A Chump At Oxford (1940), A Shot Through The Wall (2021), Hog Wild (1930), Kimi (2022), Luzzu (2021), Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em
I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are four mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
97. A Shot Through The Wall, Crime/Drama/Thriller, Director Aimee Long, 2021 USA, 80%/5.2
Aimee Long’s film about an accidental shooting split the critics. Released in March 2021, the movie tells what happens when a rookie Chinese-American NYC cop, Mike Tan (Kenny Leu), chases a suspect African-American youth who runs when asked to reveal what is in his rucksack. In the chase, as Mike reaches a corridor corner inside an apartment block, he unholsters his gun and accidentally fires it. The bullet hits a wall of one of the apartments and, unfortunately, passes through and kills one of the occupants who turns out to be another African-American youth who is not involved in the chase. The accidental death of the occupant fills Mike with guilt and remorse but he is assured by his union representative that it won’t be a problem when Internal Affairs investigates the circumstances of the death and he concludes, “Lucky for you this one is pretty clear cut. Hard to prove intent when you shoot someone through a wall.”
Well, that is wishful thinking! The ‘No Justice No Peace’ demonstrations start; an accusation of racism enters the arena, and Mike is indicted for second-degree involuntary manslaughter which can carry up to fifteen years in prison if found guilty. And thus, the nightmare begins with deals made between the prosecuting DA and defending council; entry of the $1,500 per hour hotshot lawyer who confirms that “This case is about race.”; television interviews where Mike is carefully taught not to say certain words—guilty, sorry, apologise, regret—; and a suggestion that Mike reveals that his girlfriend happens to be African-American and her father is a Deputy Chief in the same precinct as Mike. From here on, the movie explores social reactions to the indictment, the torment of remorse, the effect on family and girlfriend relationships, and, ultimately, how justice, if that’s the right word, is served in what to me came across as a very contrived ending (and is what split the critics). But the film is well structured and will make you think about the very core of what is meant by the term racism and whether justice can ever be served when social media pre-judges innocence or guilt irrespective of what final judgement is handed down.
Coincidentally, in January 2022, ten months after the release of this movie, Matthew Willson, a British visitor to Atlanta, Georgia, was shot through a wall in his girlfriend’s apartment, seemingly by a random bullet fired from an adjacent apartment complex less than 100 metres away. Dr Willson, who was asleep at the time, died instantly from a gunshot wound to his head. Nobody has yet been charged with manslaughter.
98. Hog Wild, Comedy/Short, Director James Parrott, 1930 USA, 80%/7.6
In my pre-teen childhood, mid to late ’40s/early ’50s, I used to go to Saturday morning pictures for children and be regaled with the classic cowboys ‘n injuns movies and other derring-do adventures of pirates, spies, and war heroes. The programme usually included a short comedy. I recall films starring Charlie Chaplin, who never made me laugh; Buster Keaton, who sometimes made me laugh; and Laurel and Hardy, who always made me laugh. Recently, I watched a 1930 Laurel and Hardy film called Hog Wild and, I tell you, the comic duo still have the power to make me laugh. The Hog Wild story is simple and in three acts. Act 1 is a sketch wherein Ollie claims to have lost his bowler hat without realising it is on his head. Having accused his wife and maidservant of hiding it, he discovers its whereabouts when he glances in a mirror. Act 2 brings in Stanley to assist Ollie in setting up a radio antenna on the roof of Ollie’s house with many mishaps with tools and falling off ladders and roof, most times into a small pond exactly placed at the point of impact. The ladder is precariously balanced on a wooden board placed across the back seats of Stanley’s 1925 Ford Model T automobile; an accident waiting to happen. And sure enough, it does happen in Act 3 when Stanley accidentally starts the car with Ollie at the top of the ladder. With Stanley holding the steering wheel in one hand and trying to counter-balance the ladder with the other, the car careens down into the town creating havoc as it goes until, finally, it hits a tram. Each Act is hilarious even though you know, you just know, what is about to happen right down to the final brick bouncing on Ollie’s head as he sits in the pond spitting out water, and Stanley’s look of puzzlement when he turns around on the rooftop and discovers Ollie is no longer present having been knocked off by Stanley’s inability to predict what will happen when he performs a simple action.
Watching the film brought back all the little mannerisms of both actors: Ollie’s characteristic finger twiddle and innocent smile when embarrassed; his exaggerated gestures with his arms outstretched with fingers spread and pointing: or arms up, ramming his fingers into his chest to make a point; or arms extended about to inflict damage on Stanley. Similarly, his fourth-wall glances toward the camera with a quizzical ‘Can you believe it?’ expression on his face. There’s no tie twiddling in Hog Wild but in the days when I wore a tie, I often employed that gesture along with his famous catchphrase, ‘Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into, Stanley,’ although, like everybody else, I misquoted it, using fine instead of nice.
Stanley, of course, plays the enduring man-child with the slightly vacant expression and innate ability to create situations that resulted in catastrophes sometimes for both of them but always for Ollie. His small-child willingness to help invariably ends in disaster and he never seemed to understand that he was the cause. And who can forget his look of dismay accompanied by tears and wailing when things went wrong? Or the scratching of the head?
