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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What I thought about: Sweet Home

If you want to see a slideshow of horrible things happening to undeserving people; of despair and violence and gore and destruction, you’re in the right place. If not, run. Run far away from this show.

Monster or human? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

What’s it about?
One night, an infection (or some say a curse) sweeps across South Korea. The first symptom is a torrential nosebleed, and those unable to fight the darkness often turn into powerful monsters with various ‘abilities’ that are said to relate to their deepest desires. The residents of the Green Home apartment complex find themselves barricaded inside. When someone tries to leave and is promptly skewered by a monster, they realise it’s for their own good.

Essentially, it’s an apocalypse survival series. Except it somehow manages to weave an insane amount of backstory and side plots into its 10-episode run. It’s also ghastly and brutal. Bad things just keep on happening to the residents, relentlessly. The monsters, aided by some pretty impressive CGI (and some of whom are just plain human, if you catch my drift), keep coming.

What do I like about it?
I really can’t tell if this is a great show or a terrible one. On the one hand, it is technically brilliant. It’s gripping, the cliffhangers at the end of each episode are perfect, the acting is top notch and the audiovisual elements add so much depth to it (watching this with a 5.1 surround setup was a real treat).

The show also benefits from typical K-Drama quality. You become attached to the characters, all of whom, besides the usual background characters, have such unique personalities and qualities. This allows the show to deliver some side plots and flashbacks that add a surprising amount of depth to the crisis, even if I wished they would tie together a little more neatly.

What do I not like about it?
On the other hand, this show is absolutely awful. The monsters are really, really bad. You can’t kill them unless you set them on fire. They are strong. People keep dying, all the time, in every episode. Whenever there is a shred of hope dangled in front of you, the show executes more characters all over the place.

There is so much violence and so much despair. Also, lots and lots of blood. This is not a show for the faint of heart. Blood pours out of infected people’s noses and splatters onto people’s faces. At one point, someone picks up a sword from his own severed hand in order to make one last attempt at stopping a monster from killing everyone else. It’s fucking horrific.

Worth a watch?
I don’t think I know anyone who would find this an enjoyable watch.

By the way…

  • There is a setup for a second season but, considering the characters who are left standing, I’m not sure if it would be worth watching
  • I kid you not, Imagine Dragons’ Warriors (a song they wrote for a League of Legends gaming tournament) is played at least 5 times during the show. Criticism of the show’s soundtrack is warranted.

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What I thought about: Alice in Borderland

Very Japanese, this part-sci-fi part-thriller part-horror series, based on a popular manga, has random citizens of Tokyo get teleported to an alternate universe where they must take part in sadistic games to survive.

Don’t get too attached to anyone in this show. Consider yourself warned.

What’s it about?
One moment you’re having a shower, or something. The next thing you know, the lights go out and, when they come back on moments later, everyone around you has disappeared. In fact, not just the people around you – the entire population of Tokyo. Gone. Just like that.

That’s the situation facing Arisu, Chōta, and Karube – a trio of delinquents and misfits. As night falls, the only source of light comes from screens around the city which read ‘this way to the game arena’. They follow the screens to a building with mobile phones set out on a table. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve just registered for their first game.

Two doors, one says ‘live’ and the other ‘die’. Two minutes to choose before the room is incinerated. Another player (they’re not entirely alone) freaks out and runs through the ‘live’ door, only to be zapped in the head with a powerful laser. The rest escape through the ‘die’ door into the second room, now with less time to choose another room. With some luck Arisu, good with puzzles, work out the shape of the building and draws a map that leads them confidently through the rest of the game. Their prize? A three-day visa, the importance of which is explained to them when a disheveled man rounds a corner and yells ‘I can’t take it any more, my visa has expired’. He is promptly blasted in the head by a laser from the sky. Your visa is your right to live, and you can only get them by clearing the dangerous games.

What do I like about it?
The games are cool, and most are well designed, if a little confusing what with the additional language barrier for on-screen cues. Along the way, more characters are introduced and we start to learn more about the pseudo-Tokyo and what’s going on. Also, in contrast to Escape Room (which you might consider to be a related concept), the set-up for the sequel is fantastic. No spoilers, though!

What do I not like about it?
There’s a little too much filler for my liking, Some scenes are long, drawn out, and emotional. I also wasn’t a fan of the fact that the ‘main character’ is basically a nobody except for the little nuggets of wisdom he occasionally dishes out, but then again, that is a trope of manga like this.

Worth a watch?
This is a very violent and miserable show. Things only really go from bad to worse for everyone involved, so be careful. But if, like me, you were intrigued by the mystery and are a fan of Japanese on-screen violence, Alice in Borderland is brilliantly produced.

