This latest edition of the Rapid Fire Reviews focuses on an extremely diverse selection of movies that debuted on Netflix. Included are a couple action movies, there are some films about filmmaking, several dramas about life and the complexity of modernity, hell, there’s even a thriller and one surprisingly effective horror movie. Since everyone’s been quarantining for the last few months you may already have come across these titles- but if you haven’t hopefully there’s a few flicks here to fill the void. We’ve all got the time now, right?

Shirkers

“Shirkers” is a documentary made by Sandi Tan and her close friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique. The story is about the 16 mm indie film that the three friends made as young creatives in Singapore in the early 1990’s. Well, it’s more than that in truth, the film was the culmination of Sandi Tan’s obsession with films, creating, and generally being a weird kid with her friends. The hook comes when the three friends’ film is stolen by their friend and fellow collaborator George Cardona, an older man of mysterious origin and intent. This was a charming and encouraging story about a group of friends pouring everything into their film to only have it ripped out of their hands for more than twenty years. The unraveling of their pasts and careers afterwards was truly a story worth being told and I personally love the fact that Netflix picked this one up.

Recommendation: The mystery of the theft and how it traumatized, enraged, and brought together these young woman was a fascinating journey and one that I highly recommend! If stories about filmmaking are your thing, you’ll likely enjoy this delightful doc.

Dolemite is my name

Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed by Craig Brewer, “Dolemite is My Name” is the comedic biography of Rudy Ray Moore and his character called “Dolemite”. Eddie Murphy stars in this comeback role as Moore, an overly ambitious entertainer who wants nothing more than to be a success in the spotlight. Set during the 1970’s right before the height of the ‘Blaxploitation’ era of genre filmmaking, Moore worked at a record shop and club as the weekly MC. One day when a regular purveyor of the streets, Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), walks in to tell his stories and make a bit of money, Moore is made to walk the older homeless man out, but the story being told catches Moore’s ear and his imagination. Ricco’s modern myth of magnanimous proportions inspires Moore to utilize the title of “Dolemite” and mold it into his own character brimming with confidence and extremely lewd sexual conquests. Once he takes “Dolemite” and gives him voice, a costume, and a lyrical tune to the performance, Moore takes the character on stage during his duties as the Master of Ceremonies and turns it into a rousing success. From there Rudy Ray Moore took Dolemite and started selling out local theaters until he put together a few comedy albums which truly catapulted Moore to cult character status. After taking the character through as many highs as possible in the comedic business Moore has the realization that if he can put Dolemite on the silver screen, he can transcend the cultural boundaries of the time and become truly unforgettable. This leads Moore to his most infamous phase as Dolemite in which he gathers a production crew and makes the Dolemite Movie! It’s a hilarious gut-busting third of the film and it is firmly anchored by Eddie Murphy’s enigmatic and electric performance as the foul-mouthed entertainer.

Recommendation: If you can stand the extremely sexual and low brow humor, this one may be for you. It’s incredibly subjective for this one though. The supporting cast is packed to the rim with famous black entertainers and actors that layer the film wall to wall with charming and hilarious characters and performances. I had a great time with this one.

1922

Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, “1922” is the story of a marriage in dire straits in the heartland of Nebraska. The film begins with Wilfred “Wilf” James, played with a stony gristle by Thomas Jane, as he espouses his life’s mantra. Namely that in 1922, a man’s pride is with his land. It is through the work put into that land that a man can be free, his identity begins and ends with his plot of land and occupation on it. However his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), does not share this philosophy of life. Arlette had inherited much of the land the James family farm now consisted of, and she wanted to sell that land and move to Omaha to live in the city. Caught between the two is Henry (Dylan Schmid), their fourteen year old son who’s been dating the daughter of the farmer living nearby. I won’t give away the plot to this one, but it is one mostly concerned with the consequences of prideful actions.

Recommendation: This was a really fun horror movie! No jump-scares, and the degradation of the characters is an effective slow burn. Thomas Jane’s performance as the scornful husband was thoroughly brooding and maddening, one of his best performances in my opinion! This is a dark and chilling tale with a lean story that’s rife with tension and malice. If you enjoy Stephen King adaptions, this is one of the better ones, definitely one I recommend.

