Torn from the Headlines. Films reviewed: Feels Good Man, Biohackers, Tenet

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2020

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

This week I’m looking at three new movies torn from the headlines, dealing with pandemics, the rise of the alt right and international intelligence. There’s a student searching for genetic data, a spy looking for quantum physics clues, and a cartoonist forced to dissect his favourite frog.

Feels Good Man

Dir: Arthur Jones

It’s 2005, in the early days of social networks, and MySpace is king. Matt Furie is an indie cartoonist who draws Boy’s Club, a comic about four slackers (in animal form) in their twenties who share a house. One image he drew goes viral: it’s Pepe the Frog peeing in a toilet while standing up with his pants pulled down, saying, in explanation, “feels good, man”. Somehow it captures the mood of the time. It spreads to 4chan – a non-commercial, anonymous comment board started by a 14-year-old – where it’s adopted as a meme, and repeated endlessly online. Soon Pepe the Frog turns into Sad Pepe, Smug Pepe, Screaming Pepe – his images are everywhere. A decade later though it’s co-opted by the nascent Alt-Right: Pepe with a Donald Trump wig, Pepe on a neo-nazi flag. Meanwhile, Matt Furie, is still just a comicbook artist, not a superstar like his character. And his beloved pepe is toxic. It’s declared an official symbol of hate by ADL (The Anti-Defamation League). What can a small time cartoonist do?

Feels Good Man is a brilliant documentary that follows the rise and fall of an internet meme. It also touches on crypto currencies, Incels, “punch-a-naziRichard Spencer, Hillary Clinton, Fox News… basically everything important from the past 15 years is somehow related to Pepe the Frog. It’s narrated by the people involved – on myspace, 4chan and elsewhere – as well as Furie’s fight to reclaim his character using pro bono lawsuits. (Good luck with that – there are 160 million unique Pepe images floating around online.)

And the film also features beautiful psychedelic, animation of Pepe and his friends – total eye candy. Loved it.

Tenet

Dir: Christopher Nolan

An American special ops soldier (John David Washington) wakes up after taking a poison pill to find out he’s still alive. He was captured by the enemy after trying to stop Chechen terrorists in a Ukraine Opera House. Turns out the pill was a fake, a test to prove his loyalty. And now the CIA sends on a special mission spanning continents. His goal? They don’t say. But it involves seducing the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) using a forged painting in order to uncover a secret weapon. But first, he and his accomplice (Robert Pattinson) must break into an impregnable tower in Mumbai to uncover information held by an international arms dealer named Priya (Dimple Kapadia). But wait – there’s more. A lab-coated scientist tells him powerful forces of quantan physics are at work: as he movies forward, other people and things are moving backwards through time. While we are shooting bullets they catching the same bullets in their guns, as they progress to the past. And unless he completes his mission the whole world will cease to exist.

Tenet is an action thriller about a Black American 007 with a bit of sci-fi jibber-jabber thrown in to make it more interesting. It’s visually stunning, full of brutalist architecture, stark railway tracks and brilliant birds-eye shots of vast industrial wastelands like an Edward Burtynsky photograph. And the special effects are great too, with airplanes plowing into airport terminals, and ingenious fist fights between someone travelling forward in time and someone going backwards. On the other hand, the story is as pointless as it sexless, the characters are dull and opaque, and – despite claims to the contrary – is very old fashioned in its outlook. Men fight while women scheme. Anglo-American spies are the good guys, the world’s policemen, while Russians are the villains. The script is full of fake profundities – “we live in a twilight world” – the plot follows a formulaic uncovering of clues, although with the time/space continuum to keep you interested.

Is Tenet a good movie? No, not really, but after going seven months without a single big-budget new release, seeing this one in an actual theatre (with physical distancing, of course) left me totally satisfied.

Biohackers

Created by Christian Ditter

Mia Ackerland (Luna Wedler) is a young medical student at German University. She lives with three geeky housemates: Chen-Lu (Jing Xiang), a fast-talking science nerd into gene splicing, Ole (Sebastian Jakob Doppelbauer), a socially inept inventor looking for friends; and Lotta (Caro Cult), a rich student who likes sex, drugs and parties. Mia enrolls in a biology class taught by prize winning Prof Lorenz (Jessica Schwarz) and her T.A. Jasper (Adrian Julius Tillmann). She quickly distinguishes herself, starts dating Jasper, and works her wat into the professor’s elite lab. But when she’s asked to supply a DNA sample she panics. What is Mia hiding? What does she hope to discover? What are the professsor’s motives? And can Mia depend on her bio-hacker roommates to join her mission?

Biohackers is a six-part science-thriller TV show about a young student looking for the truth. There are frequent flashbacks to a young girl and her twin brother who died in hospital as a child, giving clues to Mia’s motivation. It starts with a teaser – a mass pandemic aboard a passenger train where everyone collapses with a strange virus… except Mia. Which makes it especially relevant during he COVID crisis. (And the rivalry between her and the professor is like Glenn Close and Rose Byrnn in the TV show Damages.) Biohackers makes for a great binge-watch during a quarantine.

Tenet is now playing in theatres across Canada, Biohackers is streaming on Netflix, and Feels Good Man opens today on VOD. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

 

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