Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!

Divines

Shit. This is not some easy-breezy coming of age story, I’ll tell you that much for free. You’d be forgiven for assuming as much when the camera originally picks up with two teenaged girls who goof off in class and daydream about making big money, but that’s just the first sign that you should buckle the fuck up.

Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maiimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are from the shanty side of Paris, where they’re expected to train as receptionists at school. The teacher is as clueless as divines-movie-download-english-subtitlesthe class is hopeless, and you can’t quite bring yourself to blame these girls for dropping out. But then Dounia meets two people who might potentially change her life:  Djigui, an untrained but talented dancer, who makes her think a different kind of life is possible, and Rebecca, a glamorous young drug dealer\sex worker who makes that different kind of life accessible.

Dounia is nothing if not an upstarter. With boundless energy and roiling teenaged cynicism, she and her friend put themselves in situations they’re too stupid to realize are crazy dangerous. They’re both too mature and too naive, eager to make their mark but easily manipulated. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, even if ours is not. No matter how big and bad the girls pretend to be, their youth and inexperience betray them.

Writer-director Houda Benyamina gives a  gritty but sympathetic look at the less polished side of Paris, where money, race, and power are unapologetically at the forefront of everyday existence. The film is raw and filled with rage, which means it’s got this really buzzy undercurrent that makes you feel like anything is possible and you have no idea where it’s all going. The energy is astounding, especially from a largely unknown cast (Amamra is Benyamina’s little sister), and even though this isn’t a typically “enjoyable” film, I felt pulled inside of it, headlong, and we all just prayed that we’d make it out alive.

Patriots Day

patriotsday-markwahlberg-marathonbannerTerrorists are despicable. They take lives or limbs and create chaos and fear, sometimes in support of twisted ideology, sometimes just for kicks, and always demonstrate a complete lack of humanity. Sensational as their actions are, what deserves recognition are not the acts themselves, but the responses by the terrorists’ targets.

Patriots Day revisits Boston’s response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It is a difficult watch but it has to be. We have to feel the weight of the loss in order to appreciate Bostonians’ courage in the face of a homegrown terrorist attack by two brothers who, from outward appearances, were just a couple of millenials trying to find their way (bizarrely, at least one apparently was a 9/11 truther).

Patriots Day provides a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the bombings and then the hunt for these monsters who intended to strike Times Square next. They killed three people with their bombs and killed two more cops in the aftermath. Amidst the carnage, the police remain focused on bringing these suspects in alive, and it seems they might have succeeded in that endeavour but for the brothers’ lunacy.

Peter Berg and Mark Walhberg have turned these real life disaster movies (tragopics?) into big business for themselves, and Patriots Day improves on their formula from Deepwater Horizon.  Both movies take an arms’ length approach and do a good job of sticking to the facts. These characters are not perfect because they don’t need to be. Some, like Mark Wahlberg’s character, are composites. That is a bit weird when we are introduced to the real people at the end of the movie and the main character is missing, but in the middle of the crisis the character feels real and that’s what matters most. This movie feels real as well and is definitely worth watching.

I suspect even if Wahlberg’s character were real, he would not have given such a perfect off-the-cuff speech at the climax, but again, it works. It works because it captures how the people of Boston responded to this terrible event: not with hate or fear, but with determination, resolve, and strength. In the immortal words of David Ortiz (who appears in the film):

 

Silence

Martin Scorsese and I had very different reactions whilst reading Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel, Silence. He thought: this will make a great movie, even if it takes me 28 years to bring it to theatres (and it did). I, however, got through the book like one gets through a prison sentence: head down, one day at a time, putting in my time, hoping it rs-silence-8ec449bd-cf0f-4008-942e-3d25d5a334f7doesn’t kill me. Having read the book, I knew exactly what we were in for with the movie, and I warned anyone who would listen, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see it. It’s Scorsese. I mean, that alone is enough. But I also know that Martin Scorsese has something to say about spirituality, and if he’s gotten away from it with his last few movies, this one is a major reinvigoration of his theme.

Little Marty was friends with a loving and influential priest growing up, and this encouraged him to join a seminary to become a priest himself. Lacking a true calling to the vocation, Scorsese flunked out, but he never stopped asking himself how a priest got past his own ego, his own pride, to put the needs of his parishioners first.

In many ways, that’s exactly what the film Silence asks of its main protagonist Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), a Christian missionary sent to Japan in the 1600s, when Christianity was outlawed, and his presence forbidden. He and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), in search of their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). They haven’t heard from him directly in years, but there are rumours that he has renounced his faith. Certain that this cannot be true, the two young missionaries vow to find and rescue him, while restoring the faith of their underground followers.

