Girl In The Picture (2022)

Last night I watched Girl In The Picture (2022), directed by Skye Borgman, which is a new Netflix true crime documentary. I had heard it was good, and, with a runtime of less than two hours (rather than the six hour-long episode slog too many Netflix documentaries are), I decided to try it. It tells the story of a young woman who is killed in a hit and run, and how her death leads to the discovery of a whole trail of kidnappings, murder, and pedophilia.

It’s all down to one man, the perpetrator Franklin Delano Floyd, but the focus of the film is not on Floyd but his victims, particularly the titular girl in the picture. This is in keeping with the trend of true crime documentaries to take the focus off the criminal and onto the people affected by their crimes; in general, it’s not a trend I have a whole lot of interest in (I like reading/watching this stuff because of the focus on the wrong-doer, it’s like a mental vacation from correct behavior), but here it makes perfect sense and is logical enough because of the rather unusual circumstances of the case.

With the story being told, and the gradual unfolding nature of the facts, it would spoil things for me to say much more. I recommend this if you like the more mysterious end of true crime; though the acts are terrible, the film does not linger on them. Girl in the Picture is not exploitative, but an exercise in doing justice to the memory of someone who never even knew her real name.

Uncharted (2022)

I’ve kind of gone off video games in the last ten years or so. Too many character options and upgrades and DLC and whatnot. I like to just plug in and play as in video games of old. Anyhow, Uncharted is one of the only games I can say I’ve played all the different series of — it’s simple treasure hunting fun and not too hard, doesn’t get much more complicated than figuring out some puzzles. The action is of course over the top, as you’d expect. 

This brings us to Uncharted (2022), the big-budget movie adaptation, with main guy Nathan Drake played by your friendly neighbourhood Tom Holland, and his ‘trusty’ sidekick Victor “Sully” Sullivan played by Mark Wahlberg. Yes, Holland does have charm to spare, but I’m not sure he was really up to playing Drake, who always seemed a little older and tougher in the games than here. Half the time, Holland seems like a little boy playing at being a pirate and so on. 

There’s a few set pieces lifted from the games, and as far as fan service goes, I thought the film did fine. Reviews have been pretty uniformly abysmal even for a summer blockbuster, and though the film is being considered something of a flop, it still made enough money at the box office that a sequel remains a real possibility. I thought the villains were duds, which is always a shame when you’re talking big-budget action. Even Antonio Banderas falls flat here; he was more menacing in The Misbehavers, for crying out loud. 

In short, while kids will probably love this, anyone older than 15 or so is unlikely to be impressed. Some seriously weak sauce, all in all. IMO Mortal Kombat (1995) remains the best video game adaptation. Considering it’s almost 30 years old now, that’s kind of sad.

Men (2022)

Spoilers follow.

I’m a big fan of Alex Garland’s recent films so I was very much looking forward to seeing what an out and out horror movie directed by him would be like. Men (2022) has received mixed reviews on release, with many complaining that the story didn’t make sense, most particularly the ending. I felt that it did show coherence throughout, albeit in a metaphorical or allegorical fashion. 

In brief, Men is a horror film about the patriarchy. The way it robs you of your freedom, your solitude, your independence and your sanity with its relentless presentation, its insistence on perpetuating itself (both in conversation and then later literally), its myriad microaggressions. Many of the key moments in the film involve small moments that add up to a frightening whole: a hand on a knee, a phrase, an overstepping, a reluctance to believe or take seriously. Even a choice of honorific has an hurtful and intimidating connotation here.

Our protagonist Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) is taking a fortnight to herself after a traumatic row with her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) that resulted in his death. She seeks to simply be, to exist and to heal in this rented estate in the country; instead, at every avenue, she is pestered or harassed by a series of males, all of whom bear the same face (that of Rory Kinnear). Their offences become more and more brazen throughout. Harper is remarkably adamant in her own point of view and this appears to rankle.

The ending – wherein one man gives birth to another, and then that man gives birth to yet another, and so on until we arrive at James again, who sits up with Harper and persists in blaming her for his death – entails the conjunction of two very old, even pagan ideas: that of the Green Man and that of the Sheela Na Gig (this is the reason too that Men is referred to as a folk horror; I would quibble with that, but it’s a digression). These figures are depicted in the film as two sides of the same baptismal font in a spooky church Harper visits at one point. 

The film is suggesting some union of the male and female pagan (re)birthing energies, and this I think is key to understanding why these men are suddenly giving birth to each other at the end. It’s also making implicit the connection between her overtly aggressive late husband and the men in the town who have been so relentless in their own aggressions. When Riley (Gayle Rankin) arrives to see her friend, it’s clear that these women share a strong bond beyond friendly phonecalls. One can see how they flourish in each other’s presence. 

And this brings me to two key pieces of the puzzle most people seem to have overlooked, the answer James gives when Harper asks him what he wants from her (“love”), and the following shot of a dandelion losing its seeds played in reverse. Is love the key to patriarchy? A woman’s love for a man? Doing away with that entire construct (“he loves me, he loves me not”) may then be where happiness lies. A good hang with a good friend out in the countryside. Like Midsommar, perhaps this is a happy ending in disguise.

