Choose a title from the list below, or scroll down to read them all:
- No Exit (2022)
- The Tourist (2022)
- Pieces of Her (2022)
- The Weekend Away (2022)
- Windfall (2022)
- Reacher (2022)
No Exit (2022)
Please hang up your disbelief, leave your critical thought at the door, and let your brain slip into something comfy to watch No Exit, an imperfect, grisly thriller that has a more than expected number of twists and turns. What’s that you ask? Are there too many coincidences and abrupt zags? Tsk. Remember what I said about critical thinking?
Darby (Havana Rose Liu) is on day eleven of a rehab program that she’s not really feeling. This is something like her seventh time through a program, so she’s a bit jaded about the whole process. Just when she’s launching into a cynical rant about how group therapy is wasting everyone’s time, she gets word that her mother has been hospitalized with a brain aneurysm. She’s distraught, but the rehab folks remind her that it’s rehab or jail, and there’s no way she’s getting a free pass just because her mother is hospitalized. (How humane.) Doing the only logical thing in this kind of situation, Darby breaks out of the rehab center, steals a car, and starts driving straight for Salt Lake City and the hospital. However, a winter storm shuts down the highway, thus thwarting her plan and diverting her to a rest area where a few other travelers are taking shelter.
A few things you should know about this rest area. It doesn’t have WiFi. Maybe it was knocked out in the storm. Or maybe it’s just not that kind of rest area. There is also no cell reception. Again, is it the storm or the location. We don’t know. What we do know is that people keep going outside in search of a few bars, which will soon be vitally important. Finally, the women’s bathroom is under major construction. The outside wall has been partially knocked out and then covered over with particle board. Power tools, hammers, and screwdrivers have been left in a haphazard mess all over the restroom. Really?!? What construction worker is just going to leave their expensive tools lying around where anyone could take them? Sorry. No critical thought. This will also be super important.
During one of Darby’s trips to the parking lot to find cell service, she hears muffled screaming and discovers a young girl bound and gagged in the back of a locked van. In the words of the inimitable Scooby Doo, “Ruh-roh–RAGGY!!!” This means that one of the people inside that rest area is the kidnapper, and it’s up to Darby to figure it out and to free the girl. While the storm rages outside, Darby tries to suss out more clues about the four people she’s stuck with—Ed (Dennis Haysbert), Sandi (Dale Dickey), Lars (David Rysdahl), and Ash (Danny Ramirez)—one of whom is clearly a terrible human. The movie tips its hand pretty quickly, revealing the kidnapper’s identity, but, not to worry, the seemingly average people at this rest stop are simply overflowing with nefarious secrets and unexpected connections. Of course, all this only works if you’re looking for escapist fun. If you start poking at any of these admittedly shaky plot devices, the whole thing is going to deflate on top of you like a leaky bouncy castle. You also have to be willing to accept a staggering amount of violence. The whole thing goes from tip-toeing around and terse conversations to bang-bang, blood splatter every-frickin’-where in about 60-seconds, and it stays there for the rest of the movie. What saves it from drowning in all that gore is the balance of characters’ relationships and personalities, while they’re alive at least, which might surprise you. More importantly, Darby maintains a kind of preternatural calm in the face of absolute chaos, which gives the movie the kind of grounding it needs to not get lost in the somewhat unbelievable escapades.
Look, sometimes in life you want to escape into a world where everything is tense, the budget for fake blood is huge, and the possibility of someone getting shot with a nail gun is very, very real. When that day comes you could do worse than watching No Exit.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
the tourist (2022)
This is a fucking delight. I was hooked from the opening scenes of a lone bearded man, wearing a dirty touristy tee-shirt (Jamie Dornan), driving a small, dust-coated car down a two-lane highway through the desolate Australian outback while he sings in falsetto along with “Bette Davis Eyes.” A tractor trailer appears in his rearview mirror and starts bearing down on his tiny car, while blaring its horn. The scene cuts between the interior of his car, the music still loud, and the interior of the semi where we see the driver in pieces—the side of his cowboy hat, the toe of his boot pressing the gas pedal—while he whistles a jaunty tune. The man in the car speeds up, grows concerned, turns off his music, tries to evade the huge truck, thinks he’s succeeded, and then gets rammed so hard his car rolls like a tumbleweed in the wind. He wakes up in the hospital with no memory of, well, anything. He can’t remember the crash or his name or why he was driving down that highway or what food he likes or anything about himself. He is, in some sense, a tourist in his own body—frustrated, lost, and sometimes curious. The very cheery and earnest Probationary Constable, Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald), shows up to take his statement, but her notebook stays as blank as his brain. As she says, “So just to clarify then, like, nothing?” MacDonald and Dornan are well-matched in a way that is wholly unexpected and lots of fun to watch, and while Dornan is great in his role, it’s MacDonald—and her character’s gentle evolution—who glows as the heart of the series.
