Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Hunt

I haven’t been this shaken up by a movie in a long time.

Lucas works in a daycare. He is accused of touching one of the little girls in his care.

He says she’s lying. She can’t quite remember the details. Soon, though, the whole class is recounting the same story. They’ve all been touched inappropriately. They can all describe his basement, his couch and tables and rugs, in fine detail. But Lucas doesn’t have a basement.

the-hunt-klara-and-agnesThe thing is, we know the little girl is lying, right from the start. She’s just a kid and I felt no real ill-will toward her. She even tries to recant, but the problem is, her parents and teachers are already caught up in the persecution of a pedophile. His best friends, his girlfriend, his ex-wife – everyone is prepared to believe the worst. Gossip gets out of hand in this small Danish community in about 10 seconds flat. He loses his job, gets arrested, custody of his son is revoked. His whole life is turned upside down. The town is vehement about his guilt, and if the law won’t prosecute them, they will.

It’s absolutely awful to see this man wrongly convicted of the absolute worst thing you can accuse someone of. It’s fucking brutal. But I couldn’t quite hate the parents as much as I wanted. They aren’t really villains; they’re protecting their children. There’s some mishandling along the way, but of course there is. We are talking about very smThe-Huntall children, and of course things will get heated when we believe the worst has happened. This movie gave me such a heavy heart that I needed there to be a villain, but I think even Lucas struggled to entirely blame his tormenters – after all, he too is a father. The Hunt (English Subtitled) is very skillfully assembled, and all the more disturbing because it feels entirely too possible.

But what happens to Lucas? Even if he’s proven innocent, even if all the kids recant, even if all the parents are convinced…can his life ever recover?

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Seymour: An Introduction

Seymour Bernstein, master pianist and renowned music teacher, ponders the link between a person and his creative self. Director Ethan Hawke, himself a creative artist, first met Seymour at a dinner party just as he was looking for meaning in his own life and craft, and the spell was cast.

168654_origSeymour is the kind of old man you could sit and listen to all day: the reminiscences are legendary, and when they’re occasionally tinged with tiny thorns or barbs or resentment or hubris, we’re reminded of his vitality, of why we’re listening to him in the first place.

Hawke has past Bernstein protogees interviewing their formidable teacher, and the result is a thoughtful piece on craft, authenticity, artistic bravery, and the thing Bernstein seems to revile the most, commercial success (he retired from a successful career in order to dedicate his life to teaching). I’m not sure if Hawke ever gets the answer to his questions on how to achieve his life’s purpose through acting, but he does come up with a work of art in the process, and I guess that’s something.

Watching this, and wondering why Ethan Hawke would be drawn to 827402a0-83c9-47fe-b876-164ebbe83a18make it, has made me reflect on his career a bit. Who is Ethan Hawke? He attended Carnegie-Mellon University to study theatre for about ten minutes before landing his breakthrough role in Dead Poets Society.

aid this thing during the Q&A earlier that when you’re playing well – he’s talking about playing piano – you don’t feel like you’re playing; you feel like you’re being played. Somehow, it’s like you’re not breathing; you’re being breathed. And the first time I ever had that feeling was with Robin Williams. We had this scene, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” And it’s etched in my brain as him standing in front of me, writing “yawp” on the chalkboard, and he said, “Todd doesn’t think he has anything of value inside him.” That scene is pretty much shot in one take. It’s cut a little bit, but Peter Weir shot it on a Steadicam spinning around us. I regal-dps-cast-jpgmember Robin hugging me after that scene was over. It’s a high I’ve been chasing the rest of my life.”

Hawke never finished his degree, but did wind up at NYU studying English before dropping out again for another part. He may not have diplomas but he did earn a Tony nomination for his work in theatre, and he published some novels, and wrote some screenplays along the way.

But mostly he’s been acting. Gattaca and Training Day are among his most-viewed, most-loved parts, but Hawke has struggled to find a place for himself outside the mainstream. “To be a contemporary movie actor, you have to kill people – that’s basically it. If you don’t cock’n’load’n’fire a Smith & Wesson at some point in your film career, you’re not going to have a film career.”

