Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Hateful Eight!!!!!!!!

Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has a date with a hangman’s noose and bounty hunter hateful eight 3John Ruth, “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell), isn’t letting anyone stand in the way of his ten thousand dollar reward. Just to be safe, he’s got her chained to his wrist at all times and, to show her who’s boss, decks her any time she gives him any sass. Making their way through a blizzard, their stagecoach happens on a stranger stranded on the road: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). “Got room for one more?” asks Marquis.

So begins The Hateful Eight, the eighth film from Quentin Tarantino. As the storm intensifies, Marquis and The Hangman are forced to wait it out in a tiny lodge with six other strangers. (It’s unclear to me which of these 9 Tarantino is excluding from being “Hateful”). I won’t attempt to describe the story that Tarantino weaves any further. No one in Hollywood tells a story quite like Quentin and for me to try to summarize the chain of events that follows in Minnie’s Haberdashery just wouldn’t be right. It’s best just to watch and let it unfold.

If you’ve been following the drama surrounding the 8th film from Quentin Tarantino, you may hateful eightknow that Daisy, Marquis, and The Hangman almost didn’t get to meet in snowy Wyoming. After a draft of the Hateful Eight script leaked online in early 2014, Tarantino felt so wounded that he vowed not to continue with the project. He got over it quick though. His enthusiasm was renewed three months later after a live read with the cast in Los Angeles.

His enthusiasm is contagious. I was almost giddy with excitement through the opening chapters hateful eight 2of The Hateful Eight. It’s hard to tell quite where any Tarantino film is heading and the early scenes- with such wit, tension, and restraint- were full of promise. With each new character that he introduced, the more exciting and suspenseful the movie gets. Set in a confined space filled with people who can’t fully trust each other, The Hateful Eight is a welcome reminder of what it was like to see Resevoir Dogs for the first time. The first half is so deliberately paced that it’s tempting to think of it as the director’s most grown up film yet, tricking me into a false sense of security that left me completely unprepared for the second half.

Once the blood finally begins to spill, The Hateful Eight shows its true colours. By the end of its three-hour running time, Tarantino’s eighth film has revealed itself as his darkest, blood-thrstiest, meanest, nastiest and most pessimistic since Resevoir Dogs, a drastic shift from the tone of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. I still count The Hateful Eight among the best of both Quentin’s filmography and of 2015. But the enthusiasm that I felt for the first half of the film was mostly gone by the time I left the theater. I left feeling a little disheartened and even a little guilty for the briliant bit of sadism that I participated in by watching it.

Have you seen The Hateful Eight yet? Does it rank among Tarantino’s harshest or am I just getting soft?

 

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Sean’s Ten Favourite Movies of 2015

Since today is New Year’s Eve, it seemed like a good time to count down my favourite movies released in 2015. I still have lots to watch (Hateful Eight, you’re next!) so I don’t pretend this list is comprehensive, but it’s a damn good start.

10. What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows is such a crazy, what-we-do-in-the-shadowsbizarre comedy that I had to love it. It’s irresistible. There are so many great characters on display, a bizarre mix of humans, vampires, and werewolves, and their interactions with one another killed me. With laughter.  From start to finish, What We Do in the Shadows gave me scene after scene of amusement, from a bat fight to a werewolf showdown to one of the most awkward town dances imaginable.

9. The Martian

INTRO-2_20thCenturyFox_TheMartianThe Martian occupied a strange position for me. I absolutely loved the book, to the point I was worried the movie would fall short and disappoint, but I still felt optimistic that Ridley Scott and crew would pull it off. Well, there’s no doubt now – they pulled it off and then some. The Martian is a fantastic piece of film that captured the book even better than I hoped. It’s got a little of everything (comedy, drama, scifi, thrilller, even a hint of romance) in perfect balance, in a film that is so beautiful to watch it makes you want to visit Mars even after all that happens to poor Mark Watney.

8. Spy

Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy always make good stuff together, and Spy is their best to date. As great as McCarthy is, Spy is not just about her, and the great performances from the entire ensemble are what makes Spy one of my favourite movies of 2spy-DF-04541_R2_rgb.0015.  McCarthy owns the screen when needed but steps back in order to give everyone their moment to shine, from Rose Byrne to Jude Law to Miranda Hart, and Jason Statham is especially memorable as the boneheaded spy who wants to use every action movie cliche in the book, to hilarious results.

7. Creed

Creed brought back Rocky, one of my most beloved franchises, in the best possible way.   It’s a creed-finalposter-frontpagefresh start with a new boxer, Michael B. Jordan, carrying the torch.  But at the same time, it forges strong connections to the existing franchise, with Jordan playing Apollo Creed’s son and Rocky being brought in to train the son of his best friend and biggest rival.  The atmosphere was perfect, the nods to the past were wonderful, and the story made us cheer again for a new underdog, feeling familiar while also opening up a whole new world of possibilities.

