Monthly Archives: April 2016

Keanu

keanuoscarsthemartianmasterjpg-0d82f7_765wKeanu is not just a dark haired, sunglasses wearing Canadian. He’s also a kitten with a rare disease: cuteness. Or so we are led to believe by Comedy Central duo Key and Peele, playing cousins who would do anything to get Keanu back after he’s kitten-napped by a gang of street toughs led by the one and only Method Man. And so goes Keanu, a film that takes the two cousins from one life-threatening situation to the next, in pursuit of a cat.

Being a dog owner, I am duty bound to object to the whole premise. This movie would have been a million times more believable if Keanu was a dog. Cats are too cold and cranky for you to want to chase one all over Los Angeles. Deep down you know that cat doesn’t care about you at all. So if you lose a cat1399355_532978063457666_1736393886_o in real life, you just put up a poster and call it a day. But for a dog, that’s different. If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour and then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog!792421_532978346790971_1133090003_o

Poor pet choice aside, Key and Peele’s adventure is an entertaining one. While there are not a ton of belly laughs, there are a lot of memorable scenes, including a fantastic George Michael singalong and some hilarious movie-themed cat pictures.

There is also something refreshing about seeing these normal guys (who happen to be black) play with stereotypes, not only with their choice of music but also with their attempts to fit in with a plethora of cat-loving gang members.  That element of satire is a welcome improvement on Hollywood’s usual reliance on racial tropes.

Writers Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens deserve a ton of credit for departing from that formula. Keanu successfully subverts the usual tropes and shows that the stereotypes we cling to are an unconscious attempt to fit into a role rather than being innate characteristics. And that’s why this dog-lover enjoyed a movie about a kitten, because it’s not really about a kitten at all.

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Tribeca: High-Rise

High-Rise is the cinematic equivalent of a raisin muffin: it’s okay as long as you weren’t expecting chocolate chip.  But why not have chocolate chip to begin with?

High-Rise-1-Glamour-16Mar16-pr_bThe film’s biggest problem is that it took 40 years to convert J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name into a movie.  In the meantime, Snowpiercer happened and was a way more awesome movie than High-Rise, or really anything else ever.

It’s not just that Snowpiercer had better acting, writing or directing than High-Rise (though it did).  High-Rise looks good but has a structural problem.  Call me an optimist but I couldn’t accept High-Rise’s premise of an isolated lawless world developing inside a skyscraper, not when the outside world remained completely accessible to the building’s inhabitants.  There’s no apocalypse event in High-Rise.  The building’s main doors aren’t ever blocked.  Mid-movie, a cop even pokes his head in to check whether things in the building are okay.  But for reasons that aren’t at all clear, instead of calling 911 to report any of the murders, suicides or sanitation issues inside the building, the residents all choose to stay inside, ignore the dead bodies 2016_11_high_riseand garbage bags that line the halls, and scavenge for dog meat rather than drive to the nearest supermarket for hot dogs.  That’s something that was impossible for me to swallow.

It’s too bad that conceptual problem is baked into High-Rise.  I wanted to like the movie but I just couldn’t.  Am I naive in thinking that people would take a bit of time between drunken orgies to leave the building and restock their snacks?   I hope not, though the numerous food references in this review tell me I’m very hungry, yet instead of going upstairs to our kitchen I’m still here typing…

High-Rise is not a bad movie, but if you’ve seen Snowpiercer then High-Rise feels like a pale imitation.  And if you haven’t seen Snowpiercer, what are you waiting for?

 

Tribeca: Equals

In this version of the future, your feelings are genetically “turned off” in the womb. People are no longer subject to their moods, their intuitions, their base Collider_Equals-150729-bemotions. Everything is pleasantly flat. Nothing bothers them. But some are subject to a disorder in which those feelings are somehow switched back on. This disease is fatal – if you aren’t driven to suicide, you’ll be euthanatized, because being the only sensitive person in a void of flat affect is simply too much to bear.

