Monthly Archives: August 2015

Back to School

Detachment – Wow, this was a crazy-angry movie. Adrien Brody plays a substitute teacher who keeps severing his connection to the students by moving on from one job to the next. This detachment-trailermovie shows a one-month period in a high school where the students are apathetic (at best) and the staff (including principle Marcia Gay Harden, counsellor Lucy Lui and teacher Christina Hendricks, all excellent) are all burnt out. It’s tough to watch; director Tony Kaye slaps us over and over in the face with such consant degradation that we too become detached, and the sorrow is less effective. This is an ode to the failures of the public school system, and though I know it has its flaws, it seems downright impossible that there is nary a student nor administrator in all of Queens who has ever experienced even a singular moment of happiness. Nothing here is implausible, it’s just that not every bad thing can possibly happen does happen, and certainly not all before lunch. It’s like Kaye has gleefully scraped together a big pile of dog shit, and he’s intent on rubbing our noses in it for as long as we hold out (which makes me feel dumb for sticking it out).

There’s a lot going on stylistically – the chalkboard occasionally gets animated, and there are sporadic interviews that made me wonder at first if I’d accidentally stumbled onto a documentary. But then the drama kicks in, and we quickly overdose from it. Tony Kaye is notoriously difficult to work with (the only other feature film he was able to bring to screen caan%20danner%20etcforced Edward Norton to pull rank and recut American History X himself)., so it’s suprising so many stars returned his calls to get this film done. It would seem, however, that some have sincelearned their lesson. Bryan Cranston has said that he has not seen the film “Because I felt that Carl Lund, the writer of Detachment, wrote a really beautiful, haunting script. And I didn’t feel that it was honored. I was upset with that. I really was. And so I didn’t see the movie. Tony Kaye is a very complicated… interesting fellow. I don’t believe that I’ll be working with him again. I didn’t not get along with him on a personal level. But I just honor the writing. I really think that writing is the most important element there is. It is the springboard. It is where everything starts. And if you don’t honor that – which I didn’t feel it was – then where are you? And I’m not the only actor on that film to feel that way.”

Half Nelson – Ryan Gosling’s character in Half Nelson, Dan,  is a lot like Adrien Brody’s in Detachment. They can both get it together in their rough classrooms, but their personal lives are 50125_Half-Nelson-2in tatters. An ex-girlfriend rattles Dan to the point of getting high in the school locker room, where he’s discovered by his student, Drey (Shareeka Epps). The friendship that grows out of this encounter is sweet and wary, and Dan feels understandbly uncomfortable being so vulnerable in front of one of his kids. Drey sees his addiction the way Dan sees the bad influence of drug dealer Frank (Anthony Mackie) in her life, but they can’t seem to resist going down their own wrong paths, let alone keep each other from doing the same. Dan is terrific with his students but can’t get through a day without freebasing cocaine. It’s tough to watch, but so much more rewarding than Detachment, because although we see real gritty misery, there are also small veins for hope.

Although I enjoyed the performaces in Detachment, there were almost too many sub-plots to serve any one story well. Bryan Cranston and Blythe Danner and James Caan were pratically 655throw-aways. In Half Nelson, Gosling, Epps, and Mackie dazzle with performances that are really nuanced and subtle. You get the sense that Kaye wants to knock you over the head with his themes whereas Half Nelson is more comfortable asking you to make your own decisions. There may not be any great heralding sense of triumph, but neither do we bask in self-pity. Gosling earned an Oscar nomination for his work on the film; and it was scored by a talented Canadian band by the name of Broken Social Scene.

So there you have it, two uplifting movies just in time for back to school! Are you ready for a new school year at your house? Did you have a favourite teacher growing up? Were they mostly sober? How about a favourite school movie?


Irrational Man

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a burned out, impotent philosophy professor who’s looking for the will to live. A fellow teacher (Parker Posey) throws herself at him and a pretty and 45-Irrational-Man_1promising student (Emma Stone) engages him mentally, but he’s still, shall we say, unresponsive, until he starts plotting a hypothetical murder.

Joaquin and Emma have an easy rapport that’s eminently watchable, when the dialogue’s not getting in the way. The story is partially inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about a university student who commits murder to prove that he is morally superior to other people. But both Dostoevsky’s student and Woody Allen’s professor are only pretending that murder would be to help others, or the world in general. In fact, it’s a pretty selfish pursuit, even when purely cerebral. Can thoughts of murder really be a “creative 635725682661364214-11-1600x900-c-defaultendeavour”, or is that just the typical justification of an unfulfilled philosophy professor?