Marriage Story

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story” is about Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), and their emotional journey through a coast-to-coast divorce. Charlie is a successful New York Theatre Director and Nicole’s a former Teen Movie actress that now stars in his plays. The film begins with the two of them in counseling where they each describe what they appreciate about the other, but Nicole doesn’t particularly feel like sharing hers even though we the audience are privy to those thoughts through narration. The two are attempting to amicably traverse their divorce in the best way possible for their boy, Henry (Azhy Robertson), they’re each represented as kind, considerate, and compassionate individuals that don’t want to ruin the other’s life while still pressing forward with their own goals and struggles. Things begin to escalate after Nicole moves back to California with Henry to stay with her family. Charlie’s play gets accepted for Broadway and he’s awarded the MacArthur grant to fund that transition so he stays in New York, he also considers himself and his family as a “New York Family”. This complicates things after Nicole gets a lawyer played by Laura Dern with all the pomp, poise, and sleaze that would make any lobbyist or car salesman proud. When Charlie comes to California to see Henry and visit Nicole’s family, as he’s still very much accepted by Nicole’s mother and sister, he’s taken aback by Nicole’s choice to get lawyers involved. So, Charlie decides to get a lawyer as well, even though he detests the idea. First he goes to an expensive and ferocious lawyer played by Ray Liotta, but Charlie doesn’t want to attack Nicole’s character in order to see his son. Thus he opts for the more blasé, yet compassionate, lawyer played by Alan Alda. The supporting cast in this film truly fills out the edges and compounds the heartbreak between Nicole and Charlie in intelligent and narratively sharp fashion. The conflict gets heated and heart-wrenching at times, when the two are pushed to their emotional breaking points from the cumulative stress due to the inclusion of bureaucracy.

Recommendation: I’ve had this film on my ‘Watch List’ for months and I’m so glad I finally got around to it. Noah Baumbach has a knack for humanistic drama, so I knew I’d be in for some good familial drama as I’ve come to know his work. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson further prove their indie cred and acting chops in this one. The performances that are pulled out of these two actors, both of which are involved with the biggest top dollar blockbuster series in the world, are emotionally intelligent and realistically crushing. This is a film that prioritizes performance above all else, so if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned drama, this is for you!

Extraction

Written by Joe Russo and directed by Sam Hargrave, “Extraction” is a lean and mean action flick starring Chris Hemsworth as an Australian Mercenary hired for a job in Bangladesh. This is a very simple and effective action movie, our lead is the broken hero Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) who takes the extraction job when offered, he’s played in muted fashion with ferocious action. The target is the son of a jailed international crime lord who’s been kidnapped by a bigger and badder warlord. There’s not an extreme amount of plotting or character work here, but what is given to round out Hemsworth’s Rake is subtle and appreciated given the action to dialogue ratio. David Harbour is also in the film as a fun supporting character around halfway through the film. There’s some fun camera work throughout the action sequences, but nothing mind-blowing. There’s a lot of intense shootouts that seem to be heavily influenced by the choreography of the John Wick movies paired with the immediacy of that first Bourne film- though mercifully without the shaky cam. Can’t say that much more about this one, it’s a perfectly fine and well executed action film.

Recommendation: This film’s probably been seen by most viewers with a Netflix account by now, but if you haven’t seen it yet and are looking for a fun way to kill a couple hours, this is a fine way to do just that. It you enjoy your action movies with a tinge of darkness, then I’d recommend it

