2021 Movie Reviews: The Eternals / Spencer / Finch / Paranormal Activity 7: Next of Kin

A terrible movie, two mediocre movies, and an experience to cleanse the soul.

The Eternals

I awoke Saturday morning to my roommate pounding hard on my bedroom door. “The cops are here, there’s been a break-in.” “Oh fuck, the bastards stole my TV…” I thought to myself. I climbed out of bed, slid on some old smelly underpants and my signature pair of black basketball shorts. I slipped on my bright orange House t-shirt, the 1977 Japanese film, not the 1986 George Wendt one, and ventured into the living room. A tall detective with the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen, looks at me and asks, “Are you Michael Margetis?” “Yes.” I answered, relieved to see my television set and blu ray player were still there. The living room window was completely shattered, glass all over the floor. I look to the corner of the room to see my dirty old Nike sandals, once white when I bought them, now a solemn gray. “Do you have any pets in the house like a dog or cat?” he asks while I gingerly slide on my ratty slippers. “No, I mean we get wild cats and stuff in the backyard occasionally, there are so many strays in this neighborhood you’d think it was Pet Semetary or something.” He didn’t get the reference and I think he suspected I was killing animals or something because his demeanor changed. “Do you know anything about genetically modified kangaroos?” he asks. “What like Kangaroo Jack?” He didn’t get that reference either. “Well, a couple of them escaped from a research facility on Priest and Southern, they’ve been breaking into houses and stealing people’s AMC movie passes.” That’s when I realized the tickets I had for The Eternals that I left on the living room table were gone. Gone baby, gone. I suspect he wouldn’t get that reference either.

My dirty ass windshield and what was in the bottom of the passenger seat of my car

The cops left and I was out of movie tickets. I figured it was time for some Da Vang’s consolation pho, but when I got into my car I realized it was filthy. A real mess. I also realized I’m three weeks into a diet and I can’t eat noodles. Anyway, I had been putting off cleaning my vehicle for months and months and months (maybe years) and I suddenly found myself with the time to do it. So I began with the passenger seat floor, throwing away all those empty bottles and food wrappers that had amassed over the months but keeping a tiny book about drag queens I had been reading at red lights and a champagne glass from my sister’s wedding (it’s nestled safely in my cupboard now). And then I started pulling stuff out from underneath the passenger seat and I was shocked at what I discovered:

An N95 mask I bought from China off of Amazon in the second month of the pandemic and a travel-size Crest toothpaste tube.
An old dirty belt I’ve been missing and a three-pack of Mach 3 razors I thought I accidentally left at Walgreens fifteen months ago.
A tote bag from a Flagstaff comedy festival I went to in 2019, filled with old candy and a Slim Jim so hard and stale you could stab someone with it.
A DVD two-pack of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore as well as a red wig and balloons from my birthday last year. Talk about a hole in one.
And my personal favorite thing I found, an old milk jug that was lodged so far back under my passenger seat it took me a whole minute to pry it loose.

After throwing out what took up 3/4 of a giant garbage bag, I wiped down and disinfected my interior hard surfaces, so they were all clean and shiny. I drove my vehicle to the little drive-thru car wash on Priest and University where I vacuumed the entire interior of the car afterward. Feeling relieved my car finally didn’t smell like a butthole, I drove home feeling accomplished and above all, useful. You know, Covid put us all in this terrible mood of feeling useless or lazy. Not being able to perform actually prompted me to start this movie blog so I’d have at least one creative outlet. Not being able to leave the house really started to fuck with me. I gained a lot of weight, I was unmotivated to exercise. I was unmotivated to do anything but watch RuPaul’s Drag Race or Chopped and nap all day. I got my shit together though, shortly after I got vaxxed and re-entered the world. Reclaiming my life felt a lot like cleaning out my car. A new start, a fresh start, a little hope. I don’t think I’ll ever see The Eternals, and you know something? That’s fine with me. Grade: A- (Lemme know if you want a ride in my fresh-ass car, 4808946600)

