Trashy Movies I Have Recently Watched

My health has been on a pleasant upward trend since the New Year, putting me at a level where I can watch, concentrate on, and enjoy films, but for a while not do much more. Between that and recently subscribing to Disney+, which seems to have a rather better selection of films than Netflix now, that's what I did.

Since I watched the films on my own, and had no-one to talk to them about, and like to mull them over, you, dear Internet, are getting my Thoughts.


Likely the least bad film I've seen containing Sandra Bullock. OTOH, I saw Speed 2: Cruise Control years ago, and that was likely the worst Sandra Bullock film I've seen, so I guess it balances out.

It's a pleasantly frothy action movie. I suppose between the crazy plotline and overall lightness of the film, it gets its place in the canon of action films despite otherwise being rather mediocre!

Keanu's character is strongly signalled to be brilliant if headstrong (and heroic, obvs.), with him making several key deductions on the fly in what should be an impressive lightbulb way. Yet, if you look at his actions closely, many of them are nicely dumb, serving no purpose other than to complicate the plot and drive it along. As a very simple example, if you think the baddie is hiding in a lift, disable the lift's motor first before trying to poke around!

On the other hand, the bomber character creates well-planned, possibly over-complicated schemes and clearly has an extreme chip on his shoulder, but the background and motivation are hugely under-developed. Beyond the surface detail, he's a cipher. I guess that's appropriate for an action movie as light and fluffy as the Los Angeles it's set in (with the film culminating in Hollywood!).

Speaking of the film's ending, it's got the worst final lines of any film I've ever seen, namely: Jack: I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work. Annie: OK. We'll have to base it on sex then. Jack: Whatever you say, ma'am., which I think is followed by a bystander unironically saying "How romantic".


Another dumb action film, whose fame derives from That Line, which has found its way into a million memes. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Speed, the action takes place in a deeply unpleasant underworld. If you disengage your brain, it's got the fun of the mindless violence you expect, where the protagonist is a super-hero destroying dozens of ne'er-do-wells and coming out basically unscatched.

Brain engaged, it's pretty horrible. Xenophobic and brutal, any and all actions justified by the protagonist's sense of righteousness.

Specifically the plot centres around a man who worked for the CIA. Someone who's job is to apply large amounts of clandestine violence around the world in the name of the USA. He's seen the real world, it's a horrible, horrible place, and only killing lots of foreigners will keep it safe.

All this killing left little time for his wife, who divorced him, and married a multimillionaire businessman (who is soft, and has a pleasant life of not meeting the most evil scum in the world and killing them), taking their daughter with them.

He is devoted to his daughter. Let me rephrase. He's paranoid and controlling. He knows the evils of the world, and it's a miracle that she's nearly reached adulthood without getting embroiled in a plotline from 24. She wants to visit Paris, which is outside the US and therefore dangerous, and so he refuses until his arm is twisted and he's lied to about the itinerary and reluctantly he gives permission for her to go.

So, of course, within hours of landing in Paris she is kidnapped by Albanian gangsters. Not because she's connected to a CIA spook or anything like that, no, just purely random because Albanian gangsters are kidnapping so many young American tourists into a world of forced drugs and prostitution. It really is like that, you know, I've been to Paris.

At this stage, thanks to the conveniently-timed phone call of the well-known meme, our protagonist knows to hop on a plane to Europe and start killing large numbers of people until he finds his daughter. Obviously you can't trust the French intelligence services, because they're lazy and corrupt.

His daughter is such a sparkling prize that she is put up at a secret auction behind the scenes of a party for the social elite. All very QAnon conspiracy. (I'd like to call it massively far-fetched, but, er, Epstein, I guess.)

And she's bought by a middle-eastern sheikh. Of course. Not enough stereotypes otherwise. He fights them. They have curvy knives.

Just to make sure you understand that he's just acting to protect what's his, not out of any higher moral calling, he does shoot an innocent woman just to make a point.