The man finds a clue in his pocket, checks himself out of the hospital, and goes in search of more information. Meanwhile, the very bad people who remember exactly who he is and what he’s done continue to hunt him down. Helen tries to go back to her modest life of a Probationary Constable who is about to marry a man named Ethan (Greg Larsen), but she just can’t shake the mystery of the man who she knows is out there without, as she says, “a friend in the world.” Plus, her fiancé is the literal pits. Seriously, I watched people murder people, bury people alive, and otherwise heinously harm humans in this series, but I still maintain that Ethan is the absolute villain of the story. When Helen is musing about whether they’d get together if they met today she says, “Five years, though. Five years ago I was pretty.” To which he responds, “And you will be again.” And that’s only the tip of the passive aggressive, gaslighting, misanthropic, undermining, asshole iceberg.
Look, I’m a sucker for a series with a flat color palette evocative of American westerns that mixes staccato violence with black sardonic humor, upbeat music, and outright goofiness. If you try to watch this as a straight mystery thriller, I think you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re ready to embrace wonderfully and oddly detailed background characters who are often as funny as they are idiosyncratic, then this may be a show you’ll like. Take Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as a villainous American cowboy—complete with a red cowboy hat and very long pointy cowboy boots—whose outback trucking company is a front for a shadowy international figure, and who, as an attempt to woo them, tells people, “You know my mother was a _____. It’s fine work you people do. It’s fine work.” Well, when he’s not murdering people at least. Or the highly respected Detective Inspector Lachlan Rogers (Damon Herriman) who, no matter what he’s doing, always calls his wife at exactly the same time every day to chat about cooking and whatnot. Or Sue (Geneviève Lemon) and Ralph (Danny Adcock), who will likely steal your heart more than you’re expecting upon first meeting them. Or the arguing, chess playing, helicopter pilot brothers. And then there’s a whole running gag about a potato gun, but you’re going to have to watch to understand that.
The show also has more depth than I anticipated, though perhaps that’s on me. The amnesia isn’t just a plot device played for laughs and used to increase the mystery, it’s a way for the main characters to explore their lives and themselves, to discover what they like and dislike with new eyes, to see themselves from a stranger’s perspective. Not all of it is positive or leads where they want, of course, but it’s almost all interesting. There’s a lot in there about what we choose to believe about ourselves, how much we twist the truth, and how much we should listen to what other people say, but none of it is particularly heavy-handed. There’s even some unintended drug use that actually works and feels like a fresh approach. I’ll admit, the end of the show gets a bit twisty turny, with things looping back on themselves and coincidences piling up suspiciously fast, and while I may have enjoyed it less than the first part of the series, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. And maybe I enjoyed it less in part because I knew everything was ending, which I wished I could forget.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
Pieces of her (2022)
Dear Toni Collette (forever in my Muriel Heslop), I don’t know what you were offered in exchange for participating in this shambles of a sham show—money, diamonds, eternal life—but it wasn’t worth it.
I mean… COME ON! Are you kidding me with this? I actually felt pieces of my soul whither and die as I watched Pieces of Her. It’s that bad. It’s also far too long. Seriously, in the year of our Netflix 2022 how are we still getting an eight part thriller that CLEARLY should have been a 90-minute movie? Which also wouldn’t have been great, but at least it would have been snappier.