I enjoyed my stroll down memory lane and I am emboldened to revisit more of the comedic classics of Laurel and Hardy. Wikipedia states they made 106 films together over a period of 30 years starting in 1921. That’s a lot of films to work my way through but at least they will raise a laugh. Plus, I now know where Raymond Allen, the creator and writer of the British sitcom, Some Mother’s Do ’Ave ’Em’, starring Michael Crawford as the accident-prone Frank Spencer, got his inspiration from.
Footnote. If you want a quick reminder of the talents of Laurel and Hardy, search for and watch the 6-minute Three Hands scene from their 1940 movie, A Chump At Oxford. It’s very clever, very funny, and available on YouTube.
99. Kimi, Crime/Drama/Thriller, Director Steven Soderbergh, 2022 USA, 90%/6.3
I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of voice-activated virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. I am suspicious of their possibly secret ability to listen in to whatever is being said within their range and, having watched Kimi, I am even more convinced never to let Alexa or Siri loose in my house. Kimi (Japanese: one without equal/righteous child) is the virtual assistant with a difference. The fictitious company behind the product, Amygdala Corporation, employs real people described as voice-streamer interpreters to resolve issues and update the ‘intelligence’ of Kimi. For example, if Kimi is asked to ‘Play me Taylor Swift’ Kimi could interpret this as playing a selection of Taylor Swift songs instead of her single, Me! Similarly, a person can augment Kimi’s understanding of kitchen paper as an alternative for paper towel, and provide interpretations of slang terms such as peckerwood (incorrectly defined in the movie). Products like Alexa and Siri employ algorithms based on artificial intelligence concepts to resolve issues of ambiguity and definition. Kimi takes it one step further—put a human in the loop; an interesting concept in its own right, but back to the film.
The voice-streamer interpreter in question, Angela, is played by actress Zoë Kravitz sporting bright blue hair, exhibiting multiple sleep and anxiety issues, and controlled by a serious case of agoraphobia brought on by a sexual assault in her past and exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdown conditions. She lives alone in a spacious loft-like apartment surrounded by computers, monitors, sound analysers and supported by a variety of tranquilizers and sleep aids such as zolpidem, lorazepam, and trazodone. (I had to look up what these medications do.) While analysing a particular Unresolved Error, she believes she hears sounds in a voice stream recorded by Kimi that indicate an attack, possibly a murder, taking place. Further frequency-filtering analysis of the soundtrack confirms that someone, a female, was indeed under serious threat of physical harm and Angela begins the process of, first, determining which particular Kimi recorded the stream and thus its owner and, second, informing the people in her company who deal with such findings.
Unfortunately, all is not straightforward. Someone in the company recognises the event and takes steps to remove the evidence, including Angela. From this point on, the movie becomes a thriller with Angela faced with overcoming her fear of leaving the safety of her apartment and… I’ll leave you to find out what happens next.
Director Steven Soderbergh has a long list of well-crafted thrillers to his name—Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve and Thirteen, Solaris, Contagion, Haywire, etc.—and can now add Kimi. Many critics commented on its similarity to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, Rear Window, wherein L B Jeffries (James Stewart) is confined to a wheelchair nursing a broken leg and spends most of his time sitting by a window observing the goings-on of his neighbours. While watching neighbour Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), he hears an argument, a crash of breaking glass, and then silence. Later, he observes Thorwald making several trips with a suitcase and begins to suspect that Thorwald has murdered his wife and is now disposing of the body. Yes, there is a basic similarity of the core plot of Rear Window and Kimi but Soderbergh has flavoured his film with a rich dressing of high-tech and replaced the broken leg with agoraphobia within a setting of Covid-19 restrictions. Technophiles will enjoy the film. Technophobes will have their high-tech phobia reinforced. And those who already use Alexa and/or Siri will possibly be warier of electronic eavesdroppers.
100. Luzzu, Drama, Director Alex Camilleri, 2021 Malta, 100%/7.0
Maltese-American director, Alex Camilleri, has crafted a top-notch movie about a Maltese fisherman, Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), struggling to stay afloat financially in order to support his wife and baby son in the Maltese seaside town of Birżebbuġa. His problem is the European Union. In an attempt to conserve fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea, the EU has implemented an EU-Member-State policy aimed at reducing the number of small-scale fishing vessels, defined to be boats less than 12 feet (3.7 metres) in length. The policy includes buy-out and decommissioning of the small boats and re-education programs for the now-redundant fishermen. Jesmark is caught up in this policy. Fishing has been handed down to him through the generations and that’s all he knows but de-population of fish stocks, constraining rules about what he can and cannot catch throughout the year, skulduggery and black-market trading in the fish market, and a baby who needs urgent and expensive medical attention all conspire to dictate a change of career.
As I watched the film, I kept thinking this acting is so close to reality that the actors can’t be actors; they are authentic Maltese fishermen and their families. The film reviewer, Sheila O’Malley, of rogerebert.com confirms this. She states, “The cast is made up of non-actors. He [Camilleri] cast real fishermen as the fishermen, including Jesmark Scicluna. Everyone in the film actually lives in this world.” (https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/luzzu-movie-review-2021) And this, in part, is what gives the film an aura of authenticity that is very difficult to create using actors.
I’ll leave you to watch Jesmark as he contemplates the decommissioning of his beloved luzzu, a traditional Maltese multi-coloured small fishing vessel after which the film is named, and to understand the dilemma he faces as a fisherman, as a father, and as a man forced into a modern world full of baffling regulations and devoid of any recognition of and accommodation for tradition.