Is the film problematic? Most definitely, not least because James is the only person of colour in the whole thing, and he’s an unbalanced, aggressive person at that. There is also the issue of gender ‘essentialism’ going on – the film is called Men, after all. The fact that Riley arrives alone and pregnant at the end is very interesting, I thought. It further suggests a future free of men. Would I recommend watching Men? If you like A24 films (for it is such a one), and/or body horror, give it a go. 

The Batman (2022)

Saw The Batman (2022) last night and did not care for it. As flawed as the Dark Knight series could be, at least it wasn’t boring. This begins as an extended riff on Seven, right down to the subway rumbling past the apartment window. That only gets doubled down upon once The Riddler is found; I couldn’t believe how much material here was cribbed from John Doe. They even read a disturbing diary entry, for Pete’s sake.

This seems to be the way cinema is going, by and large; Ouroboros eating its own tail, plots and characters recycled for a new generation that has no interest in what’s come before. I will allow that Colin Farrell disappeared into the role of The Penguin, and I didn’t know it was him until I read the cast list after watching. I also liked some of the car chases. Robert Pattinson takes a cue from Michael Keaton and lets his eyes do most of the work here, which is a wise move seeing as how he otherwise communicates in a low growl that is often incomprehensible.

The bit near the beginning with the bat signal scaring the crap out of criminals and then having those criminals stare into a dark doorframe in fear was effective, if a bit fascist. I’m trying to find positives here but that’s difficult, frankly. The score was the worst I’ve heard in some time: bombastic and constantly pushing every emotion we are supposed to feel. I do not look forward to any sequels.

Thor: Love And Thunder (2022)

Saw Thor: Love and Thunder last night and, you know what – it was a pretty strange movie. Thoughts have I. Not sure how to talk about this without some spoilers, hopefully nothing major. This is going to read like I didn’t like the film, which isn’t true at all. I enjoyed it quite a bit, in fact. It’s just brought up a lot of stuff for me.

First of all, I have to be honest, Thor is probably my favourite superhero. That’s based on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comics version Thor (alias Dr. Donald Blake, a disabled physician who walks with a cane that transforms him into Thor when he strikes it on the ground), not that of Walter Simonson or anybody else. As far as the movie version, I really like Chris Hemsworth and I like that Thor keeps on changing and evolving as a character.

That said, his behaviour in the first half hour here is so at odds with what we know Thor is capable of, it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. More dumb Thor jokes, in short. There’s a lot of that here. Hemsworth seems happy to play the Space Viking with no end in sight; Thor is the first MCU character to have four movies, and dare I say, it appears there will be more. I like his portrayal in the MCU very much overall, but I wish they’d cut back a bit on the funny. Bring on more Silver Age battles, bring on Crusher Creel!

Whether or not Taika Waititi returns as director for a third time in what would be a mind-boggling five movie series (!) will likely depend on how much money this film makes; his lighthearted style does gel well with the more wild material, but it would be nice to see someone new helming any future feature. Ideally, someone a bit more deft at navigating us betwixt nobleman and moron.

The MCU Thor is a fairly tragic character, all in all (as this film points out, everyone he loves dies), even though Hemsworth spends most of his time onscreen getting laughs. This is the crux of what makes Thor: Love and Thunder such an odd summer blockbuster: wildly varying tones, swinging for the rafters between comedy and drama, and not always successfully.

Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, now suffering from stage four cancer and, with the help of Mjolnir, she assumes the powers of Thor. I never liked Portman in these movies and I didn’t particularly enjoy her performance here. She always comes off like she has somewhere else she’d rather be. Seeing her lying in a hospital bed looking very near death is an unusual look for a superhero though, and I have to give the film credit for not soft-pedalling her character’s situation.

Aside from cancer, Christian Bale is the movie’s Big Bad, a guy named Gorr The God Butcher who goes around killing gods with a magic sword, as you do, essentially for their perceived hypocrisy. Bale is fantastic in the role and elevates the proceedings considerably, scaring children in a cage at one point with gleeful aplomb. I’ve heard rumours of a much longer cut of the film; hopefully if this is true, there’s more footage of Gorr, maybe even of some God Butchering?

I should mention Russell Crowe as Zeus. He was pretty memorable, and funny. I thought I knew going in why his character was in the film but I was mistaken, and that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a neat feeling.

So, really mixed feelings on this movie, and on the MCU overall lately, to be frank. I always enjoy the films as I’m watching them (and this was no exception) but increasingly they don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny or repeat viewings. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of where the films are collectively headed, or what is driving events forward. There are internal logic flaws where once things were tight as a drum. I have high hopes for the future but the present feels kind of off to me.

Marvel’s Phase 4 has had a theme of inclusion: racial, gender based, and so forth; the furor and backlash against it has been gross and sad to see. There’s also a move to secure a future generation of superheroes. This has the effect of including younger viewers who imagine what It would be like if they had superpowers. Many seeds have been sown script-wise which should shortly bear creative fruit in the form of new characters like Ironheart, et al. I’ve got no problem with kids feeling included. It just makes sense when we’re talking about comic book movies after all. But…

At the finale of Love and Thunder, a group of children are blessed by Thor and literally fight back a large group of shadow monsters with blunt objects while he engages the villain. It feels like something important has been lost here. This must all be very satisfying if you are a ten year old, but it isn’t what I’m interested in.

Finally, this movie has four Guns’N’Roses songs in it and that’s about five too many. Why does that band continue to get a pass? Let’s hope we can get a decent Kraven The Hunter or Alpha Flight movie before Marvel loses any more steam.