Andy Oliver (Bella Heathcote) works the night shift as a 911 operator in the small community of Belle Isle. We know it’s small because she knows the name of the woman who calls to complain about a raccoon, and we know Andy is probably a little lost because she draws detailed sketches as she half listens to the woman rant. In shows like this one, a physically attractive young woman who works a blue collar job and chooses to ride a bike around town, but expresses latent artistic talents is always somehow stuck and doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. Andy is no exception. She lives in a small guest house in her mother’s backyard where she eats peanut butter straight from the jar. Gasp! So lost! It turns out that Andy originally came home to take care of her mother, Laura (Toni Collette), a physical therapist, when she was very sick and doesn’t feel motivated to leave now that her mother is fully recovered. In the morning, Laura takes Andy out to a diner to celebrate her 30th birthday (I guess Andy never sleeps?), which Laura decides is the very perfect time to berate her about not having a plan for life, and Andy just mopes about it while poking at her food. Mid-way through this mother-daughter contest for who can be most sullen in a sunny diner, a friend of Laura’s drops by the table with her daughter who is on her way to medical school. And then things get real, real bad. A young guy who Laura thought was staring at Andy stands up and shoots Laura’s friend and her daughter. Chaos erupts. Andy, who was walking out of the restaurant in a sulk just before the shots were fired, freezes. Laura runs to Andy and pushes her down on the ground. Because of her 911 operator’s uniform, the gunman thinks Andy is a cop and yells at her to shoot him. Laura stands and, in a shaking voice, explains that Andy isn’t a cop and doesn’t have a gun. Angry, the gunman calls Andy a “fucking useless bitch” and aims his gun at her. Laura manages to disarm him, but then he pulls a knife, which he stabs through her hand. There is a pause when they both stare at her hand, bisected by the blade, before she calmly and quickly, with a stare so blank paper would be jealous, turns her hand and swipes the knife across his throat, slicing his carotid artery, and killing him very dead. It’s a gruesome party trick and will be extremely important later on. All this would be just fine for Laura except that someone huddled on the floor of the diner manages to catch the whole thing on video, which they share far and wide. Before she knows it, Laura, her face, her daughter, and their location are all over the national news, which is very, very bad. Why? Oh, friend, the why is really quite simple, but it’s going to be dragged the fuck out for so long and made so convoluted that afterwards you’re going to want to read something nice and straight forward, like the Iliad, as a little breather. After a bad man shows up in the middle of the night and tries to kill Laura and Andy saves her, which Laura really isn’t happy about, she sends Andy on the run without a shred of information about WHY. The lack of information and teetering tower of lies leads Andy to start doing extracurricular digging of her own and, you guessed it, start putting together pieces of her mother’s past.
I wrote in my notes that these are the WORST on the run people that I have ever watched. I mean, I have never seen characters appear so unconcerned about the clear and present danger to their lives. They’re just answering phone calls calmly, like, “Uh, yes, hello? Laura, speaking. I’m currently in my living room in front of the window.” I’m exaggerating, but by a micron. Laura also spends the ENTIRE series looking mostly super duper sad, vacant, and petulant. So petulant. You CANNOT believe what a major hassle all this has been for her. When she’s told her life is in danger? This will elicit a big sigh and she’ll just want to be left alone. When she tries to reach Andy and can’t find her? She’ll sound like she’s remembered she needs more yogurt from the grocery store and wants to make sure she catches Andy before she checks out. Or like she’s still annoyed Andy doesn’t have a five year plan. If they were aiming for stoic, they wildly missed the mark. For a series that is entirely built around Laura’s backstory, her character feels as thin, flimsy, and one-dimensional as wet toilet-paper. And Andy! Whew. For a 911 dispatcher that woman has zero sense for danger. I’m pretty sure she’d walk straight into a tiger enclosure and try to pet them. The show keeps trying to convince us that she’s smart and thinks on her feet, but it’s only because she walks into so many traps. And speaking of traps, your ears will be trapped listening to lines like, “You think if you feel things it’s gonna hurt so much it’ll kill you.” This line was spoken without a trace of irony. Also, and this should go without saying, there is very little logic or realism to anything that happens. For example, a car that has sat unattended in a storage locker since sometime in the early 1990s starts up without a hitch and has perfectly serviceable tires. Or, my favorite, Andy has to find a car, but for some reason can’t use the key fob, so has to run around wasting time by sticking the key into random trucks until it unlocks the right one. It’s like she’s stuck playing some dystopian game show. Will she win the car…or DEATH!