6. Kingsman: The Secret Service 

In a year where Marvel released two more superhero movies (and Fox gave us one that we are desperately trying to forget), Kingsman: The Secret Service is mykingsman-movie-review-the-secret-service favourite comic book adaptation of 2015.   Who knew that Colin Firth could be such an action hero?  His character’s last stand at a Kentucky church is one of the best action scenes in recent memory, and the symphony of exploding heads at the end is absolutely masterful.  Style and excess abound in Kingsman and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2017, when the sequel is released!

5. Bridge of Spies

Is it just me or did Bridge of Spies fly WAY under the radar?  I heard almost nothing about this movie from anyone, which is shocking for a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom bridge of spiesHanks, or written by the Coen Brothers (and Bridge of Spies is all three)!  And this is not just any movie.  It’s incredible.  I was captivated from start to finish by this cold war story that eschews stereotypes and in doing so gives us a much richer experience than I ever could have expected.  Nothing is black and white, everything is a shade of grey, especially the Russian spy being bartered (Mark Rylance), who is one of the most upstanding individuals you will ever see on film (especially when in any other movie he’d be the bad guy)!

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m glad to see Mad Max: Fury Road getting so much love, both upon release and as we all reflect on the best of 2015.  Mad Max is my favourite action movie of the year by far.  Mad Max gave us something so original, frenetic, and crazy that it almost blew my mind.  Visually, Mad Max was spectacular but the story and characters were what lifted this movie above the pack. FURY ROAD Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron give particularly memorable leading performances, while Nicholas Hoult and Hugh Keays-Byrne both give us bizarre yet believable supporting turns that increase the crazy factor immensely.  Mad Max never stops, not even for a second, and it’s a hell of a ride!

3. The Revenant

Speaking of non-stop treks through desolate wastelands, The Revenant is next on my list of file_611355_revenant-trailer-home-640x320favourites.  But I would not call The Revenant an action movie – it’s more of a slow burn revenge story as bear attack survivor Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) chases his son’s killer (Tom Hardy, who’s awesome again, this time in a supporting role).  And while the midwest winter is harsh, Hugh Glass’ surroundings are absolutely beautiful.  For my money, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki gave us the most visually stunning movie of 2015, and that’s high praise given the next two on the list are also brilliant in that regard.

2. Ex Machina

Ex-Machina-Cast-Wallpapers (1)As is probably evident, 2015 gave us a wide variety of excellent movies, and my favourites were all unique in some way.  And “unique” is the best way I can think to describe Ex Machina.  It’s a seemingly serene, beautifully shot meditation on what it is to be alive for much of the movie, and yet the whole time your brain is waiting for things to turn ugly.  Because it’s inevitable that they will, and yes, they do.   Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander all deliver incredible performances, playing so well off each other that it’s easy to suspend any disbelief we may otherwise have had.  Ex Machina is spectacular from beginning to end, and most importantly, it puts very difficult questions to us, through the protagonists, that we will ultimately have to answer.

1. Anomalisa

Unique in every way, Anomalisa is head and shoulders above the rest of the movies I saw this year, and without question my favourite of 2015.  Everything in Anomalisa serves a purpose, everything has meaning, everything anomalisais a potential clue to our struggling protagonist of the hidden problems that he’s facing.  Charlie Kaufman’s writing is sharper than ever and Duke Johnson’s animation is stunning and absolutely essential to the story.  Anomalisa is pure cinematic brilliance, and I hope all of you are able to experience it for yourselves (as it’s open in select theatres, expanding to a wider release in January).  Of all the movies I saw this year, Anomalisa is the one that still sticks with me months later, and I don’t expect to shake it anytime soon.

Happy New Year, and please let me know in the comments what your favourites were in 2015!

Brooklyn

At last year’s Oscar ceremony, I was the only one who could reliably pronounce David Oyelowo’s name. A couple of years ago, Matt had to be called upon to serve up Barkhad Abdi’s mouthful. This year it’ll be my turn again because I’m the only one who can say Saoirse Ronan’s name (it sounds like Sir-sha; Ryan Gosling’s hint: it rhymes with “inertia”) and believe me, you WILL need to say her name come Oscar time.

Saoirse Ronan is perfectly cast in this movie and a nomination feels like Brooklyn_3a lock. She brings quiet strength and touching vulnerability to her role as a young Irish woman who sets sail to America all by her lonesome. She makes a new home for herself in Brooklyn but is called back to Ireland where she’ll have to make a choice to embrace the brave new world, or to seek comfort in more familiar opportunities.