“It’s eye candy, just violence and sex. Definitely lots of sex, people making out or showing their tits, which is always fun, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I tried it – I tried doing this Angelina Jolie movie, a popcorn movie, the first movie I did that’s about nothing. And I didn’t like it, because I do ultimately feel there’s enough crap like this. It’s so much more fun and harder and more challenging to try to make something that’s entertaining but isn’t wasting your time.”

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an Ethan Hawke fan, but I am a fan of the Before trilogy – Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Before Midnight. Those are frequent collaborator Richard Ethan Hawke Julie DelpyLinklater’s babies, but Hawke (along with co-star Julie Delpy) has received writing credits on the last two, and Oscar nominations for best adapted screenplay both times. I think those movies really reflect his sensibility. They’re satisfying because they’re nuanced, because the characters are fully-formed, because the dialogue feels authentic even as it’s breaking your heart.

Hawke’s IMDB list is studded with indie efforts (we saw him in Maggie’s Plan at TIFF and will see him in Born to Be Blue at Whistler Film Festival) but there’s not much in the way of directing. “Directing? You know, I don’t know that I have the necessary skill set to be a good genre director. The movies that I want to direct are too weird. We’d just turn it into an art film somehow.” So we may not see him behind the camera too often, but we’ll always have this little 90s ditty by Lisa Loeb to console ourselves with, directed by none other than Mr. Ethan Hawke.

(That’s Ethan’s cat, by the way)

Trumbo

I thought the screenplay for Trumbo was witty and full of verve, but it’s got to be hard to write about one of the most talented trumbo-still-959x640screenwriters out there because the comparisons are inevitable and I must admit that Dalton Trumbo would have produced something tighter, and more energetic – something more like the man himself.

Dalton Trumbo was a successful screenwriter in Hollywood in the 1940s who also had some lofty ideals for bettering his beloved country that led him to join the Communist Party. But as we approached the 1950s, and the cold war between the Soviets and the USA deepened, people confused criticism for treachery. Trumbo and a bunch of people besides were brought up before Congress to account for their ‘unAmerican activities’ and even though Americans supposedly believed in free speech and democracy, they were sent to jail if they refused to rat on their friends.

Hollywood crumbled under pressure and refused to work with known (or suspected) “Commies”, and suddenly these people no file_611801_trumbo-picture-2-640x427longer had means to support their families. But Dalton Trumbo fought back: he undermined the black list by writing around it, submitted manuscripts under pen names, and continued to employ a lot of unemployable men.

Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo. No, Bryan Cranston IS Trumbo. His performance is so solid it never flags, even when the script slips down some dubious roads. Diane Lane and Elle Fanning play his wife and daughter and add a needed dimensionality to the character and his motivations, though I still feel that maybe we needed to spend more time with this interesting man’s inner life. Director Jay Roach seemBryanCranstonHelenMirrenTrumboed to keep things a little superficial, over-relying on his leading man’s ability to keep the motor running. Actually, the entirety of the supporting cast are lending enormous talent: Michael Stuhlbarg, John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Louis CK, and let me not forget Helen Mirren who does a fabulous turn as a witch-hunting bitch. You can see how much fun she’s having playing such a rotten person.

I think the film is highly enjoyable, and Cranston will never be outTrumboed. That said, I think Roach left the door open for a better film to be made on the subject matter, because I found it very light on the politics, very light on the ethics, and really more of a mischievous caper as Trumbo fights to get a workaround for his career. And maybe that’s because this movie is such a departure for Roach, who has never directed outside the comedy genre before, and is best known for the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents franchises: not exactly heady, probing stuff.

Still, I recommend this without reservations. It’s interesting and eminently well-acted, and Cranston is just a tonne of fun to watch.

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Flashback Friday – Rocky Edition

One of the things I loved most about Creed (as mentioned in my review) was how nostalgic and referential (even reverential) it was about the previous Rocky movies.  I’m still thinking about the references I caught and wanted to spend a little more time with them here.