Woody Allen struggles to sound authentic around some of the philosophical arguments, and Joaquin doesn’t do a much better job conveying them. And Allen’s dialogue surrounding the erection difficulty is as stilted and awkward  as only Woody Allen can be – which doesn’t quite sound right coming from Joaquin, even with his 30 pounds of pot belly. Allen’s more adept with the cynicism and the dark humour (not to mention age-inappropriate romance), and when the material’s good, he’s hired actors talented enough to handle it. So this movie is not without merit. It’s also just not very original (even among Allen’s oeuvre) or very necessary, and the unevenness almost drove me batty.

Verdict: quintessential mediocre Allen.

A Little Competition Among Friends

IMG_9002It started last year on a lark: Matt would be celebrating his birthday, and we needed a theme. It so happened that at the time he was watching a season (possibly Canadian) of The Amazing Race, and since I don’t watch TV, he’d gamely recap and act out the previous night’s episode for me at work the next day. He was so enthusiastic and I was so captivated that we agreed that we’d like to run an Amazing Race, and so we did.

Well, Matt did. And so did a number of our friends. But the thing about an amazing race is that it takes a lot of hard work and organization. A regular race might run itself but an amazing one needs a ringmaster. Last year’s race was so intensely competitive that it literally produced retching, bloodshed, and even – if you can believe it – rampant, desperate cheating.

This weekend we’re heading back to the cottage for a new edition: The Amazing Race: After Dark. Ten people are racing but there’s only one cup. And I’ll be the one in the middle, not just mitigating the chaos, but orchestrating it. All in good fun of course, but if you have the opportunity to make your friends breathe fire (last year’s showstopper, a scotch bonnet pepper, is THIRTY times hotter than a jalapeno), why not take it?

I said before that I don’t watch TV, but for better or worse, I do watch movies, and that brings me to the embarrassing admission that I’ve watched Rat Race more than once.81Bbai6lTeL__SL1420_

The premise: a bunch of people are randomly selected to run an absurd from race from Vegas to New Mexico that wealthy people can watch and bet on. There aren’t a lot of rules to this race but there is a $2 million cash prize at stake, so you can bet these people race hard.

Starring: John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Mr. Bean, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Dave Thomas, Amy Smart, Dean Cain, Wayne Knight, Kathy Bates. Pretty much the weirdest ensemble you can imagine; no less than 3 Oscar WINNERS in this cast, where the acting mostly consists of running from one sight gag to the other, only some of them actually landing.

It makes you wonder – with $2M on the line, what would you do to get your hands on it? Or, IMG_2313what wouldn’t you do? Because my friends will sell their souls to get their names engraved on a trophy.

Have you ever run an Amazingish Race? Would you eat the scotch bonnet pepper?





We Are Your Friends

we-are-your-friends-imageSo we checked out the new Zac Efron movie last night.

Settle down, settle down. The only real heat came before the movie even started rolling.

We were out at Silver City and there was a scuffle between 4 men and 2 women (and 6 heavy french accents) in our row. The theatre had had to be emptied because security hadn’t had a chance to do proper bag checks and wanding but of course people dragged their heels, hesitant to leave their precious seats. When we eventually got back in, the clever draping they’d done with those flimsy free magazines wasn’t quite enough to make clear their “reservations” and – scandalous! – a couple of women were sitting right where the men had wanted to be sitting! And even though there were plenty of other spots the men could have moved to, or the women for that matter, both groups were equal parts obstinate and hard-headed, and a good old-fashioned stand-off ensued. Security was called but even they couldn’t convince either group to budge, at which time I said pointedly to Sean “Want to move? Let’s move.” Yes, it was a means to an end, but I’d also decided that no matter who won, they were losers, and I didn’t really want to spend the next two hours sitting beside them. So Sean and I moved down toward the front while the rest of the theatre applauded and security thanked us profusely.

We Are Your Friends is about a group of young, 20-something friends who are still trying to Screen-Shot-2015-06-01-at-12_43_12-PMfigure out who they are and what they want to be when they group up (and yet are still more mature than the feuding 40-somethings in our theatre). Zac Efron plays an aspiring DJ who believes that all he needs to be successful is “a laptop, some talent, and 1 track”. So he’s always working on that one track, and veteran\famous DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley) sort of takes him under his wing and shows him a slightly more authentic approach to creating music from computers.

