Adventures in Streaming: The Chaperone

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The Chaperone

The Chaperone depicts the transition of the main character, Ray, out of prison and back into the regular world, and follows his attempts to reconnect with his teenage daughter Sally. He hopes to spend time with her, but she’s not sure she wants to spend time with him – he’s been gone for a few years – so he contrives to be one of the chaperones on her school field trip to New Orleans.

Unfortunately, the men from his prior life want him to rejoin them, and when he chooses the field trip over a bank heist, his former partners blame the heist’s failure on Ray. They follow him – and the school bus – to New Orleans, where they hope to punish Ray for abandoning them.

Ray has a mentor, a radio-show host, whose guidance helped him both to weather his time in prison and to become a better man upon his release. Her motto is applicable to anyone: “Confront your past, be truthful about it, and let it go.” When his daughter suggests that he had gone to jail for something he didn’t do, he says that, even though the others didn’t get caught for their part in the crime, Ray himself had actually done the thing he had gone to prison for, and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.

Ray demonstrates ethical and positive behaviour and decision-making, even when taking an easier, more lucrative, and less ethical path was consistently offered to him. Ultimately, he earns the respect of his daughter and her mother, avoids going back to the life that sent him to prison, and continues his journey to improve himself as a father and as a human being.

Obviously, action comedies (much like romantic comedies) rely on premises that are fairly unlikely and even ridiculous; this isn’t particularly a negative aspect of a movie as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into. The Chaperone’s premise is actually a more realistic one than some I’ve seen, and it’s consistent throughout. In fact, the bad guys – Ray’s former “friends” – aren’t presented as really all that scary, and are often comical in their words and actions, but this only makes it more jarring when it turns out they really are bad, and they really intend to hurt Ray and his family. Depicting the bad guys in this way supports the metaphor of Ray’s journey – we can see very well how he got caught up in criminal activities with these men who seemed so friendly and so harmless; we can see that Ray had probably started out as blind to their true colours as we were, and that he didn’t see how deep a hole he had dug for himself until it was too late. He never cries victim, though, which shows us that he’s living up to his mentor’s motto about accepting the truth.

The acting is solid – although some of the characters are stereotypical – and the pacing is good. Do school trips really look like that? Probably not. Does law enforcement really work that way? Almost certainly not. But the movie is an action-comedy, not a gritty drama, and the more lighthearted approach allows the focus to be on Ray and Sally rather than on the more difficult questions of good and evil. It also allows the film to be family-friendly, which is great, since it lets a good message be delivered to as many people as possible.

In the end, the film is about the truth motto Ray learned from his mentor – not just to accept our own truth and to be honest, but to realize that every experience is a lesson that can move us forward. We can be released from our personal prisons by seeing the possibility of change, growth, and redemption. We can learn, and improve, and become someone who deserves another chance.

This movie was one of my first streaming experiments – and one that I shared with my young son – and I’m really glad we gave it a shot.

popcorn icon   10 out 10

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

The Secret

The Secret (Netflix Original 2018 Indonesia) is in many respects a typical haunting movie.

Kanaya, a young woman upset with her father for marrying a woman half his age, drives angrily away from the house, swerves to miss something in the road, and crashes into a tree, knocking herself out and landing herself in the hospital. Her boyfriend is there when she wakes up, explaining that she’s been in a car accident and that he will take her to her family’s summer home in the country to convalesce.

While still in the hospital, Kanaya experiences a couple of paranormal things, and sees a pretty grisly looking ghost that attacks her in the middle of the night. The ghost seems to follow her to the summer home, but Kanaya’s attention is focused more on the neighbours, whose little girl introduces her to her nanny. The nanny befriends Kanaya, and the two spend time together looking after the little girl and playing games with her – games like hide-and-seek, during which Kanaya ends up in an abandoned house fleeing from the persistent ghost from the hospital. She’s also noticing that passers-by are giving her strange looks, but the nanny says they always do that, and refers to them as busybodies.

The ghost of Kanaya’s mother is also involved, trying to warn her daughter of danger.

In the end, Kanaya learns the truth about her car accident, about her boyfriend’s actions that night, about the busybodies, and about the identity of the ghost that’s been following her.