Lots of spoilers follow, so with that said, once you’ve seen the movie come inside and let me know what you thought!

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Cold In July

Michael C. Hall plays a mulletted family man and devout Texan, circa 1989, which means when his wife wakes him up in the middle Michael C Hall Cold in Julyof the night because she heard a strange noise in the house, it’s his job to grope around for his bedside gun and tip-toe towards intruders. You always hope it’s just the cat, or a gusty tree branch, or water in the pipes, but when Richard finds a stranger in his living room, it’s a matter of mere heartbeats before that stranger’s brain is splattered on the ugly painting behind their ugly couch.

Richard feels awful. He didn’t really mean to kill anyone. The cops are quick to assure him that it was self-defense, and besides, the intruder is known to them, a criminal with an extensive rap sheet, no one worth being upset over. Except the dead criminal’s father (Sam Shepard) happens to disagree. He’s fresh out of prison himself, and his new project is stalking and threatening the young family of the man who just gunned down his son.

The cops are useless, of course. At first they brush Richard off, but when the threats become unignorable, they use a maneuver I can maxresdefaultonly hope is more Hollywood than handbook, and use the family as bait. Shit goes down and just when you think maybe Richard can go back to sleeping through the night, he discovers that the intruder he killed is likely not Sam Shepard’s son at all – but why would the cops deliberately misidentify him?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right: Don Johnson in a tall white cowboy hat. He’s the only one who ccold%20in%20july%203an help us now!

And that’s where I lost the thread. This movie is gritty and seedy, but it may be too intent on delivering twists and curveballs for its own good. You get in deep with this one, and things keep going from bad to worse. They stir the plot, and it thickens accordingly, with lots of shifts in tone, imagesCA49WFS5sometimes going from noir to comedy and back again within a few lines of script. Richard is the one who’s supposed to steer us, the audience, through all of these changes, but it’s hard to keep making excuses for why he’d let himself get involved in this increasingly shady stuff, as a sidekick to a man who just minutes ago wanted to revenge-kill his whole family.

This movie has a lot to say about masculinity and though it’s set 30 years ago, in our house it’s still Sean’s job to go confront the things that go bump in the night. In other houses? Apparently 1 in 5 men are happy to send their wives down toinvestigating scary noises at night do their own investigating, with 25% of men willing to feign sleep in order to avoid the duty. Sean is not so lucky. If left to his own devices, he’d absolutely sleep blissfully through a home invasion, and possibly also a portal to hell tearing a thunderous opening right underneath his pillow, if I wasn’t there to forcefully shove him awake. I’m not much of a nervous nellie, and since I’m an killerinsomniac, I’m used to the moans and groans a home makes when it thinks its occupants are asleep. But I have woken up Sean and sent him down to “check things out.” And guess what? It’s never a baddie. And if I really thought it was, I’d never sacrifice my best guy. I’d also never want to be left alone! I have seen a Wes Craven before: safety in numbers. What’s the middle of the night protocol like in your house?

 

 

The Good Dinosaur

I wasn’t overly excited about this latest Pixar offering. I’d seen the trailers and thought it was a little off-putting to have a cartoony dinosaur dancing around some very photo-real landscapes. Watching the movie, though, it was the furthest thing from my GD4mind. The animation is stunning. I particularly loved the bits with water, the reflective surfaces sparkling in the sun. It was gorgeous.

But there’s a great little story that goes along with it, about a boy and his dog, Spot. Except the boy is a longneck dinosaur named Arlo, and the dog is in fact a boy, named Spot. This movie is set in a make believe time when the dinosaurs never went extinct so they’re living at the same time as humans. Little Arlo is living peaceably on the family farm (I LOVED to see dinosaurs discover agriculture) with his parents and siblings when a “critter” starts raiding their food THE GOOD DINOSAURstores. Spot is a mangy, hungry, feral critter, and the two are at odds until the script conspires to cast them off on an adventure together.