Anyway, eventually all things both good and bad must come to an end. While I swear on a VHS copy of Desperately Seeking Susan that the last episode was at least twice as long as the rest, Pieces of Her is no exception. And that’s really the best thing I can say about it.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
The weekend away (2022)
Oh, friends, I come to you with an open heart and blunt honesty to say that The Weekend Away is not good, but you should probably watch it anyway. It is a thriller of fairly un-thrilling proportions that, much like a grocery store sheet cake, will fill a very specific hankering for a confection that looks pretty and tastes exactly like you expect. From the average acting to the surprise-free plot to the moderately offensive stereotypes about Croatia, absolutely nothing will wow you—except perhaps a certain cab driver’s face?
Beth (Leighton Meester), the married mother of a young child, is finally getting away for a weekend with her best friend Kate (Christina Wolfe), who has split up with her husband Jay (Parth Thakerar) and is ready to party it up in Croatia. Because she is a good mother, Beth is very plain (but still beautiful), doesn’t own partying clothing anymore, and is very exhausted. She just wants to stay in for the night and go on a cycling tour in the morning!! We know she is also very kind because, on her way to the fancypants Airbnb, she hits it off with her Syrian refugee taxi driver Zain (Ziad Bakri), as do my eyeballs. Kate, on the other hand, might mean well, but she makes a lot of big life mistakes, which we know because she exacts revenge by using her ex-husband’s credit card to pay for the vacation, drinks a lot, wants to go out constantly, does drugs, and wears very short dresses. Obviously, bad shit is going to happen to Kate because bad shit always happens to women like Kate in movies like this one. Why? The patriarchy, of course.
Anyway, Kate and Beth go out to dinner, they talk about how long it’s been since Beth and her husband Rob (Luke Norris) have had sex (a year! Gasp!), Kate suggests that maybe Beth should leave him, and we learn that Rob doesn’t like Kate (shocking!). Then they meet some guys at a bar, everything goes woozy for Beth, and it skips to the next morning when she can’t find Kate. At first, no one else is concerned because they think Kate is a slut and she’s off doing slutty things. Their lack of concern is maddening and also probably the most realistic part of the movie. Soon enough, Kate turns up very dead. The police are first useless and then suspect Kate. Their Airbnb host is super duper creepy. Like, over-the-top, how-does-he-continue-to-get-people-to-rent-from-him kind of creepy. After Beth finds him gently and lovingly packing up Kate’s intimate apparel, she agrees to rent what amounts to a souped up basement room from him. I mean, could we give this woman a shred of credibility? Croatia has hotels. Go there, Beth. There are plot reasons she doesn’t, but they are pretty weak. Speaking of Croatia, this movie portrays it as riddled with corruption and crime and human trafficking, which isn’t accurate, but why bother with accuracy when you can just feed people’s prejudices and fears, right? I’m sure the Croatian tourism board was just ecstatic about that. It does, however, look like a very beautiful place to visit if you’re not, you know, running for your life or getting murdered. Anyway, the rest of the movie is Beth being accused of murder most foul, whining about it (So. Much. Whining.), running around with Zain (blessed be his DNA), and eventually persevering in the way righteous women always do in movies like this one. The movie is exactly an hour and half long, which is nice because I always appreciate it when people really understand limits and boundaries.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
Until the one hour mark I was just going to let this movie slide by as not my cup of thrills without imposing my opinion on it. Yes, I felt like I was the one being held hostage as I watched three unlikeable people wander around a luxurious property and engage in somewhat navel gazing debates during a robbery gone wrong. For sure, I didn’t like the way the female character was portrayed. And, yes, while I absolutely understood that the music was supposed to be all Hitchockian, the way it played so constantly and almost overpowered the conversation made it feel much more like a lower-budget Christmas rom-com (think, Snowbound for Christmas). However, I also thought I could just let the higher brow filmier folks (sorry for the technical term) duke it out on this one without my input. But then the gardener! But then the mother fucking gardener! Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.
(What follows will give away slightly more information than what’s in the trailer. Proceed at your own risk, which I contend is far less risky than watching the actual movie.)
