Monthly Archives: February 2017

Just Like Heaven

Three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo and Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon can’t wait to debase themselves in a romcom.

She plays a comatose woman whose “spirit” haunts the current occupant of her beautiful San Francisco apartment. David’s not really into having a ghost for a roommate, especially not a bossy, judgy one, but the real estate situation in that city must be tough enough that he puts up with it for a surprisingly long time. He doesn’t take it sitting down though Just Like Heaven(well, okay, technically he does – David is especially fond of couches – but he does bring in a variety of spiritual advisers (including Napoleon Dynamite, who wouldn’t be my first choice, and come to think of it, wasn’t his either) but in the end he finds it’s just easier to fall in love with her than to exorcise her, so he does.

The falling in love bit turns out to be convenient for Elizabeth, who was a bustling doctor before her accident and never had time for things like love, or living. So it’s nice to have this last affair as she lays dying. If only we could all be so lucky! Unfortunately her unsuspecting sister has plans to pull the plug, which is basically going to terminate their unconventional relationship, and if David wants to continue to look like a stark raving lunatic (remember, Elizabeth is a ghost and no one else can see her), he’ll have to do some bath salts or something.

Just Like Heaven is cornball to the max and I’d like to write it off completely but the truth is, I watched it in bed while doing the “spark joy” tidy method on my underwear drawer and it turned out to be just the thing. Reese and Ruffalo are a pretty great team and director Mark Waters ensures there are plenty of cherries adorning the sundae. Sure it’s a blatant ripoff that doesn’t want to touch those awkward end-of-life issues with a ten foot pole, but it’s also, you know, adequate.

 

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King Cobra

When I was a kid, Alicia Silverstone was the It Girl. When Sean was a kid, it was Molly Ringwald. King Cobra probably didn’t set out to make us all feel old, but it did cast both Silverstone and Ringwald as the oblivious mothers of gay porn stars.

Cobra is the chat room name of Stephen (Christian Slater), a guy who happens to troll around for very young men, and likes to entice them into gay porn in between steamy, illegal, against-the-wall sessions. That’s exactly how he meets Sean (Garrett Clayton) (porn name: Brent Corrigan) and Brent immediately rockets to fame. The bad news is, Stephen is also a greedy fuck. He pays Brent very little and buys himself a Maserati, and is still surprised when Brent walks. And worse than walks, he flags Stephen to the police. Things get ugly; Stephen may go to prison, but he’s still stopping Sean from performing as Brent.

franco-king-cobraEnter James Franco. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Smelled it from a mile away, probably. Franco plays the has-been half of a porn star duo who work under the name “Viper Boys.” They hope to revive their flagging porn career by incorporating Brent into the mix; there’s only the inconvenient matter of Brent’s name being trademarked by a pedophile.

It turns out pornographers aren’t exactly businessmen on the up and up. King Cobra is alarmingly based on a true story, but be prepared for far more hairless chests than characterization. They’re porn stars, what else do you need to know? It gives Franco ANOTHER chance to do his scary-funny-psychotic thing and yell some pretty incendiary dialogue, but there aren’t many other compelling reasons to watch this movie, unless you’re really, really curious to know what kind of deals porno kings make behind closed doors (hint: it’s messy).

A Little Chaos

Paris, 1682: King Louis XIV wants the gardens of Versailles to equal the beauty and grandeur of his 700-room, 2000-window, 1250-fireplace, 67-staircases palace.

0626littlechaos1-master1050In the film, his master gardener Andre feels the task is too immense (and the King’s ambition too grand, too exact) and he hires help to get it all done. His choice for the architect of an elegant outdoor ballroom stuns all the applicants: it’s a woman, not very well known, not a member of court, Sabine.

Now, if you know me at all, you know all you had to say was Versailles. I would probably get all beheady if my hard-earned tax dollars funded the place, but it’s obscenely, richly, decadently wondrous to look at. But here’s the thing: this is a movie that just keeps on giving. If you aren’t immediately convinced by the setting, here are three names to make you fall down in a faint: Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman, who also directs, gets to wear the crown as King Louis. Tucci gets to play a mere 624duke, but poor Winslet is the one wrecking her nails playing in the dirt. Kate Winslet, as you well know, is born to play such a role. She’s a period piece angel, a garden fairy, her creamy skin made for corsets, her wavy hair’s blonde highlights catching the sun’s warm rays, making her glow, making her attract the attention of the handsome and ill-married master gardener (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Sabine’s character is of course fictitious; women wouldn’t have been allowed to hold “jobs” at that time, even if they were widowed and otherwise poor, as Sabine. But Rickman’s insertion of her into a known piece of history really mixes things up and brings a level of enchantment to the a-little-chaos-film-201-009piece. The gardens are beautiful, but they’re just the setting for a lot of familiar human emotion: love, betrayal, grief, triumph.