Silas (Nicholas Hoult) contracts the disease. He’s given medication to try to suppress his feelings and is told to hope for a cure, but he knows that by stage 4, he’ll be given a painless death and that’s it. This world without emotion equals-moviefeels rather cold and lonely to us, the viewers, but the people living it don’t seem to notice until they come down with the disease, which sets them even further apart from their peers. But the one good thing is that Silas can see that his work mate Nia (Kristen Stewart) must also be infected. She hides her disease from others but cannot escape his awakened intuition. The two inevitably fall in love, though “coupling” is distinctly prohibited. The only way they can be together is to leave society and head for the outside world, where primitive humans still exist.

The film is well-realized and quite stylish. The best part is the acting. I hate to admit it, but this is Kristen Stewart’s least lip-biting role yet. She and Hoult have tangible chemistry, and for a couple of kids who are experiencing sexual urges for the first time, the film is surprisingly sexy. Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver lend a lot of credibility in their supporting roles, their performances add urgency and intensity to the proceedings.

equals-movie-kristen-stewart-nicolas-hoult-ksbr-2The problem, however, is with the story. The truth is, it just feels recycled. It feels like you’ve seen this before. It’s like every second Margaret Atwood novel and does little to distinguish itself from other movies in the genre. What it doesn’t borrow from Atwood it steals from Shakespeare and it never really does its own thing. Equals is a highly-polished piece from a second-hand store. It’s not trash but it could never compete with the real thing. If you’re the kind of person who’s comfortable buying a couch off Kijiji, then maybe this one’s for you.

 

God Knows Where I Am

Directors Jedd and Todd Wider know how to create suspense, even from an old news item that probably raised too few eyebrows at the time. The facts are these: unwilling to take her medication or receive any treatment for a mental illness she didn’t believe she had, Linda Bishop was discharged unconditionally from New Hampshire Hospital. To protect patient privacy, her family was not notified. With no support, no housing, and no access to money, Linda wandered until she chose an abandoned farm house in which to hole up. Over the brutal winter months, Linda slowly starved to death, mere feet away from help if she wanted it, without her sister or daughter ever being aware that she was missing.

God-knowsWider and Wider have used Bishop’s case to exemplify the broader problem of how mental illness is addressed both in medical and justice settings, but also take the time to ask intelligent questions regarding individual rights. Because Linda Bishop was in fact an individual: a mother, a sister, a gardener, a knitter, a reader. She died tragically, needlessly, but in life, when she was well, she was  vibrant and engaging. Wider and Wider treat her with dignity, and are able to do so in large part because of detailed journal entries she left behind at the time of her death.

While interviews with her closest friends and family members are illuminating and home movie footage sheds insight on happier times, it is her own ghostly words that prove invaluable to uncovering the truth about what happened to her alone in that farmhouse. Did Linda intend to die? Did she give up hope? Did she wait for rescue? Question her choices? Acknowledge her disease?

While Lori Singer gives voice to Bishop’s words, Jedd and Todd Wider paint us a picture of God_Knows_Where_I_Am_1what her last days would have looked like with truly stunning, poetical cinematography rare in a documentary. Hopelessness and beauty intermingle, making for some stirring if haunting images. Did I sometimes find it a little pretentious? Sure I did. But even an Asshole like me can admit and admire when a documentary is trying to elevate itself. Combined with her journal entries read aloud, these images make her story all the more personal. God Knows Where I Am is both an intimate portrait and a rousing call to action.

 

This movie was screened at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto; this review first appeared at Cinema Axis, home to many more excellent Hot Docs reviews.

Tribeca: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi.

1449603737890If you don’t know that name yet, stay right here while I get a nice wooden baseball bat to beat you over the head with. Don’t move, I’ll be right back.