The movie opens with a shot of the exterior of a single story, tile-roofed hacienda-style house. There is a stone patio with minimalist furniture. One of the french doors is slightly ajar and a thin white curtain blows gently in the breeze. The paint at the base of the walls is worn in places, but the casements on the windows are all perfectly new and unblemished. The place reeks of money and status. Because it stays on this static shot for a long-ass time as the credits appear, I had time to see that the vast majority of the people who worked on this movie appear to be men. Eventually, the camera pans to show a pool, a view of mountains, an orange grove, a wind turbine at rest, a garden with rock-walled beds, and, finally, Jason Segel sitting in an Adirondack chair looking out at mountains, sipping from a tall glass of orange juice. None of the characters have names, so he is just known as Nobody. It’s clear that Nobody doesn’t belong in this place. He wanders around idly at first, then with a purpose. He finds money, valuables, a gun, and takes them all. Then, just as he’s about to leave, the owners—known only as CEO (Jesse Plemons) and Wife (Lily Collins)—arrive. Nobody is now caught, it seems at first just temporarily, as he figures out what to do. CEO is a tech billionaire who made his money on an algorithm that helps companies downsize. Used to having control, he’s almost bemused by the somewhat bumbling intruder who he assumes is envious of his wealth and status—he calls people like him “lazy fucking loafers and freeloaders”— and is sure that he can find enough money in his house to make the man leave. Wife, whose happy couple façade starts to show cracks before she even senses Nobody’s presence in the house, appears at first to be mostly exhausted by the entire fiasco. She stares at her husband, trying to communicate with him nonverbally, which he appears to ignore or not understand as he continues to prattle on and lie to Nobody. He routinely debases and insults her and things she values, including a tattoo she is in the process of having removed because he dislikes it. Later, he pushes her to get close to Nobody by any means possible, and you really have to wonder what in the world he could have possibly done to woo her in the first place. Just give me something to believe in, because it certainly isn’t his personality and it’s definitely not his white pants. And isn’t it just so interesting that she is called Wife and he is called CEO instead of Husband? Or she could have been Woman instead of Wife. Or even her job title.
Anyway, Nobody wants to leave—desperately—but he refuses to get caught, so he needs more money, which will take time, so they all have to wait together for the money to arrive the next evening. Both the CEO and Nobody are supposed to be jerks of their own kind, though I guess complex in terms of whether they are good or bad. (They both seem pretty awful to me.) They spend a fair amount of time negotiating about how much money Nobody should take, with Nobody first asking for so little that it makes CEO laugh and Wife gently explaining that he’ll need more to start a new life. Wife—you’ll be shocked to learn because women are never foisted into this kind of role—is, for much of the movie, kind of an intermediary between the two men, helping them communicate, serving as a physical buffer, and providing sustenance. Before she married CEO she didn’t have money, so she identifies with Nobody, but he ultimately sees her as complicit in CEO’s life and rebuffs her attempts to connect. Let me also just say here, without spoiling anything, that projecting toxic traits onto a woman does not a feminist hero make! Also, while the two men gradually grow more disheveled as the movie progresses, Wife somehow remains perfectly coiffed until the very end. Plus, while Jason Segel’s character wears work boots and Jesse Plemons’s wears sneakers, Lily Collins’s character never switches out of a pair of narrow-toed leather flats. A likely unintentional representation of the patriarchy played out in footwear.
Anyway, in the midst of all this, the gardener who is known as (you guessed it) Gardener (Omar Leyva) shows up and knocks on the door. As you can imagine, this causes all kinds of upheaval for Nobody, who is already very stressed out about having two hostages (not counting the viewers). When CEO answers the door Gardener (with his hat literally in hand) introduces himself and THANKS CEO FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK ON SUCH BEAUTIFUL LAND. He speaks in accented English, but ends by saying “gracias.” Look out! It’s raining tired tropes! I can’t tell you more, except to say that his character, who is well-acted, doesn’t have the space to develop to even the shallow level of the others and is used solely as a device for the benefit or detriment of the white characters.
