Night Moves

Josh and Dena are passionate about their cause: the environment. Tired of small measures, they team with Harmon, a shadier character who can help them pull off an act of eco-terrorism, the bombing of a hydroelectric dam.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are idealistic and young. They figure this revolutionary act will prompt people to think about what they’re doing to the environment, which you and I know is almost never how it works. What happens in real life is that we’re angry about the disruption to our lives. In the movie, however, what happens is even messier. The greatest impact they have is on themselves.

MV5BMTY1NDIzODA2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4Mjk0MTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Night Moves isn’t so much about the environment as it is a character study between these three individuals trying to make a statement, and then living with the consequences. It’s slow, almost plodding. There’s no flashiness, just a creeping sense of guilt and paranoia.

The thing is, Jesse Eisenberg is a one-note actor and I’m damned tired of that note. He wears this grimace that tells us the world is just painful to him, like how can his pinched little rat face be expected to live in a world with us plebeians? He got lucky once with a role whose neuroticism suited him perfectly. Everything else has been derivative, and while it might have been slightly funny to watch Mark Zuckerberg get chased by zombies, I just don’t buy him as an eco-thug, bless his entitled little heart.

Otherwise I think Kelly Reichardt puts together a uniquely character-drive film that defies classification. It pushes us to challenge what we think of as “natural” and ratchets up the tension with increasing themes of alienation. What Reichardt doesn’t do is decide for us.

Advertisements

Lovesong

Sarah (Riley Keough) feels like she’s bringing up her young daughter Jessie by herself, abandoned sometimes for months at a time by an older husband who travels for work and is fuzzy on his return dates. A visit from her college friend Mindy (Jena Malone) brings her a little comfort, a little joy…and a little more. There’s a chemistry and a crackle that’s been notably absent in her life. The three of them take off a little road trip that ignites things, but just as they get going, Mindy’s back on a bus for NYC and Sarah is back to her old life.

MV5BZWFhMGE2N2YtZTI5Yi00Zjc0LWJlNjAtZWE4ZDEzZmYzOTkyL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU2NDMyOTM@._V1_Cut to: a few years later, Sarah and Jessie are on the road again, headed toward Mindy’s wedding. Mindy’s future husband seems nice. Sarah’s husband seems to be out of the picture. And Sarah and Mindy? They haven’t seen each other since that road trip so things are suitably tense and complicated. Sarah might be trying to reestablish their earlier intimacy, but the day before Mindy’s wedding is probably neither the time nor the place. So if you’re hoping to see something awkward, you’re in luck!

The great thing about Lovesong is that it fearlessly portrays the complexity and ambiguity of real human emotion. Director So Yong Kim gives her two leads room to breathe, room to communicate through glances and grazes. I’ve always been convinced Jena Malone is an underrated actress, her resume an eclectic mix of indie gems and art-house risks. Riley Keough is less of a known quantity to me, but if nothing else, the last scene in this movie told me that she’s not just some lucky celebrity spawn, she’s legit. There was some heartbreak on that screen, the tangled, tricky kind, and that’s no joke. Lovesong will be too slow for some, lacking perhaps in the closure we usually week, but it’s a brave portrayal and a bittersweet reminder that not every couple gets their love song.

Wild Oats

Eva is a grieving widow who doesn’t even get through her husband’s funeral before her daughter is reminding her of unpaid hospital bills and a home that isn’t worth much before significant sprucing. So can we really blame her when she cashes the 50K insurance cheque even though it’s accidentally made out for 5 million? Nope!

Eva (Shirley MacLaine) vanishes into the night with her friend Maddie (Jessica Lange), their eyes set on a luxury resort in Spain. Maddie is sick, her days numbered, and her Wild-Oats_poster_goldposter_com_2-702x336husband’s just left her for a secretary a fraction of her age. Eva’s been caring for her sick husband for a long time, so washes away her guilty feelings with generous dosages of mojitos and embraces the mistake, determined to live it up. These two chiquitas have nothing to lose so it’s all blackjack and boy toys until a) a dashing Billy Connolly enters the picture and b) the fuzz are on their tail. Well, not so much the fuzz as the insurance company trying to reclaim their losses, but you get the picture.