A Little Chaos is held up by fabulous performances by a very talented cast. It’s not quite passionate enough as a romance and is completely anachronistic as a historical drama. Nary a poor french peasant is glimpsed. But if you’re willing to let that go, I bet you’re going pulled into this fantasy as I was.

 

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Movies like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back make John Wick: Chapter 2 look like John Wick: Chapter 1.  I really enjoyed the first John Wick for its simplicity, tight action scenes, and original feel.  I criticized John Wick: Chapter 2 for its overly repetitive fight scenes but despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable film.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not enjoyable.  It feels old and tired, a cliché of a cliché.  The only fun I had whijackreacher2-tomcruise-carwindow-gunpointle watching was making fun of all the things that Tom Cruise’s character could never go back to (and there’s a lot because he’s essentially a hobo who seems to piss off everyone he interacts with).

Basically, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the most generic Tom Cruise action film you can imagine.  He runs really fast as always, though here a woman keeps pace with him somehow so she must have had superpowers.  Despite not winning the race, Cruise’s character redeems himself by being smarter than everyone, persisting in the face of slight facial injuries that show us he’s up against impossible odds, and drawing on the legal skills he learned during A reacherFew Good Men to avoid incriminating himself in one particularly Tom-Cruise-y scene (as you may have deduced, while watching this film I decided to treat Tom Cruise’s filmography as if he has literally been playing the same character this whole time, because figuratively he has been doing exactly that for the last 35 years).

I skipped the first Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made me really glad I did.  If only I had been smart enough to skip this one.  If you’re a fan of Mission: Impossible then you may get some minor enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a pale imitation (incidentally, when I saw the trailer I thought it was a new M:I movie so that’s an indication of how generic this movie really is).  Also, if you’ve seen the trailer you have already seen what might be Cruise’s best sequence in the movie.  Basically, there’s no need to buy this cow especially when the free milk being given away isn’t even fresh.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gets a score of 4 unhandleable truths out of ten, because a film this mediocre and generic does not deserve any original wordplay.

Little Men

Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are two 12 year old boys who form a quick friendship when Jake’s family movies into the apartment above Tony’s Mom’s store. It’s a nice friendship for both as Jake, a budding artist, is a bit of an outsider without many friends, and Tony, an aspiring actor, has plenty of soccer buddies but not a lot of fellow artists to relate to. And it just so happens that Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) is an actor himself.

The friendship weathers bullying and other outside forces but takes a hit when the two families conflict. Jake’s dad  Brian has just inherited this apartment when his own father littlemendied – not just the apartment, in fact, but the building, which includes Leonor’s (Tony’s mom) store. Brian’s sister is demanding her fair share, and that means increasing Leonor’s rent, which has languished very generously far below market price for years. She can’t afford to pay the higher rent and insists that Brian’s father wanted her there. Brian is pulled by his sister, who is rightfully wanting her share of the inheritance, and his wife who supports the family herself (what little acting work he gets doesn’t pay much).

The parents force this tension onto their children, trying to keep them apart, forbidding them to set foot in each other’s homes. It’s an awkward situation and one of the reasons why this film is titled Little Men: these two 12-year-olds are dealing with pretty mature issues, which is why it’s so sad and frustrating when they’re unable to be each other’s support system. It’s further heart breaking because Tony, having an absent father, was rather leaning on Brian for some fatherly advice. Jake will perhaps recover more quickly, having two loving parents, but what of Tony? It’s a question that doesn’t quite get answered but I think is worth asking.

Little Men is an interesting reminder of how economic power can poison relationships. The grown ups each believe themselves to be not just right, but righteous. Their strained politeness turns cold, then hostile. It’s a cloud that casts a dark shadow over the friendship of their sons, and that friendship is willingly sacrificed by the adults. But those adults are kept at a remove; director Ira Sachs doesn’t judge them much, he’s more interested in what the boys are going through. Their experience is somehow discounted because they are young. We, the cynical audience, watch the parents declare that they’d do anything for their kids while in reality, they flush a genuine relationship down the toilet over money and real estate.

Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

My favourite thing about sitting down to watch a short film is having no idea what to expect. I rarely watch a feature film without having seen a trailer or at least having read something about it. When I watch a collection of shorts, I am pretty much ready for anything.

 

mindenki_behindthecurtainMindenki (Sing). Everyone who wants to is welcome to sing in choir, promises the principal at Zsófi’s new school. The truth, she will soon discover, is more complicated. Zsófi is an enthusiastic student until her spirit is crushed when Miss Erika, who thinks they may have a real shot at the championship this year, takes her aside and asks her to stop singing out loud.

