Guns Akimbo

★★★1/2

New Zealand filmmaker Jason Lei Howden (Deathgasm) stirred up quite the Internet shitstorm in the week leading up to the release of his second feature, Guns Akimbo. Howden took to Twitter to defend Much Ado About Cinema website editor-in-chief Dilara Elbir, who used a racial slur in a private group chat. Many of Much Ado’s writers quit, Much Ado was later shuttered and Elbir apparently attempted suicide in wake of the leak. Howden employed his personal Twitter as well as Guns Akimbo’s Twitter to attack two women of color (Valerie Complex and DarkSkyLady) amongst many others for their perceived involvement in Elbir’s anguish, which in turn left them being threatened with bodily harm by anonymous trolls. Not a great look. Many outlets have chosen to boycott Guns Akimbo as a result. I’m not here to judge Howden as a man – simply as an artist – and on that front in Guns Akimbo’s case, (I didn’t much care for Deathgasm) he’s a success.

Ironically, much of the Internet bullying Howden decried in actuality is also tackled in Guns Akimbo. This is the story of Miles (Daniel Radcliffe), video game programmer-by-day Internet troll-by-night. Miles was recently dumped by his girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). He spends his evenings slamming beers and slamming boors on Skizm, an online snuff site in which two people (most of whom are criminals and misfits) fight to the death with a wide array of weapons. He talks smack to the page’s patrons and purveyors alike raising the ire of Riktor (Ned Dennehy of Peaky Blinders and Mandy). Riktor deploys a goon squad to Miles’ “fap cave.” They kidnap the bloke and bolt guns to either hand. Miles is an unwitting entrant in Skizm and must face off against reigning champ, Nix (Samara Weaving). Along the way Miles encounters homeless crackhead, Glenjamin (The Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby), ‘80s tunes are given heavy work-ups, there’s a sick Cypress Hill needle drop (“When the Shit Goes Down”) and countless cats are capped.

Radcliffe is immensely likable in the flick and I actively rooted for his character. It’s hard not to pull for a dude who rocks Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando posters on his living room walls. Howden takes full advantage of the film’s central conceit and much humor is derived from seeing a guy with guns bolted to his hands attempt to take a leak, put pants on, use a cell phone, turn a doorknob, drive, etc. As good as Radcliffe is (and he’s quite good), the picture ultimately belongs to Weaving. She’s proven time and again (Mayhem, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Babysitter, Ready or Not) just what a captivating screen presence she is. Without eyebrows this chick’s still appealing and she doubles down on the badass bonafides she displayed in Ready or Not here. I’ll eat my hat if Weaving’s not one of the biggest stars of the silver screen within the next five years.

Guns Akimbo certainly isn’t for all tastes – it’s lewd, crude and sports plenty of ‘tude – fans of flicks like Crank, Crank: High Voltage and Shoot ‘Em Up should dig it. We’re not at Hogwarts anymore.

Did the movie Contagion predict the Coronavirus?

“Nothing spreads like fear”

That was the tagline of the 2011 Steven Soderbergh film Contagion, an ensemble cast look at what would happen if the worst fears of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Heath Organization were ever to occur. 

It’s an older film that suddenly started trending on online video rental services. Why? Well, it has parallels to today’s news.

In the film, a mysterious virus has reached the United States after a business woman (Gwenyth Paltrow) returns from China. The virus spreads fast and one-in-four of those infected ended up dead, with a cinematically gruesome image of people slumped over, foaming at the mouth.

But the biggest threat in this movie isn’t the virus itself. It’s the mass chaos and confusion among the general public, leading to rioting, emptied stores, desolate streets and masked intruders breaking into homes trying to get hold of the vaccine.

With the recent news about the Coronavirus, I decided to rewatch this film from nearly a decade ago to see if Soderbergh made any accurate predictions and if there’s something we can learn from this movie. 

First off, I’m not saying the Coronavirus will turn into a worldwide pandemic and kill millions of people. But I don’t want to downplay the severity of the virus either.