By the way…

  • Much of the shots of an empty Tokyo city centre were filmed with extensive use of green screens, and they did a great job of blending it all together
  • Apparently this season covers 31 of the 64 manga chapters – so maybe Season 2 is all we’ll get

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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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What I thought about: Big Mouth (Season 4)

The latest season of this adult cartoon continues to explore important themes of life with its usual grotesque flair – but the storytelling is less tight this time around.

Andrew (middle) has a unique fashion sense, and he won’t heed to any criticism of it

What’s it about?
Big Mouth is an adult cartoon set around a group of high school freshmen. They’re beginning their puberty journey, and learning to cope with everything that comes with it. The characters are hugely exaggerated and yet somewhat relatable.

Each of the kids have a hormone monster, an invisible creature only they can see. Sort of like fairy godmother, they talk to them and guide them through this stage of their life. I think they are supposed to be a manifestation of their hormones rather than an actual, individualised character – but either way they add so much colour to the show.

What do I like about it?
The personification of thoughts and emotions is perfect. We have the hormone monsters, of course, whom you might say are the stars of the show. But there’s also The Shame Wizard, a scraggy looking British wizard who pops up whenever you do something shameful – which for Andrew is basically all the time.

New to Season 4 is the Anxiety Mosquito and I have to commend the writers for the choice of animal because a mosquito is a perfect representation of anxiety. There can be more than one. They don’t go away when you flail and try to swat them. They question what you’re doing and shout at you when something goes wrong. As someone who went through this year’s summer with a lot of anxiety, I thought the portrayal was brilliant.

The voice acting is also on point, and somehow being able to tell which voice actor is voicing multiple characters just makes it funnier.

What do I not like about it?
Usually I love the show and it’s a consistent ten out of ten. This time around though, I didn’t think it was quite as good as before. I think it’s down to the way the stories were told. Characters had much more individualised storylines that didn’t often intersect. It was a departure from the ‘we’re all in this together’ class-sized story of previous seasons. While I do understand why this was the case (as you go through puberty and discover more about yourself, you naturally diverge from where you and your peers all began) it did just make this season a little less enjoyable.

Worth a watch?
Yes, but definitely start from the beginning and try to not take the toilet humour too seriously.

By the way…

  • One of my favourite characters, Missy, changes voice near the end as she has bene recast to be voiced by a black woman, which should have happened in the first place
  • Netflix has renewed the show all the way up to Season 6, which I was really happy about

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What I thought about: You Me Her (Seasons 1-3.5)

Any interest I had in this show unfortunately fizzled out at the beginning of Season 4. Characters became annoying, the plot wore thin, and the initial intrigue I had in the show’s premise simply faded away. I’ll try and unpick my thoughts here.

I had a hard time thinking Jack’s smile was ever sincere.

What’s it about?
Married couple Jack and Emma have pretty successful careers and live in the rich and fancy suburbs of Portland, Oregon. The one thing they don’t have is a sex life. After a series of increasingly tense couples therapy sessions, Jack’s brother offers some advice: go and see an escort, and you’ll have such a good time it’ll reignite something in your own sex life.

Enter Izzie, a grad student who escorts in her spare time. Jack backs out of the session before anything serious happens, but his guilt gets the better of him and he immediately confesses to Emma. Understandably pissed, Emma arranges to met Izzie as a customer, planning on exposing her and telling her to keep the hell away from Jack. Instead, uh, they end up making out. Long story short, the couple are both infatuated with Izzie and form a polyamorous relationship.

What do I like about it?
You can’t help but be intrigued by the plot here, right? Their unusual relationship situation (not to mention the fact that Izzie is quite a bit younger than them) is a poor fit for their socially conservative professional lives, and the first couple of seasons sees Jack and Emma flip-flopping over whether to commit fully to the relationship, which at times is an emotional watch.

I also really liked the side characters. Emma’s best friend Carmen and her husband Dave are particular stand-outs, as is Izzie’s room mate and fellow escort Nina. The supporting cast really helps tie the show together and I think are a big part of what kept me invested in the show for so long.

What do I not like about it?
Unfortunately, the supporting cast’s magic eventually runs out and you start to realise how boring the main characters became, or perhaps how boring they always were. Despite claiming to be fully committed to the three-way relationship, the show is fully of petty and often bizarre fall-outs between them. Characters change their minds on a whim. Emma, who essentially comes out as bisexual in the first season, ditches the throuple for a full-blown lesbian relationship at the end of Season 2. By Season 4, she’s basically the most annoying character in the show.

Put simply, it lost its polish.

Worth a watch?
No. Not because the idea is bad – but because, if you’re a completionist like I usually am, you’ll find the latter seasons a real grind.

By the way…

  • It says a lot that, when writing this review, I had to Google Jack and Emma’s names, but not Carmen or Dave’s.
  • I like how, on Wikipedia, episode synopses for the show stop at the beginning of Season 3. Seems like I’m not the only one who gave up on this show.