Mindenki has a lot going on in just 25 minutes. Watching a 10 or 11 year-old being told by her favourite teacher that she simply isn’t good enough and that she should just “mouth the words” while the others sing is pretty much as heartbreaking as it sounds. It says a lot about the ways some students can get left behind and the ways that a careless teacher can demoralize a child and stifle creativity.

silent-nightsLikeable actors, terrific editing, and a timely story go a long way in elevating the imperfect but nonetheless effective Silent Nights. Mostly a love story set against the backdrop of the immigration and refugee controversy in Western Europe, Silent Nights follows a brief affair between a Danish girl volunteering in a shelter and a homeless man from Ghana.

Silent Nights packs a lot of story into 30 minutes and it features a much clearer beginning, middle, and end than I’m used to seeing in short films. It’s actually structured like a min feature film complete with subplots that lead nowhere. The script is ocassionally a little too sentimental but it earns big points for introducing us to two complex characters that we can care about.

 

With just 15 minutes, Timecode is the shortest of the five nominated shorts. It’s also potentially the most confusing. Luna is a parking lot attendant who discovers that her colleague Diego has left a surpritimecodese for her. He has danced his heart out in front of the security cameras for her amusement. I have to admit though that it took me awhile to recognize it as dancing. I thought at first that he was fighting off an invisible assailant. So begins their unusual shift exchange ritual.

Timecode has already picked up several awards including the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and more importantly Best International Shortfilm at the Whistler Film Festival so its got a serious shot at the Oscar. It’s cute, well-made (even if not always well-danced but hey we forgave La La Land), and is probably the least pretentious of the five nominees. I just simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the others.

 


Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within)
is the more disciplined of the two Europeans Can Be Racist shorts (see Silent Nights above). Enemies Within is mostly just two people in a room talking but holy shit is itennemis-interieurs3 tense. A citizenship interview slowly morphs into a full-on national security interrogation.

Ennemis Interieurs can sort of feel like just a really good scene from the glory days of Homeland but the acting and directing are superb and it says a lot in a short time about institutional racism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

 


La Femme et le TGV
is my favourite of the five. And not just because it has trains. An aging woman discovers that her daily ritual of waving at passing trains hasn’t gotten unnoticed or unappreciated. The train’s conductor decides to write her a thank you note and their pen palling reignites her passion for litgvfe.

I’ve read one reviewer accuse La Femme et le TGV of stealing its tone from Amelie. While I agree that Amelie would give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect, I would argue that my favourite live-action short of 2016 takes some of what worked best from Amelie to deliver something funny, touching, and lovely.

Rules Don’t Apply

I feel like I heard about this movie such a long time ago – Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic. Beatty’s return to acting in, what?, 15 years? His first directorial effort since Bulworth, which was 1998 if my memory of the great soundtrack song serves.

Lily Collins plays Marla, the Apple Blossom Queen, who is under contract with Howard Hughes, an elusive man she has yet to meet despite the fact that she’s been living and rulesdontapply-collins-ehrenreich-car-700x300earning a stipend in Los Angeles for several weeks. Her devout mother (Annette Bening) has already returned home in frustration, so now it’s just Marla and Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), her devoted, reliable driver, who hasn’t met Hughes yet either. His only job, besides driving her around, is not to fall in love with her. That’s kind of tricky even though he’s practically married and she’s a prim virgin. But when a man tells you your beauty and uniqueness means “rules don’t apply to you” – well, crap, it’s the kind of think that dampens the panties.

When Howard Hughes (Beatty) finally does make an appearance in their lives, he’s a larger than life figure of course, and on the bring of insanity (though close enough to the one side that he’s paranoid as heck about seeming crazy). He’s obsessively keeping out of rules_dont_apply_h_2016the public eye while skulking about in the dark. He doesn’t have as much use for these two young protagonists as they have for him, but it makes for an interesting dynamic.

The movie is only funny, or romantic, in fits and starts. Tonally it seems to be a little wayward. I found it interesting nonetheless. Beatty has chosen to show only a small window of Hughes’ life, not his best years by any stretch. He also relegates him to a supporting character in the film, with Frank and Marla providing life and context to Hughes’ sad descent. Perhaps more than a biography of Howard Hughes’ life, this is a tribute to the earliest days of Beatty’s career, when he was a young, ambitious actor just getting his footing in L.A. And with a supporting cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Ed Harris, Steve Coogan, Oliver Platt and Paul Sorvino, there’s just too much talent to ignore. Beatty is good; Collins is even better.