Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Angry Birds Movie

A movie based on an app? Stupidest. Thing. Ever.

Now that we got that out of the way, this movie is better than I imagined possible, having known nothing about the movie or the app. Before seeing this movie, I thought – should I download the app? Might there be some crucial plot point that I need to grasp going in? But then I thought, nay, realized  – nah.

Here’s what I have discovered: three friends live among a flock of super happy birds. But they’re not happy. They’re angry. They met at anger management. Angry-Birds-Movie-750x422Red (Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), and Bomb (Danny McBride) only get angrier when a ship of green pigs sails out of nowhere (“But there’s no other place besides here!”) and start encouraging them to adopt pig ways. They introduce things like trampolines, slingshots, and helium gas, and I thought – these are the dumbest gifts. Birds don’t need to be hurled about, they already fly!

Then I thought – Oh. Wait. I haven’t seen a single bird fly and we’re 30 minutes into this thing. Are these birds flightless? And then Red, Chuck, and Bomb hiked up a mountain and that confirmed it, yup, flightless (“Ugh, my calves are killing me.”). So they hike up a mountain in order to find Mighty Eagle who might help out with the pig problem because Red does NOT trust the pigs, not one rasher (“Something about those pigs isn’t kosher”).

Anyway. My hat’s off to the screenwriter who pulled this movie entirely out of his ass. It’s easier to make a story out of nothing than it is to make one out of weird, specific prompts: angry birds, pigs, slingshots – Go! And yet here we have it, and it only took 4 grown men to come up with it: John Cohen, Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla, and Jon Vitti. That said, it’s flimsy. It’s better than a movie based on an app should be, because it’s still a stupid concept (confidential to the jerks who want to turn Fruit Ninja into a movie: STUPID CONCEPT!). But it’s a better cartoon than Norm of the North. And Kungfu Panda 3. And Hotel Transylvania 2. And yet worse than the trailer to Finding Dory. Yeah, I said it. It can’t even compete with a Pixar trailer. So what kind of endorsement is this? It’s not much of one, that’s what.

But will kids like it?  I mean, some kids weren’t even born when the app cameuntitled.png out in 2009, and hopefully most kids aren’t already carrying smartphones in their pockets. I know it had a hard time keeping my attention, and I have the attention span of a 3 year old (so: no). But it’s energetic and filled with primary colours, which might impress the 4-year olds but is beneath the 8 year olds. And it’s got some great one-liners that even I could appreciate, and a few sight gags that made not completely resent the film. It’s rated PG for “rude humor and action” and yes, there’s some rude humour. How do you feel about pelvic thrusts combined with sexual innuendo (I know, I know – is there any other kind). But what stopped me in my tracks was that one bird says “Shut up.” Shut up was a VERY bad word in my house, growing up. VERY bad. Awful. Huge trouble. Then again, so was vagina, so that shit’s messed up (is this just me? What was off-limits in your house?).

So yeah. It’s vaguely entertaining. Pretty hollow. Filled with Sean Penn’s grunts. Awkward theme to explain to your kids. And the hallmark of a sub-par animated film: the characters dance to an out-of-date pop song. I’m waving the caution flag, folks.


The Do-Over

I contemplated going with a one-word review here: sophomoric. Sophomoronic. It’s another piece of shit put together too-quickly by Adam Sandler and friends as part of his Netflix package deal where they gave him millions and he gave them movies he seems to invent as he goes in about 3 days flat. Although I doubt this one’s as bad as as his previous abortion, The Ridiculous Six, it’s also not much better. These are way below the bar of Adam’s regular movies, so you know it’s a low, low standard of fare being offered here. Low. Super low.

Like here’s Adam Sandler’s last theatre-released movie, Pixels. Pretty shit movie actually, but not the worst thing ever made.

And lower than that: a romance that makes you barf in your mouth it’s so damned cheesy and stereotypical.

And underneath that: movies where people are battling sharks, or sharks are battling nature, or nature is battling some other super scary sea creature.

Even lower: films where foreign characters are played with racist enthusiasm by white people.

Even lower: movies starring Johnny Depp made this century.

Lower: super hero movies ruined by Josh Trank.

Lower still: found-footage films made by 8th graders.

And then: the footage from any 3 random colonoscopies.

Finally: Adam Sandler’s Netflix movies.

So there. You’ve been warned. But instead of just telling you to stay away, I’m going to fulfill some of my community service obligations by giving you a short list of stuff that’s way more worthy, and available on Netflix right now.

Requiem For The American Dream: Four years worth of discourse with Noam Chomsky on the defining characteristic of our time – the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few.