6 Underground

Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese and directed by Michael Bay, “6 Underground” is Bay’s return to form within the Action (with a Capital A!) genre. This film hits hard and fast. If you longed for the era of Michael Bay’s filmography before his time with those transforming robots- this movie will likely satisfy that urge. The premise is simple- until it isn’t. A group of extremely skilled individuals have all been recruited by Ryan Reynolds’ as a Billionaire organizing a small elite squad of people that are “dead”, given new identities, and set to jet around the world doing the kind bad-guy-killing that most governments can not, or will not, take part in. Every member is given a number, 1 through 6, and each has a very specific skillset that they utilize in any given mission. The opening set-piece in Florence Italy is the epitome of Michael Bay’s directorial skills. There’s fast cars, bright and over-saturated colors everywhere possible, bullets flying through the air, and a surprising amount of violence. There’s even a parkour scene from atop the famous Florence Cathedral- because of course there is. It’s loud, there’s an active disregard for human life, and it’s exactly what everyone in the 1990’s would describe as Cool. The majority of the plot follows the team as they decide to de-throne an ‘evil’ dictator in Turgistan (a fictional country), and install his brother, a believer in the benevolence of Deomcracy, as the new leader. The only real complaints I have with the film is that the second act gets lost in time jumps back and forth between the group’s beginnings and ‘The Present’. There’s just not enough focus there in my opinion. The first and third acts anchor the flippant middle act though. The other point being that while Ryan Reynolds is entertaining as an actor- it seems as though “Deadpool” has seemingly wormed his way into every role Reynolds has taken on since then. He doesn’t seem to be able to distance himself from the foul-mouthed mercenary entirely.

Recommendation: Overall the film is peak ‘Bayhem’ and a lot of fun. If you enjoyed his “Bad Boys” movies, you’ll likely find some fun here as well. However, if you really can’t stand Michael Bay, avert your eyes- this will not be for you. I recommend it if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, buy the ticket, and take the ride.

The King

Written by Joel Edgerton and David Michôd, and directed by Michôd, “The King” is an adaption of several Shakespeare plays surrounding the last days of King Henry IV and the ascension of his son King Henry V. Timothée Chalamet stars as Henry V, or “Hal” as his close friends call him, who begins the tale as a drunk that spends more time with women of the night than on anything related to his father’s realm. He’s uninterested and derisive of his father’s iron fisted rule. By his side in his jesting and drinking is John Falstaff, played with a warm and worldly wisdom by Joel Edgerton. Besides the relationship between Hal and his father, his companionship with Falstaff is the most important of the film, and given the most emotional weight. If you’re unfamiliar with this tale, it follows Hal as he reluctantly dons the crown, which is only necessary after his brother is killed in battle as his dying father resents his eldest son’s ways. After Henry IV dies and Hal is crowned King, the young monarch attempts to sweep the civil unrest and vile deeds of his father’s Kingdom under the rug and make those enemies new partners. These peace seeking methods are unfortunately seen by others as weak and garner unwanted attention from the French. After the French King sends an assassin, Hal feels the need to invade and made sure they would not underestimate him again. From there the film follows from the Siege of Harfleur to the Battle of Agincourt as Hal is met with Kingly duties, manipulation, bravery, and a pretty good war speech at Agincourt. The film was well acted, had excellent production among its sets, costumes, and the cinematography was well executed though not in any flashy or innovative ways.

Recommendation: “The King” was a fine retelling of Shakespeare’s several plays on the subject meshed into one. It’s a bit longer at two hours and twenty minutes, but the time is well spent and fairly engaging. Robert Pattinson also has a role here as ‘The Dauphin’ and it was a fun small role, further proving the actor’s recent excellent choice of roles. If you enjoy a good old historical epic about Kings and Knights and battles in the mud with a tinge of moral awareness and more violence than (I personally) expected, you may enjoy this one. I had fun with it!

