand accounts of how social media companies are engineering their platforms to maximise user engagement, putting the health and safety of their billions of users on the back burner as they compete to sell advertising spots. We hear about techniques such as A/B testing – tiny tweaks to the user experience, like moving the location of a button, are rolled out to a random selection of users to see whether it increased or decreased engagement.

Little nuggets of inside information and analysis like that are welcome – another example is Facebook’s photo tagging feature. Ever had an email like, ‘Emily tagged you in a photo on Facebook’? Notice how they don’t show you the photo in the email – you have to go onto the platform to see it. And while you’re there, you might as well check your notifications, and your news feed, and the latest group posts… you get the idea.

Okay, now the not-so-good. Firstly, the show entertains a little too much conspiracy for my liking. In some painfully acted live action scenes, we see ‘the algorithm’ represented by three Facebook engineers in a lab, watching their target’s life and deciding when to ping their phone to drag them into the platform and view an ad that they just sold for 3 cents. The thing is, Facebook does run instant auctions for advertisers to bid on an impression on a user’s Facebook feed. What they don’t do is literally spy on your actual life and ping you at the exact time it most benefits them. They just don’t.

The rest of the acted scenes are also pretty bad. I understand what they were trying to do with the part showing the teenage boy getting increasingly radicalised by far-right propaganda, enough to attend a rally and get arrested, but it didn’t hit deep enough and it just felt so weak as to be worthless.

Thankfully the takeaway from the film is something I can agree with: social media wasn’t invented to be evil, but evil it has become. Delete Facebook, the worst offender by far. If you need to, create a plain shell account to stay in touch with those who can’t be persuaded off the platform.

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Quickfire round: Love Guaranteed

This film was rubbish. A shallow, childish, and ultimately very weird film about a man who sues a dating website for failing to find love. I mean, it sounds interesting, right? But it wasn’t good.

Susan striking the classic ‘objection!’ pose, in what is one of the more exciting parts of the movie

The trailer looked so impressive. Man shows up in lawyer’s office, asking for help to take advantage of a clause in a mega corp dating agency’s terms that guarantees love, as long as you’ve been on 1,000 dates. This guy did that, somehow. (breakfast, lunch, and dinner, he says).

Alright! David v Goliath! A kickass lawyer! 1,000 dates? Sign me up!

And then you press play and you get this sort of clown music going on in the background. The lawyer rolls up to her office in a battered old car, the handle of which falls off as she shuts it. She shoves it in her bag.

Oh no, it’s one of those Rom Coms. The ones where all the characters must be dosed up on LSD because all of their actions are slightly exaggerated and eccentric. This is the sort of thing you see in kid’s movies except that kids don’t really understand the concept of suing a company so I have no idea why they did it this way.

Anyway, yeah, she’s a great lawyer but she’s too nice because she does everything pro bono and so can’t afford to look after herself. Her client is supposed to be a nice, even charming, guy (no prizes for guessing he’s the plot’s love interest) but when someone walks into your office and says he’s been on 1,000 dates, would you ever – ever – think of them as charming?

I will save you all 90 minutes of your time. For the curious, and this is something I saw coming after about 20 minutes, the case goes to trial and he confesses his love for his lawyer, which means, technically, that he did find love through Love Guaranteed after all. The case is withdrawn. But then… the company pays them the damages anyway (either way they were destined for charity) and wants to make them the ‘new face’ of the company???

???

That’s it. That’s the review.

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