The movie had me both belly-laughing and fat-tear crying within its first 20 minutes. Neither the tears nor the laughs let up, either. It’s a fairly simple story with a lot of Pixar heart. It’s quiet for long stretches (the dinosaurs talk; humans do not) but the characters are so facially expressive and nuanced, you don’t miss it. And every scene they walk through is a painting, with depth of field and detail enough to keep your hungry eyes constantly eating up the scenery (we saw it in 3D).

This movie is probably more relatable to  younger kids than Inside Out was, but there are some mature themes here as well. Arlo and maxresdefaultSpot live in nature, which is both cruel and kind. The potential for harm is more present in this movie than in other children’s fare, and they don’t shy away from death and grief either.

Sean was a little less moved by the film than I was (which, I suppose, is always the case) but I felt quite emotionally connected to it. Maybe it’s because Spot reminded me a lot of my little nephew Jack, both in looks and in temperament (Jack’s Papa calls him ‘Joe Pesci’, completely endearingly, for his wildman ways, though Jack is not yet 2). And maybe it’s because of the very simple but very moving and dignified way they deal with loss. At any rate, I’d say it’s a welcome addition to the Pixar family and a worthy way to spend your time and money at the cinema. I wish I could get in there and tweak the ending just a smidge (let me know how you felt about it), but overall I walked out with puffy eyes but a singing heart.

 

 

Love Pixar? Be sure to check out our contest – you could win a prize pack including a copy of Inside Out on DVD.

Celebrity Cameos in Music Videos

Not so very long ago, we were discussing famous movie directors who cut their teeth on MTV, but actors have an even more storied history of popping up in random music videos. Here’s a batch of my favourites (sorry James Van der Beek, as much as I appreciate rainbow lasers, this post is for A-listers only):

Make Some Noise, Beastie Boys

When Adam Yauch was too sick to appear in this video, a whole slew of celebrities lined up to help out their favourite MCs. Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, and Elijah Wood stand in for the Boys, but you’ll need all your fingers and all your toes to count the celebrity cameos on this video. Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Will Arnett, and Will Ferrell with his cowbell all make appearances, but blink and you’ll miss em! For an extended (like 30 minute) version with Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Adam Scott, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Dan Aykroyd and more, follow this link.

I Really Like You, Carly Rae Jepson

I would never have heard this song if not for the fact that Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks!) stars in the video, solidifying our already niggling suspicion that Hanks is pretty much the most interesting human being ever. How on earth did they land such a huge star? “I literally had a beer in my hand and I said, ‘Yeah sure I’ll do it,'” – it was as easy as that. This will absolutely put a little joy in your heart, and be sure to stay right to the end when he joins in the inevitable choreography: it’s fucking worth it.

Weapon of Choice, Fatboy Slim

Predictable but absolutely necessary inclusion to the list. This video reinvigorated Christopher Walken, turned him into an icon for a whole other generation, and turned a stale music video industry on its ear.

Giving Up the Gun, Vampire Weekend

They brought out the big guns for this video: Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a drunken tennis player (“Well, that’s the only way anyone’s going to beat me, if I’m that wasted,” Gyllenhaal joked. “They call me, like, the John McEnroe of action films”) showing some major leg – and shout to RZA while we’re at it. “They’re all really cool guys … and the Jonas Brothers, the RZA and Lil Jon, we all usually chill anyway. Actually, we were up in San Francisco, and I was like, ’You guys, do you want to come down with me?’ And Lil Jon was like, ’I’m busy,’ and I was like, ’Come on, man, get in the car!’ So we all chilled out, listened to the whole album, and the RZA was dope. He was great. He sat shotgun, because that’s where he likes to sit usually. … We all hang out because we’re all really good friends.”

Stylo, Gorillaz

So Gorillaz, who are animated, naturally, get into a car chase with Bruce Willis, who is not. Some things are too strange to be made up.

I Want Love, Elton John

It makes sense that the rocket man would tap iron man for a little help once in a while – and before he donned that Marvel suit, Robert Downey Junior had some time on his hands.