Is this a brilliant movie? No it isn’t. It’s kind of like Going In Style for old biddies, an adventure for senior citizens that’s exactly as predictable as you’d think. Lange and MacLaine are ludicrously charming but they deserve better material. They’re able to polish a few pieces of coal into diamonds thanks to their professionalism and gung-ho spirit, but for every high, there’s a low. I found it a perfectly inoffensive time-waster, but this movie will really only appeal to people who always wondered what How Stella Got Her Groove back would be like if Stella was an 84 year old white lady.

 

 

Asshole Ethics 101: would you cash the cheque, or report it?

 

The Lifeguard

Leigh, a former valedictorian “most likely to succeed” quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home. Her parents are worried about her and her old friends can’t believe she’s washed up in Connecticut with no prospects. To make things worse, Leigh’s only ambition is to get work as a lifeguard where she starts a relationship with a troubled teenager more than a decade her junior.

Kristen-Bell-Wearing-a-Red-Swimsuit-in-The-Lifeguard-Trailer-01Leigh (Kristen Bell) is reliving her adolescence, but it doesn’t seem to be making her any happier. She’s too young for a midlife crisis, but that’s essentially what this is, an existential reckoning. She’s depressed and lost; she went after everything she was supposed to but is finding adulthood to be not all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, none of her friends seem all that happy either. What magic ingredient is missing?

Personally, I found it hard to sympathize with Leigh. Kristen Bell tries her best as the lifeguard on duty to show that she is swimming and not merely floating, but she’s working against a strong current. The character comes off as whiny, and – dare I say it – entitled. There isn’t much drama, or even story here. It’s not even that titillating despite Leigh’s insistence on statutory-raping her way to grow-up-dom. I love Kristen Bell but I can’t really be an apologist for this film. I barely muddled my way through it. The end, which is supposed to justify the means, feels jarring and forced. The whole thing tries too hard to be edgy and hip and not hard enough to be a solid, sensical story. And I refuse to watch movies in a world where that’s too much to ask.

Sebastian

James Fanizza writes, directs and stars in Sebastian but does not in fact play him. He plays Alex, the guy who meets Sebastian  (Alex House) and initiates a fling – this despite that he has a boyfriend, a boyfriend who just happens to be Sebastian’s cousin. They both agree to feel bad about what they’re doing, but they don’t consider not doing it. It’s full steam ahead (and it DOES get steamy).

MV5BMzBjYmE1YWEtZmNiYy00YTQyLThiMzAtYmFhMzI3ZmFlY2ZkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIxMDkwMTk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Sebastian is an Argentinian student in Toronto for just one week; both know that the relationship (whatever it is) ends when he catches his flight back home. But the affair is irrepressible. They’re falling for each other whether or not they say the words, and it’s the kind of relationship that changes them, unlocks things hidden deep inside (and who can resist a boy with a dark and unspoken past?).

This is not the most polished piece you’ll encounter at the Inside Out Film Festival, but for a first directorial effort, it’s got promise and panache. Shot around Toronto, the city provides a bustling backdrop to the conflict of feelings. If this budding relationship begins to feel to us, the audience, like a Once in a Lifetime thing, we must wonder whether one week is enough for these two men to recognize it, and if yes, whether they will be brave enough to act on it. And that sort of anticipation has a vicarious thrill to it that is not unlike falling in love. But as we all know, love is complicated, and Alex and Sebastian will not be exceptions.

Cannes Snobbery

Some people think that Netflix is saving the movie industry. Others think it’s killing it. I think neither is true, that all Netflix is is the future. Or rather, Netflix is now. The movie industry is changing and has changed. Some directors insist that their art can only be experienced on a big screen, others are embracing the flexibility that comes with a Netflix carte blanche. But Cannes, a major French film festival, has inserted itself into the discourse, reluctantly agreeing to include two Netflix titles in this year’s lineup, but insisting that next year’s rules will be different and only movies intended for a theatrical release will earn slots in their programming.

Amazon also earned boos from critics at its Cannes screening, this despite the fact that Amazon does partner up to bring some of its titles to the cinema, like last year’s Oscar contender, Manchester By The Sea. This year Amazon brought Wonderstruck to Cannes by the acclaimed director of Carol, Todd Haynes. Of Amazon, Haynes noted “The film division at Amazon is made up of true cineastes who love movies and really want to try and provide opportunity for independent film visions to find their footing in a vastly shifting market. They love cinema.”