Seriously, I talk obsessively about Waititi and his movies because I just adore them. He’s remained mostly under the radar with offbeat, cult hits like Boy and Eagle Vs Shark, which have made him famous in his native New Zealand but all but undiscovered over here in North America. WHICH IS A FRICKIN CRIME.ai_28310_aimedium

Last year his vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows was a modest breakthrough that earned him some well-deserved and super duper overdue attention. It will also help that he’s had a hand in writing Disney’s upcoming animated film Moana and will direct Thor: Ragnarok, which will be his first budget exceeding $12.

But back to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, perhaps the best thing I saw at the Tribeca Film
Festival and maybe the best thing Waititi’s done to date. He adapted it for the screen himself and as the film opens up, you immediately get the sense that it is a labour of love. The beautiful, lush New Zealaai_28434_aimediumnd bush is on proud display in soaring shots that will give you serious travel envy. Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a boy who’s had a run of bad luck with foster homes, and his child welfare worker is quick to give a laundry list of his transgressions. This doesn’t deter his determined newest foster mum Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) but Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) is a lot more reticent and gruff. Their primitive way of life is a bit of a shock to gangster-wannabe Ricky, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg because soon events will have him and Uncle Hec running from the law and hiding out in the bush as an intensive manhunt for them is underway.

The movie becomes an odd-couple adventure with Waititi’s niche sensibility and loads of mass appeal. Seriously – who on this green earth could fail to be charmed by this movie? 506332228For such an endearingly quirky comedy, it has no right being even half as beautifully shot as it is. There’s a gloss to the film thanks to some real cinematography that’s been missing from his previous work. A lot of care has gone into this film and the casting is just one easy example of how diligently the thing is put together. Sam Neill is an interesting choice and brings the right mix of gravelly loner bluntness and a secret longing for connection. But it’s Julian Dennison who will leave the largest impression. A kid actor can make or break your movie when he’s in a central role, but Dennison is a professional, easy and natural in front 1453595660563of the camera. There’s pain behind his farcical behaviour, and in allowing us to see both, there’s real depth and emotional investment in the characters. Waititi, Rachel House, and Rhys Darby provide excellent supporting roles that’ll leave you cramped from laughter. Positively bruised from chuckling. It’s a new personal best for Waititi and a new sentimental favourite for me, but one that deserves its place among the very best movies of the year, period.

 

Tribeca: Dean

Demetri Martin is one of my all-time favourite comedians so when I saw his directorial debut, Dean, was premiering at Tribeca, of course I snatched up a couple of tickets, and it was only when that initial adrenaline rush had dissipated a bit that I started to wonder how the hell his comedy would possibly translate into film.

Demetri Martin is a comedic genius, but his stand-up is mostly one-liners, funny drawings, and some jokes set to an acoustic guitar, and sometimes his harmonica for good measure. Not remotely narrative. And this movie didn’t look much like a comedy anyway – the blurb mentioned death, grief, and existential angst.dean-original-1

Dean (Demetri Martin, of course) has recently lost his mother. He and his father (Kevin Kline) are grieving very differently, and growing slightly apart because of it. His dad is ready to sell the family home but Dean can’t imagine the loss of the place where his mother was last alive, and happy; it’s full of good memories for Dean, but sad memories for his dad. Naturally, instead of sticking around to help with the transition, Dean flees to L.A. ostensibly for business, but we know differently. And he finds lots of distractions in California but starts to learn that he’s not the only walking wounded.

Does Demetri Martin pull it off? Yes, he does. Surprisingly well, as both actor and director. Dean is an illustrator, so not only do Martin’s drawings fit in, they illuminate his inner thoughts. His trademark one-liners are there too but they never feel slotted in. They either feel organic or they’ve been left on the cutting room floor – if you know his stand-up at all, you can’t help but feel that Martin has wisely shown restraint here. And there are visual gags, very subtle, but they add a layer that knock down the seriousness just a tad (like you never doubt how genuinely bereft Kevin Kline is, but you keep a half-smile for his terrible dad jeans). For a movie primarily about loss, you’ll laugh out loud an awful lot.