I read the book years ago, and reread it recently to remember how very much I liked it. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking meditation on the immigrant story. The movie is a little more focused on the love story aspect, but I can forgive it that because it’s restrained and mature. 0009e215-630Nearly every aspect of this period piece comes out simply but spectacularly. The acting is lovely (her co-stars, by the way, do live up to her performance: Emory Cohen is up to the task, Domhnall Gleeson is exactly right, and what a year he’s had, by the way – this, plus Star Wars, plus Ex Machina, plus The Revenant, the dude’s on fire; I only wish we had seen more of Jim Broadbent as Father Flood) the cinematography is lush, the script is trimmed of excess fat, John Crowley’s direction is generous, the aesthetic is consistent and thoughtful, and Ronan is luminous.

MTM0MDkzNTM1MjYyNTc5MTY2I’m wondering, though, if it’s maybe a little too perfect. Because when the credits rolled, my eyes were dry. And this should be a deeply affecting movie. My little heart-strings were pulled extra taut reading the book, so why has the movie left me so unmoved? I can’t honestly fault a single thing in Brooklyn. It’s a perfectly crafted movie, but for me, there was just no emotional connection.

The Revenant

Jay: Zohmyfucking god have I ever been waiting a long time to see this movie.

Sean: It’s been a very long wait.  This has been one I’ve been looking forward to all year, and the wait has increased my expectations, which were already sky-high!

Jay: The premise of this movie is pretty simple: a bunch of frontiersmen are out in the frigid north, hunting pelts. Native Americans attack. Everyone flees behind Hugh Glass (Leo), The Guy Who Knows The Land. 2FA41A5E00000578-0-image-a-1_1451264937734Except Glass gets half-eaten by a bear. So then the men have a difficult choice to make: carry a stretcher over torturous, snowy terrain but retain their navigator (when he’s conscious), or put him out of his misery, lighten their load, but risk getting lost or wandering straight into enemy territory. Glass’s son is understandably on #TeamGlass but John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is more #TeamFuckHim. But don’t underestimate DiCaprio: he’ll get his revenge, even if has to crawl on broken legs and light his own neck on fire to do it.

Sean: I was on my own team: #TeamHolyShitThisIsAwesome!  And I was all in.

Jay: This movie is balls-to-the-wall intense. It’s so relentlessly brutal, for more than two and a half hours, that it wasn’t until the 3 hour mark that I began to ask myself if it was good.

Sean: The momentum of The Revenant is absolutely unstoppable.  It sweeps you up in its frenzy so that you don’t even get to think “big picture” until it’s over.  It’s like a bear attack that way!

Jay: Well I can tell you right now: it’s beautiful. Stupid gorgeous. The vistas that they found in both Alberta and British Columbia are worth the crappy, harsh conditions the crew endured for the shoot. And these
sweeping, stunning backdrops are a genius juxtaposition to the utter bleakness that is going on for the characters. It’s like heaven and hell on the screen at the same time.

Sean: I was struck by the beauty of the vistas as well and felt the same way as you did about them.  They provide such a wonderful contrast between the bleakness facing Leo in his journey from worse, to even worse, to absolute hell.  There was a quiet and peace about the wilderness that restores us, paces us, and upon reflection, ties into Leo’s story more than I realized at first glance.  Is this peace and calm perhaps coming from Leo’s soulmate?  At any rate, there’s something spiritual about the connection between the land and our protagonist, and I am still trying to unpack all that we saw.  It all felt so god damned meaningful and important.

Jay: Whoa. Did you just italicize meaningful and important? This from the guy who dumped on Star Wars but praised Will Farrell’s new movie Daddy’s Home? Anyway.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki decided to shoot this movie entirely in natural light, which sometimes results in a picture dripping in golden sunshine, other times awash in the stark reflection of sun on snow, sometimes just a very small flame casting shadows on Leo’s busted face. It was a bold decision that meant very short shooting days (the sun takes forever to rise and sets so damn early during our Canadian winters) and an extended shooting schedule that forced Tom Hardy to lose out on Suicide Squad, and it caused Inarritu to forfeit film and shoot on digital since the former just couldn’t handle dim lighting. But it was worth it. Lubezki has won back to back Oscars for his work (Gravity, Birdman): can he threepeat? Can he not? This movie’s just soaked in glorious authenticity that made it difficult for me to breathe for 156 long minutes. It’s striking to me how different those three movies are from each other – Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant – and what flexibility and mastery
Lubezki must have to have painted each world so beautifully and precisely.