Netflix makes movies and series for its at-home audience who pay a subscription fee that includes original content. At TIFF 2016, I saw 2 Netflix films (Mascots and Blue Jay) and found them to be just as worthy as any other content on offer. At this year’s Oscars, Netflix garnered a nomination for Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, and a win for its short documentary, The White Helmets. Traditional or not, Netflix movies do hold up.

Cannes jury president Pedro Almodovar doesn’t like it and made his position clear with this opening statement: “I personally do not conceive, not only the Palme d’Or, any other prize being given to a film and not being able to see this film on a big screen. The size [of the screen] should not be smaller than the chair on which you’re sitting. It should not be part of your everyday setting. You must feel small and humble in front of the image that’s here.” Fellow jury member Will Smith clashed with him on this, defending the streaming service “In my house, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit. They get to see films they absolutely wouldn’t have seen. Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists.” And that’s true: Netflix is a boon to indie gems and hard-to-find documentaries. It also allows people who find the cost of theatre-going restrictive to watch movies at home for a reasonable price. Of course, Netflix just so happens to be the distributor of Smith’s next big-budget movie, Bright.

And that’s the thing about Netflix today: it’s going after the big guns. For its first-ever Cannes screening, Netflix chose Okja, a film by the South Korean director of Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho. Okja stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s no slouch. Of the controversy, Joon-ho was  typically humble: “I’m just happy he will watch this movie tonight. He can say anything—I’m fine. I loved working with Netflix. They gave me great support — the budget for this film is considerable. Giving such a budget to a director isn’t very common.” And Swinton was also quick to make light of the situation, saying “The truth is, we didn’t actually come here for prizes.” Okja received a four-minute standing ovation after its screening.

Later this festival, Netflix will screen the second of its two titles, Noah Baumback’s The Meyerowitz Stories, about a fractured family reuniting, starring Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Candice Bergen, Ben Stiller, and Netflix darling Adam Sandler.

 

 

 

Alien: Covenant

MV5BMTUxMjU4NTM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzczMDY5MTI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_

You always know better than the idiots in horror movies. Don’t go to an uncharted planet streaming John Denver songs to the universe. Hell, don’t go into space period! When you get to the planet, don’t trust its lone inhabitant who lives in a graveyard and conducts science experiments in a drippy cave. Especially when the results of those science experiments look suspiciously like the creepy little things that just blew up your only ride off the planet. But if not for those dumb decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, and certainly not one about Aliens with a capital A.

As the SXSW Sneak Peek hinted, the idiots in Alien: Covenant are more tolerable than most, because every bad decision leads us to a place we want to go. Ridley Scott’s playful approach here elevates Alien: Covenant above every entry in this franchise since Aliens. The bad decisions aren’t infuriating, they’re chess moves, most of which lead to another piece getting ripped apart into gooey chunks by space monsters.

Everything in this movie services the Aliens, including the speedy pace at which they burst out of people (taking only as long as needed to cause maximum carnage). Alien: Covenant felt like a Star Wars prequel in that respect, as the technology (in this case, the creatures produced by those previously mentioned science experiments) behind the Aliens seems better in the “past” than in the “future”. I suppose that’s inevitable when prequels are made 30 years later, and I was a lot more forgiving of it here that I was with Star Wars. I think that’s because in Alien: Covenant, the changes from the original rules make the movie more entertaining, while the changes in Star Wars made the movies into a CGI tutorial mixed with a boring political drama.

Above all else, Alien: Covenant is fun, and that’s because Ridley Scott and his cast (led by stellar performances by Michael Fassbender (x2) and Katherine Waterston channeling Ripley and kicking Alien ass just like Sigourney Weaver did) deliver everything this franchise’s fans could possibly have asked for. No unnecessary exposition, no extraneous plot points, just Aliens mowing down idiot after idiot.

For that, Alien: Covenant gets a score of eight chest-bursting xenomorphs out of ten.