The first and maybe only misstep I felt was when he arrives in L.A. and meets his love interest, played by Gillian Jacobs. Gillian Jacobs is not really a problem, except that I know her through the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series, Love (in which she co-stars with Paul Rust, the dude who cowrote the new Pee-wee Herman movie). Sean and I watched the whole sea8244bc3f1c65436son even though we detested both leads. Not the actors, per se, but the characters are just awful human beings and it’s hard to forgive the actors for that. So I’m carrying around this chip on my shoulder for Gillian Jacobs and was not super happy to bump into her in this movie. But clever Demetri Martin won me over by writing a love interest for Dean who did not exist solely for his pursuit. She had back story. She had depth. She was a person. This sounds weird, I’ll grant you that, but so often in movies the love interest exists solely to be adored and consumed and nothing else. She has no job or apartment or opinions. Gillian Jacobs had scenes without Demetri Martin. She was independent of his lust. It was refreshing even if it did make me confront my hostility toward the bitch from Love.

Eventually Dean returns to New York, to his widowed (widowered?) father and the ghost of his mother. Demetri Martin lost his own father 20 years ago, so he knows grief, but he didn’t quite know how to approach the father-son relationship between two grown men. If he struggled with the relationship on paper, it doesn’t show on screen. The moments of  quiet reflection between them are some of the film’s most satisfying.

I enjoyed this film very much and it turns out I wasn’t the only one – it won Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca from a jury including Tangerine’s Mya Taylor and funny lady Jennifer Westfeldt, who commented: “We have had the great privilege of seeing ten accomplished and ambitious films over the last seven days here at Tribeca. But we all fell in love with this film. It manages the near impossible task of breathing new life into a well-worn genre, balancing humor and pathos with an incredibly deft touch, and offering a unique perspective on the way we process loss.” Even more excitingly, it was bought! CBS films picked it up, which means this little indie will soon be making its way to a theatre near you.

 

 

 

Tom Hanks & John Oliver at Tribeca

The line to see Tom Hanks and John Oliver in conversation together wrapped well around the venue on Friday night. Sean and I had just seen High-Rise over in Chelsea and had 3374991A00000578-3555220-image-a-136_1461420263964braved a crowded rush-hour subway to get back down to Tribeca and run right past the Ghostbusters building to arrive breathless at the Borough of Manhattan Community College only to be redirected to another entrance that meant dragging my swollen, sprained ankle several more blocks with the remnants of my back surgery burst open and freely bleeding just so that we could stand in line for 40 minutes and then be denied a seat. Denied a seat? But we had tickets in hand – tickets we’d paid for three weeks prior! But us, and the two people in front of us, and the hundred or hundreds behind us (hard to tell) were denied entrance because they’d way, way, way oversold the event and we were shit out of luck. We were also really, really pissed.

We weren’t yet yelling at the security guys because lots of other people were beating us to it. But when someone came out to the velvet ropes to say that one single seat had been found and was there a single person in the crowd, most of us just looked at our partners and shrugged. Except Sean. What Sean did was slap a ticket in my hand and shove me large_large_tom-hanks-2toward the guy with the clipboard. He unclipped the rope and I was being ushered alone up a sad, empty red carpet, the very one we’d just watched John Oliver and Tom Hanks ascend, me still lumping my sore and swollen ankle along. I wasn’t happy to be going in alone and it was only the element of surprise that made me do it. I felt awful that Sean would sit outside with his $50 ticket to nothing, after having driven all the way from another bloody country, while I would be tickled fairly pink. Maybe even almost red. But the guy with the clipboard was so impressed with Sean’s self-sacrifice he basically invented another seat for him and got him in, even though he had to stand. I felt a little guilty because the couple in front of us rightly deserved those seats but hadn’t thought to split up (and actually, we’d already seen a few other singles be plucked from the line behind us) and a little guilty about the dozens and dozens behind us who hadn’t gotten in either, and super mad at the fuckfaces at Tribeca who oversold the event and didn’t tell anyone. But mostly I just felt elation the minute those two men took the stage, and fuck everyone else.