Autism In Love: A documentary that follows the love-lives of 4 people, complicated (and sometimes not) by their autism.
Dope: Life changes for Malcolm, a musically-inclined geek who’s surviving life in a tough neighborhood, after a chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a scary Los Angeles adventure.
A Single Man: An English professor is barely coping with life a year after the sudden loss of his boyfriend. Colin Firth at his melancholic best.
Eagle vs Shark: New Zealand’s sense of humour is among the best, and Taika Waititi is one of my favourite film makers. This one is astoundingly funny, about a woman who falls in love with a loser.
Short Term 12: Brie Larson before the Oscar, but just as Oscar-worthy, about a young woman who works in a group home. Tough fucking job.
Force Majeure: A real conversation piece. When a family on a ski vacation suffers a near-death experience and the father doesn’t quite live up to expectations, everyone’s disillusioned.
Two Days One Night: Marion Cotillard has not very long (guess HOW long!) to try to save her job before it throws her family into a desperate situation.
Philomena: Brilliantly acted by both Steve Coogan and Judi Dench, an elderly woman tries to locate the baby she gave up to adoption many years ago.
The Boxtrolls: Lovely stop-motion animation. A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.
Fruitvale Station: Cops killing black people for no damn reason. Deeply emotional. Michael B. Jordon establishes himself as a star.
Beginners:A youngish man (Ewan McGregor) is shocked by two announcements from his elderly father (Christopher Plummer): that he has terminal cancer, and that he’s gay.
Amelie: You’ve probably already seen it, and should probably see it again. Total whimsy. Amelie is an innocent who decides to help those around her and, even if she herself may need help too.
Boy: Another one by Taika Waititi because I couldn’t resisit and really, why should I? Boy is an 11 year old Michael Jackson fan who gets to know his criminal father when he returns home to retrieve buried treasure.
The Queen of Versailles: One of my favourite documentaries about the 1% – specifically a couple trying to build the biggest single-family home ever but then the recession hits and things get awkward.
What are your favourite Netflix recommendations? Feel free to leave relevant links in the comments! Let’s work together, film community, to make sure nobody has to sit through this movie. We can do it!
Some other great recommendations:
Europa Report
New on Netflix: Grandma, and Infinitely Polar Bear


This German film by writer-director Piotr Lewandowski is beautifully shot with lush cinematography; you won’t believe it’s his first feature.

The theme is surprisingly mature as well. Jonathan (Jannis Niewöhner) is stuck at home working on the farm and caring for his dying father (Andre Hennicke). The relationship is jonathan-filmstrained. There are whiffs of resentment. Luckily Jonathan has his father’s beautiful young nurse (Julia Koschitz) to distract him, but as the film lurches shakily through its middle third, Jonathan realizes that time is running out for his father and if the family secrets are to be unlocked, it’s now or never.

This movie is slow, sometimes maddeningly so. And the men in question are fairly reticent, so there’s a lot of sun-dappled quiet reflection, and a few close-up shots of bugs for good measure. The visual richness can contrast nicely against the jagged and raw emotions. These are the best of times and worst of times for young Jonathan. He’s discovering himself while losing his father. His sexual energy burns up his grief. The camera lingers on his angular body. This is the sexiest movie about terminal cancer you’re ever likely to see.

Secrets are poisonous, and they leave a large wake of destruction. Cancer is perhaps not the most devastating thing to happen to Jonathan’s family. And despite him being the titular character, this story is not Jonathan’s alone. He and his father both have truths to tell – if only they can find the words, and the courage.



X-Men: Apocalypse

When I first saw X-Men: First Class in the theater, I was frustrated by Hugh Jackman’s cameo as Wolverine. “That’s so stupid,” I told my friends. “How can he show up in the 60s and look the same  as he does in the present?”.

Okay, so clearly I don’t know much about the X-Men universe. But I have since seen all the movies and tend to enjoy them. After Days of Future Past, which I thought was the strongest entry in the series by far, I had pretty high hopes for Apocalypse.

Nine films in a series can start to blend into one so I can’t always remember what happened in which but I am pretty sure that Apocalypse is my submission for the worst- certainly most boring- X-Men movie so far. What could have gone wrong since Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise two summers ago?

I can’t help feeling that Wolverine is the most important element of Future Past that is missing from Apocalypse. Sure, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is one of the best performances that I can think of in any comic book character ever but that’s not even what I’m missing. Future Past was told mostly from the perspective of Wolverine so we were introduced (or, in many cases, reintroduced) to most characters as they became relevant to Wolverine’s mission.

Like Days of Future Past, Apocalypse has A LOT of characters. Even by superhero movie standards. But without picking a single character’s perspective to focus on, it jumps around a lot. In fact, it probably spends a good half hour on each character’s separate introduction. Like Batman v. Superman, Apocalypse has a habit of cutting away to an unrelated scene just when it’s feeling like it’s starting to get good.

X-Men: Apocalypse is disappointing but does manage to benefit from both the past and future films in the series. Professor X and Magneto, both in their respective story arcs and in their relationship with each other, coast on their strong starts in their last two films and continue to captivate thanks to strong performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Everyone else is fine- even good- but these two are clear standouts in a crowded cast where you need to be great to even be noticed.

Having so many new characters necessitate a lot of scenes that feel more like obligatory preamble than part of the story. But just as the returning characters benefit from the smart choices made in previous installments, the new characters (Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Jean Gray) benefit from the promise of better movies in the future. They’re well-cast and likeable, giving hope that they’ll be better utilized next time.

Hello, My Name is Frank

Laura’s Mom just died and before her death, she promised her mother that she’d definitely DEFINITELY not miss the road trip with her friends the summer before college. There’s just one little hitch: Frank.