This movie is not very interesting or realistic but it did succeed at making me feel awfully old (and I think I’m maybe 5 year older than Zac). But the truth is, “kids today” are learning to DJ with their iphones and their macbooks. I used to date a DJ, back when a DJ booth was tricked out with gear, decks and controllers and motherfucking turntables. Sounds were mixed from vinyl, not Apple. Some things appear to have stayed the same: the obsessive recording, the 456256284-e1432736645105ubiquitous headphones, and the lifestyle of drinks and drugs and all-night parties. But the culture is different. Efron and friends believe they can be rich and famous doing these gigs. DJs used to live in obscurity. They got paid for their work, but they were background players unless they managed to hook up with a Fresh Prince. Today they have whole festivals devoted to EDM; 20 000 people watching 1 guy slightly adjusting levers on a box hooked up to his laptop. Calvin Harris was 2014’s highest-paid DJ, raking in $66 million dollars, but even making half that like Avicii and Steve Aoki is pretty decent scratch for kids who started with your basic bass sample and have evolved into beat scientists.

The movie manages to be pretty clichéd about a subject matter we’ve rarely seen on-screen (and no, Anna Kendrick’s turn as an “alternative” masher-upper of pop songs in Pitch Perfect doesn’t count); it’s vapid, but stylish as hell (so trendy it’ll probably look dated 10 minutes from now). It strikes me as Entourage-Lite: the millennial take on ambition and aimlessness. Take that for what you will.

To The Wonder

Oh, they’re in love. Terribly, terribly in love. They’re that gross couple you roll your eyes at because they think they’re the first ones to be so over the moon with each other. Ugh.

To-the-WonderThe movie opens with obligatory montage of just how very happy Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) are. It reminds me a bit of a french, pretentious (redundant?) version of how Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind begins, which immediately makes me feel like this won’t end well. Marina and her daughter move from Paris to Oklahoma and for some reason nobody suspects that this will be a jarring downgrade. I visited both within 2 months ago and yeah, not comparable no matter how much Affleck peen you’re getting. The only thing worse than her syrupy narration is his whispery one. Careful you don’t strain your eyes from rolling them deep backward into the dark recesses of your brain.

And then she burns the dinner! Oh, should I have said: spoiler aleart! Spoiler alert, the reality of every day life together starts to cool their ardour a bit. And the further apart they drift, the more she turns toward fellow exile and Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) and he gravitates toward an old flame (Rachel McAdams).

Is now a good time to mention that this is a Terrence Malick film? It was released just a year after Tree of Life (only his 6th feature in 40 years) and is also semi-autobiographical, the first of his films to be set entirely in modern day. There was no script, just pages and pages of thoughts. The actors were simply told to play the emotions without speaking and while there’s plenty of voice over, there is hardly any dialogue.

What can I say about Terrence Malick other than he’s a polarizing film maker. He’s certainly a visionary but critics can’t seem to agree if he’s  a genius or a bit of a dullard. When it played at the Venice Film Festival, it was met with both boos and cheers.

Malick must commit tonnes of footage to film. In post-production he creates and hacks in equal measure, sometimes losing entire characters (Kurylenko made him promise that Marina would remail in the film, but supporting roles featuring Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Michael Shannon all ended up on the editing room floor). His imagery is beautiful, and this particular cake is frosted with generous dollops of religion. He’s exploring love in different ways and settings. This isn’t a narrative, it isn’t a story, it’s more a philosophical treatise on love. If you know Malick, then you’re used to the stylistic montages, though this one feels more fragmentary than most.

tothewonder22Just between you and me, I think Malick’s movies are getting increasingly masturbatory as we go along. He loves his long, meandering shots, and who cares whether they’re actually pertinent to the “plot”? Plot? Hahaha. Plot. Is this meditation or pretension? There’s a lot here that can be only experienced intuitively, which makes it quite demanding of its viewer.

This was the very last movie review that Roger Ebert submitted before his death; it was published posthumously 2 days later. Ebert was in his last days and must have known it (have you seen Life Itself?). His reading of the film is a rather spiritual one:

“A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear. Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.

“Well,” I asked myself, “why not?” Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.”