Sean: The differences between this and Birdman were on my mind as well.  This is not the movie I expected and it’s a completely different feel than either Gravity or Birdman.  It’s night and day.  The imagery in all three is incredible and what is most amazing to me is that these are not at all similar – they are each their own masterpiece.  Inarritu gives us something new, again, and I wasn’t expecting that he could possibly be capable of that.  I may not have connected with Birdman as much as you did, but it was such a unique piece of filmmaking that I did not think Inarritu would be able to come back with something that feels this fresh and unique.

Jay: Well I do remember us fighting about Birdman last year (I guess Star Wars is this year’s Birdman) but at any rate I’m glad we both fell in love with this one. It’s so awkward when we don’t.

Inarritu’s direction is amazing. From the very first attack scene (that makes the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan feel like a pillow fight), the camera swirls around the way a panicked eye would, taking in surroundings choppily, and a little too quickly. It ratchets up the anxiety in us: where is the danger? Where’s in coming from? Where is safety? Where is the enemy? How do we get out? The wide lenses make this shit immersive, so like it or not, you’re getting dragged into the fray (and thank you, Inarritu, for not making me wear 3D glasses to get this effect). But the camera can also be quite intimate: sometimes just Leo’s anguished face, the hand-held camera so close it gets condensation from his breath. But it’s this intimacy which also makes the movie’s craziest scene, the bear attack, its most interesting, and its most ballsy. Our mind knows we should never be this close to a bear, and definitely not a bear as angry as this one. We see Leo’s blood on her teeth and how many inches of claw get sunk into his flesh. Both of them are sweating. The three of us are sweating! It’s the most brutal thing, unrelenting thing I’ve seen in a long time and I couldn’t look away (warning: the audio alone is nightmare-inducing).

Sean: When we are dragged into this world, we see and feel the terror
that the characters are dealing with.  The Revenant is such a visceral experience from beginning to end.  The camera work sucks the viewer in so much I was short of breath at times.  The bear attack in particular is just spectacular in its intimacy.  You are right there with Leo, you are shouting at him to stay down.  Literally, Jay, you were shouting!  And how could you not when it feels so real?

Jay: Yes, I was shouting. Sorry, Ottawa. But seriously, Leo should learn to take my advice. Remember that, Sean: I was right. But let’s talk about what really matters: will Cinderella finally find her glass slipper? Leo’s been invited to the ball 5 times, but has never taken home a statue come Oscar night. Will this finally be his year? Leo’s as ferocious as the bear, and maybe more so, in this role. He’s committed, and you can see it in his darting bloodshot eyes and his flaking, chapped lips. I can’t shut out Tom Hardy, because he’s stellar also; reunited again since appearing in Inception, Leo begged and convinced Hardy to take the role and though they may be friends and respect each other as colleagues in real life, in this movie there is a fascinating hatred between them that reminded me of Leo and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Hardy looks dodgy and cornered every bit of the way. But this is undeniably Leo’s film – it’s his bloody trail we’re following. Since he takes a bear to the throat early on in the film, a good portion of the film is nearly dialogue-free, just grunts and bellows and silent agony. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before from him (and I’m not even talking about the bear rape rumour). If he gets the Oscar, it won’t be a “sorry we missed you last time” make-up award, it’ll be legit. He’s earning it on every frame.

Sean: Leo has to get the Oscar.  HAS TO.  He’s masterful.  He doesn’t even need words here.  Tom Hardy better be nominated for supporting actor as well.  Give him something!  He’s had an incredible year and he’s another guy who is so versatile, so absorbed in this role that I would not have recognized him unless I was looking for him.  He’s a force of nature in this movie.  Both of them are and the anticipation of their final showdown builds to a point where it can’t possibly live up to what you are expecting, and then it does!

Jay: Did I love this movie? Yes I did. Did I nearly die from a heart attack watching it? Yes I did. Is it perfect? No it is not.

Sean: The Revenant isn’t perfect but it’s so forceful and committed, I didn’t care.  I still don’t.  It exceeded my expectations, I loved every minute and I’m still trying to digest it all.  It’s such a tough movie to take but I think that’s what I liked best about it.

Jay: You interrupted me, dear. I wasn’t finished. I think the problem that I had with the movie is that it was straight revenge saga. And I get that this is the wild, wild west where punishment is doled out swiftly, savagely, without the law or due process. But Glass was a husband and a father and something of maverick. Was there really nothing to him but revenge lust? Actually, Inarritu’s attempt at spirituality, if I may call it that, with the ghostly visitations and whatnot, was my least favourite part. The movie is so grounded and real that those apparitions felt jarring and unnecessary.

But that’s in retrospect. And you’ll need retrospect up the wazoo in order to come to terms with the movie. While watching, you’re just holding on for dear life, and all that desperate grasping for survival on-screen makes your life seem all the more dear when it’s over.

“Pew, made it!” I said as the credits rolled.

“Who did?” Sean asked.

