Random Movie Roundup
These days, we tend to watch ten minutes or so and see if it grabs us, as after the initial flurry of god content, Netflix seems to be erring on the side of volume rather than grade A quality, which tends to leave my 'continue watching' section quite full of films that fell by the way quite quickly.
Since I've worked in the creative industries my entire life - forty years this summer - viewing movies and reading books is very much a double-edged sword. A poor movie or book is rapidly seen for what it is, but the good stuff shines with greater lustre because I know just how hard it can be.
You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can sure learn a lot from the opening paragraph. If I can see the story being written, then things aren't working out. If I can see the movie being made, ditto. If you can see actors acting, then the project is dead in the water - it's like singing off-key.
Hence the spotty and arguably unfair approach to Netflix.
Horse Girl, 2020, Directed by Jeff Baena from a screenplay by Baena and the leading actor, Alison Brie. We watched this a couple of nights ago as it looked intriguing, and it follows a few weeks in the life of Sarah, an introverted young lady with a history of mental health issues, and how things slowly start unravelling in her life and her mind. To be honest, nothing too much happens and there is very little resolution or payoff. The ten minute watch/don't watch threshold passed quickly as we were drawn into Sarah's life and we were enthralled - but for really one thing: Alison Brie.
This was an astonishing performance which didn't let up for an instant - there is barely a single scene without her, she carries the entire movie, and the excellent supporting cast were all there to ensure Brie stood out in sharp relief. It put us in mind of Elisabeth Moss' performance in 2020's The Invisible Man , which while a very different film and of considerably less merits than Horse Girl , was raised by the central performance. Moss, like Brie, made quite sure your eyes were on them the entire time - and that's a tough thing for any actor to do.
We asked ourselves whether Horse Girl would have worked with another actor, and the answer is 'probably not', and I hope the trend for these strong central female performances continue. Incidentally, we've not see Brie in much aside from Community - and I only realised who she was about twenty minutes in. But that only reinforced our admiration as the roles could not have been more different. We'll be watching Brie closely; we'd like to know what she gets up to next. Did I say she co-wrote the script? Impressive.
(Warning: Spoilers) We're fans of Dwayne Johnson in our house: just one of those on our radar. He's big and affable and funny and although his earlier thriller are fairly missable as they're more in the violent Arnie mould - we've watched only ten minutes of F&F - we kind of like his more recent work, when he's not hitting people so much and playing on debasing the stereotypical action figure. Skyscraper is watchable but not a vastly notable movie as it has a lot of tropes seen before - think Die Hard meets Towering Inferno - and the lack of a Hans Gruber figure, which was a serious flaw. But several points we did like raised the movie and I hope will be a model for other thrillers to come - they're worth noting, at any rate.
Johnson's character is vulnerable, often uncertain, needs to be bolstered in confidence by his wife - and quite often failed, or did something wrong, or didn't win purely by his own brute strength. His character's prosthetic leg was a bold stroke which we thought was great. Taking the stereotypical action hero and giving them a disability was a bold move that adds to the drama, not lessens it. It doesn't come across a gimmick, either - just something that Johnson's character has to cope with on a day to day basis - even if that day happens to be rescuing his family from a burning building. Throughout his audacious 'I have no plan' way of dealing with this, he makes some headway - but ultimately, fails. Against all the odds, the fights, dealing with the bad guys - he can't quite pull it off. Without help, he and his daughter will die - which brings us to the second theme we loved in the movie: The reinvention of the mother film role as a positive and equal player in the dynamic. Neve Campbell's character is strong and witty and resourceful, and they protect the family together as equals - and ultimately, when all looks dark and hopeless it is she who saves the day.
Skyscraper, 2018, Directed by Rawston Marshall Thurber from his own script
With Tiger Girl's riveting central performance and Skyscraper's subtle reshifting of traditional gender roles within the action thriller, both are something we hope to see more of.
Skyscraper and Tiger Girl are both currently on release through Netflix.
Content for Jasperland, June 29th, 2020