A Simple Favor

Emily (Blake Lively) is effortlessly cool and glamourous. She works a high-profile job in the city and has a handsome husband and an air of mystery. No one is more surprised than Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a single mom and mommy blogger, when Emily befriends her. Their boys are friendly in school and now the mums are friendly over martinis.

But just weeks after an unlikely friendship blossoms between Emily and Stephanie, Emily calls her with a request for a simple favor: a work emergency has popped up, could Stephanie pick up her son from school? Two days later, the son is still in Stephanie’s care, and no one had heard from Emily.

As the investigation into Emily’s disappearance deepens, Emily’s secrets unravel. Her MV5BMTUzNDc3NTM4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzYxNTM0NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_husband Sean (Henry Golding) is very revealing. Turns out, Emily was a pathological liar and her past was very closely guarded. Stephanie doesn’t know what to think about her friend, but her doubts don’t exactly stop her from getting cozy with Sean…and eventually moving right in. Which seems like a bitch move from a grieving best friend, but then, the recent widower isn’t exactly objecting. Why is Sean not objecting?

Anna Kendrick is very good at being a pathetic loser, and Blake Lively is extraordinary at being a clotheshorse. This movie is exceedingly stylish. Blake Lively’s menswear-inspired wardrobe is to die for, but I swear I’m not the one who killed her. But no matter how you dress this thing up, it’s no Gone Girl, but that’s exactly what it wants you to mistake it for. Unfortunately, it can’t quite embrace any one genre. It often looks noir but goes for the easy laugh. Which one is it, truly? I admire that Kevin Feig went for a blend of both, but I don’t think he quite pulled it off. However, if you’re a fan of the Kendrick-Lively duo, they’ve never been Livelier or more Kendricky. They each know their strengths, and Feig gives them a beautiful stage on which to drip their special sauces.

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Adrift

Tami (Shailene Woodley) is a grass-smoking, pukka-shell-wearing rootless wanderer, working odd jobs from one port to the next just to avoid going home. In some marina she meets Richard (Sam Claflin), and he cooks her a vegetarian “version” of fish, which turns out to be salad, fyi.

I don’t care for Sam Claflin, and he’s not gaining any ground with his lackluster performance here. I felt rather neutrally about Shailene Woodley before today, and I can MV5BYWI2NzA3YTgtZjZjMS00MmM3LThkY2QtYmQ3Nzg2YmIwZmY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE5MTU2MDE@._V1_tell you with certainty she’s dipped into the negatives with this film, in which she over-relies on a screechy giggle she mistakes for endearing, even while narrating a letter she’s handwriting to her mother, which apparently was peppered with LOLs even though the movie takes place in 1983, and I doubt LOLs existed then. They just had to let mothers find something funny, or not, on their own back then. It was the dark ages.

I’m biased. I hate making heroes out of stupid white people who take needless risks and do dumb shit and then expect us to drop everything to rescue them when they inevitably get into trouble. We cannot manage to feed and house all the children in our society, but we’ll spend a million dollars to rescue a couple of people nature was trying to survival-of-the-fittest on the top of a mountain, or in this case, out to sea. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for these two, and was frequently and quickly so bored-slash-agitated with this movie, I wished them dead.

I don’t know if this movie is based on a true story, and if it is, I suppose I don’t actually wish them dead. Probably. I mean, on the one hand, it must be a true story, because how else did they name her Tami? I mean, Tammy is bad enough, but Tami? But on the other hand, who would pay for such a generic story? I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to be like, lost at sea bad, not enough food, etc. It does, however, take a special brand of moron to be starving but still refuse to hurt innocent fish by killing them for food.  I mean, after a few hungry days, some people will eat their own mothers, but she clings to her vegetarianism like she hopes to die a self-righteous twat. Meanwhile, Richard loafs about with a gruesome injury, doing an annoying self-pitying routine that gets so annoying you’ll want to throw him overboard yourself.

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What’s better than Spider-Man? TWO Spider-Mans (or is it Spider-Men?)!  Either way, take that thinking to its conclusion, like Lego Movie co-writer Phil Lord did, and you end up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a cinematic universe to end all cinematic universes.

MV5BMjA0MTgwNTM5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyODI4NjM_._V1_SX1777_CR0_0_1777_744_AL_.0Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has hit a bit of a rough patch in middle age, as has teenager Miles Morales, who just got bitten by a radioactive spider and is going through some changes as a result on top of struggling with fitting in a his new school. Right after being bitten by that pesky spider, Miles stumbles into a science lab where another Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a dimensional portal.  During the battle, Kingpin kills that Spidey but not before the first Spider-Man, the middle-aged one, is sucked through the portal that the Kingpin’s machine created.

Confused? You should be, but the most amazing thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that this jumble of Spider-Mans (Men?) makes perfect sense on-screen. And that’s a compliment in two ways. First, because there is so much happening in this movie that it has no right to make sense, and second, because there are a whole lot of other amazing things about this movie.

