Robert Rodriguez is one of the most fascinating filmmakers of our time. Known as the one-man film crew, he’s got a reputation for doing everything on set. Not only directing and writing, we’re talking handling the editing and cinematography and score of his films, he’ll even carry the damn Steadicam if that’s what he has to do to get the job done. He’s also very well known for working with a limited budget, preferring to come up with creative solutions to his problems rather than just throw money at it. He’s the kind of director who you always look out for because no matter what he makes, you can guarantee that it’ll be interesting in some way. Well, now Netflix has decided to get this filmmaker on their payroll and let him have some fun and god I hope this is the first of many Netflix funded Rodriguez films to come because the man knows how to make a fun family film, which is the quick description of We Can Be Heroes.
When it comes to movies and their quality, there are no real definitive answers. A film that I love is one that you may hate and vice versa… there is, of course, an exception to this statement. Namely, if you answer “What is the greatest movie of all time” with any movie other than “Citizen Kane”, you are factually inaccurate in the eyes of everyone who would bother to ask that question and will probably be stoned in the streets.
2020… this year can hurry up and die at any moment. Seriously, the actual year itself could just fall over, scream “Help, I can’t get up” and we can all just kick it to death. Here’s how awful this year was, Charlie Brooker decided to not bother doing a season of his depression porno Black Mirror (which is one of the best shows with one of the best pilots, more pilots should include world leaders having sex with farm animals) because he didn’t want to make us feel even worse. Instead he decided to make a mockumentary titled Death to 2020, very much in the style of his Wipe series where he would comment on the major events of the year and god it feels cathartic to see the year getting the punching it deserves.
“It’s Groundhog Day, except…” is a fairly easy way of describing most movies that feature a time loop situation, it tells everyone exactly what to expect right off the bat. For example, Happy Death Day is “It’s Groundhog Day, except there’s a killer on the loose”. Well, when it comes to describing the oddly relaxing Palm Springs, one could quite easily say “It’s Groundhog Day…. with a pool”.
Palm Springs takes place during a wedding at the titular Palm Springs where a boyfriend of one of the wedding guests, Nyles (Andy Samberg) ends up taking over a speech being given by Sarah Wilder (Cristin Milloti), saving her from drunken embarrassment. They end up sneaking away and going on a stroll together, having a good night out under the stars… when suddenly a man with a bow and arrow shoots Nyles who crawls his way into a nearby cave with a weird glowing light in it. Sarah follows him in there and the next thing she knows she’s waking up in her bed. Turns out that Nyles has been in a time loop for a while and the loop was caused by the weird light in the cave, so now Sarah and Nyles both have to just deal with living in a perpetual loop while trying to figure out how to end it.
Now, by the mention of a man with a bow and arrow you might assume that Palm Springs is kind of a Happy Death Day situation where they have to figure out who keeps trying to kill Nyles but no, no we learn quickly that it’s just a guy called Roy (J.K. Simmons) who also ended up in the loop and is just pissed at Nyles. In fact, truth be told, for most of the film there is no real antagonist or even plot, it’s just a pair of people who try to learn how to live through the same day over and over again until the final act when someone remembers “Oh shit, we need an ending” and they hurriedly come up with a way to put things right. It’s all very chill and relaxed and honestly, I kinda love it for that.
The repeated days are all very basic, the main characters don’t have to really repeat the same actions and since they spend most of the film away from everyone else it allows them time to grow without, oddly enough, getting repetitious. Watching this strange little relationship between Nyles and Sarah is the core of the film, a strange romance born out of being the only people (besides Roy) who are in this loop. Throughout the loops they learn more and more about each other and fall in love in a sweet albeit dorky way.
Palm Springs is a very simple little film, the most elaborate moments it has are when Roy turns up to have a moment of revenge on Nyles but he barely turns up, maybe two or three times at the most to be an actual threat to the main characters but outside that he’s not in the film as much as he could be. The film focuses, quite rightly, on where the emotional centre of the film is. Slowly it reveals more and more of the characters and of some of the family members around them (one particular revelation is brilliantly handled, not to spoil it but it does involve Sarah and happens about 2/3rds of the way through the film) and does so with easy charm.
Palm Springs is that kind of film that’s easy to watch but hard to talk about because it’s just really good. It doesn’t shoot too far, it knows its limits, it goes for being a good fun romcom and absolutely succeeds at that. Could I have used a little more Roy? Sure, hell you paid to have J.K. Simmons so why not use him? Could I have enjoyed a few more gutbuster lines? Sure, I mean the film was funny but could’ve gone further. Did I enjoy the film? Hell yes, it’s a good simple fun film that does what it needs to do to get the job done.
Last year we were all treated to the most elaborate superhero movie ever made with Avengers: Endgame. For all intents and purposes, that movie was a landmark moment, proof that a cinematic universe could not only be a joy to watch being built but actually climax to something. Now the way things were meant to go was that the Spider-Man movie would act as a coda, then 2020 would come along and basically remove all superheroes from the roster.
Sometimes I wonder exactly what devil Pixar made a deal with in order to produce its films, because it’s getting to the point where their output is just consistently great. Even their worst film (The Good Dinosaur, I will not be taking arguments at this time) is better than what a lot of their competitors make and when they hit something out of the park it turns into one of the best films of all time. This year they already made one great film with Onward, which got shafted due to the pandemic, and were meant to release Soul in June. That pandemic made them pull Soul and then they had to rethink its release… enter Disney+, which now houses the best Pixar film of the year in Soul.
I’ve made it no secret how I feel about Disney remakes, I hate them, I hate them on a fundamental “These have no reason to exist beyond capitalism gone amuck” level. Sure, in a very real sense every remake is kind of pointless in some way, but the recent batch of Disney remakes seem to be extra pointless since they’ve taken to remaking some of their absolute classics. They don’t bother remaking things like The Black Cauldron or Oliver and Company, films that didn’t exactly do well. No, instead let’s remake classics like Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King… you know, that trilogy of remakes was so awful that I gave them all a joint place on my worst of 2019 list. Well, this year we add another film to the list of remakes… Mulan.
The idea of technology gaining sentience and turning evil is old hat at this point. Chances are good that you’ve seen something that’s used this as a foundation for the narrative, be it the iconic 2001 A Space Odyssey or the recent Child’s Play remake or even some episodes of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (the ones with either the killer Krusty doll or the Pierce Brosnan murder house). It’s a classic bit of Sci-fi that is usually just a twist on the old Frankenstein tale, in that a thing man created is what will actually destroy man. It’s a interesting little idea that can end up creating some interesting stories… unless you give the AI the voice of Bustopher Jones from Cats and then we might have a problem.
In this, the year of perpetual pain and suffering, one of the moments that shocked the world was the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman. Probably best known for his work as the Black Panther, Chadwick had an amazing career playing legends from Jackie Robinson to Thurgood Marshall to James Brown and it seemed like he was destined to take over the world as an actor before we lost him far too young. When this happens to an actor in their prime, it’s always curious to know what the last film released featuring that actor and how would such a film reflect upon their legacy… in Chadwick Boseman’s case? Don’t be surprised in a few months when we hear his name read among a list of Oscar nominees.
In 1983, Roald Dahl released his 14th novel The Witches and his story of a boy and his grandma going up against a coven of witches has always been somewhat polarizing. On the one hand, it’s a best selling novel that recently appeared on the BBC’s list of Top 100 most influential novels and on the other it’s been accused of being a misogynistic text ever since it released (and considering that the main villain is, essentially, every woman who isn’t a kindly old grandma and it was written by Roald Dahl… yeah, yeah that’s definitely there).