Laura’s mother was Frank’s caregiver. Frank has Tourette’s. Some might say severe Tourette’s, both physical and verbal. He’s also reclusive and withdrawn in his spare time. As you 563769162_640can imagine, replacing Frank’s caregiver proves to be a Challenge with a capital C. Super awkward solution: bring foul-mouthed, 59 year old Frank on a road trip with a trio of recent high school grads. It’s the perfect plan to allow Laura to continue to suppress her grief, undermine Frank’s independence, and completely ruin what was supposed to be a fun and carefree vacation. Everyone’s thrilled.

Garrett M. Brown is Frank, and he manages to do that rare thing where he reflects the humour in the situation without disrespecting the disease or the person who has it. Frank is a very real person and we constantly see beyond his disease until we eventually don’t see it at all.

The movie has the support of the Tourette Association of America who stated “We are proud to support projects such as Hello, My Name Is Frank. This film portrays Frank as an authentic, relatable character and helps the audience see the human being behind the Tourette.” That’s a pretty important endorsement but you and I both know that any movie, no matter how noble, must also be watchable. Does this one pass the test? This Asshole says yes. It’s an indie film with frankshot-gilrs-grave-helmet800blockbuster-caliber acting. Brown deserves props but the young actresses (Rachel DiPillo, Hayley Kiyoko, Mary Kate Wiles) surprisingly don’t suck. Does that sound cynical? Well, I am. So when I come across fresh talent that actually IS talent, I’m chuffed. First-time feature director Dale Peterson is a little heavy-handed at times but otherwise keeps the actors’ chemistry in focus and lets the movie do its thing. And for a little icing on this cupcake of a film: the soundtrack is solid. Really solid.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

The body’s not even cold before Doris’s brother is talking about selling their dead mother’s house, which means Doris is about to be homeless, and even worse, divulge an embarrassing secret: it wasn’t Mom who was the hoarder.

And while we’re on the topic of embarrassing subjects: Doris is nursing a secret workplace crush on a younger man. A much, much younger man. And boy do her fantasies get away on her!

hello-my-name-is-doris-cinema-siren-1024x682.jpgShe takes a little dating advice from a millennial and suddenly she’s adopted by a whole crowd of hipsters who fail to recognize that her “retro chic” look isn’t exactly ironic.

Sally Field plays Doris and it’s a BRILLIANT comedic role. But because it’s Sally Field it’s so much more than that. In any other hands, Doris may have appeared clownish but Field injects the character with kind if flawed humanity. Max Greenfield and Tyne Daly add excellence to the mix, but that’s already 10 words not talking about how utterly wonderful Sally Field is. She embraces and embodies the late-blooming Doris, deftly managing some awkward shifts between drama and comedy, painting the character with shades of tragic hero, coming-of-(old)age, endearing quirk, eccentric wallflower, emboldened risk-taker, sympathetic neurotic: a woman tired of being laughed at who starts laughing along with them and wins. It is a complete joy to watch her on-kissscreen, from the very first minute to the last.

The movie unpacks a lot of issues – ageism, desire, resentment, mental illness – and to its credit, it doesn’t attempt to fit them back neatly into a box. The ending is bravely open-ended. But it also suffers from perhaps taking on more than the writers really understood what to do with (Michael Showalter directs and shares writing credit with Laura Terruso). But any bumps along the way are filled in with Field’s gloss. She makes this movie glow. And watching her do an eletro-pop jitterbug is hands down the best thing I’ve seen at the movies all year. Keep an eye out for this one; it’s in select theatres now.

Suicide Kale

Moral dilemma: one couple hosts another for a pleasant, mostly-vegan dinner party, and a little light snooping on the part of the guests turns up a suicide note.

What to do, what to do? Obviously the visitors, Penn (Lindsay Hicks) and Jasmine (Brittani Nichols), themselves a newish couple, are concerned for their friends, who up until now have been role models for a happy relationship. But you can’t be blunt about a note you just stumbled upon, can you?

BillieAndJasmineThe brilliance of this film is that it makes you question what you would do, and it challenges our notions of propriety.

The quality’s a little wonky. It doesn’t quite have the production values you might hope for, and during the dinner scene the camera jitters around so much I had to look away to settle my stomach. Luckily, the conversation is jaunty and captivating enough to conquer some of the flaws. It flows authentically, and you’ll feel like they should have set a 5th place setting for you, the guest who definitely would have went for some wine.

The trick is that there’s a subtext that we’re aware of but not everyone at the table is. PennJordan and Jasmine know a dark secret and are steering things to play sleuth. Billie (Jasika Nicole) and Jordan (Brianna Baker) know that something’s up but the note is the furthest thing from their minds. They’re just trying to navigate this incredibly uncomfortable encounter – and we’ve got front row seats!

So it’s noticeably an indie, but it’s also smartly written and well-acted and I’m very glad I gave it a chance because it’s quite endearing, and an interesting little slice of life.


This review first appeared on Cinema Axis as part of the Inside Out film festival coverage, a festival dedicated to showing LGBT movies.