October Movie Roundup

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Unless otherwise indicated the movies mentioned in this post are on AppleTV+. the only reason I have a subscription to this streaming channel is because Apple gave me a year for free when I bought a new iPad. I already have Disney+, Amazon Prime and Netflix, so I had no intention of signing up for yet another streaming service despite there being some key content I wanted to see (notably the TV show Long Way Up and the Beastie Boys Story documentary). However, I’m always mesmerised by new shiny stuff (the clue’s in the name ‘couchmagpie’) so I tended to concentrate on Apple content in October. Normal service will probably be resumed in November.

Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) came out on Amazon Prime Video last week and is a sequel to the controversial 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Subsequent Moviefilm has a range of longer titles that change as the events of the movie unfold. When the pornstar monkey Kazakh television journalist Borat was going to gift to an American politician is murdered, he has to clean up his daughter to present as a gift instead. Subsequent Moviefilm does not stray too far from the comedy formula that made the original film so funny. Unwitting Americans have their irrational prejudices revealed by Sacha Baron Cohen on camera.

Maria Bakalova is excellent as Borat’s daughter Tutar and the story revolves around her emancipation and growing father-daughter relationship. Cohen also manages to use the COVID-19 pandemic for comedy value which is no mean feat. At times the movie is touching, at other times it is cringeworthy and foul, but mostly it is just hilarious. Perhaps not as hilarious as the original, but it’s a good sequel and I like Borat far more than Cohen’s other characters Ali G and Bruno.

However, the star of the show for me was Jeanise Jones, a 62-year-old grandmother, who played Tutar’s unwitting babysitter. She shows true compassion for Tutar’s plight and offers kind words of advice. It is a stark contrast to most of the other hoodwinked members of the American public who come across in a very bad light.

21 Bridges (2019) is one of Chadwick Boseman’s last films. It’s also available on Amazon and was directed by Game of Thrones director Brian Kirk and produced by the Russo Brothers (you know those guys that make those superhero films). Boseman plays a trigger-happy homicide investigator looking into a drug heist gone wrong.

Boseman is as usual brilliant in this and Sienna Miller is also pretty darn good as his cop side-kick. There’s some inevitable, and some might feel predicable, twists and turns during the investigation which sees Manhattan island locked down while Boseman and Miller chase clumsy thieves who have stumbled into a wider nest of corruption, but it’s an enjoyable gritty crime story with some violent scenes.

On a lighter note Tangled (2010) is an animated version of the Rapunzel fairy tale from Disney and available along with hundreds of other films I won’t be watching on Disney+. Mandy Moore (no, me neither) does the voice of impossibly long-haired wide-eyed Rapunzel brought up in a tower by the evil Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy – again, who?). Zachery Levi (Shazam!, Chuck) who plays the kind-hearted thief who rescues Rapunzel is about the only recognisable voice in the movie if you don’t count Ron Perlman (Hellboy) who has a bit part.

The animation is good and there’s some fun to be had, but with the lack of an A-list cast and any really good songs, it’s not much to write home about. The most memorable things about the film for me were how similar it felt to Maleficent in places, how cute and well characterised the side-kick chameleon was, and how funny the horse was. When I’m enjoying the non-human characters in a film more than the human characters then you know something’s gone a bit awry.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018), available on Netflix, is an adaptation of David Lagercrantz’s novel which continued Stieg Larsson’s brilliant Millennium series. Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, is back along with journalist Mikael Blomkvist who seems a lot younger than in previous movie incarnations. Claire Foy who played Janet Armstrong in First Man, and the queen in The Crown plays Salander, and Sverrir Gudnason, who played Bjorn Borg in Borg McEnroe, plays Blomkvist. As a result this movie feels closer to the original movie trilogy starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist (RIP), than the Hollywood remake starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.

It’s the usual mix of corrupt government officials, hackers and psychopaths in a Scandi-noir setting. There’s a lot of simplification in the plot to make it work better as a film and some scenes that are unique to the movie. While the book is inevitably more nuanced in characterisations and holds a deeper story, the film is very enjoyable and Bondesque, even in the absence of Daniel Craig.

Love, Wedding, Repeat (2020) is also on Netflix and is a romantic British comedy based in Italy which revolves around a wedding and the choices the ensemble of characters take. The ‘alternate endings’ are not viewer drive like in Bandersnatch and actually don’t really come into play until very close to the end. It would probably be a good film without the different endings and it smacks rather of a lack of commitment on behalf of the writers to stick to the one story outcome.

