So here’s a monthly midpoint movie roundup for February 2021 written at a time when I needed to escape this reality into another. All the films so far this month have been Netflix movies and so I thought I might as well lean into that for the title of this post. I’ve arranged them in order of release date rather than the order in which I watched them. If I was to pick a favourite it was probably Spree which for the sake of avoiding spoilers I have not written much about below. Enjoy.
The Dig (2021) tells the true story of a self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) paid by landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) in 1938 to excavate some burial mounds in a field in England. What is uncovered over the course of the film is not only Britain’s greatest treasure in the form of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon hoard, but also the inner-workings of the main characters lives.
It’s a slowly paced film and very much character-driven. Fiennes and Mulligan are excellent and perhaps because of the subject matter it reminded a lot of the equally gentle comedy The Detectorists.
Spree (2020) is a violent dark comedy satirising society’s obsession with social media, starring Stranger Things‘s Joe Keery. Keery plays the sociopathic Kurt Kunkle intent on getting into triple figures on his video channel and winning the respect of fellow vloggers. Kunkle drives for the Uber-esque ride app Spree and uses his passengers to up his likes. Keery is brilliant and the movie is clever in terms of how it is shot but also the underlying theme which will appeal to anyone with a disdain for influencers, celebrity and SocMe (and Black Mirror fans).
The Midnight Sky (2020) was directed by and stars George Clooney. It has the same thoughtful pacing as The Dig and is a science-fiction tale based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton which balances a survival story with a space travel story. Clooney’s character is a terminally ill scientist who stays behind when everyone else evacuates the arctic research station where he is based.
He is intent on warning the occupants of a ludicrously spacious spacecraft, who are returning to Earth from a fact-finding mission on one of Jupiter’s moons, not to bother because Earth has accidentally been reduced to a radioactive lump of rock. There’s some Gravity-esque action but overall the film reminded me more of Robinson Crusoe than anything else.
IO (2019) stars Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time.. In Hollywood) and Anthony Mackie (Altered Carbon) and nobody else really. Qualley plays a young scientist researching how to make bees impervious to the toxic chemicals that have wiped out life on Earth. She lives in an observatory up a mountain which is high enough above sea level to avoid the clouds of toxicity in the city below. Most of the population of Earth have already, years ago, left on spaceships to set up a colony orbiting Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io. As such the film has a number of similarities to The Midnight Sky.
Qualley’s performance is great and Mackie doesn’t turn up in his balloon for quite some time. You know his arrival is going to be disruptive and the rest of the film is a case of revealing secrets and motivations behind their two characters. Mackie’s performance is fairly typical but not so bad as to ruin the film. There’s some subtle interweaving of mythology in the script and the final shot I think is intended to reference patient Penelope, looking out to sea, waiting for Odysseus to return.
ARQ (2016) also features a lot of gas masks, is set in a dystopian future and has a very small cast. Renton (a new face for me in the form of Robbie Amell) and Hannah (Jessica Jones‘s Rachael Taylor) are a couple stuck in a time loop produced by the ARQ – a perpetual motion machine and source of unlimited electric power – a device Renton has stolen from a evil corporation intent on getting it back.
Some guys turn up ostensibly to rob Renton of his scrips (money) but as the loops go around and around like Ground Hog Day (or every day in a COVID-19 lockdown) it becomes apparent that not everyone is who the say they are. There’s quite a lot of over-writing to explain the time loops including some videos stored on a computer hard drive, but it’s actually pretty well done. At times it felt like a stage play, and even when they get outside they soon go back indoors. Bit like me at the moment…