Monthly Archives: March 2017

SXSW: Prevenge

Alice Lowe has stumbled upon a new kind of body horror: that of a heavily pregnant woman. Ruth is on a murder spree, guided by the wee voice in her womb who just happens to be a misanthropic areshole. The little voice chimes in, pointing out the bad people, or the disappointing people, or the less than desirable people, and encouraging mom to kill, kill, kill. Apparently there’s blood lust in umbilical cords these days!

Alice Lowe is my hero. She wrote (and starred in) Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, appeared in Adult MV5BN2EzNTdlOGEtNWViZC00MmE5LWFiNzgtOTIzODNlMjBjM2M2L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1399,1000_AL_Life Skills and Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, and lent her voice to Locke, among a flurry of other activity, including fucking. That’s crude, but the end result is that she found herself pregnant, and instead of taking maternity leave like a sane person, she wrote and directed herself, at 7.5 months pregnant, in this film about a homicidal fetus. And it’s her first feature as director!

Ryan Reynolds became murderous when his cat Mr. Whiskers told him to, but Alice Lowe has done him one better. Prevenge is blackly comic and wryly British, if I may say so. Ruth’s unborn baby seems to be holding the world accountable for her absent father, slyly suggesting to her mother that certain someones might be deserving of a gory end. Ruth seems to indulge baby’s every whim but does struggle with her conscience. Is this a new kind of pre-partum, um, madness? And what the heck is going to happen when the baby comes out? Yikes!

Shudder, “Home of Horror” hosted a screening in NYC where all pregnant women were admitted free. I suppose those who weren’t superstitious attended, and hopefully saw the humour in a pregnant lady killing for two. If that’s something you might be into, the good word is that Prevenge is streaming on Shudder right this very minute. 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

SXSW: Dara Ju

Seyi has a good life: he’s handsome, Harvard-educated, has a great job on Wall Street, and a budding new relationship. You might assume that this Nigerian immigrant is living the American Dream, but things are actually much more complicated than that. His family places heavy demands on his time, his money, his emotional well-being. His mother guilts him with “Family sticks together” while holding her hand out. So he lies about his family to his new girlfriend, who suspects something’s up and doesn’t appreciate his reticence. Wall Street comes with enormous pressure to achieve, and snorting drugs turns out to not be enough in terms of keeping up, so Seyi eyes up some more nefarious options. And then there’s, you know, racism in the air, because it doesn’t pass you by just because you wear a fancy suit to work. Safe to say his plate’s heaped really high and nothing is turning out the way he thought. Ooof.

MV5BYWUxZGVkYTgtNWUxNi00Y2ZjLTk2NDctYTYwN2RmYTczNjdkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDY5NzA2Ng@@._V1_Aml Ameen is enormously good as Seyi. Not all of the cast is as strong as this, but I also really enjoyed Michael Hyatt, who plays his mother. There is dysfunction, drama, and heartbreak between the two and I could have watched a whole movie just about their dynamic. In fact, this movie would be improved had it narrowed its focus just a little. Seyi’s burdens are great but they result in a lot of sub-plots that aren’t well-served in a 90 minute run time. That said, I can’t believe this is writer-director Anthony Onah’s first feature film. He’s already got a polished style that belies a lot of talent. Onah is also a Nigerian-born Harvard grad, so his script is informed if a little busy.

Onah explained that Dara Ju means “Better”, and is meant as a nod to the immigrant’s aspirations. Certainly this dichotomy between ambition and obligation is what’s most interesting about Dara Ju. As much as Seyi embraces his American life, his family will always tie him back to the homeland. This is a fascinating look at the immigrant experience and it’s a bold first work from a soon to be famous director.

Ghost in the Shell

ghost-in-the-shell-scarlett-johansson.jpgFor a movie whose very title references souls and finding meaning within glossy shells, Ghost in the Shell is unbearably hollow.  The packaging is nice but there is nothing underneath. At all.  It will leave you with a number of questions but none of them will be existential.

The first question is how uncomfortable should you be that in what I’m guessing is future Japan (judging from the robot geishas and the right-hand drive cars), basically everyone is white and speaks English. The answer, as always with Hollywood, is VERY.