So, yeah, this is in many ways a really grim movie. The world outside of the US is horrible and dangerous. All of it. And the only solution is massive, unrestrained violence.

Free Guy

While Taken is a philosophical black hole dressed up as a mindless thriller, Free Guy is very nearly something interesting dressed up as a kind of comedy.

The plot centres around Guy, an AI NPC in a MMO game who doesn't realise what he is. The game has advanced AI in it and apparently he's become sentient. He works out how to act like a player character, and causes much confusion.

The game is clearly a rip-off of GTA Online. Liberty City has become Free City. It tries hard to capture the cheesiness and posturing of online gaming culture and personalities. As in-game events progress, there are occasional vox pops from streamers, an update on newspaper headlines spinning onscreen in black-and-white films.

There are some big philosophical questions brought up here by the way that we apparently created the first sentient artificial life form in order to be the constant victim of virtual crimes, for the entertainment of humans. This is resolved by the fact that the NPCs are very cheery and seem to enjoy their life in Free City. It's like a reverse The Matrix: Humans build an artificial dystopia for AIs, that they enjoy. One must imagine Sisyphus programmed to be happy, I guess.

It's entertaining, but the thought-provoking side goes absolutely nowhere, it resorts to a standard movie formula, and wedges in a romantic sub-plot at the last minute, because of course it does. Of these three movies, it is perhaps the one that I find least irritating. Given what the Barbie film did about plastic dolls, there was clearly a lost opportunity to go a bit deeper while remaining entertaining, but as shallow fun it's fun.

Bonus #1: The Orville

Not a film, and I'm way behind the curve, but I've finally started watching The Orville and am enjoying it.

Having worked my way through Star Trek: The Next Generation and Lower Decks, I found myself out of Trek I enjoyed. I never got the hang of Voyager, Deep Space Nine is insufficiently utopian, and Enterprise suffers from trying to make the characters act so much like cowboys that the crew of the TOS seem like professionals in comparison.

The Orville makes a surprisingly good substitute. Things are different enough to make an interesting compare-and-contrast, but similar enough that you can feel at home pretty quickly. The optimism of the Star Trek universe remains. The crew aren't quite professional, but are doing their best, almost like the opposite of Enterprise's professional-acting crew that make bad decisions.

As a deliberate comedy, it has the opportunity to push things further than TNG, which sometimes makes for more interesting sci-fi. TNG was always a little bit silly, needing someone like Patrick Stewart to give the thing gravitas, and the deliberate elements of levity were always a little bit eye-roll inducing. As with Lower Decks, just plain embracing the humour works very effectively. So, yeah, so far, I'm enjoying it lots.

Bonus #2: Tenet

While I'm writing about movies and all that, I've been reminded of another film I watched towards the end of last year: Tenet. I vaguely remembered reviewers thinking it muddled and confusing, and having felt that Inception was a mess of a film that was far too proud of itself, I left Tenet alone for a long time.

As it is, I thought Tenet was one of the freshest and most innovative takes on time-travel I've seen in a long, long time. Pretty much enough to stop me saying "THAT'S NOT HOW ENTROPY WORKS" (it isn't, though). As to the confusion, I thought the film was quite successful at building up the sci-fi concepts incrementally, so that you're not hit with the full idea load all at once, as well as successfully keeping the suspense going.

I wish I'd twigged the sator square connection from the film's title before seeing it, though!

Due to the way the time-travel is constructed, it's firmly in the "the future is fixed" camp of time-travel, which I always tend to find a little depressing. However, I'm willing to forgive that because it's so much conceptual fun. On the other hand, maybe I'm getting old, but I did feel the violence was somewhat excessive, and a bit too gritty for my liking. Kenneth Branagh makes an exceptionally unpleasant baddy. Well done, I guess?! Conceptually, though, I was thinking about it for days.

Posted 2024-02-29.