“I did!” I said. Yes, I did.

Sisters

Sisters-Tina-Fey-Amy-PoehlerThis is not technically a movie that needs to be reviewed. You’ve seen the trailers? You’ve seen the movie. Two people who look nothing alike with their wildly different heights and eye colours still manage to play sisters convincingly. Why? Because Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are real-life sistahs.

The movie’s okay. There are laughs to be had. The script is not what you would call original, and what starts out as a story about two grown women who regress when their parents decide to sell the old family home quickly degenerates into just another party movie (although this one populated by people old enough to know better).

What saves the movie is the remarkable chemistry between its two leads, Tina Fey and Amy feypoehlerPoehler. These women have worked together far longer than we’ve been watching them, harkening back to Chicago’s Second City in the early to mid 90s where they were the only two women in the troupe. A former member of Second City named Adam McKay (who you may remember as the writer\director of MANY of Will Ferrell’s ridiculousest movies) was the head writer of Saturday Night Live in 1997 when he first encouraged Tina to submit scripts. Of course she was hired, and the very sketch she wrote for the show (that made it on air) was a Chris Farley satire of Sally Jessy Raphael – genius, of course. When McKay left in 1999, Lorne Michaels made Tina Fey SNL’s first female head writer.

Fey soon appeared on-camera and became co-anchor of Weekend Update in 2000. Amy Poehler would join her on the sweekend-update-tina-feyhow just a year later, Poehler’s first episode being the first one produced after 9\11. Amy was promoted from featured player to full cast member during her inaugural season, making her only the third person to earn that distinction (joining Harry Shearer and Eddie Murphy).

Fey and Poehler became co-anchors on the Weekend Update desk in 2004, marking the first time that two women held the position. Fey left the next year as her new show 30 Rock began to take off though her tenure would hardly be forgotten; she’s been ranked as the third most important SNL cast member ever, just behind comedy gods John Belushi and Eddie Murphy. This left Poehler in a position to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – the first SNL cast member to ever be recognized in the category. Then she reg_600_GGlobes_Amy_Tina_mh_010213too left SNL to star in her own show, Parks and Recreation. Both women met with tonnes of success, 30 Rock garnering a staggering 112 Emmy nominations over its run, and Parks and Rec giving Amy the opportunity to write and direct as well. Both women won Golden Globes for Best Actress in a television series, musical or comedy, and then went on to host the awards ceremony itself together for 3 of the roastiest, juiciest years running.

They’ve both also written books about their experiences as wives, mothers, and being the funniest people on the planet. Amy Poehler also helped launch Smart Girls at the Party with a couple of her friends, a show that  “aims to help girls find confidence in their own aspirations and talents.” In each episode, Poehler interviews a girl with a “unique talent, community interest or point of view” and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you probably should.

These awesome, barrier-breaking ladies have a long history together, and even if they’re not tumblr_mgjv3h7q6e1qz9qooo2_1280blood, they call each other “chosen sisters” and that’s good enough for me. Screenwriter Paula Pell wrote Sisters with these two in mind, though she may have been imagining them cast in the opposite roles – which is what I liked about Sisters, actually. For once we get to see Tina Fey be all crazy. There’s a heaping helping of vulgarity too, but man does it almost sound sweet coming from the likes of Fey and Poehler. Paula Pell has a process for coming up with altnerative jokes, which the director would pass to the actors on post-it notes so nobody else would know what’s coming. Fey, Poehler, and the rest of the cast, including SNL alums Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynehan, and Rachel Dratch, are all masters of improv, and that spontenaety was well-used. Paula Pell, mind you, was also an SNL writer, and has appeared on – you guessed it – both 30 Rock AND Parks and Recreation. Smart ladies stick together, and funny ladies keep us coming back.

Concussion

Concussion makes you sick with guilt for being an NFL fan.  As the movie unfolds, the names and stories of these tormented souls bring back memories of news articles you’ve read, and you know that even if some of the details are fictionalized, all the important ones are true.  And even though Sony’s leaked emails reveal they toned down the movie to avoid kicking the “hornet’s nest” that is the National Football League, the watered down version is horrifying enough.  Concussion makes you feel dirty for ever having watched a Super Bowl, let alone having bought a ticket, because involvement as a fan means you actively contributed to the destruction of so many lives.

Mike Webster really died in his pickup truck.  Justin Strezelczyk really died in a fiery crash because he drove into oncoming traffic while being chased by the police.  Terry Long really drank antifreeze.  Andre Waters really shot himself in the head.  Dave Duerson really was an NFLPA executive who

US PRESSWIRE Sports Archive-Historical

The real-life Mike Webster.  RIP.

fatally shot himself in the chest so he could donate his brain to science (and Junior Seau really did the same).  All of these former players were 50 or younger when they died.  All have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease that causes symptoms of dementia including memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression.  The scariest thing is that these are just a few of the former players who have died from CTE, or are living with CTE-like symptoms (a CTE diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after death), and there are thousands more who almost surely are living with the same symptoms and/or other neurological conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia.