While trying to ensure his sister’s wedding goes smoothly, Jack, played by Sam Claflin (Mycroft Holmes in Enola Holmes) finds himself juggling an angry ex-girlfriend (Freida Pinto), an uninvited guest with a secret (the excellent Jack Farthing, who played Freddie in TV period comedy Blindings), a misplaced bottle of sedative, and the girl that got away (Olivia Munn). Eleanor Tomlinson plays Jack’s sister, Aisling Bea (Living with Yourself) and UK poet comedian Tim Key have smaller parts, and the cast are all very good, if generally rather too attractive to all be in the same place at the same time.

Beastie Boys Story (2020) is a live show directed by Spike Jonze and starring the two surviving members of the band Mike Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad Rock). It tells the story of the formation and early years of the Beastie Boys. In a way it is touching tribute to the missing member of the hip-hop trio Adam Yauch (MCA) who died in 2012. Yauch was the founding member of the Beastie Boys and it is evident as the story unfolds that he was the guy around which a lot of the creative energy centred. It’s no wonder that Diamond and Horovitz jacked it in when they lost him.

Story is a great documentary well-told. I have been a life-long fan of the band and always knew that they were so much more than those ‘Party guys’. My only gripe about the documentary is that I would’ve liked to hear more about the making of the the band’s later albums like To the 5 Boroughs and Hot Sauce Committee Part II which I really rate. A very brief commentary on my love for the band is contained within this ancient post from back in 2013 when I think I was over on blogspot.

Greyhound (2020) is a WWII naval drama starring Tom Hanks based on the book The Good Shepherd. It’s a film I thought had disappeared out of production until I realised I was watching it with a different title. I actually prefer the original title which speaks of Captain Krause’s (Hanks) role as the overtly religious and inexperienced U.S. Navy commander of the Greyhound, but I can see that it might be confused with De Niro’s 2007 film of the same name.

Greyhound is mostly set on the command deck of the US Navy escort ship and tells the story of Krause’s first mission escorting an Atlantic supply fleet hounded by a ‘wolf pack’ of German U-boats. The action is intense, with authentic dialogue and not too shoddy special effects. I was gripped as soon as I saw the first torpedo in the water and loved it. I assume the makers considered telling the story from the U-boat commanders’ point of view as well, but I don’t think the sense of intensity and under-siege mentality would have been quite as impactful if we kept cutting away to subtitled scenes under the water. It’s a wise move. Tom Hanks may be typecast in this type of role, but he’s really great at it.

On The Rocks (2020) is written and directed by Sofia Coppola and finds her working with Bill Murray again. Starring alongside Murray is Rashida Jones (Parks & Rec, The Office) and Marlon Wayans (White Chicks). Laura (Jones) thinks her husband (Wayans) might be having an affair with a co-worker and her father (Murray) helps her investigate. Murray is brilliant as usual and does most of the heavy lifting in this otherwise potentially dull New York based comedy.

If you’re expecting Woody Allen level satire then you’re looking in the wrong place. But then he’s been ‘cancelled’ hasn’t he, so we have to look elsewhere for witty comedy dramas. While I think Rashida Jones is great and so too is pretty much everything Bill Murray does, I sometimes think that Sofia Coppola is as overrated as M. Night Shyamalan.

The Banker (2020) is predominantly a George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau, The Bourne Ultimatum) film which tells the true story of two African-American businessmen (played by Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson) who hire a white guy (Nicholas Hoult) to act as the CEO of their business. They do this to avoid the racial prejudice within the people and rules of the real estate and banking systems.

Things inevitably start to unravel when they buy banks in Texas and Hoult’s character has to make decisions on his own without the expert guidance of his silent partners. It’s a good film about the fight against racism in 1950s-1960s America and for once I was impressed by both Mackie and Jackson’s performances. I also thought there was really nice attention to period detail in terms of wardrobe, set design and props – some of the cars are really cool.

The Elephant Queen (2018) is a nature documentary which follows the lives of a herd of African elephants and is narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. As you might imagine it’s a bit of a tear-jerker at times since nature is a cruel mistress. There’s a fare amount of rather saccharine wording in the voice-over and attribution of human characteristics to animals, but it’s hard to be cynical about it when the elephants are obviously having a moment – touching their trunks to the sun bleached skull of dead elephant on their way to find water or gathering around the body of a recently deceased family member.

There’s nothing particularly original about the story being told but the cinematography makes up for any shortcomings in the writing. What the camera operators have been able to capture on screen is amazing be it a vast sandstorm sweeping over the land or the fish eggs being carried in the mud on an elephants foot. It really is a feast for the eyes and if you can’t have a laugh at the dung beetles scrapping over a ball of elephant dung then when can you?

Photo by Brandon Jacoby on Unsplash

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