Some highlights of the evening:

-Tom said that without Oliver, our lives would be “void of outrage”

-He then made a reference to the Merv Griffin show so random and outdated that Oliver claimed that the lady holding the “Kiss Me” sign had slowly lowered it.

-Hanks cautioned us against asking “lazy journalistic questions”, basically anything starting with “What was it like…” and claimed that he was often accosted on red carpets

Tribeca Talks Storytellers: Tom Hanks With John Oliver

with “Just one question from Argentina!” and that one question invariably being something incredibly insipid. Oliver agreed that really Argentina should be asking for advice on their desperate economic situation.

-Hanks said that his distaste for social media was because he’d “peaked in the 90s” and Oliver ribbed him about using Twitter as a lost and found (you can Google it- Tom often posts pictures of wallets or lost gloves and tries to reunite them with their owners).

-Hanks and Oliver spar over the American Revolution, and we all find out that Hanks does an atrocious British accent.

-Hanks discusses the first movie he remembers going to the theatre to see – 101 Dalmations – and how it scarred him ever so deeply. Oliver then asks “So how the fuck did you become an actor?”

-Oliver claims E.T. as the first movie he saw in theatres, and his ensuing heartache over Elliott not joining E.T. in the end, which prompts Hanks to ask “How old are you???” (he’s 38).

-Oliver asked what kind of people Hanks prefers to work with, other than them “not being a giant asshole” to which Hanks replied “Sometimes that works.”

-Hanks did an awesome impression of Ron Howard, and confessed to learning about camera angles from Kevin Bacon on the set of Apollo 13. Bacon would suggest Howard use a “BFCU” of KB, which, for those of you not in the know, is a big fucking close up of Kevin Bacon. “God bless Kevin Bacon,” said Hanks.

-To see him do an impression of Robert Zemeckis (director of Forrest Gump, who he calls “Bob”), listen to what he learns from his failures.

-The work Tom’s most proud of? That Thing You Do, which featured his whole family, and was basically one giant love-in to make. He is particularly proud of the scene where the band hears their single on the radio for the first time because – name drop! – Bruce Springstein once told him that he’d experienced it himself exactly like that.

-Hanks told us that the genius of Invictus was that Clint Eastwood never taught us a single thing about rugby.

-The most obscure thing a fan ever yelled at him? “Little boat!” –  a line from the movie Splash which Tom himself had a very hard time placing, and almost had to IMDB himself just to scratch the itch.

-Which of his characters would he most like to have a beer with? Charlie Wilson, hands down.

-On the Disneyfication of characters:

-Hanks said “Movies that celebrate their own nostalgia are a waste of time” and I hope to god he meant Everybody Wants Some!!

-His most exhausting role? Woody, from Toy Story.  “It’s hideous making those movies” he claimed.

Anecdote after anecdote, Tom Hanks proved himself worthy of storyteller status. To those of you who didn’t make it in, I wish I could tell you you didn’t miss much, but the truth is, it was an unforgettable evening.

 

Tribeca Gets it Right by Axing Vaxxed

In 1998, then-doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study that suggested a link between autism and the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine.  Conspiracy theorists have been losing their shit ever since.   Wakefield is no longer a doctor because in conducting and publishing that study, he acted in a dishonest, misleading and irresponsible manner, as determined by the General Medical Council (the UK’s licencing body for doctors).

Despite, or maybe because of, that determination Wakefield has doubled down on his study, and by all rational accounts is now using film to advance his anti-vaccine agenda.  The end result is a “documentary” written, directed and produced by Wakefield alleging that in 2004 the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention had covered up and/or destroyed evidence of a link between autism and vaccinations.