That alone would have been enough for Concussion to make me uncomfortable but a personal connection made these issues all too real.  Growing up, I was a good athlete but my brother Bryan was better.  He was good enough to be playing both basketball and rugby on provincial teams at age 16, and then it was time to make a choice.  He chose rugby because he loved hitting people (which makes sense because he’s kind of an asshole too).  Focusing on rugby made him even better at it, and after high school he went out west to play for the Canadian junior national team.

And then everything went south in a huge way.  His first concussion was well in the past, suffered at age 14 while playing quarterback.  We didn’t think of it at the time but as the hits piled up, every big hit hurt him more and took him longer to recover from.  By the time he was playing national-level rugby, and getting hammered repeatedly by other 6’5″, 240 pound monsters like himself, he was also experiencing blackouts, memory loss, chronic pain and who knows what else.  When he came to at the top of a mountain and had no idea how he had gotten there (turns out he ran the mile from his house then continued all the way to the top), it was a rude awakening in more ways than one.  That was the end of his rugby career but only the beginning of his suffering.  He lost years to pain, headaches, and nausea, he lost his desired career as a firefighter, and he almost lost himself.

Bryan’s story has taken a better turn lately, as he has found treatments and medications that help him manage his pain and live his life. But for me, Concussion was a terrifying reminder that Bryan could have been Mike Webster.  He may still be.  Bryan’s only 36, which is how old Justin Strezelczyk was when he drove into a tanker truck.  Mike Webster was still playing football at 36, so 50 is still a long way off for Bryan and countless others.

Omalu-45

The real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu.

Will Smith is decent in the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the coroner who autopsied Mike Webster and brought a lot of these issues to light after so many years of darkness and denial.  His accent is not as distracting as in the trailer but I couldn’t escape the feeling that the script was designed to include the phrases that Smith was better at saying in an African accent (“Tell the truth.  Tell the truth!”).  The same accent probably would have been more palatable coming from an unknown actor but does this movie get made or seen if Will Smith isn’t starring?  So while I probably wouldn’t have nominated him for a Golden Globe, I can see how he got one.  He is obviously trying here and maybe that was the problem for me.  In my view Albert Brooks (as Dr. Omalu’s mentor) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as his wife) both gave better performances than Smith.

Concussion makes sure to note the similarity between the NFL’s treatment of concussions and big tobacco’s treatment of cancer, and the comparisons are apt.  They still ring true, especially when the class action settlement between the NFL and 4,500 former players was conditional on the NFL never having to admit what it knew about the danger of concussions, or how long it’s known.  It’s easy to read between the lines.

The hits these players took (and gave) are going to kill many of them.  And we watched and cheered.  For me, Concussion made me realize that I’m long overdue to stop cheering and stop pretending that any of this is okay.

For that, I’m glad I saw Concussion.  I’m not sure the movie works as well as it should, because it seemed at times to soften its message in an effort to not seem too preachy.  I’m thinking particularly of a speech Smith’s character gives where he says he doesn’t hate football after being persecuted by the NFL for his research, which to me rang false.  Still, despite that scene and a few similar missteps, Concussion got to me and made me think, and that’s worth something.

Concussion gets a score of seven (six for the touchdown and one for the PAT) out of ten.

 

Arthur Christmas

Merry Christmas.

You may have learned by now that Matt and I are therapists who specialize in crisis counselling. People can get depressed or suicidal at any time, around the clock, around the calendar, so our office never closes. IT NEVER CLOSES. Which means I’m at work today, and was at work yesterday too, and have worked through the holidays for 7 years running. And that’s okay. It’s not fantastic. I’d rather be at home, or with family, or in bed, or in Jamaica, or pretty much anywhere else, but this kind of work doesn’t come without sacrifice, and I knew that going in. I’ve made peace with it, although I always regret leaving Sean (a measly lawyer) home alone (we don’t live in the same city as our extended families) – albeit with a nice bottle of scotch, The Good Dinosaur on Disney Infinity, and a little droid called BB-8 (who is probably terrorizing our dogs).

The good news is, we do find workarounds. Since I’m working until 11pm on Christmas day, we had our Christmas dinner last night, when I got home from work (did I feel like cooking a big meal after a long day at work? you bet!). Then we settled into the hot tub with a bottle of wine. It was a full moon last night, and unseasonably warm here in Canada (a record high of 16 degrees, I believe – what was it like for you?), and it so we relaxed under a starry night to watch a movie recommended by Carrie called Arthur Christmas.