Praise be to Scorsese’s cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, who helps create this world with so many natural touches: fog allowed to hide and obscure, fire reminding us of the hell silence-01083r.jpgthat Rodrigues faces, or the hell that he’s in now. Even though the movie is relentlessly brutal, you’ll still be wowed by the images, the beauty lurking within the swamp.

Silence is uncomfortable – truly, truly uncomfortable. The tortures are otherworldly. What’s the takeaway from these 161 minutes of quiet pierced with merciless violence? Silence leaves you with more questions than answers, and how you feel about it will depend on how filled with god’s love your heart is going in. Yes it’s a meditation on religion and spirituality, but it isn’t afraid to point-blank ask us whether we’ve heard or felt god in the silence. Is he there, quietly observing his people be tortured and killed? Is he there, silently allowing persecution and murder? Does silence sow seeds of doubt?

For the most part, Scorsese seems to be fairly neutral in the plight of Christians vs. Japan. I definitely felt the strong whiff of colonization, the belief that the stories white people tell each other about their god and heaven are somehow more true that the stories the Japanese have been telling for centuries. Not just more true but The Truth. These might be 17th century problems, but they sound very familiar – almost like those same problems are here in the 21st century as well.

SILENCEThis Asshole Atheist really noticed the distinction between religion and faith – religion being something a government can choose to eradicate; faith, however, is much more difficult. Silence is really a question of belief, not just what you believe, but how strongly you believe it, how strongly you think others should believe it, how far you’re willing to go to impose those beliefs, how much pain you can endure before you abandon those beliefs. And if god himself can hide in silence, can belief dwell there also?

With Martin Scorsese at the helm, you already know this is a disciplined and wondrous exercise in film maker, perhaps a masterpiece among masterpieces from this celebrated auteur. But Silence is best discussed by the feelings it evokes in the viewer. It’s meant to be thought-provoking. If god is love, is it better to love god even in the face of threat, or is it better to love our fellow man even when it means denying god? One gruesome scene marches into another, never quite glorifying the martyr, never quite condemning the oppressor. Maybe the point is that there is no point. Silence is a theological debate that grants permission to test the limits of faith, to ask the unanswerables. It is difficult to watch and difficult to process but I believe that Silence is meaningful even to the non-believer: it’s just that good a film.

Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

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It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Female-Directed Films to Look Forward to in 2017

Put your money where your mouth is: seek out films with women in the director’s seat, and see them in theatres. Women In Film Los Angeles has asked people to take a pledge to see 52 films directed by women in 2017. We’ll be writing about some excellent choices in the back catalogue, but here are some that will be screening in your local cineplex.


Wonder Woman
: You’ll have to wait until June for this one, but it’s the first superhero blockbuster to have a female director, and it’s also the first time a woman has been given a budget of over $100 million. Director Patty Jenkins is best known for directing Charlize Theron to her Oscar in Monster. This movie already has a terrific trailer and star Gal Gadot looks pretty badass as the warrior princess, so it’s in pretty good shape.

A United Kingdom: this one hits theatres next month so you’ll soon be able to get a taste of Amma Asante’s work, if you haven’t already (she directed Belle, which you should absolutely check out). A United Kingdom is the true story of  Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and the white lady he chose to marry. You might guess that neither of their families are impressed, but it’s the South African apartheid government that poses the biggest problem. It stars David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike and it debuted well at TIFF.

Lovesong: Also out in February, Lovesong is a road trip movie about two women, a single mother (Riley Keough) and a free spirit (Jena Malone) who see a new intensity to their relationship throughout their travels. Sundance has big praise for the Korean American director So Yong Kim and her intimate, nuanced portrait of strong female leads.

Raw: This one is for only the strongest stomachs among us. It debuted at TIFF to rumours of people fainting and\or vomiting over the graphic scenes, in which a young vegetarian is hazed at vet school by being forced to eat meat, awakening in her a real taste for flesh. Writer-director Julie Ducournau was praised for handling the coming of age stuff just as well as she presents the intensely disturbing stuff, and Ducournau’s just getting started: this is her first feature film, so watch out for her.

Their Finest: This is a romantic war comedy. Yes, you read that right. It sounds wrong but it actually is pretty fantastic. It stars Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, and the wonderful Bill Nighy as the people behind morale-boosting movies during the great war. It’s deliciously funny at times but director Lone Scherfig makes sure it’s more than just that, and everyone rises to the occasion.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: I read this book so I know the film will be intense. It’s the true story of the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo during the second world war; they used the zoo as cover to hide Jews, and ended up saving hundreds of lives, but not without cost. New Zealand director Niki Caro doesn’t have as house-holdy a name as the star, Jessica Chastain, but other notable movies of hers include McFarland USA, North Country, and Whale Rider. Her name is on its way up.

