Sweat (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A few days in the life of social media influencer Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik).

I will admit, I’m not too familiar with Polish cinema (which considering I lived with two Polish girls for a year, is not a good sign for me), my only experience being the SUBLIME 2014 film Bogowie which I still hold up as one of the best surprises I’ve had at the cinema, and is my default option for both “suggest a great foreign language film” and “suggest a great film nobody has heard of”. Plus, I’m a white English guy, so my head still unfortunately lumps a lot of European films together because I don’t know enough to differentiate different countries film cultures yet. And the last “European” film I saw was The Columnist (which was also the last film I saw of any description before this) so my brain was always going to compare the two. So this film had the unlucky nature to have both high expectations, yet also be something I knew nothing about.

So with that in mind what can I say about this? Well my immediate thought is wondering whether the two Polish films I’ve watched are outliers or if Polish cinema is fucking incredible. This film is incredibly intense. Not in a “Death and bleakness and horribleness” kind of way that you think “I’m glad this isn’t happening to me”, but in a “this is relentlessly emotionally devastating and I don’t know how this person copes and it’s obviously happening to a lot of people around the world” way.

There’s a lot of criticism of social media influencers, especially fitness ones. The general consensus from people is that it’s not a “proper job” and it’s easy. This film shows just how foolish the notion that it’s “easy” is. Her job defines her whole character. Everything she does, she does it through the lens of her job. Not in a “this is bad writing” way, but because that’s the only way she knows to define herself, she feels she has no identity. She is aware that she has a lot of followers but no friends. Everybody watches her talk, but nobody LISTENS to her.

The film has a real intimacy to it, but it’s a strange detached sense of intimacy. It feels like it’s mostly handheld and shot via very intrusive close ups so you get the sense that even when she’s not filming herself on her phone, that she doesn’t really have any privacy. Even when she’s in a room on her own, the way that Magnus Von Horn shot it means that it still feels like she’s being watched and is putting on a front. I’m a big fan of using the camera to tell a story instead of just “put the camera in this spot and have people talk”, and Von Horn does a fantastic job of it to the point where the camera feels like another character.

Even her own family don’t take her worries seriously. She mentions about how she had to confront a guy who was stalking her, and he was outside her house in his car masturbating as he stared at her. The reaction from her family is “why did you have to go up to his window” and “you were too mean, he could have been a very nice person”. So even among her family she has nobody she feels she can talk to, even among people who “know” her, she can’t talk to them about her concerns. It’s a horrifying scene, which is strange considering it’s just people talking. But that’s what this film is, if I could sum it up it would be an emotional horror movie. Instead of seeing a woman killed, we see her psyche and sense of self-worth take a constant battering and it’s genuinely difficult to watch. This is best highlighted in one of the closing scenes where she’s on a talk show and she just BREAKS, completely, giving one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking speeches I’ve seen:

“What’s wrong with the fact that I admitted that right now there’s no one in my life who loves me? Does that mean that I’m weak or pathetic? In that case I want to be weak and pathetic because that’s when I’m myself. When I’m the Sylwia from the posters I feel very lonely and I’m just tired of pretending that I’m better than I am. I’m tired of wondering that I’m not good enough. I want to be weak and pathetic because weak pathetic people are the most beautiful people on earth”

You could show somebody that scene and they would instantly understand her character. The most heart-breaking part of that speech? That it doesn’t matter. She gets up and does another workout on television in front of the camera. The final shot is her having a big old smile, a big fake smile, that you can see her losing as the film fades to black. That’s the life of a person like this. If you want a vision of their future, imagine a camera pointed at their face, forever.

In summary, I highly recommend this film. It’s like a reverse Joker. That was a film about someone crying out to be noticed by society, this about someone wanting to be noticed by her own friends and family, and for society to let her live for a while. This is available to rent on Curzon Home Cinema for like a fiver, and is well worth it.

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020)

So the cinemas are now open again so I’m back at this. It’s been over a month since my last blog (been mainly writing some stuff I’ll be posting soon, which involved having to do research into Nigerian slang). There are some good films showing at the moment, Proxima looks like it could be good, My Spy could be fun, Onward is Pixar so should be great, and Unhinged looks like it could be great popcorn cinema. Not only that but classic films are being shown too; Goodfellas, Empire, Back To The Future, all classics in cinema history yet I am still yet to see and I have a chance to see them on the big screen for free so I’d be a fool not to do that, right?

So with all those great options in mind, what film did I deem important enough to be the first film I see post-lockdown? Sonic The Freaking Hedgehog. That should not be a surprise though considering that, well, it’s in the title of the page so if you didn’t read that then why are you here?

So was it worth it? Hard to tell, I consider it worth me seeing it as it’s a film I needed to have an opinion on, but it’s not one I feel was deeply important that I saw on a big screen, I wouldn’t have lost anything if I watched it on Netflix later in the year. Truth be told I’m not sure I would have even felt guilty if I illegally watched it.