Wakefield’s film was originally on the Tribeca Film Festival’s 2016 schedule.  It was subsequently pulled, raising a whole new set of conspiracy theories.  But there is a far simpler explanation for why the film was pulled: it is not art,  it is propaganda.  Wakefield has a demonstrated bias and a vested interest in advancing one viewpoint, his viewpoint, to the exclusion of all others.  He is using his film for that purpose.  Even worse, his viewpoint is not only demonstrably wrong, it is dangerous.  Death is the inevitable result of its acceptance.

One and a half million children died in 2008 from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccination.   ONE AND A HALF MILLION.  On a brighter note, two to three million deaths are averted each year by vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles.  Wakefield, for the sake of furthering his personal agenda, is advocating for a course of action that if followed to its logical conclusion will cause two to three million more deaths each year.

At least Wakefield was not allowed to use the Tribeca Film Festival as a vehicle to disseminate his dangerous message. One can only hope that the Festival’s rejection of Wakefield’s movie will inspire some critical thought about Wakefield’s dubious motivations and clear conflict of interest.  Because any “trust no one” mantra should apply not just to the government, but also to the disgraced scientist who has a history of dishonest and misleading conduct.

Tribeca: A Hologram for the King

I have been on the Dave Eggers train since A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (it’s exactly that – you should read it) but over the years he’s proven he writes fiction just as well as non, a13722902nd so of course this book was immediately on my nightstand and then devoured into my brain and then shelved politely to await its fate. Little did it, or I, know that just a few years later it would be turned into a movie, prompting Sean to finally give it a read as well (don’t judge him too harshly, he’s mostly literate).

A Hologram for the King tells the story of Alan, a washed-up American businessman in Saudi Arabia trying to make a pitch to the king. This contract will save him from untold embarrassment; back home he has debt everywhere, a resume full of failures, and an oblivious daughter in an expensive college, with tuition due. But the king’s not biting. In fact, the king’s not even around, and this supercity he’s building is languishing in the desert. And poor Alan has nothing better to do, and no choice really, but to sit around and wait.

When Sean was done reading it, I decided to give it a re-read myself, because we both maxresdefaultstruggled to picture Hanks as Alan Clay. Alan is a loser. He’s beaten down by life, but not in Hanks’s usual sad-sack way. He was too pathetic. But Tom Hanks is not only starring, he’s producing, which means he really likes this project, and he knew what he was getting into.

 

Tom Tykwer wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, and he made some disappointing choices (he’s also responsible for both Cloud Atlas and Run Lola Run, so you decide whether the man’s a genius or a sadist). I’m too fond of the source material, and every time the film swerved away from it, I grimaced. And some of those edits were undoubtedly good. I just couldn’t give it a fair shake. Would I have enjoyed the movie more had I not read the book?

Tom Hanks is lovely here. This is maybe not as complex a character as his best work usually involves, and that’s kind of true of the movie as a whole: it’s just a little superficial. He plays an everyman – except Alan is actually supposed to be more of a tragic hero a la Death of a Salesman; this version of Alan feels watered down. And he’s supposed A-Hologram-for-the-King-6-600x422to be a fish out of water – not just the cliched culture clash crap of an American abroad, but of an aging salesman with an old bag of tricks in a newfangled world of young, tech-minded colleagues. The world is shrinking, and moving quickly, and Alan is getting left behind. Movie Alan has more verve than Book Alan, which sounds like a strange thing to complain about, but the truth is, the world already had enough of these Alans. For a movie that could have been refreshingly unHollywood, it sure made some safe choices and went for the audience-friendly ending that smacks of missed opportunity.

Verdict: See it for Hanks, eventually, but you can probably skip the cinema.