Rock That Body: I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, but I’m putting it on the list anyway. It’s a female ensemble comedy in the style of The Hangover, only instead of losing a friend, they accidentally kill a male stripper. These things happen! Starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Zoe Kravitz, and directed by funny lady Lucia Aniello. Fingers crossed that this one works!

The-Beguiled-Movie-Set-1-1.jpgThe Beguiled: If it sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s a remake of a 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood. This time around it’ll be Colin Farrel in the Eastwood role, a Union soldier being held prisoner in a Confederate girl’s boarding school. All the young ladies fall for him (including Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, and Nicole Kidman), which means it’s not long until things get complicated. Really complicated. The (new) Beguiled will be directed by Sofia Coppola, who’s got some big titles under her belt like Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. I hope this one’s a hit!

Lady Bird: This movie is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a senior in high school (Saoirse Ronan) who’s getting ready to leave home. It co-stars Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges, plus Jordan Rodrigues, Laurie Metcalfe, and Tracy Letts’ but oddly enough, this first-time solo director is probably the most famous name of all: it’s Greta Gerwig. Good luck to her, and may it be the first of many.

Unicorn Store: We’re not sure when this one’s even coming out but it’s never too early for mv5bodvinzc2ytetndy0my00odk2lwfkodqtmdvjzwzhndzkzmq3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjixnde0ote-_v1_sy1000_sx1000_al_anticipation! It’s about a woman named Kit who moves back home to live with her parents and then gets an invitation that makes things interesting. Brie Larson will star AND direct, despite the fact that she’s got an absolutely packed 2017, what with Kong: Skull Island, Free Fire, Basmati Blues, and The Glass Castle all being released, but this quirky future Captain Marvel always has time to surprise us.

 

 

Other People

Cancer is what happens to other people. It just so happens that right now, the Mulcahey family are those other people. It’s happening to them. Technically, it’s happening to matriarch Joanne (Molly Shannon) but her last year is having quite an effect on the whole family – on her husband, Norman (Bradley Whitford), on her son David (Jesse Plemmons), on her two daughters, her colleagues, her friends, her extended family, on a whole bushel 960of people who are grieving even as she still lives, dealing with a loss that is still happening before their very eyes.

David has moved home to care for and spend time with his mother. He lives in New York City, and is trying to be a writer, but the pilot he was working on didn’t get picked up and he hasn’t had much other luck. His return is complicated by his religious family’s refusal to accept his sexuality. Ten years after he came out to them, his mother is trying to make amends but his father is still unable to come to terms with it.

The movie avoids most of the cancer cliches and rewards us with a more subtle look at loss. Plemmons is really great, and I like Zach Woods in a small role as his boyfriend. But I’ve been holding onto a dirty secret for two whole paragraphs now and it’s time to air it: I really dislike  Molly Shannon. I disliked her on SNL and I’ve disliked her in every thing since. She just bothers me, but for some reason I feel like a bad feminist admitting it. In this century, all of the greatest SNL talent has been female, but in the 90s, that wasn’t true. With the exception of the truly great – Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Jan Hooks – female cast members were tokenish, ill-used, mistreated up until Tina Fey and Amy Poehler landscape-1473341376-other-people-leadstarted turning things around. But Molly Shannon was a break-out, and some of her characters even got movie deals. I just didn’t like them. I thought she was brash, over the top, and obnoxious. I still do. But in this movie, as they dying mother, she’s none of those things. I still don’t like her, but she was easier to stomach when he’s mostly occupied evacuating hers. Is that a terrible thing to say? Yes it is. But it’s the truth.

This movie blends comedy and drama successfully, with a touch of cynicism and just enough compassion. Cancer isn’t exactly new ground to break in an indie film, but you’ll find that writer-director Chris Kelly finds truth in small things, and those add up to a pretty satisfactory whole.

War On Everyone

Two buddy detectives (Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard) are corrupt as hell and enjoy bashing skulls together as they extort the hell out of any vague criminal sort that crosses paths with them. But that’s a really good way to meet some really bad people, and eventually, they do.

woe_firstlook-2-1024x716It takes all of 4 minutes to realize that this movie is not going to live up to even modified expectations. The dialogue is surprisingly bad, perhaps because writer-director John Michael McDonagh, capable of Calvary, is instead treating this like he’s writing on spec for straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler.