The next question is how much are you allowed to take inspiration from classic sci-fi (and also shitty sci-fi) before you’re ripping people off. The answer is NOT THIS MUCH OBVIOUSLY YOU LAZY BASTARDS. Ghost in the Shell drops us into a grimy, dark, rainy future full of 3D billboards. To describe it as drawing from Blade Runner is too generous. There are elements of other fictional futures as well, like the Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, and even Tron (lightcycles!). While this movie looks great at every turn, the total lack of originality left me cold.

Next question: does it count as good acting when Scarlett Johansson convincingly plays a Ghost_in_the_Shell_Scarlett_Johansson_2_aeac805303d6c795b51ea920f763a012.pngbeautiful but emotionless robot? As always, the answer is DEFINITELY YES AS LONG AS SHE RSVPS from the Hollywood Foreign Press and PROBABLY SINCE WE NOMINATED ENOUGH BLACK PEOPLE LAST YEAR WE HAVE A 5TH SLOT FOR A WHITE IN 2018 from the Academy.

Bonus question: does it count as nudity when a nipple-less female robot fights while basically naked? That’s a tough one but after much thought, the answer is SHOWING NIPPLES MAY AT LEAST HAVE DISTRACTED THE AUDIENCE SO THEY DIDN’T WONDER WHY THE ROBOT THAT CAN TURN INVISIBLE DOESN’T JUST STAY INVISIBLE ALL THE TIME DURING FIGHTS.

Obviously, lots of questions were raised by Ghost in the Shell, but none of them engage in anything interesting. Instead of the mundane, the film could have delved into questions like what are the attributes that make us human, whether memory is vital to identity, or why are we as a society unable to ascribe value to function in the same way we do to beauty.  Elements of those interesting questions are present in Ghost in the Shell but the film seems incapable of dealing with them. That is Ghost in the Shell’s biggest failing and the reason it gets a score of four glitches in the Matrix out of ten.

 

SXSW: Paris Can Wait

paris-can-wait-F72057.jpgI’ve been to France twice and would go back in a heartbeat if we got the chance.  It’s a beautiful country with so much history, and their climate is warm enough that their spring feels like summer to Canadian visitors like us.   And above all else, the food in France is wonderful – the French do gourmet dining as well or better than anyone else in the world.  Eleanor Coppola seems to have similar feelings in France but instead of wistfully looking at pictures of Paris (which is what I’m doing right now), she got to work and made her own chance to spend time there, by writing and directing Paris Can Wait.

One thing that is readily apparent is Coppola’s background in documentaries (most if not all of which have chronicled her family members’ films).  She captures some beautiful shots of the French countryside and intersperses some well-shot photographs into the movie (courtesy of Lane’s character’s convenient hobby).  The photos were a good way to show off the food, and Paris Can Wait features so much delicious-looking food.

I can’t fault Coppola for taking the opportunity to sightsee in France on other people’s money, and tagging along on the journey was enjoyable even though there is nothing particularly memorable about it.  Diane Lane plays the same role she always does as the hopeful and optimistic woman who is taking stock of her life, Alec Baldwin appears for about five minutes total as Lane’s husband before jetting off and leaving Lane with his business partner (played by Arnaud Viard), and that basically takes care of all the speaking parts in this movie.

Paris Can Wait is simple and straightforward with no surprises.  You get exactly what you’d expect, which may or may not be a good thing.  I think you will enjoy this movie if: (a) you like traditional by-the-numbers rom-coms; (b) you are a member of Diane Lane’s fan club; or (c) you wish you were in France eating gourmet meals that cost 800 Euro and up.

If you’re not in that last category yet then get there!  My advice?  Instead of reading about romantic comedies, take a date and your chequebook to a Michelin-starred restaurant immediately (preferably one that brings individual carts to your table for the cheese and dessert courses, like we were treated to at Guy Savoy).  And then post your food porn pictures in the comments (bonus points for pictures of the carts in all their glory)!