Okja

Written by Jon Ronson and Bong Joon Ho, and directed by Bong Joon Ho, “Okja” is a charming story about a young South Korean girl, Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn) and her genetically created “Superpig” called Okja. The film begins with Tilda Swinson (in one of two incredibly fun and ‘animated’ roles) as Lucy Mirando, the new CEO of Mirando corp, as she presents the beginnings of a new ten year program designed to solve world hunger by biologically formed “Superpigs”. Granted, she presents the program as “Non-GMO” and consumer friendly, void of all guilt etc. She explains that there are twenty-six pigs that will be sent to reputable and well respected farmers around the world and in ten years, the biggest “Superpig” will be brought to New York City to celebrate when they announce the existence of the “Superpigs” to the world. Naturally, there’s a lot more to it than that. Ten years later we find ourselves with Mija, who is about twelve or so, and lives with her grandfather and Okja in the mountains of South Korea. The first act establishes Mija’s connection with Okja as they wander through the forest, catch some fish, and they’re even put in a bit of peril on the walk home as Okja saves Mija from falling off the cliffside. The film’s pace picks up when the Mirando representatives come to check Okja’s status as the final contestant. As you may have expected, Okja is the largest and healthiest “Superpig”, and while Mija was under the impression from her grandfather that they had purchased Okja from the Mirando corporation, this was not the case. Thus Mija, a pure and straightforward character composed of heart and grit- literally chases down the Mirando truck transporting Okja. From there Mija finds herself in the midst of diverging animal activism and corporate greed as the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) attempts to free Okja on route to America, Mija becomes an international star due to her riding Okja through a mall in South Korea, and eventually everything culminates in New York City with every character returning in significant ways. This was a charming and lovely humanistic film about animal food production, opportunists, and capitalism (in more subtle ways).

Recommendation: I actually highly recommend “Okja”. I was fairly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, the film is unafraid to confront “difficult” aspects of food production, factory farming, the morality of food and where it comes from, I was impressed by that. The cast is also really damn good. Paul Dano was great as the head of the ALF, like a spy of animal activism. Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, and Giancarlo Esposito fill out the cast of supporting characters with considerable poise and skill. That and the movie is worth a watch purely for Jake Gyllenhaal’s voice work as Animal Celebrity Johnny Wilcox.

Private Life

Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, “Private Life” is a drama surrounding a middle-aged couple living in New York City who have been trying to have a child by any means necessary. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as Richard and Rachel, both successful creatives in theater and writing, who have had nothing but bad luck with their attempts at conception. They tried having a surrogate mother, that didn’t pan out. They attempted every three letter acronym associated with childbirth possible many times. They even tried a last minute $10,000 medical procedure so as not to miss Rachel’s cycle. Eventually things evolve when a close family member decides to help them have their child, but it comes with lots of familial baggage too. This was a well acted and hopeful drama about the trials and expenses of difficulty with childbirth. At times, it can be melancholic and full of regret, but, at other times it allows for a chance at hope. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for. This one wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I did appreciate the story for what it was.

Recommendation: “Private Life” was an interesting watch because it covered a part of adulthood that is seldom portrayed onscreen, and they made an engaging story out of it. This rite of passage is one where the issues and problems that can be paired with it aren’t always discussed. If you’re looking to feel a little sad, this one might be for you. Though I would recommend “Marriage Story” over this film for that outcome.

Hold The Dark

Written by Macon Blair and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, “Hold the Dark” is a supernatural thriller surrounding the mystery of a child taken by wolves in Alaska. Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), a writer whose studied Wolf behavior, is summoned by Medora Slone (Riley Keough), the mother of the missing boy. Russell answers her letter and flies out to her small village near the mountains to see if he can find the wolf that killed her boy. From there the film takes many unexpected turns, and I don’t want to ruin the experience for any newcomers to this film- but not everything is answered, and not everything makes sense in the end. In fact, the film greatly benefits from the performances of the actors, the lingering brooding atmosphere, and the undulating score all assist when the story elements lack here and there. Be forewarned, this one is a bit violent, though not to an unsettling degree.

Recommendation: “Hold the Dark” wasn’t what I expected, and due to that it was rather engaging. The mystery that the story weaves keeps you guessing, and while sometimes you don’t get the answers you want, or any answers for that matter- the film is a decent enough watch and fine way to kill a few hours. I do recommend it, but I would enter the film with measured expectations.

NEXT TIME ON RAPID FIRE REVIEWS:

Recently the Criterion Collection had another tantalizing sale so I picked up several films by Yasujiro Ozu. Specifically these films come from the end of his career, widely regarded as his “Old Master” phase. There will be six films, all in color, and I’ll dive into those at length. Until next time!

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