I had hopes this wouldn’t be the greatest film in the world, but would at least be done with a lot of love. When the original trailer dropped and audiences complained about Sonics teeth being really creepy, the studio delayed the film so they could fix that issue. That showed to me that they had some pride in the project, and in some aspects that is easy to see. The closing credits are the most unique I’ve seen all year and it shows a real love not only for the film but for the original series. Sadly, this isn’t matched by the script. So much of it seems incredibly “first draft”. There are scenes and sequences which don’t really have any purpose, they don’t effect the story in any way whatsoever. Weirdly, this accusation could be levelled at the opening scene too (no, not the “I bet you’re wondering how I got here?” opening) where we see Sonic as a youth being hunted by echidnas before being protected by an owl. The echidnas are never mentioned again. There are other issues with the script as well, mainly in terms of consistency. I’ll start with the big one first: how fast does sonic go? Because usually when he runs we can see a blur so we know he’s moved, just very quickly (at much the same speed as an incredibly fast car, at one point it’s stated as 300mph). But when the story (or a joke) needs it, he can run A LOT faster. Two main examples: at one point he covers 800 miles in about 2 seconds, doing 400 of it soaking wet and with a fish on his head. The second is during the “bullet time” moments, one of which he moves and causes chaos around the room (affecting a whole bar-room full of people) in a split second. The other inconsistency: he says he needs human help to get inside the building as his bag of rings (just go with it) is on the roof of the building. Yet in the opening scene we see him do a vertical run up a similar building, so it’s pointless. Him being sneaked into the building leads to a moment you probably saw in the trailer where two random people hear sonic talking from inside the main character’s bag and think he’s kidnapped a child. “oh, it’s not mine” and they back off staring at him. Two things with this:

  1. This NEVER comes up again. So did they not tell the police?
  2. By this point the government think this guy is a terrorist and has put out a nationwide alert for him, putting his face all over the news. So these two people saw a terrorist going with a suspicious package into a large building, and didn’t question him? Bit weird. Even the security guard at the door didn’t recognise him. Also there’s never any information on how the government did the “oh he’s innocent now” announcement.

Mentioning the government has reminded me of something: our government are bastards. But also this: they didn’t see Robotnik get transported into the mushroom kingdom (eugh, I know, I know) so what exactly do they think happened? And why did they let the main character go free rather than question him A LOT about what happened? It’s like they didn’t put any thought into the story elements if it ruined their jokes. It’s all VERY “first draft”. There’s a lot of basic issues with this film that a good script editor would have fixed.

So yeah, that’s Sonic. It’s alright, has a few very funny moments, and Jim Carrey is somehow both the best and worst thing in the movie, with the exact same justification for both (his energy is both brilliant, yet also entirely inconsistent with the other characters). Definitely a “wait until netflix” film. Oh, the ending for this has THE most blatent product placement.

Films I’ve Avoided This Year

So we’ve been a bit quiet for a while. There’s a reason for that. I aimed to review every film I’ve seen at the cinema this year, but I haven’t seen anything in about a month. “woo, see every film!” very quickly changes to “see every film?” around this time of year and I find myself struggling to find the energy to be bothered about the incredibly minimal releases. Films have been released but they’re like Solo, Jurassic World etc. All of them are franchises I haven’t really paid much attention to. Both of those were released close to each other and dominated cinema schedules. So they were out, as were the films I’ve already seen (Deadpool 2, Infinity War), which left me with terrible children’s movies, and I just don’t hate myself quite that much. But there are a few films I’ve missed out for other, more personal reasons. Reasons which are much harder to explain, so here we are.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society

One reason, and one reason only. I’m really bored of films based on World War 2 at the moment, I’m suffering from WW2 film fatigue (or blitztigue). They’re not ugly enough. Period films are shot with an eye towards the beauty of elegance, which seems kind of inappropriate for a period of time where millions were massacred, particularly considering there are people today who support the people who did it (some people call them neo-nazi’s, I just call them pricks). I’m not saying there’s no beauty in ugliness, but I’m bored of every war film lately looking the same and attempting to create an air of nostalgia and warmth.

I Feel Pretty

I want to like Amy Schumer. I really do, she’s funny, and likeable, and with the right script is incredibly funny. But she’s also an alleged plagiarist, and when she’s in a bad film, it’s almost embarrassing, especially in a film where 80% of the jokes are “this person is above the average Hollywood weight, hahahahahahaha” (very much like Melissa McCarthy). But that didn’t have too much to do with me avoiding this film. I avoided it because the very concept annoys me. The whole “you just need self belief, then you’ll be pretty because you’ll have confidence” just seems a bit weird coming from an able-bodied blonde white woman with great complexion, she fulfils most of the definitions of classicly attractive by western standards. As someone who is genuinely ugly, with a bad face, it annoys the hell out of me that people say “you just need to believe in yourself”, as if being attractive to me isn’t as unobtainable as going to space on my BMX.