49251-arthur-christmas-best-both-worlds_0Arthur is the son of Santa, and the grandson of Santa too. It’s a job that gets proudly passed down in their family, and someday soon Arthur’s brother Steve will wear the suit. He already nearly runs the whole operation, having streamlined the process with his high-tech gadgets. Grandsanta is enjoying his retirement but Santa’s still loving his Christmas Eve missions and is reluctant to pass the torch. Arthur, meanwhile, too clumsy and keen to ever seriously be considered for the role, works in the letter department, answering all the kids who write to Santa. This Christmas Eve, Steve runs an impeccable shift and 2 billion presents are delivered, almost without a hitch. Almost. End of day, an elf comes across one ARTHUR_CHRISTMAS_15undelivered present. Steve is comfortable with their error margin and Santa’s ready for bed, so it’s up to Arthur, Grandsanta, and an androgynous elf named Bryony to somehow get a bike to Gwen before she wakes up and thinks Santa forgot her.

The movie’s a lot of fun, with just the right amount of saltiness in the sweet to make me happy (not many holiday movies have a Santa threatening to euthanize himself with a rock). Plus the voice cast is top-notch: James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, Bill Nighy as Grandsanta…actually, the list goes on like crazy. Have fun trying to recognize them yourself.

This morning Sean and I had a Christmas brunch and gave the dogs each a Christmas steak. No one will ever make a Christmas movie about our non-traditional celebrations (although they tried – it’s called Mixed Nuts), but we did manage to put a little merry in our hearts. And hey – working on Christmas isn’t all bad: I came armed with cheeseball.

Happy holidays.

The Intern

Ugly truth time: this is the type of movie that I hate, easily. Hate right out of the gate. Hate just at the poster stage, really.

Forgive me. I’m at work on Christmas Eve and it’s slow. I finally finished watching Youth and didn’t feel up to subtitles (Samba), so The Intern it is. And I don’t know if it’s the magic of the season finally melting my cold, dark heart, but: I didn’t hate it.

the intern heroI didn’t exactly love it, but I did almost love Robert De Niro’s performance. He doesn’t need to flex a lot of muscle in this role, but he’s charming and humble and I think he plays the part of retired but still vigorous perfectly. The bigger surprise is Anne Hathaway, who I am on record as disliking a great deal. In this I found her almost likeable. Again, clearly not her most demanding role, but she toed the line between strength and vulnerability in an interesting way.

Nancy Meyer’s direction is straight-forward but effective. The story misses the point a bit: it starts off as The Intern (a 70-year-old man applies to be an intern at a “hip” e-commerce business, whatever that theinternmeans) but then veers off toward something safer and more predictable. The world didn’t need another joke about how old people don’t know Facebook. Have you even been on Facebook lately? It’s been taken over by grandmas!  At any rate, it doesn’t fulfill its promise. But it’s a not bad way to spend an afternoon, grandmas and all.

andrewrannellsCasting high: Andrew Rannells. I first encountered him as part of the original Broadway cast of The Book of Mormon, which I can’t recommend enough. He played opposite Josh Gad who has also become a Big Deal, and the pair were clearly destined to be stars.

Casting low: Rene Russo. Nothing against Rene, it’s more that she’s the requisite “old lady” partnered up with De Niro and is forced to say the renerussotheinternline “at our age,” insinuating that they are the same age. I really struggled with that, considering this movie has a bit of a feminist bent to it, but upon Googling I see that Rene is actually 61 years old and only 11 years younger than De Niro. “Only” 11 years younger, mind you. As you know, age differences can be much more egregious in Hollywood (and she’s actually a year older than De Niro’s real life wife). So instead of a casting low, I’ll just say: Rene – damn, girl.

Youth

It took me a week to get through Youth, maybe more. Matt kept asking after me, like the movie was a virus I had to endure, to shake. He worried I was suffering, and with good reason: director Paolo Sorrentino’s previous work, The Great Beauty, was in fact a bit of a trial for me. Not that it wasn’t, weyouth-michael-caine-harvey-keitelll, a great beauty. It was. It was just also arduous and uppity.  Sorrentino’s directorial trademarks include “oblique storytelling” and “partially obscure plots.” Is Youth more accessible? Sure. It is. But don’t worry: it isn’t without pretension.

If The Great Beauty was a treatise on the passage of time, what, then, is Youth? A testament to what is past? A longing and desire for vitality? The acknowledgement of our life’s work?