A little light incest

hyde-park-on-hudson-MOVIE-reviewI just watched Hyde Park on Hudson, in which the fabulous Bill Murray plays president Franklin Roosevelt, who engaged in an affair with his cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), among many others (women, not cousins. as far as I know).

FDR was a powerful man and president and Bill Murray manages to show his loneliness and sadness without giving up his strength. Linney and Murray embrace the occasional absurdity of their situation, Daisy realizing, while giving ole FDR a handie in the car, that they are not just 5th cousins “but also really good friends.” Ahem.

During this time period, FDR is visited at his vacation estate not just by the many women he’s hyde-park-on-hudson-movie-clip-screenshot-king-eats-hotdog_largefucking, but also by King George and his wife. A “social” rather than official visit, the royals hope the USA will commit to helping them in the war against Germany. In turn, the Roosevelts feed them hotdogs, and created a scandal with bigger headlines than Hitler was currently enjoying.

Although rooted in fact, this isn’t Lincoln. It’s a comedy. Murray shows a lot of range and gives us a very interesting portrait of a man who is historically significant but also just a man. The performances are good but I’m not sure the movie really conveys anything fair or enlightening about the events. But who cares, it’s Bill Murray!

daa46d65a1e5004f284bf0681b3a7e57What’s your absolute favourite Bill Murray movie?




Escapism (Or Why I’m Not At Work Right Now)

There’s a heat wave in Ottawa, folks. The humidex says 40 bloody degrees. Is it hot where you are too? Our local art house theatre, the estimable Bytowne on Rideau street, helpfully suggests that their cinema is in fact air-conditioned, and even better, they sell ice cream at their concession stand. So there’s always that.

But today Sean and I are playing heat wave hookie. There’s a water park down the road so we’re slathering on the sunscreen (Sean says: smells like vacation sex!) and hitting the (fake) waves.

Now, one thing to consider when you’re off to the local water park is all those news stories you’ve read about it recently, and in particular, its “dismal safety record.” The good news is: it was only found guilty on 6 of 11 charges, and the 9 others were withdrawn. So that’s not bad, right? I feel like I can beat the 50\50 odds at least half the time.

The truth is, you have to remember that these parks are staffed by the same kids in adventurelandAdventureland. I mean, would you literally trust Jesse Eisenberg or Kristen Stewart with your life? Those two asshats, plus a gang of their ne’ever do well friends, run the games section of a run down amusement park while dreaming of being ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD and having these deep and meaningful conversations while completely ignoring their customers. Have you seen this movie? Did it remind you of any of your own after school jobs? It’s pretty scary when teenagers run the world,

In The Way, Way Back, a kid named Duncan gets hired to work at a water park called Water Wizz, which is an awful name for a park. It reminds you too much of what you’re floating in. I mean, realistically, we know it’s 40% urine. Those kids over there haven’t gone to the washroom WayWayBackONCE since arriving but they’re throwing back juice boxes like it’s happy hour. Water parks probably don’t even HAVE bathroom facilities for kids. Why waste the space? (This reminds of a scene in Grown Ups where Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider are all floating around at a water park, not coincidentally also called Water Wizz since it was filmed in the same park, and suddenly the water around them all 20100614_poolpee_190x190turns dark blue – apparently there’s a chemical that can notify us that someone has peed, and I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or just tmi. The point being: I guess grown ups (if you can really call David Spade a grown up) do it too.) Anyway, back to the movie I meant to be talking about. Duncan seeks refuge at this pissy water park because his mom (Toni Colette) is neglecting him on their summer vacation, and her boyfriend (Steve Carrell) is emotionally abusive toward him. So a pool full of pee starts to seem not so bad.

Me? I happen to like my Mom’s boyfriend, despite his constant cracking of sex jokes, which – hello – are about my Mom. So I’m not fleeing step-parent abuse. But I am avoiding work. And the weird thing about work is, I (and likely lots of you too) have this weird thing about skipping work just to laze around watching Netflix. I mean, that’s what Sundays are for. If you miss work, you need a Reason. See what I did there? Capital R Reason. A good one. Like going out-of-town with my hunny to get an irresponsible sunburn and possibly also athlete’s foot.

Anyway, this was a good movie review, wasn’t it? To recap:

Adventureland: high on nostalgia; has some great supporting characters.

Grown Ups: funny to people who like pee jokes.

The Way, Way Back: quietly charming and sweet and funny.

What’s your favourite summer movie? How are you staying cool? What do you skip work to do?