In the movie, one character cites the fact that Spanish Influenza killed 40 to 50 million people worldwide in 1918 which was about 2 percent of the world population. 

The Coronavirus itself isn’t that widespread. There have been 88,000 reported cases worldwide and about 3,000 reported deaths, as of March 2.

But there’s a lesson to learn from Spanish Influenza. One of the main reasons it spread is World War I was occuring and Britain, France, Germany and other European governments kept it a secret because they didn’t want to hand the other side a potential advantage. Spain — a neutral country in this war — was 100 percent transparent and a result they got unfairly labeled as the originator. That’s where the nickname came from.

The message is that hiding the severity of a disease can be catastrophic.

In Soderbergh’s fim, Laurence Fishburne plays a doctor with the CDC who grapples with the tough decision about what and when to tell the public about this spreading virus. 

“Nobody should know until everybody knows,” advises a general played by Bryan Cranston. 

They fear a run on the banks, a crashing stock market and soaring gas prices. Fishburne breaks ethical protocal by secretly telling a friend to flee the Chicago area, which was about to be locked down under quarantine as a early site of infection. 

When they do go public, a panic ensues. 

It takes months to develop a vaccine, a time period that seems like an eternity to the characters in the film, but it actually might have been faster than what’s realistic. News reports says it could take a year to 18 months to get a Coronavirus vaccine on the market. 

When the vaccine is created, there’s not a enough for everyone. The State Department suggests dumping it into the water supply like fluoride. Instead, the CDC has a lottery and literally pulls ping palls out of a hopper and reads out birthdates to find out which half of the population will be inoculated and which half will have to wait another six months. 

Jude Law plays a prominent blogger who constantly reminds people that he has 12 million unique visitors to his Web site. He’s a skeptic — bordering on conspiracy theorist — who distrusts the U.S. government and says he’s come up with his own homeopathic cure to this virus. Fishburne debates him on a TV news program, telling the public that his fear mongering is dangerous. 

“What he’s spreading is far more dangerous than any disease,” he said.

Law plans to tell his Web site visitors to not take the vaccine, leading the U.S. government to arrest him on trumped up charges to keep him away from his laptop.

Interestingly enough, I saw one report where a TV host claimed that ingesting silver would cure the Coronavirus. There is no medical proof to support that. Talk show host John Oliver played this same clip and joked that the only reason to ingest silver is if you have miniature werewolves living in your body.

So what lessons can we learn from this movie? 

For one, almost all governments — across the globe — are woefully unprepared for a massive pandemic that spreads quickly. The layers of bureaucracy don’t lend themselves to nimble action.

If you want tips about preventing the spread of disease, I guess don’t touch your face. It’s a joke made a few times in the movie but it’s very true.

Kate Winslet plays a CDC investigator who says that average human touches their face 2,000 times a day and in between touching your face you are touching door knobs, hand rails, table counters, etc. We don’t wash our hands every time we touch something but we do touch our faces a lot. 

One CDC researcher says to Winslet, “My wife makes me take off my clothes in the garage. Then she leaves out a bucket of warm water and some soap. And then she douses everything with hand santizer after I leave. I mean, she’s overreacting, right?”

“Not really,” Winslet responds. “And stop touching your face, Dave.”

Finally, I think the real lesson from this movie is the power of fear and misinformation. We’re seeing that already. Stores are sold out of masks and they’re selling on Ebay for insane amounts. People are calling 911 because they saw a Chinese person walking down the street. Sales of Corona beer have plummeted because some people are stupid enough to think that’s how the get the disease. It’s pretty crazy.

This is a big spoiler but the movie ends with us finding out how the virus came to be. Previously in the film, researchers identify bat and pig DNA in the virus, joking that “Somewhere the wrong bat came in contact with the wrong pig.” 

Interestingly enough, some think that Coronavirus originated from the Chinese eating bat soup and one Fox News commentator went off about it. I’m not making this up.

