Quick Hit: Good idea, poor execution.
Some stories and movies are built on a really excellent idea, like what if there was a giant shark that started eating people outside a small town (Jaws) or what if a young sociopath got to kill demons (John Cleaver series) or other killers (Dexter series). For some, these ideas spiral into good movies, good books, or good television series. For others, well, you get something like Extinction.
The main premise of the film is that Peter (Michael Pena) is having visions of the destruction of his city and his family. His wife Lizzy wants him to just see a therapist and forget it, but he is struck on it. We’re at some undisclosed point in the future, and then one day, aliens attack and his vision seems to hold true.
Let’s start with the good here – there is a good twist in this story. I honestly was extremely bored up until that point, but it does get a bit better after the twist. The alien suits are interestingly designed, if not very well executed – makes me think of old school Godzilla rubber suits. And… well, that’s it.
The script in this is pretty awful. It gives most of the characters just about nothing to do. Combine that with the fact that the only thing that makes the movie interesting is the twist, and the story just feels backwards. I think this would have been a good reveal like ten minutes in, and then we could have built into it more. It would have made the movie much more tolerable. When you combine the backwards story with the obvious allusions to Charlottesville and the Black Lives Matter movements, it makes the movie suck that much harder, because these make the ones in Suburbicon seem subtle.
The effects are also bad. I understand that Netflix, which put on the film, is probably not going to match the Disney money that can get thrown into their science fiction films. But I’m tired of excusing poor CGI. This CGI looks like it could be from the freaking nineties it’s so bad. This is up to and including bullets from the aliens, which look like old school gun rays from Flash Gordon or something.
The filming isn’t great either. In the beginning (and really throughout the story) we’re constantly flipping to the visions that Peter is having. This makes things super choppy, which isn’t helped by the action scenes in the film. They’re not great, shot in dark hallways that feel useless. The escape from their apartment building should have been more tension filled, and instead it just felt like a set piece.
So, ya, I wouldn’t advise this one. I’m giving Extinction a “D-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Tense, taut, with excellent camera work and haunting performances.
Thoroughbred – a purebred or pedigreed animal.
Thoroughbred – a thoroughly educated or skilled person.
These definitions are important to understanding the movie that is Cory Finley’s debut feature Thoroughbreds. We open with Amanda (Olivia Cooke of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Ready Player One) standing next to an obviously thoroughbred horse. With a knife. To say more is to spoil some of the slow and delicious breakdown of the story – but suffice it to say that things get real – including a chilling description of actions that occur off-screen. We then follow Amanda into a huge mansion of a home for a confusing SAT prep with Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy of Split and The VVitch). These girls, as it turns out, are also thoroughbreds, and therein lies the darkness of the film.
And don’t get me wrong, this film is dark. It features a plot for murdering Lily’s step-father (played with near evil glee by Paul Sparks). This involves getting involved with shady cast-off Tim (the late Anton Yelchin of Green Room and The Beaver) who may not be totally what he seems. The cast pulls off this darkness while also making you believe that there is more going on in their heads. Honestly, I think the cast, which is small and very theatrical, is the best part of the film. Cooke shows why she is such a growing star with her sociopathic performance. Often throughout the film, she’ll catch a glimpse of herself in a mirror, and will throw a human emotion at it – but it never quite sticks and always seems off.
Taylor-Joy, for her part, continues to build on her previous performances and makes Lily a much deeper character than is first assumed. Part of this is her wide-eyed look, which is natural, but other pieces of it are dredged from beneath her look to show a shaky confidence that builds in Lily throughout the film. Yelchin, in a fitting performance for his last, shows that he still fits great as an outsider. His Tim, who is filled with outward bluster and is by far all talk, is one of the understated points of the movie that makes it work so well.
But the movie also wouldn’t be anywhere without its technical aspects. The camerawork is amazing, with Finley unafraid to explore the halls and space of Lily and Mark’s home. We often come up on character’s from behind, using different techniques to make it feel as if we’re in the room with them. It is extremely indicative of the work that Stanley Kubrick did with The Shining and the Overlook. This is especially important as we begin to lose ourselves to the story – which leads me to the sound design. There’s really good focus on really small sounds here – you never would have thought you’d dread the sound of an exercise machine so much.
I liked this one a lot, especially the more I thought on it. I think the ending was a bit too tidy and rushed, which is why I docked it a few points. Other than that, great! I’m giving it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: An interesting picture of family and growing up.
Jenny Slate, maybe better known as the voice behind Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, is a pretty terrific comedian, who is also extremely approachable as an actress. Her characters, which have shown up in a variety of animations (due to her extremely recognizable voice), have now started to show up more in life-action fare. This started with Obvious Child, continued with Gifted, and will continue further in Venom. Somewhere dancing around that was this Indie film by the same director as Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre. Landline follows the antics of a Jewish Italian family as they navigate all of life’s many challenges, particularly when it comes to relationships and growing up.
This leads instantly to some really touching scenes, and some really humorous ones. Slate plays Dana, a girl who works on a magazine layout, and is about to be married to her vanilla boyfriend. A chance encounter puts her back into the orbit of a previous crush, which begins to lead her to questioning her life’s decisions. She moves back home, under the pretense of helping her sister and mother (Edie Falco), who are having their own problems. Her sister Ali (Abby Quinn) is all about rebellion, and soon discovers (on a FLOPPY DISC, remember those??) that her father (John Turturro) may or may not be having an affair.
Landline best plays if you watch it as a series of skits, much like a sitcom. It’s set up that way, because there is only a loose thread that ties everything together. There’s not anything truly wrong with this, but it does make everything a bit disjointed. As with any sketch show, some of the sketches are better than others, and it shows. The ones between Quinn and Slate shine brightest, but it may be due to the development of their characters past the events that occur to them. Ali is a young girl that is struggling to find her reasons for growing up, and Dana is trying to grow up as well. Their interactions with each other are true sibling fodder, and it’s clear that there is great chemistry between the actresses.
But the problem is that the whole thing feels a bit pointless. The whole movie is centered on two infidelities, but never quite goes forth with making them feel real, particularly the father’s. And while Turturro does a solid job at selling his one big scene, it’s a case of “too little too late”. The film also gives us the classic sitcom example of a montage where everything just seems to be working out, and I think that’s a little too tidy for this film that is so heavily based on real life.
The film’s set design and props never let us stop knowing that it is set in the nineties, but I can’t help but wonder why this was so important. I have a total affinity for the nineties and all the nostalgia it brings, but the whole film is an exercise in getting beat over the head with “SEE IT’S THE NINETIES” – after watching the recent Captain Marvel trailer featuring a Blockbuster, I hope that isn’t a trend.
Landline is a solid family drama, that leaves a lot to be desired. I’m giving it a “C-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"