Michael Caine plays a composer\conductor who has hung up his baton, and not even the Queen herself can convince him to pick it up again. Harvey Keitel plays a film maker who is struggling to write his last great script, his magnum opus, his definitive work. The two are on vacation together in the Swiss Alps, comparing ailments, bemoaning their status, ythruminating over mistakes, agonizing over decisions. Rachel Weisz plays daughter to Caine (and daughter-in-law to Keitel) – one who is freshly dumped, causing pain and anger to resurface. This makes for an actor’s showcase of emoting, but not much in the way of plot. Nothing happens: elderly naked people walk by, slowly, as slowly as the memories being recounted, like lazy clouds in a clear sky.

It is beautiful to look at. Caine proves that though his character may be ready to embrace retirement, he, the actor, is not. He’s brilliant, and he’s imagesCA754B8Win good company. The best. But a collection of reminiscing characters does not a movie make. The latent aspect of the film began to feel claustrophobic to me. It’s like visiting your Gran at her retirement home: sure she’s a fascinating woman and you love her and want to pay your respects but OHMYFUCKINGGODGETMEOUTOFHERE.

You know what they say: Youth is wasted on the young.

 

The Grumpy Guide to Christmas Movies

Why must Christmas movies be so…terrible? What is it about the holidays that turns regular f784f548f08fa691c849dbf4f8b634c1moviegoers into big balls of mush? I feel like a big green cynic but bah, humbug! I hate when it magically starts to snow when two people kiss. I hate when families gather round a piano to sing carols. In movies, extended families always fit around one large table. Nobody ever has to sit at a wobbly card table. Nobody ever has to balance a paper plate on their lap, trying not to let a lake of gravy scald them. Nobody ever gets stuck sitting between two lefties.  The turkey comes out golden brown and nobody ever gets salmonella. Nobody ever buys their brother a sweater that doesn’t fit. Nobody ever has to skype Christmas greetings because they drew the short straw at work. And most of all I’m sick of everybody always falling in love at Christmas. Has anyone actually ever fallen in love at Christmas? Isn’t that like having your first date on Valentine’s day?

Here’s a bunch of sappy Netflix movies I’ve watched while wrapping my oddly shaped gifts (in movies they’re always easy to wrap boxes and nobody has to hunt for scotch tape for 2 hours) so you don’t have to.

maxresdefault (1)Holiday Engagement: a woman breaks up with her perfect fiance the week before she was going to trot him out to her family at Thanksgiving. Since 30 is “in her rearview mirror” and her mother’s determined not to have an old maid for a daughter, she does what any reasonable woman would and hires an actor to pose as her intended. So of course they spend an awkward holiday weekend pretend-planning a wedding (while buying actual dresses and china) and – wouldn’t you know it – falling in love. Hated every minute of it and even seeing Shelley Long as the obtrusive mother didn’t mitigate this for me in any way.

MerryKissmas posterMerry Kissmas: Two people meet in a mistletoed magical elevator and so of course they must begin the 89 minute process of falling in love. It’s slightly awkward because she’s actually engaged to someone else, but don’t worry, he’s a dick, and we don’t feel sorry for him in the least. We have to sit through the couple getting into a cutesy flour-fight while baking suspiciously perfect cookies, and then they top it all off by adopting a shelter dog.

12 Dates of Christmas: I’ll see you your rescue dog and 123639_D_0715_pre-299x400raise you some orphans! Remember when Amy Smart was almost a thing? I think she probably peaked around Butterfly Effect, which was at least a decade ago. So now she’s relegated to the land of bad Christmas movies, where washed up TV stars frolic. Mark Paul Gosslar co-stars as the man she’s bound to fall in love with. The catch? 12 Dates of Christmas is holiday Groundhog Day. Poor Amy Smart keeps waking up on Christmas Eve trying to find the right combination of Christmas cliché to break the spell and let her live happily ever after with Zack Morris (hint: it will involve both an orphan AND a rescue dog).

The Heart of Christmas: Just in case you thought I was going a little soft on 12 Dates, now I’m going to shit all over a kid dying of cancer. Because really, how better to up the Christmas ante than with childhood leukemia? I don’t necessarily want to make light of a very serious disease the-heart-of-christmas-1but then again, the movie does star Candace Cameron Bure (from that other early 90s TV show, Full House) as a workaholic mom who has no time for her kids until she discovers a blog written by a woman watching her 3 year old son go through chemo, and spends all her time reading that instead, still netting no time with her kids, but man do your little heartstrings get yanked. A sick kid’s not going to see another Christmas? You know what that means! Time to get the whole town to band together and sing Christmas carols in the street! Candace is very lucky that the only thing she loves more than god is shitty movies – she’s been able to nudge her career along by combining the two into a putrid Christmas holiday special nearly every season since her husband retired from the NHL. I assume they cover her SUV payments. Early next year her old sitcom’s getting a (Netflix!) reboot, so I guess her Christmas wish came true.