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Quickfire round: Love and Anarchy

This quirky Swedish show – ostensibly a workplace comedy romance – was an intriguing watch and ended up having a much deeper emotional side to it than the trailer would suggest. It won’t be for everyone, though.

The lipstick is a token for their dares.

Married mother-of-two Sofie is called in to a small publishing house in Stockholm to help them restructure as they struggle in a tough marketplace. Sofie is good at her job, but must be having trouble with her husband because, in the first few minutes of Episode 1, she’s masturbating in the family bathroom before work. After a long day at the office, she does the same thing, this time at her desk. Enter Max – no, literally, he enters the building to carry on with his IT construction work, having been sent home by Sofie earlier in the day for making too much noise. Max quickly gets his revenge by snapping a photo of Sofie doing her thing, and the next day turns up to work with a renewed sense of power.

“How much do you want?” Sofie asks, keen to have the video deleted. “I just want you to take me out for lunch”, says Max (character building earlier in the episode shows us that Max, many years younger than Sofie, has a thing for older women). And so out they go. Max hands over his phone for Sofie to delete the photo, but she then refuses to hand it back. “You made me do something, now you need to do something to earn this back”, she says, “do something outrageous at the office”.

And so begins a pretty hilarious game of workplace dares between Sofie and Max.

What I loved about this show was the setting. Everyone else at the publishing house are just trying their best to keep going, but still manage to be funny in their own right. Friedrich is an old stalwart of the publishing world whose older, male, clientele occasionally clash with Denise’s younger and more liberal authors. At one point Friedrich, following a series of failures (one of which is at the hands Sofie’s dare to Max), goes to an Ayahuasca retreat to treat and find his true self. You can imagine how that went.

Towards the end, the show reveals a sort of underlying purpose. We learned earlier that Sofie’s father, a staunch communist, is sometimes mentally unstable. Although her willingness to participate in Max’s escalating dares is perhaps an indication that Sofie might be suffering a similar ailment, it’s not until she literally hisses at her husband, animal-like, that we can be sure of it. You could also say that Max, feeling the pressure from his spiteful mother and stepfather, also loses it when he poses completely nude for a family photo. (This is also a good time to mention that there is full frontal nudity in this show.)

A short, charming, crazy show that’s absolutely best watched in its original language with subtitles, I really quite liked it.

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What I thought about: The Minions of Midas

I am simply not smart enough to understand the plot. This Spanish thriller starts off with a bang, but its twists morph it into something that, right to the very end, had me scratching my head.

Victor has two expressions. His shocked face, which is this one, and his thinking face.

What’s it about?
Victor Genovés, an executive at media conglomerate the Malvar Group, has recently become the company president after being named heir to the late owner’s fortune in his will. Shortly after, he receives a letter at his office, closed with a traditional wax seal. It’s from the Minions of Midas or Los favoritos de Midas, a shadowy group who want to engage in a business transaction with Victor. That’s a very polite way of putting it – for in reality they are extorting him to the tune of 50 million euros. The consequence if he doesn’t pay? A stranger will die – and they give an exact time and place for the murder.

Like any self-respecting millionaire, Victor is a little spooked by the letter but ultimately ignores it. Sure enough, a woman is killed in a hit and run at the exact time and place specified in the letter. Unlike any self-respecting millionaire, however, he refuses to cut the loss-making Observer newspaper from the Malvar Group. This upsets the board of directors and they assemble enough votes to ditch him – that is, until another letter from the Minions shows up. “We have some information that can help you keep your position in the company,” they say, “remember, your gain is our gain”.

How mysterious.

What do I like about it?
The first half makes for a great thriller. The police scramble to hunt down the Minions as, every five days, exactly where promised, another seemingly random stranger is killed. It’s also mind-bending at times – some of the murders are arguably not caused by the Minions at all but rather by the police themselves and the hysteria invoked by the shadowy organisation.

The other events of the show are also pretty good – and pretty bleak. Victor’s love interest, Observer journalist Mónica Báez, uncovers the Bank of Madrid’s shameful financing of the Syrian regime, and there are mass protests verging into riots across Spain moments before they are due to host the European Summit. The polarisation of Victor’s penthouse apartment and the rioters below him make for a stark image of class divide, and tie in somewhat well into the extortion plot.

What do I not like about it?
This is probably just me but… I didn’t get it? I don’t want to spoil the plot but, towards the end, Victor changes how he reacts to the Minions and makes decisions which are unlike his character in the first half of the show. I just can’t quite work out what it all means – and I’m one of those people who longs for at least some kind of closure.

Worth a watch?
Probably not, unless you like the idea of it. Not to sound weird or anything but there wasn’t a lot of death and violence in it to make up for the slow parts.

By the way…

  • There is some nudity.
  • This is a limited series – it ain’t coming back.

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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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