Tribeca: Elvis & Nixon

True Story: in December 1970, Elvis’s dad and his wife, Priscilla, were mad that he’d spent $100K on guns and Mercedes-Benzes for Christmas gifts, so he threw a fit worthy of a teenage girl, stormed out, and caught the next plane going anywhere. Anywhere turned out to be Washington. Elvis had a large collection of police badges, but his Moby Dick, the Indelible-Nixon-Elvis-631.jpg__800x600_q85_cropone he coveted the most but could never land was a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (he believed having one would mean he could travel to any country with drugs and guns). Unable to convince the bureau, Elvis being Elvis went over their heads and straight to the top – to President Nixon. He showed up at the White House in a purple velvet suit with a huge gold belt buckle and his trademark gold sunglasses, and a white-house-warming gift—a Colt .45 pistol mounted in a display case, which was of course confiscated at the gate. Elvis got his badge though, and asked that the meeting be kept secret. But once he died, the Archives made a fortune selling the official photo, the most-requested Archive photo in the history of the world.

It’s a pretty fucking crazy story, so of course someone had the bright idea to turn it into a movie.  Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes share writing credits – yes, that Cary Elwes, who thought he might direct the thing, with Eric Bana as Elvis. That version fell elvis-nixon-michael-shannon-kevin-spaceyapart but Michael Shannon was soon onboard, maybe not the most obvious choice to play The King, but he waved his magic wand of executive productionship, and convinced Liza Johnson who’d previously directed him in Return to helm the whole damn thing. With Shannon filling the King’s rhinestoned shoes, it just made sense that Kevin Spacey would slide into the President’s shiny loafers.

Although there’s no official transcript of what happened inside the Oval Office, Johnson somehow captures the moment perfectly, both in tone and within the context of the times. It’s a trifle of a film, its only point to get these two towering and seemingly opposite figures in the room together. But with powerhouses like Spacey and Shannon, that’s more than enough. I took a lot of pleasure from the lack of prosthetics or makeup tricks on hand – neither of these men particularly look like the figures they are playing, Elvis & Nixonand neither lower themselves to impressions. The script even pokes fun at how much taller Shannon is than Elvis. The script is generally pretty breezy, a little satirical, and heaps of fun. The director is quick to point out there aren’t any real jokes in the film, but the absurdist tone earns consistent laughs from the audience.

Let’s be real: Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are legitimately among the most talented working actors today. The film is worth if for their two names above the marquee. The fact that this offers up a bizarre little footnote in American history is just a bonus, and Elvis and Nixon – who is more fascinating or notorious than these two? Spacey and Shannon clearly delight in tackling these roles, and it’s beyond satisfying to watch them engage in a real battle of egos. Within the confines of the Oval Office, Shannon as Elvis has never been a more physical presence on screen, his every movement keeping the president on his toes but always one step behind. Shannon dominates the screen and keeps Nixon chasing after Elvis, and it’s a marvel to watch.

During the Q&A after the screening, director Liza Johnson said she was drawn to the Elvis-Nixon-Movie-Trailer-Billboard-650“tonally eccentric” script and wanted the film to match and “embrace the absurdism of the situation. Michael Shannon, describing Elvis as “mysterious”, relied on interviews with Elvis from right around that time to inform his performance, but the film also benefited from Elvis’s good friend  (played by Alex Pettyfer in the movie) Jerry Schilling and a White House staffer (portrayed in the movie by Colin Hanks) Egil Krogh to give invaluable insight. Johnson said that “Any day working with Michael Shannon is better than a day not working with Michael Shannon” and that Spacey was a natural fit being an equal in acting, and having previously worked  on a Nixon portrayal when he screen-tested for Frost\Nixon.

Bottom line: I enjoyed this very much. There was real spirit, it was a cracking good time, and I found myself making those little smirky-snorty noises, those  half laughs that you make unintentionally when you just can’t believe when you’re seeing. It’s unbelievable, but you’d better believe it.

 

 

Elvis & Nixon will be out in theatres this Friday, April 22nd – 22 years to the day of Nixon’s death.