Show Dogs

I probably wasn’t going to see this anyway because, well, it looked kind of shit. But then I saw something else which confirmed my suspicions. It’s a typical kids movie about a talking dog that solves crime. To solve one he has to go undercover in a dog show, which requires having his genitals touched. So his human partner has to get him used to getting them touched, by training him to not react to people randomly grabbing his junk. Teaching him how to escape into your head whilst it happens. That’s……that’s grooming. It’s legitimately how child predators do it, a gymnastics coach who abused his students for years did it, telling them that he needed to do it to train them. It’s just kind of uncomfortable and weird. As Ruth Graham wrote for slate.com:

“The movie’s solution to Max’s discomfort with the inspection is not to empower him to escape it somehow; it’s to have him learn to check out mentally while he endures it, and to make no outward sign of his humiliation. It is not paranoid to say that this is a bad message for kids.”

I mean, yeah it got edited out after the first week or so, but it shouldn’t have been there in the first place. It’s like if McDonalds said “Our Chicken Nuggets no longer contain arsenic” and expecting me to still eat them. Now I know “it’s just movie”, but it’s a kids movie. And that’s where people get morals from, as it’s used as indicator for society as a whole to children. It’s where they get their ideas from about how the wider world works. You don’t think that’s true? Okay, what do you think would happen if in every single kids film from now on, there was a character called “Chris” who constantly shit his pants? Do you think when a child meets someone called Chris, they’re NOT going to bully him about shitting his pants, despite the fact he actually hasn’t, because that’s what movies have taught him they do?

Book Club

Because my watching this film could be seen as an indicator that I don’t despise Fifty Shades, and I can’t risk that.

So yeah that’s that. There are more I avoided but mainly for boring reasons, primarily a lot of “wooo, America and guns are awesome” films I’ve avoided like healthy food at a house party. Luckily there’s Hereditary released today, and I’m really looking forward to that as it looks unsettling as hell.

Winchester (2018)

Imagine going to see a magician. You sit in the crowd watching, wondering whether he’ll be any good. She (for the purposes of this hypothetical it’s a female magician) comes on stage and for her first trick pulls a lion out of a hat. Wow, pretty impressive. Then for her next trick, she turns a bouquet of flowers into a Ford Fiesta, again you’re impressed. She then produces a hat, you’re excited to see what she’ll do, you anxiously await to see what will happen. Drum roll, lights dim, and she slowly reaches into the hat and pulls out……a lion. I mean, that’s still impressive, but less so than it was before.  But then she gets another bouquet of flowers out. You fear the worst, and she does the worst, transforming them again into a Ford Fiesta. She repeats those two tricks for the entire night. Now, no matter how impressive those tricks were the first time you saw them, would you still consider that a good show? No, you’d consider it a waste of time and ask for your money back. That, pretty much, is what watching this film is like. It runs out of steam after the opening scares, which, by the way, aren’t needed. You can cut the entire opening and it wouldn’t affect the film at all. Actually, it might improve it as it would save some of the creepy visuals for later.

I really wish this film was better. It has a great concept, someone has acquired vast sums of wealth but feel guilty by the deaths caused by it, so seeks to make amends to those who have died. That would be a great character-driven drama to have. It also wastes the location. It’s set in a house that’s constantly changing and with no real floor plan. That’s PERFECT for a horror film. A house that’s a maze, trapping people in there making you wonder if the house is genuinely set up like that or if the characters are losing their minds. Actually, that would be a great survival horror video game; you’re locked in an ever-changing house and need to escape before you starve to death and the longer you last the harder it gets as you start to suffer hallucinations.

And now back to the film. It has its good points. There’s a scene near the end where a room full of guns suddenly rise and point themselves at the main character, it’s a beautifully composed shot in an otherwise visually-lacking film. The story has potential but never really fully lives up to what you think it can do. The performances are……..okay. Helen Mirren deserves better than this. Jason Clarke continues to be a dependable “where do I know that guy from? Oh right, ALMOST EVERYTHING” guy. His performances are usually pretty good, but every single one makes it seem like he’s the guy they get in to replace the actor when a successful film franchise goes straight to DVD. I’ve never really found much to fault with his performances, but I’ve also never been overly impressed, he’s just been there, like the casting equivalent of white bread.

I think that’s the best way to describe this film actually; bland. When I come to the end of year list this will be really hard to write about and place as I don’t think I’m going to be able to remember much about it, in fact, if I didn’t keep a list I’m not sure I’d even remember I saw it. Helen Mirren deserves better, the story deserves better, and the audience deserves better. It kind of feels like a modern remake of a far superior film.