Spider-Verse’s animation, particularly the art style, is stunning. A number of other superhero films have taken inspiration from the comics, whether in using captions,  multiple panels, or bright colours.  Spider-Verse takes that to a whole other glorious level, owning its comic book roots and jumping off the screen even in classic 2D.

Spider-Verse is also remarkably accessible. This is not a solo superhero film with only two or three familiar  characters to track. Spider-Verse is chock full of obscure one-offs, alternate takes that faded away, including an entire “Ultimate” comic book line that was canned by Marvel in 2015 due to lack of interest. All of that can sit comfortably in the background but no prior knowledge of anything is necessary, even of Spider-Man, to understand and enjoy this film.

 

 

 

Green Book

Tony Lip was a tough guy bouncer at the Copa, Copacabannnna, the hottest spot north of Havana. But in the fall of 1962, the Copacabana closed for renovations, and Tony Lip was temporarily out of work with a wife and two kids to feed at home. Some wise guys seem to imply they might have some “work” for him, but he avoids that by taking work with Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class piano player embarking on a tour of the Southern United States. Tony isn’t thrilled that Dr. Shirley is a black man – he’s not too fond of them generally, but the money is too good to turn down, even if it takes him away from his family in the two months before Christmas.

Tony (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) are an odd couple on a road trip. Tony’s crude and crass and unrefined; he’s rarely left the neighbourhood where he grew up. Dr. Shirley is a gentleman in every respect. He’s cultured and educated. His MV5BZDE1N2U2MGUtM2JiNi00OTMzLTk2MjAtMmM0ZmQyNGZhNjg0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,882_AL_manners are as impeccable as his dress. But when Tony boasts that he’s “blacker” than Shirley, who doesn’t know Aretha Franklin or fried chicken, he’s only showing what a narrow understanding of race he has, because when Shirley is repeatedly subjected to racist indignities and abuses, Tony is shocked while Shirley is not. The “Green Book” to which the title refers is an actual motorist’s handbook, which, for $1.25 teaches people how to navigate segregation and not get lynched while traveling down south. I feel that I might have sold a Red Book for $1.50 that simply said: don’t go. But Dr. Shirley’s going on purpose, knowing it will be hard, but feeling a responsibility to do his part in challenging the system. And white people play their part, paying to enjoy\appropriate his culture while refusing to dine with him in the same room.

It’s a tough subject matter that director Peter Farrelly makes palatable with humour and a gentle approach. Mostly, though, he relies on the magnificent chemistry between Mortensen and Ali, who are both wonderful. Ali has the bearing to makes Shirley’s multiple doctorates feel plausible, and the physicality to make his piano-playing feel real (it’s not, but it’s the best we’ve seen on screen thanks to Kris Bowers, his incredibly talented double). Together, Ali and Mortensen are magic, their scenes positively crackling. And when Dr. Shirley plays, there’s so much energy, the music wells up inside you.

It’s inspiring to see a time of social change reflected in one relationship, how we really can make a difference on an individual level. It’s unsettling to watch the worst racism unfold and understand that 2018 is not exactly beyond this stuff – in fact, we may need this reminder now more than ever. However, there are some problems that I have with the movie. Namely, that the story is Tony’s to tell. That he’s a hero because he consented to drive a black man, while the black man who has a litany of actual accomplishments is quite literally relegated to the back seat, a supporting character in what should have been his film.  Why are we still telling black stories through white eyes? Why is racism only safe to talk about when it’s a white experience? Why do I know how Tony launders his underwear but know so little about Dr. Shirley, a highly educated genius musician who has traveled the world but whose only meaningful relationships come from hired help? Dr. Shirley learned to play piano from his mother, whom we know nothing about. His only living relative is an estranged brother, whom we know nothing about. Dr. Shirley had to be above reproach at all times, constantly turning the other cheek even after he’d run out of cheeks; he had to be perfect just to exist in white spaces, just to be invited into them, briefly, under strict, inhumane conditions, on white people’s terms, and then to leave again as soon as they stopped having use for him, and to smile and pretend to be grateful about the whole thing. This is a white person’s black movie, the kind of movie white people can feel superior watching because they manage to be less racist than Alabamans in 1962. Pat ourselves on the back! Meanwhile, this is the white guy’s story, written by a white guy, directed by another white guy, with Oscar buzz somehow reserved for the white actor who dropped the n-word at a screening for the film. This is the kind of Best Picture nod meant to appease diversity problems, but it’s more about white comfort than black experience. Movies like Sorry To Bother You, Blindspotting, Blackkklansman, and even Black Panther, are better movies with more to say, and they’re told with black voices, which is why they’re more easily overlooked. But fuck white comfort. This shit should make us uncomfortable. If you’re talking about racism and worried about hurting white people’s feelings, you’re doing it wrong, and it’s time to stop.