The Secret is actually pretty good – the effects are practical and therefore convincing, the storyline is typical but engaging, and the final little twists of the plot are unexpected. We feel a little sorry for the boyfriend, but not that sorry. We do feel sorry for the ghost from the hospital, who’s just trying to be heard and seek justice. The little girl is psychic, something that is apparently culturally normal for the people in the film, which is a nice change from the over-used Western trope of “no one really believes in psychics or psychic phenomena.” But of course, since the little girl is psychic, we kind of see a couple of the twists coming about who’s real and who might actually be a ghost. Still, there’s some mystery about how many ghosts there are, their motivations, and where Kanaya fits into all this.

There are a couple of fairly effective red herrings, as well, so that we’re not entirely sure who all is connected to the situation until the very end. And the typical horror ending – where the bad guy wins – is perked up a bit by the bad guy winning against another bad guy.

The actress who plays Kanaya seems a little flat at times, but overall she does okay, and there are a couple of humourous moments in the film as well that make a contrast to its overall creepiness – helping it to seem a bit more real.

The Secret is ultimately suitably eerie, with a good story and a good ending.

popcorn icon   7 out of 10

 

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Office

[not that one – the one out of Korea]

Office is a film about a young woman working in an office with a man who has just murdered his entire family. When the detective on the case meets this young woman, he realizes that she seems to be the only one in the office who liked the man. She also seems to know a lot more about him than his other colleagues.

Security footage shows the man coming into the office building but never leaving; the detective believes the man is hiding in the building, and that his colleagues may be in danger. But will the detective reach them in time to save them?!?!?

No.

We watch as the employees who spend their day bullying the man and the young woman, sparring with one another, talking badly about one another, screwing each other over and treating each other poorly are killed in grisly, abrupt ways. We aren’t entirely sure if the man is still living, or if he’s some kind of ghost on an afterlife revenge mission. Ultimately, we aren’t sure if the young woman is part of it, but we’re fairly certain her future path will be a little more like his than before.

This film provides good suspense and a creepy atmosphere. The colleague characters aren’t particularly one-dimensional, even though many of them play the stereotypical bully; we actually begin to see some of the reasons why they bully, and we’re not entirely unsympathetic. The detective and the young woman are very well fleshed-out. There are a couple of jump-scares, but mostly the film is a build-up of tension, wondering where the man is and when or if he’ll strike.

We never really hear from the man – we don’t really get to know why he chose murder, or if he was particularly bothered by his treatment at work. We see flash-back moments and people describing things verbally, but the man is generally kind (one of the reasons the young woman appreciates him), and we don’t really see any turning-point moment where he decides to attack the others. In fact, the responses – and the murders in the office – seem to be more in tune with what the young woman is experiencing, leading to some of the ambiguity about just who’s killing who.

In the end, the slasher scenes are entertaining, the bullies are eliminated, the good guy pretty much catches the bad guy, and the woman is rescued. The atmosphere is effective and the characters are engaging. The ambiguity is deliberate, so that the final moment of the film causes us to reconsider in a new light everything we’ve already seen.

It’s a good film, well worth watching.

popcorn icon    9 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Bushwick

Bushwick tells the story of a girl coming home from school only to find her neighbourhood – and pretty much the whole city – in a shambles: people who may or not be military are shooting at anything that moves, and no one around her seems to have any answers. She wants to get home, to get to her family, and to get said family to safety, but the road is treacherous.

She encounters a couple of people who are willing to help her, or more properly, they are convinced to help her as long as it also helps them. She does reach an extraction point of sorts, but the situation is ultimately even scarier than we had witnessed to that point.

Bushwick opens with a continuous shot that lasts uninterrupted for much of the movie – this unusual approach allows the audience to feel engaged with the scenes much more than with conventional filming. The sound effects are immersive and fairly realistic; the visuals are interesting. The girl’s primary companion tells part of a compelling back story that we want to hear more about, and there are several clues to what’s going on (from radios, other characters, etc.) that convince us to stay with the story.

Where it starts to fall down is in the lack of follow-through: the clues and explanation don’t indicate where the story will go, and her companion never really fleshes out his whole story and subsequent motivation. His training would suggest that he can triumph over their attackers more effectively than the untrained girl could do alone, but he’s really just more of a sidekick following her grudgingly from place to place. Their chemistry is good, but in an attempt (I think) to make the chaos of the strange situation feel … well … chaotic, the characters are brought together and torn apart in an abrupt manner with little closure – like real life, yes, but for most of us, we watch films – even gritty films – because we want to escape real life for a little while. We generally want to get to know the characters, and, if something happens to one of them, we want the other characters or the events to reflect that the character mattered in some way.