Spencer

I had reasonably high expectations walking into Spencer, Pablo Larrain‘s traumatized female public figure crushed under the pressure of what’s expected of her follow-up to Jackie, which centered on Jackie O processing JFK’s murder and the end of “Camelot.” While Jackie had a tremendous leading performance by Natalie Portman, Kristen Stewart‘s Princess Di seems like a mere imitation. There are moments where she feels completely in it, but more often than not she doesn’t seem emotionally connected with the material and I don’t buy for a second she’s a mom. You can see the gears turning in her head as she delivers lines in an overly specific way, but unlike Portman‘s performance, it doesn’t feel lived-in. I understand that Diana’s job was essentially to create a flowery facade for the world, but I’m talking about the scenes behind the curtain, scenes, sometimes, with only herself. You might think it’s unfair for me to compare the movie to Jackie, but I could have resisted the temptation if they weren’t so similar. It’s the same bag of tricks applied slightly differently. In Jackie, she’s isolated by her husband’s death, in this she’s isolated by a passive-aggressive crime syndicate called The Royal Family. Both have scenes of the title character drinking and dancing while having some kind of psychotic break. Both have several one-on-one counseling scenes with other characters – in Jackie a priest played by John Hurt, in Spencer, a sly son-of-a-bitch head of the Queen’s security played by Timothy Spall. There are a few variations, the trouble is much more blatant with the assassination in Jackie, whereas the trouble is much more understated here. There’s also a ghost of the queen that Henry VIII beheaded that haunts and gives advice to Diana in this, it’s a weird choice that doesn’t pay off nearly as well as when animated sitcoms do it. Both are psychological horror films about being controlled or the loss of control. The problem is that Jackie just does it better. Steven Knight‘s screenplay is very one-note and we get almost immediately that this is a movie about how trapped Diana felt and like I said earlier, molding the Royal Family into some sort of overly polite mafia. Pablo Larrain‘s direction is solid but he’s basically just giving us a Sprite Remix version of Jackie. Surprisingly, the person that does the best job of telling this story is Jonny Greenwood, who composed the score. It’s this gorgeous and haunting jazz meets Philip Glass composition that I’m compulsively listening to as I write this. If anyone deserves to win an Oscar for this, it’s not Kristen Stewart, it’s Jonny Greenwood. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Finch

The most surprising thing about Finch is that it wasn’t released Christmas weekend in theaters. At first glance, this THE perfect, pack your visiting relatives from Lake Wobegon into the minivan and head to the nearest AMC, type of film. It’s a weepy, soft, post-apocalyptic story about Tom Hanks dying of cancer and building a robot to care for his rescue dog after he dies. Cue the waterworks. #shameless Or so you’d think, but Finch takes a somewhat different approach to this schmaltzy, grandma-certified material by emotionally downplaying a lot of the interactions. It doesn’t quite work and we’re actually left lusting for a Spielberg re-write that leans harder into the ooey gooeys. One that doesn’t have Hanks constantly being a dick and screaming at a poor robot that’s just trying his best. Finch takes a story so saccharine you won’t taste anything for a week filled out by interactions almost pulling it in the other direction but not nearly far enough. This just makes it less memorable for everybody. Hanks is good here, he’s good in everything, but Caleb Landry Jones is actually a pretty inspired and smart choice to play the robot. The dog is terrible, should be put down. All in all, this isn’t a bad movie but will most likely be completely forgotten a year after writing this. Also what the heck is up with that classical music remix of You’re No Good by Linda Ronstadt? Are they trying to enforce the fact that Tom Hanks is not well (good) because he has cancer? We get it, dude. Grade: C (Streaming on Apple+)

Paranormal Activity 7: Next of Kin

Nothing could have prepared me for how bad the new Paranormal Activity would be. Just kidding, I knew it was going to be terrible! I was expecting to give this movie an ‘F’ so I guess it was slightly better than I expected. The seventh entry subtitled, Next of Kin, is similar to the previous entry subtitled, The Ghost Dimension, because you actually get to see the monster/demon/ghost thing, making it 1000x less scary. At least the first five films never showed you the monster/demon/ghost thing and you got to plug into the theater of the mind. The first and third entries were legitimately scary, the second was a letdown but had its moments, the fourth and fifth were really bad but at least the fifth (subtitled The Marked Ones) had Mexican gang members firing uzis at the invisible monster/demon/ghost thing. That’s gotta count for something! This one takes place in an Amish community where a film crew, led by a woman who was abandoned at birth by one of the Amish, is making a documentary about she came from. Of course, a bunch of not-so creepy shit starts happening in these old barns and dirty basements including a really convoluted demon cult storyline. This is a horror movie where you can predict every single jump scare – I was like “it’s gonna appear in the window now” and then it did, and then I was like he’s gonna turn and there’s going to be someone peaking behind a window, and it happened. A lot of reflective surface gags in this one, my guess is to obscure how awful the monster actually looks. It’s like something you’d find at my dad’s annual Halloween party, which is great for a party but garbage for a Hollywood movie. They show you this monster close-up for a period of like five seconds and it’s so easy to tell it’s like rubber latex or something. The acting is all ok but none of the performers are really given a chance to do anything memorable because the dialogue and story are so awful. Since this story takes place in 2021, all the footage is super HD which makes it less spooky. Found footage horror is only scary on low res footage, folks. This HD drone shit is where the scary goes to die. A guy I knew from my college improv days, Dan Lippert, plays the comic relief. It was a losing battle from the start, poor guy. He’s really talented too. But the most egregious thing about this movie is how much of a shameless Midsommar rip-off it ends up being. It’s like Midsommar with a garbage color pallet and no understanding of the subtext. It’s like a Wall Street guy watched The Wolf of Wall Street and didn’t understand it was condemning him. Like he just understood that money is dope and Margot Robbie has awesome boobs. Paranormal Activity 7 does NOT have awesome boobs and should be the final nail in the franchise’s coffin…but you know they’re gonna do one in space. Grade: D- (Streaming on Paramount+)

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