So there’s (waves hands) all that. And then there’s the ending that made me internally howl in that special way that only watching women being used as vessels for men’s crap can. At least the whole movie only lasts 90 minutes? If you’re counting in linear time.
Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:
This is a fun watch! I mean, assuming your definition of fun stretches to include just wheelbarrows full of people being shot, squished, and otherwise violently killed at a near metronomic pace—which it most certainly should if you’re going to consume anything involving Jack Reacher. I feel like it takes an episode or two for the series to really get its feet under it, but after that it strikes a good balance between violence, thrills, mystery, smart asides, camaraderie, and comedy.
Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson)—an incredibly muscular, 6′ 5″, Genetically Blessed, and very decorated retired Military Police Officer turned tracker—turns up in the small town of Margrave, Georgia looking for some trace of the blues singer Blind Blake and piece of peach pie. Before he satisfies either yen, he’s arrested for murder and questioned by the tweed-suit wearing, Harvard educated, very proper Chief Detective Oscar Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin, who is also Genetically Blessed). Reacher, who raises stoicism to an art form and can read people based on minute details (kinda like a jacked Sherlock Holmes who can kill a man with his bare hands), immediately gets under Finlay’s skin. Finlay, who abhors swearing, does things by the book, and moved to small-town (read: racist) Margrave after a successful 20-year career with the Boston Police Department, immediately irks Reacher. It’s an odd couple match made in television heaven! Quick to see Reacher’s more positive aspects (and I’m not just talking about his body) and uncover his military past is police officer Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald), who will be assigned to follow his every move. Gee, I wonder where that kind of constant, close proximity between two attractive, heterosexual people during a highly stressful, highly emotional time could possibly lead? Definitely not to Bang Town. Before you know it, a web of conspiracies, shady dealings, gruesome murders, more gruesomer murders, and villainous schemes has ensnared all of Margrave, and the only one who can untangle the mess? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously.
Reacher kills to redress wrongs done to others, but never for sport or malice, which is part of what sets him apart from the villains he hunts. We see a lot of him saving those less fortunate or capable than him. In one situation he rescues a dog from a neglectful owner. In a flashback we see a young Reacher and his brother Joe attacking boys who were torturing a boy with Down Syndrome. In another scene, Reacher intimidates a man who is terrorizing his girlfriend in a diner parking lot. I realize all of these are supposed to be acts of valor, meant to demonstrate his dedication to saving everyone he can, but I struggle with it somewhat because the victims are almost always silent. While he doesn’t require their gratitude, it’s expected that they’ll welcome his help, which none of them requested. This is why I particularly enjoy his relationship with Roscoe, because she accepts none of his heroics easily. Early on, when he assumes she’s scared by an attempt on her life, she sets him straight, calling him a “condescending asshole” with a note perfect delivery. (Unfortunately, she does also explain that she can handle herself because she’s not some “little girl.” You know what word would have worked perfectly well there and not given the impression that girls are somehow weaker? Child.)
In general, though, women are portrayed as capable, competent equals to men, which is a pleasant surprise in a show where you could grow chest hair just from inhaling the second hand testosterone fumes. For the most part, women just get shit done alongside the men. And, without giving too much away, wives aren’t typecast as clueless, helpless, and nagging, but instead as knowledgeable and aware, which matters a lot. I wasn’t sure at first how the series was going to handle the issue of racism, which is clearly present in this fictional Georgia town. I think, though, they managed make it evident that racism was woven into every interaction the clearly bigoted cops, citizens, businessmen, and politicians have with Finlay without spelling it out in neon lights for the viewer. However, I struggled more with the inclusion of a group of nefarious South Americans as villains. Though, I will say, they managed to keep the characters so much in the shadows that they avoided playing too much into stereotypes. I’m not saying it’s great or anything, but it could have been so much worse. But you know what was a very pleasant surprise? All the blues music. Well, I mean, I guess that entirely depends on your feelings on the blues. If you’re like Finlay, then you’ll absolutely hate it.
Anyway, most people are going to say that this is bubble gum viewing, which isn’t an unfair assessment, but, you know, bubble gum is not a monolith. Some is really hard. Some loses its flavor right away. Some doesn’t really taste like much to begin with. Reacher is really good, juicy, long-lasting, flavorful bubble gum.