The good news is that both Pena and Skarsgard look pretty darn good in three piece suits. The fault is not with them – I don’t think anyone could survive this kind of sloppy writing. I think I see what McDonagh is aiming for: salty, quippy, something like Apatow meets Tarantino. Not only does it fail to live up to either of those names, it’s forgettable even as you’re watching it. It may as well never have been made. And it never justifies itself. 97 minutes later, I still can’t even account for the 70s porn music that unironically accompanied random car chase scenes, and I definitely can’t decide which of the villains is most laughable. I guess you might find it passably enjoyable if you’re in the right mood, but I am decidedly not. This shit just feels tone deaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Pig

Ambrose’s farm is failing. He and his daughter are estranged. He doesn’t have anywhere else to be, so he and his friend Howard take a road trip down to Mexico. We get some solid, buddy-road-trip stuff out of Ambrose and Howard: questionable roadside food cards, cold beers, 000070-26554-16618_mrpig_still1_dannyglover__bydamingarca_-_h_2016reminiscences. It’s only a little wonky that Howard is Ambrose’s prized pig.

Howard is the last of a hallowed pig lineage, and Ambrose (Danny Glover) is making this illegal road trip to drop him off where he’ll be treasured and treated right, with the son of his old partner. It doesn’t hurt that the son is willing to pay what only Ambrose thinks Howard is worth. But when the incredibly porcine duo arrive, Ambrose finds his old partner’s farm to be thoroughly modernized, and that’s no compliment. It’s a factory farm that treats live animals like end products, so of course Ambrose balks. The deal is off: he and Howard hit the road once again.

This is when Ambrose’s very concerned daughter Eunice (Maya Rudolph) appears on the scene, but she cannot simply drive Ambrose and Howard back home because US customs just won’t allow it (well duh, they make you throw out orange slices for the love of god). So now it’s a father-mr-pig-moviedaughter-hog road trip movie, only there won’t be any touching redemption in this minivan. Ambrose just isn’t the type.

Mr. Pig wallows. It’s slow going. Diego Luna directs, and he’s got a fine eye for the beauty of Mexico, I’ll give him that. We see a side of it that we don’t usually glimpse in movies, the less cliched part of Mexico. The character study, however, is extremely low key. Too low key, you might be forgiven for thinking. Both Glover and Rudolph do their damnedest, but there’s just not enough bacon to go around.

 

Genius

 

A crazy man insisting he’s a genius wanders into Max’s office. He’s ranting, he’s raving, he doesn’t know that Max (Colin Firth) is already under his spell, has already been reading his manuscript, enthralled. And when Tom (Jude Law) learns that Max is on board, he can’t quite believe it – no other publisher has found his work worthwhile. Max is the first to take him seriously.

It turns out that Tom is Tom Wolfe and Max is editor to the greatest literary minds of the genius-leadtime, counting F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his authors. They’re all jealous of each other, of course, all big egos with weighty demands on Max’s time, and skill.  This movie will make you feel as though editors do not get paid nearly enough. It might also question just who is the Genius referred to in the title – is it the brilliant writer, or is the man editing his writing so that it may appear brilliant to others? Certainly Max is good at spotting talent, but also at shaping it.

Not everyone is grateful, however. Max’s wife Louise (Laura Linney) feels neglected. Tom’s wife Aline feels even worse: she feels replaced. Aline (Nicole Kidman) isn’t even properly his wife – she left her husband and her children just as they were grown to be with Tom and feel needed by him. She supported him for years as he wrote feverishly, as the rejection letters piled up around them. But now that his work has found a home, and an audience, he doesn’t need her as much, and she knows it. She is obsolete, and she warns Max that he may soon be the same.

The real meat of the story is the relationship between writer and editor, the ugly push and genius-official-trailer-14960-largepull necessary to hone a manuscript into a masterpiece. Max Perkins has an excellent track record but still prefers to hide behind an editor’s anonymity, still grapples with the fear of having “deformed” someone’s work.

 

Colin Firth never sets a foot wrong, so it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why this movie isn’t great. I suppose if I had just the one word it would be: superficial. I suppose it must be a great headache to make writing and editing, two very quiet, solitary activities, seem cinematic, and I can tell you that director Michael Grandage has not found the way to make them seem otherwise. Firth is fatherly, Law is petulant, Linney saintly though ill-serviced by the script, Kidman downright unhinged. It just never really gels. After more than 100 minutes, I was left thinking: is that it? The story is sufficiently interesting that I will look up the book upon which it is based, not because the movie left me wanting more, but because it left me needing more, which is never a good sign.