Crossfire, Brandon Flowers

Charlize Theron is everyone’s favourite badass heroine, so I suppose this video was probably stolen right from the director’s wet dream.

What Goes Around Comes Around, Justin Timberlake

A huge hit deserves a huge star, so Scarlett Johansson gets cast as the cheating whore who gets what she deserves: a fiery death. Kind of harsh, isn’t it? Brought to you by the same director who did Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Trouble, Pink

Recognize the sherriff of Sharktown? It’s none other than Jeremy Renner in eyeliner and a cowboy hat, that’s who!

Anybody Seen My Baby, The Rolling Stones

Need someobody who’s “more than beautiful?” You can’t do better than Angelina Jolie. Angelina was married at the time (to Jonny Lee Miller) but that didn’t stop her and Mick from hooking up, or from Jagger’s obsessing over her for two whole years.

Mumford & Sons, Hopeless Wanderer

Mumford and his sons prove they DO have a sense of humour about themselves with this spoof video starring Ed Helms, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis,and Will Forte. The video’s a lot of fun, and these guys sing a lot more earnestly than the real sons ever dared to.

Elastic Heart, Sia

This one may push the bounds of A-list, but how can we not talk about hot mess Shia Leboeuf bringing us yet another chapter in the dude’s book of dubious experimentation? I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to watch a 28 year old mentally unstable man beat on a little girl in a cage match?

Honourable mentions: Daniel Radcliffe in Slow Club’s Beginners; Aubrey Plaza in Father John Misty’s Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings; Olivia Wilde in Dashboard Confessional’s Stolen; Rupert Grint in Ed Sheeran’s Lego House; Helena Bonham Carter in Rufus Wainwright’s Out of the Game; Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith’s Crazy; Courtney Cox in Bruce Springstein’s Dancing in the Dark (or Counting Crows’ Long December); Christina Hendricks in Broken Bells’ The Ghost Inside; Keanu Reeves in Paula Abdul’s Rush Rush; Macaulay Culkin in Michael Jackson’s Black or White; Zach Galifianakis in Kanye West’s Can’t Tell Me Nothin.

 

Pixar Twofer

For the first time ever, Pixar is releasing two movies in a single year. You’ve already seen Inside Out (I hope) and today The Good Dinosaur is roaring into a theatre near you.

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To celebrate, we want to send someone a prize pack including a copy of Inside Out  on DVD.

To enter: pick an emotion – ANGER \ JOY \ FEAR \ SADNESS \ DISGUST – and leave us a comment telling us which one you’re feeling today.

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Gain additional entries by:

  1. Reading about why Jay thinks Inside Out is a bit racist, and leaving a comment.
  2. Tweeting a picture of your best angry\sad\happy\scared\ disgusted face @assholemovies #assholeemotions.
  3. Sharing an “emotional” story or picture on our Facebook page.
  4. Commenting on our review of The Good Dinosaur.

Multiple entries welcome as long as they’re all different.

And congratulations to Ashley at Syncopated Eyeball for winning our Assholes Reading Movies contest!

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Creed

This is shaping up to be a rough movie season for Jay.  First, she got dragged to SPECTRE (which by all accounts is a spectacular movie).   Second, she’s been dreading Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it was a twinkle in J.J. Abrams’ eye.  And third, a whole other Sean-approved franchise makes a return and potentially gets rebooted into a whole new series of movies.  Dun Na NAAAAAA, Dun Na NAAAAAA!

That’s right, Rocky is back again, for the seventh time.  It seemed over after IV, V, and VI, but some studio exec decided we could handle more!  And it was clearly the right decision because I think MGM/Warner Brothers now has a whole new franchise on its hands, featuring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (Apollo Creed’s son).