The Wrong Todd

Todd’s girlfriend Lucy accepts a job in Seattle, whether he’s prepared to follow or not. Todd (Jesse Rosen) doesn’t react particularly well. The next day, Lucy (Anna Rizzo) storms out mid-fight and then the doorbell rings. Todd answers. It’s Todd. Another Todd, a doppelganger, or evil twin, or future Todd from another dimension. At any rate, New Todd has arrived to make things right, and he wrestles Regular Todd into a time machine (ish) and sends Todd to some sort of alternative universe.

Once there, Regular Todd is out of his depth. Someone else lives in his house. His best friend Dave (Sean Carmichael) has a mustache, and a baby (and we’re not sure which one is more surprising), and Lucy is dead. Everyone living thinks this Todd is crazy.

Meanwhile, back in the original timeline, New Todd is the perfect boyfriend who of course would go anywhere for the girlfriend he loves, and lights candles for, and dances in the living room with. If stealing someone’s girlfriend is the best way you can imagine to exploit parallel universes, you’re a pretty lame dude.  And this guy’s gone to great lengths – extraordinary lengths to steal Lucy away from Regular Todd, but the script goes to no lengths at all to establish Lucy as the kind of woman who’s worth all that. I’m not  sure I’d split a plate of nachos with Lucy, if we’re being honest.

Directed by first-timer Rob Schulbaum, the film is relatively low on production values but stuffed with questions about identity and relationships and taking things for granted. And about the rules of the universe(s) too of course – this wouldn’t be a sci-fi dramedy without them!

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope is a high school student dying of cancer. She’s got a Make-A-Wish boyfriend, an F-average, and a social media presence that’s based solely on her disease. None of that matters because she’s terminal. But being terminal gets her attention, and flowers, and cupcakes. It means the popular girls at school know her name. So when she suddenly goes into remission, can you really blame her if she’s reluctant to tell people? She’s been Cancer Girl since she was 12; Hope doesn’t know how to navigate the world as a normal person. She was supposed to need to.

It turns out, things get kind of murky when you allow people to believe that you’re dying hope3-e1532546746939when actually, you aren’t. And things are already a little slippery because Hope attended school like she never had to worry about graduating, and now suddenly, she does. And her boyfriend committed to her like it was a very short-term commitment and now that it’s open-ended, the passion has pretty much fizzled out.

The thing about all these movies about young, cancer patients is, they tend to make heroes out of the dying. But cancer doesn’t make you a good person, or smarter than your peers, and it doesn’t magically bypass those awkward teenage years. Hope Springs Eternal gets this right. It’s not trying to fuck you up with forced tears and emotional manipulation. Hope is a nice enough kid, but cancer has made her selfish. She is not a saint, and that’s a powerful cinematic temptation. Cancer has also become her only real identity, so I don’t blame her for being disoriented when that’s taken away. Although remission is usually a positive thing, for Hope it’s a little more complicated. High school is such a vulnerable time, especially for young girls, and there isn’t exactly a manual on how to survive surviving.

Mia Rose Frampton, daughter of Peter Frampton, is luminous and very watchable. The rest of the cast is a little more hit and miss, but oh the whole it’s a sweet little movie, a touch of Eighth Grade and a touch of The Fault In Our Stars, a smidge of Mean Girls, but mostly its own little thing, post-cancer, full-life.

 

Nancy

Nancy is as complicated a protagonist as we’ll meet in a movie, and perhaps only an indie movie like this could pull it off. Between online forums and meeting strange men in diners, Nancy weaves a story about lost and/or current pregnancies, and it’s unclear if (and perhaps unlikely that) any of it ever happened.

After years of taking care of her mother, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) is at odds when she dies suddenly, leaving Nancy alone in a house she hates, and shards of a life she andrea-riseborough-im-nancy-1mostly resents. One night, she hears a story on television about a little girl, Brook, who disappeared 30 years ago. An inkling is all it takes, and soon Nancy is contacting and visiting Leo (Steve Buscemi) and Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron), the little girl’s parents, believing or half-believing or half-willing herself to be the kidnapped child, now grown up.

The only person who wants it to be true more than Nancy does is Brook’s mother, Ellen. Leo is much more skeptical, and admits they’ve had false hopes before. A DNA test is quickly procured but as they await the results, Nancy movies in and cozies up and Ellen can’t help but get attached. Ellen has been a mother without a child for 30 long years; she’s got a spot underneath her wing that’s Nancy-sized, to say nothing of the hole in her heart.

The psychology of this movie is fascinating. It really explores the depths and nature of intimacy. Riseborough is fantastic. She’s got a haunted look about her; there’s a back story that’s simply implied in her downcast eyes, her uncombed hair. Smith-Cameron is also exceptional. Her shakiness and fragility are evident in every quaking breath. Her need is enormous. A talented cast really makes this story, well-crafted by writer-director Christina Choe, come alive.