Sunday, 28 February 2021

What I'm Watching: February 2021

Seen anything good lately? Here's a recap of my month in movies and streaming, including some thoughts on new releases like Greenland, I Care A Lot and Malcolm and Marie.

I Care A Lot (Prime Video)


I Care A Lot will divide audiences down the middle; there will be some that quickly forge a love/hate relationship with Rosamund Pike's contemptible lead character and there are those who will just hate her with the fire of a thousand suns. 

Pike plays Marla Grayson, a woman who works as a court-appointed guardian for seniors that the state deems too old or ill to care for themselves. Once she has guardianship of someone, Marla goes for the throat – confining them to a care home, selling off all their assets and making a living off the profit. Safe to say, she's a truly detestable person – and the way Pike carries it off with such ease is what makes I Care A Lot such a compelling watch. Maybe it cuts too close to the bone (we've all seen horror stories like this on the news), but I Care A Lot is so arresting simply because it seems all so plausible. 

The first half is, at least. There comes a point where Marla finds herself entangled in the web of mobster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), and the plot contrivances teeter over into silly territory. However, by that point, I was sold. Pike is note perfect in this film and the supporting cast is great too. As a dark and sickly satire of the American care system, it hits the nail on the head – so much so, that some audiences might find it too upsetting to sit through. Do whatever you can to avoid spoilers, and see if you can peg where this film will go before that ending arrives...

Malcolm and Marie (Netflix)

Reportedly the first Hollywood film written, produced and filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malcolm and Marie is a two-person tale about a film director (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya), as they grapple with some home truths after returning home from the premiere of the former's new movie.

The film serves as both a self-absorbed critique of film criticism and a more conventional examination of the emotional tensions and insecurities that push and pull at two people in a relationship. And truth be told, aside from the great performers (because credit where its due, both Washington and Zendaya are acting their butts off) and the gorgeous cinematography, Malcolm and Marie is a bad movie. It's insular, boring and empty. It's a film about filmmaking that film fans won't enjoy; it's a film starring two huge stars that regular audiences will find impenetrable at times too. It's too inside baseball, with its critique of Hollywood and the forces that drive creative people to create all too niche.

Levinson's script calls for wall to wall facial expressions and emotional nuance, and the cast delivers – good for them. But the dialogue is needlessly verbose and essentially boils down to is two unlikeable characters tearing into one another for 100 minutes. What a tedious slog this was to watch.

Greenland (Prime Video)


A Gerard Butler disaster movie where all life on Earth is under threat – didn't I already see this one? 

If reading the synopsis of Greenland is bringing back chilling memories of Geostorm, you're not alone – that was my first thought too. However, remarkably, this new release on Prime Video is a far cry from the stupidity and silliness of Geostorm – and well worth a watch. I know, I'm as surprised as you are! 

The film sees Butler partnered up with Morena Baccarin as a feuding husband and wife who are forced to set aside their squabbles and uproot their sleepy suburban lives (along with the rest of the world) when a comet chooses to set itself on a collision course with Earth. 

Butler's character – I've already forgotten his name, because all his characters are just some variation on Mike Banning in my opinion – is a construction foreman who is selected for extraction to safety via a military plane. However, through a series of unfortunate events, his family are split up and must find their way back to one another before disaster strikes.

Going in, I expected something akin to Roland Emmerich's patented brand of sugary jingoism and sprawling destruction. But what I got was something a little more restrained, where character and mood trumped chaos and spectacle. Where some filmmakers choose to go bombastic and big, director Ric Roman Waugh has gone with a darker, moodier vibe that is tinged with dread and fear. If you want wall-to-wall action, this isn't for you – but I admired it for its consistent and clear-eyed approach to the disaster genre.

Indiana Jones quadrilogy


I picked up the Indiana Jones Blu-ray boxset during the Black Friday sales last year, and finally got around to watching each of the four films over the span of a week earlier this month. It had been years since I'd seen any of them, let alone in quick succession – so the experience of revisiting these cherished classics (and Crystal Skull) was great fun. 

Raiders definitely remains the series' peak, closely followed by Last Crusade. Those two are so alike that the oddity that is Temple of Doom, squashed between them, is especially peculiar when viewed on successive days. Darker, meaner and nowhere near as funny, Temple of Doom is good but not great – a really weird standalone adventure that does away with a lot of the elements that made Raiders so good. 


Meanwhile, Crystal Skull is still the worst of the bunch – the first hour is actually pretty decent, but once Indy meets with Marion in the jungle, it all unravels from there. It's a shame, because I can see what they were going for. Aliens, Area 51, Cold War paranoia – it's a 50s B-movie akin to The Day The Earth Stood Still viewed through the Indiana Jones lens. There are elements I like – aliens aren't that far-fetched in a series that already has magical goblets and cursed arks – but the execution is poor. 

That Blu-ray boxset is a special one though, with each movie looking absolutely gorgeous in high-definition. Comes recommended for fans of the series or just film in general, really.

Arrow (Netflix)

Feeding a newborn every three hours means lots of time on the sofa, which if you're anything like me, also means lots of time for Netflix. I've been capitalising on this by dipping back into a show I once loved but at one point dropped; Arrow. Or more specifically, the show's fifth and sixth season. 

I initially gave up on Arrow because the commitment of watching and keeping track of it and its spin-offs (The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow etc.) was too much like hard work. But since all eight seasons of Arrow are now on Netflix, I decided to give it a whirl – and y'know, I'm having a great time with it.

I think the key to enjoying Arrow is viewing it like less of superhero show and more of a soap; especially so far into its run, where multiple characters have died and come back in various ways. Season six is especially soapy, as Oliver Queen's team of heroes is torn asunder by internal politics. But the sixth season also offers a refreshing change of pace, as its central villain is a street level mob boss, instead of an immortal ninja cult leader or whatever. 

Like any show it has its ups and downs, but I'm going to stick with Arrow for the time being and report back next month. 

WandaVision (Disney+)


Of course, like lots of Marvel fans, I've been excitedly watching WandaVision on Disney+ each week. The show, which promotes side characters Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) to starring roles, is nine episodes long and is the first of a raft of shows and limited series that will fill out the edges of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

WandaVision is a hybrid of small screen format with big screen ambition and detailing. This superhero show is a far cry from the silliness of The CW; the enormous budget is plain to see, with each episode feeling more like a bitesize film than a network TV show.

The show still has a couple of episodes to run, so I might keep this brief and write something more detailed in a post of its own when it's finished. But right now, WandaVision is a breath of fresh air that demonstrates how the Marvel formula can be remixed and reapplied to long-form storytelling without sacrificing the elements that make it such a success in the first place. 

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