For the chaos to have been an effective build-up to final events, we would have needed a solid ending – but Bushwick ends on almost a cliff-hanger, leaving more questions than it answers. If it’s meant to be the start of a longer story, that would be great, but it doesn’t look like that’s in the works.

Ultimately, the movie is worth watching for the experimental cinematography which is pretty effective and creative, and for the chemistry between the characters, which is believable and engaging. It does achieve its goal of bringing us into a chaotic world, and one of the many questions we’re left with is, “What would we do in that situation? It’s pretty scary to think about.” But unless they manage to bring out another installment of this story, we’re left with a tale that ends kind of in the middle of a sentence.

 

popcorn icon    7 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming …

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

“LAVENDER”

Lavender describes the journey of photographer Jane as she learns there is more to her past than she remembers.

The pacing at first is slow; we don’t really glimpse a whole lot about the characters. We’re made aware that there’s tension between Jane and her husband Alan, but we don’t particularly explore it. Some of the things that happen in the first half hour only seem strange because the characters act strangely about them – otherwise the incidents and encounters wouldn’t be disturbing or unlikely, so we easily wonder if Jane is in fact hallucinating and imagining things.

One day while driving, Jane becomes suddenly aware of a little girl standing in the road in front of the car. Jane swerves to avoid her, and the scene goes into super-slow-motion. Slow-motion is used in other scenes as well, in a way that makes the scenes seem sluggish; by the time she’s swerved around the little girl, we’ve grown bored watching the careening car and are just waiting to see the outcome.

One good side about not delving too deeply into the characters or their history is that we’re obliged to take everyone at face value – if someone’s introduced to us as a doctor or a store-keeper, we sort of need to accept it without asking a lot of questions. So when it turns out the doctor isn’t really a doctor, and the store-keeper isn’t really a store-keeper, and the doctor in fact isn’t even really visible to other people, we feel reasonably surprised.

The film also does a good job of setting up eeriness – weather and lighting create a mood without being heavy-handed. The random and inexplicable delivery of various strange “gifts” to Jane is intriguing, and builds a mystery that we want to solve with Jane. Because we see the doctor acting like a creeper, we’re happy to distrust everyone else in the film as well, so that there’s some tension about just who is or isn’t the “bad guy”. And the scattering of clues is clear but not obvious, so that when the final truth is revealed, we can go back mentally and feel both surprised at the twists and as though we solved the mystery with Jane.

In the end, the purpose of the super-slow-motion becomes clearer: this is how Jane’s brain – damaged during the traumatic incident in her childhood – has dealt with that incident. She doesn’t have a clear picture; she only has a series of images that her head tries to slow down enough to analyze. She’s also been trapped in this forgotten past – since she can’t remember it, she can’t process it, deal with it, grieve about it, or move on. Her entire life has been the drawn-out slow-motion tail end of a terrifying story she can’t recall. Once the truth is revealed to her, the scenes pick up the pace, and Jane is suddenly sprinting, making quick decisions, and acting swiftly: she’s “woken up”, and instead of being acted upon by outside forces, Jane is able to interact with and affect the world.

Overall, the movie’s pacing – even though it’s purpose ultimately is a valid and fairly interesting metaphor for Jane’s psychological struggle – risks the audience giving up midway through a film that has a good story, fairly smooth acting, and solid messages about love and the protection of children. Not spending more time on developing the characters in the opening minutes means that the viewers who stay are the ones who intrinsically like to solve mysteries. And it might have been nice, after seeing ghosts interact with Jane the entire film, for the audience to be given a little more explicit view of what the ghosts are likely going to do to the bad guy. But the story is satisfying, the bad guy is discovered, the child is rescued, and Jane is allowed to know about both her history and her family’s love. The living characters seem to be rebuilding their relationships, and the ghost characters get to resolve their own murders and punish their killer.

In the end Lavender was worth watching, and I would be willing to watch it again.

Final Score:  7 out of 10.