I have always loved this franchise.  From the moment I saw Rocky III, I was hooked (yes, I started with III and have never regretted it – as recently discussed in my defence of SPECTRE, plot and character are pretty much unnecessary in franchises and here’s more proof that’s a good thing).  Based on my love for the franchise, I had high hopes for this movie but I was also nervous at how this would all turn out.  After seeing Creed, I am happy to report that this franchise’s record is still unblemished as long as we agree that Rocky V never happened.

One of my favourite things about Rocky VI (a.k.a. Rocky Balboa) was how much love it showed to the franchise as a whole.  Creed takes the same approach.  There are a number of nods to the past and they’re great to see.  The best part is that Rocky, as trainer, takes all that history and imbues Adonis with the style of boxing we’ve grown to love in these movies, namely trading head shots until both boxers’ faces look like ground beef.  Head trauma be damned, these boxers just have so much heart that they have to leave it all in the ring.  And do they ever!

As for the cast, Michael B. Jordan is great as Creed and Stallone is better than ever as Rocky.  The two characters come together naturally and it’s a great relationship to see play out, as uncle and nephew take on the world together and give us some classic Rocky moments along the way.  Especially Stallone, who really plays the old man well the whole way through (although at this point he’s almost 70 so it may not even be acting).  Either way there are some very funny moments to be found as the two leads interact with each other.
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Overall, the only way this movie could have been any better is if they had worked in some Carl Weathers flashbacks where he got his stew on. I can see how that was tricky to work in to Creed since Apollo died before Adonis was born, but still, it would have been a nice touch.

Apollo v. Rocky

Want to find out who won this fight? Creed has the answer!

Other than that one shortcoming, Creed is perfect.  It delivers a great story, feels like a natural extension of the Rocky franchise, gives us a ton of nice call-backs to past events, and even answers some burning questions (including who wins the fight at the end of Rocky III).  Those fan-service moments were definitely my favourite aspect of the movie and they added so much to it.  They’re not just winks and nods, they are tools used successfully to remind us of Rocky’s mindset as he tries to pass on his winning ways to a new contender.

As the credits rolled, I reminisced about all the other great Rocky moments (see my list HERE but be warned, it contains tons of spoilers) and at the same time was excited for Creed II.  And mark it down, there will be a Creed II.  The seeds are sown here for at least two more movies and I hope they come to pass, because Creed is not just a great addition to the Rocky franchise, it is an excellent movie in its own right.

Creed scores a knockout: ten triumphant underdogs out of ten.

 

Dope

You might not know Shameik Moore yet, but you will.

He’s not the only reason why I was grabbed by this movie: the script is smart, the soundtrack is awesomesauce, and the angle is fresh. dopeBut Moore, unknown to me, turns in an A+ performance while writer-director Rick Famuyiwa is making choices I’m quickly becoming addicted to.

The story: Malcolm is a good student in a bad school, a good kid in a bad neighbourhood. He dreams of Harvard and 90s hip hop but on his way to his admissions interview he winds up with a bookbag full of dope. He’s got two friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori – the little bellhop from The Grand Budapest Hotel), and though this charming trio is made up of teacher’s pets and band geeks, they resolve to navigate the dark web and treat their reluctant drug dealing like a 21st century enterprise.

This movie is tonally inconsistent, but it’s not because the film doesn’t know what it is, it’s because it aims to be a bit of everything, and I kind of liked that about it.  Famuyiwa means to challenge our dopebandnotion of what a drug dealer looks like – or what a Harvard applicant looks like, for that matter, but even the film itself defies expectations. It manages to seamlessly integrate these 90s throwbacks into a world where these kids have never bought nor owned a CD. They idolize rap but they play in a punk band. Welcome to 2015. Pharrell Williams and Sean (Diddy) Combs are listed as producers, so you know that shit is solid.

The cast is exceptionally good, and you need them to be to make this story work. Comedy-drama-crime: the film covers a lot of ground, but at its heart it’s an identity crisis, an acknowledgement of our many selves. Famuyiwa is not a newbie but this is his first film where I feel like I actually know him. You can’t infuse a script with this many pop culture references and not reveal yourself. Famuyiwa, I think I’m on to you.