Christine

As often happens in Hollywood, two films came out around the same time about the same subject, in this case Christine Chubbuck,  a real-life reporter who took her life during a live broadcast in the 1970s. I reviewed Kate Plays Christine previously, and didn’t much care for its treatment of the subject. I needed a breather so have only now braced myself for the second film, Christine.

And this one is better, if I’m still not entirely sure we’ve gotten to the bottom of who she was and why she did what she did. If you do research on her as I have, much has been hqdefault.jpgmade of the fact that she (played by Rebecca Hall) was 30 and horrified of it, still a boyfriendless, childless virgin. I’m sort of offended on behalf of women everywhere that this is seen by anyone as the reason for her suicide. She was a troubled woman who’d struggled with depression and had left a job and life behind elsewhere in order to ‘rebuild.’ But this new place wasn’t going much better. A year in, she pined for the news anchor (Michael C. Hall) yet pushed him away when he got near. She yearned to do important investigative reporting but the station manager insisted on a “if it bleeds, it leads” policy. She couldn’t get promoted and wasn’t being taken seriously. She lived with her mother, sometimes happily, sometimes not.

Her on-air personality was quite cheerful but she was much more socially awkward in real life. Hall portrays her as troubled and disappointed, but not depressed beyond repair. So when the suicide comes, as you know it inevitably will, it still caught me off guard. Certainly we’d need to see her mental state unravel far more before this point arrives? I was shocked by it, and am not sure if the director, Antonio Campos, is trying to tell us that perhaps she wasn’t truly suicidal, or if the story was just lacking. I can’t rule christine-rebecca-hall.jpgout the former since I’ve always found the circumstance of her death a little fishy. Before she put the gun to her head, she read out a brief statement, basically accusing the station of pushing her to do this drastic, bloody thing. She’d also prepared a statement for a colleague to read out afterward, though none did. In that, she described her actions as a “suicide attempt” and reported that she’d been taken to hospital alive but in serious condition. Had she not planned or wanted her suicide to be “successful”? We’ll never know.

The film has a yellowed look to it, no doubt added afterward to achieve a vintage feel authentic to a 1970s era. It’s also well-acted by both Halls (no relation), with Rebecca Hall adopting a lower and more formulated voice, and Michael C. Hall slipping into a shiny-haired broadcaster’s charm. Although I don’t feel like the film offers us a complete (or at least a true) look at her life, the convincing and often gripping performances make Christine worthwhile.

 

 

Haus of Pain

The first thing you probably should know is that James Willems and Lawrence Sonntag are popular YouTubers. They are hosts on a channel called Funhaus, which has over a million subscribers. You might think that that playing video games and talking about them to the Internets with your buddies sounds like a dream job, but Willems held on to a niggling desire to fulfill a childhood dream: to become a pro-wrestler.
Haus of Pain is the documentary that watches James follow his dream as his indulgent f155e0c3b6dc092e-e1492785639801-959x512.pngfriend Lawrence gamely tags along. They take vacation time from work in order to work out at a wrestling school to learn the moves, and to develop characters. Old home video of James proves that wrestling has indeed been a life-long obsession of his. It also proves that he should be embarrassed about this, but he isn’t, not even when the costumes arrive and PVC is the material of choice.
The two train, are big babies about small injuries, and spend most of their time cultivating their alter egos – James Angel and The Troll – in order to sell the wrestling “story”. When they’re eventually deemed ready, they meet up in a tag team match against a hateful pair ready to rip them apart in from of literally dozens of their fans.
Here’s the thing. When I was a little girl, my dream job was to work in a Bandaid factory. I can’t quite work up the same enthusiasm for it as I did back then, but here’s what I know: I was the eldest of four daughters in my family, each one cuter and needier than the last. My (single) mother only had attention to spare for me if I was bleeding, so I cultivated an interest in Bandaids right quick, being the smart aleck in the family. And back then Bandaids weren’t the sterile little pieces of plastic they are today. They were fabric. And that fabric was disgusting immediately. It picked up every germ you ever 150107105154-childhood-dream-jobs-men-2-super-169encountered, stayed damp constantly from the merest of hand-washings, and developed a distinct, pervasive smell. A smell that I LOVED. So obviously to work in a Bandaid factory and be surrounded by these miraculous little sympathy-earners all day long would be a dream come true. One of my sisters dreamed of becoming a berry picker, another of being a gas pumper, and another aspired to become a member of Barbie’s band (sure they were cartoon fictional characters, but why not dream big?). I have no idea how we all turned out to be educated, gainfully employed adults, but it has a little something to do with letting go of our foolish childhood dreams, I’m guessing.
James went for his. And whether you find that inspirational or irrational is a matter of opinion – one you can form by checking out the doc.
Haus of Pain premiered on April 28th exclusively on FIRST, Rooster Teeth’s streaming service available at RoosterTeeth.com and on Xbox One, Apple TV, iOS and Android apps.
What did you want to be when you grew up?