At the end of the movie, we see Paltrow eating dinner at a restaurant in China. Her construction company — which is why she is overseas — has a bulldozer knock down some trees and bats fly out. They land in a pig pen, infecting the pigs. One of the pigs is delivered to a restaurant and the chef touches the pig’s mouth and then just wipes his hands on his apron before shaking Paltrow’s hand and posing for a picture.

One instance of a person not washing their hands and then millions die from a virus.

Yes, it’s just a movie but it makes you really want to wash your hands more often. 

The Invisible Man

★★★★

A little backstory on my history with invisible men on screen: it’s a shameful admission, but I’ve never seen the 1933 Universal Classic Monsters classic The Invisible Man directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains. My only treks through cinematic translucence prior to seeing writer/director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man were John Carpenter’s 1992 Chevy Chase-fronted flop Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Paul Verhoeven’s uber-rapey 2000 Kevin Bacon vehicle Hollow Man – neither of which I especially cared for. All that said, I was pretty stoked for Whannell’s take on the material.
I have a mixed history with Whannell’s output. I didn’t dig Saw (which he wrote and co-starred in) in the slightest. Dead Silence, which he wrote, was a dud. I haven’t seen a single Insidious (he’s acted in and written every installment and made his directorial debut on Chapter 3). What upgraded Whannell in my estimation was his 2018 action/body horror picture, Upgrade, which played like a hybrid of Carpenter and Verhoeven and sported a gamely fun lead performance from Logan Marshall-Green AKA Baby Tom Hardy. Whannell teamed with producer du jour Jason Blum on that picture and reteams with him here. Upgrade sported a meager 5 million USD budget; The Invisible Man a modest $9 million one. While I think Whannell stretched those bucks a little further on Upgrade – it’s gorier and more kinetic – it’s evident that he’s putting every red cent on screen in both instances.
The Invisible Man focuses primarily upon Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss), an architect who puts her professional life on hold to engage in a relationship with Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian has made a fortune at the forefront of the optics industry, lives in a bitchin’ beachside mansion and is a controlling, abusive, gaslighting douche. Having tired of Adrian’s behavior, Cecelia seeks escape. Assisting her in this pursuit are her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), childhood friend-turned-cop, James (Aldis Hodge) and James’ daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid of HBO’s Euphoria). In wake of Cecelia’s departure Adrian offs himself and leaves her $5 million (She could have funded Upgrade!) in a trust being doled out by his lawyer brother, Tom (Michael Dorman). The trust is contingent upon her having no criminal record and being deemed mentally sane. A bunch of sideways shit transpires from there bringing those qualifiers into question.
Moss is an incredibly talented actress (mostly by reputation as I haven’t watched Mad Men, Top of the Lake or The Handmaid’s Tale) and is great here, but for whatever reason I don’t totally dig her. Maybe it’s the Scientology? Maybe it’s that her face often seems to suggest that she’s just farted or smelled someone else’s fart? I also probably shouldn’t rip on an actress’ appearance in what’s essentially a #MeToo sci-fi/horror flick, but I keeps it real. I really liked Hodge in the flick and always enjoy seeing him in things because whether he’s playing MC Ren in Straight Outta Compton or a police officer as he does here I’ll always remember him from his cinematic debut as one of Samuel L. Jackson’s nephews in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
The Invisible Man sheds light upon some important issues and could very well be empowering to female audience members. Some might argue that it’s a bit tasteless to tackle such weighty subject matter in what’s essentially genre drivel, but I don’t think that’s the case. The picture’s a bit overlong at 124 minutes, but I think its length is mostly in service of building tension. Whannell and his Upgrade cinematographer Stefan Duscio often employ long, lingering shots and inventive compositions to further the frights. The Invisible Man engages in horror in the early goings before devolving into action later on, which might be a turnoff to some viewers. That said, it’s a worthy enough genre entry that I’d recommend seeing it on the big screen before it disappears from theaters.