Cool Shit on Netflix

Netflix is a black hole. You can spend more time deciding what to watch than actually watching. Sometimes the decision is paralyzing – am I the only one who has occasionally just read a damn book instead? Here’s a handy list of stuff that’s worth your time on Netflix. All of this can be found on Canadian Netflix in May 2017, but lots and maybe even most will be available in nearly all markets. Click on any blue title to read more about the film, and stay tuned for another post featuring documentaries, as Netflix is particularly good for those.

Don’t Think Twice: When one person in an improv comedy troupe gets a big break, the rest of the group grapples with jealousy as they realize they’re not all destined for great things. Starring Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs.

 

Blue Jay: Two former high school sweethearts meet up years later in their hometown and spend the day (and night) reminiscing – the flame is rekindled but so are past hurts. Starring Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass.

Mascots: In this new mockumentary by Christopher Guest, a bunch of low-level sports mascots compete as only adults wearing ridiculous fuzzy costumes could. Starring Parker Posey, Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods, and the usual suspects.

Grandma: Lily Tomlin gives a career-best performance as the titular Grandma, called upon when her granddaughter needs an abortion her estranged daughter wouldn’t approve of. With Judy Greer, Julia Garner, and Marcia Gay Harden.

Infinitely Polar Bear: A manic-depressive father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take care of their two young, spirited daughters while she goes back to school. Super well-acted by Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.

 

Experimenter: About the infamous experiments by psychologist Stanley Milgram that tested people’s willingness to obey authority – with shocking results. Starring Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Anton Yelchin.

Desierto: A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has gone rogue, taking border patrol duties into his own racist and violent hands, man hunting man. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

American Honey: A teenage girl with nothing to lose goes AWOL with a bunch of traveling magazine sales misfits and gets caught up in a perfect storm of hard partying, law breaking, and young love. Starring Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough.

Cake: A woman becomes fascinated by the suicide of someone in her chronic pain support group while coping (and failing to cope) with her own personal tragedy. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, and Sam Worthington.

The Lobster: A movie only for the most quirky and adventurous audiences, about a world in which single people have 45 days to find love or face the direst of consequences. Starring Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, and John C. Reilly.

Hunter Gatherer: An indie gem in which an irrationally optimistic man returns home after a 3 year stint in prison only to find his girlfriend and his family have all moved on. Starring Andre Roya and George Sample III.

The Spectacular Now: Young love changes things for an alcoholic high school senior – but even the nicest of girls is no match for addictions. Starring Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller; with Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bob Odenkirk.

Calvary: Not for the faint of heart. After being threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle some super dark forces in his community. Starring Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd.

Denial: Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall go head to head in a battle of Holocaust denial, based on the real-life court case.

Collateral: A hitman forces a cabdriver to drive him all over the city of Los Angeles as he performs a multitude of sins, while a dutiful cop chases behind them. Starring Jamie Foxx, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Cruise.

45 Years: A married couple about to celebrate their wedding anniversary (guess which one) receives shattering news that makes them question everything. Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

The Witch: This one scared the bejesus out of me with its dark, suspenseful mood that’ll ring buckets of anxiety out of you when a 1630s New England family is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft…more or less.

 

Anomalisa: A stop-motion animated movie by Charlie Kaufman, because why not? It charmed the pants off me when a man paralyzed by his unremarkable life experiences something out of the ordinary.

Force Majeure: A family on a ski vacation has their whole world turns upside down when an avalanche hits – everyone is fine, but the fact that Dad ran and left his family to die makes everyone very uncomfortable. A movie that will inspire discussion.