 

SXSW: The Disaster Artist

Before we talk about this movie, we have to talk about another: The Room. Not Room, the Brie Larson kidnap drama, but The Room, the worst movie ever made. Even better: the BEST bad tumblr_megxu99K4x1ry10fwo1_500movie ever made, the Citizen Kane of bad movies, a movie so bad it’s achieved cult status. Tommy Wiseau was obsessed with movies and had enough cash to get one made, so he did. And he did it with such earnestness and such a complete lack of talent that people love to watch it. Ottawa’s own Mayfair Theatre, one of Canada’s oldest surviving independent movie houses, an official heritage building in our fair city, champion of 35mm film, screener of indies and classics, has been showing it for 92 consecutive months now. Each midnight screening is a riot; this cult film draws fans that know the drill. Matt wrote a great review of it a while back, almost nothing about the movie itself, which defies reviewing, but about the experience of seeing, the rituals that go along with it, the things you yell at the screen, hell, the things you chuck at the screen, it’s all a wild ball of fun.

Greg Sestero, co-star in The Room and Tommy Wiseau BFF wrote a book about making this weird movie with its even weirder director. It’s called The Disaster Artist. Ever a sucker for a great Hollywood story, James Franco read this book one day and immediately got a boner. He brought the script to Seth Rogen on the set of their ill-fated movie The Interview, and the rest is history. Well, future history. I saw the one and only screening of The Disaster Artist at SXSW where it was still billed as a “work in progress.” Tommy Wiseau was in the house, and also seeing it for the first time. Big gulp.

Two things struck me about The Disaster Artist: 1. This film was made with love. It could easily mock The Room, as many have, but it doesn’t. This is a loving ode to The Room, and to the friendship that gave birth to it. 2. This film is fucking hilarious.

Even having never seen The Room, The Disaster Artist is still accessible and relevant. Tommy Wiseau is a goddamned character and James Franco is just the man to play him (although Wiseau pushed for Johnny Depp). Franco got into the part so deeply that he directed while in character too. He was in deep enough to fool Seth Rogen’s grandmother when she visited the set, and in more than deep enough to constantly annoy his little brother “Davey” who co-stars MV5BMjA4ZDZkNjEtNTFkZi00YjhjLWFjZTctNDZlOWVmYzZmZjhhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2Mzg4MA@@._V1_with him.  James and Seth debuted Sausage Party at SXSW last year, and for me it was a disappointment. The Disaster Artist, however, gave me continuous giggles. They’ve amassed an impressive cast, some with just bitty walk-on parts, which only proves the love Hollywood has for underdog Tommy Wiseau. Or perhaps for James “I’ll try anything once” Franco. Or maybe James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. In any case, I laughed until I cried, and then I slammed some Diet Pepsi just so I could cry-laugh some more. And I did! This movie will make you rabid for The Room but it stands on its own, a complete movie that probably benefits from NOT being written by Franco or Rogen. It’s an affectionate behind the scenes look at Hollywood gone wrong, but it’s also a kind of heart-warming tale about outsiders who can’t break in so they plow their own field, and even if it’s bad, at least they have potatoes. Know what I’m saying? Oh, hi Mark.

 

 

 

p.s. Check out the comments section for a delightful Q&A with James, Dave & Seth.

SXSW: Lemon

At some point we started to wonder if South By SouthWest wasn’t a little incestuous. Yesterday I wrote about a movie called Win It All, which was directed by Joe Swanberg, who has a bit of a creative flirtation going with Jake Johnson. Joe Swanberg also happens to write for the Netflix series Easy. Meanwhile, the writers and director of Lemon also make appearances on another Netflix series, Love. Is Netflix the meeting ground for mumblecore indie spirits?

Anyway. Lemon was written by husband-wife team Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman. Gelman has the unenviable task of starring in a film that was called Lemon because Isaac, the lead character, is a complete dud. If he was a car, you’d return him directly to the lot and tear your hair out while screaming at the manager. If you’re his girlfriend of a decade, well, you start creating distance, and then you cut and run. That’s what Ramona (Judy Greer) does; she’s only stayed as long as she has because she’s blind, and while her sight hasn’t improved, her self respect has.

The film feels like it has chapters to it. In the first chapter, we see Isaac at work.  He’s a theatre lemon-movie-sundanceteacher, where he over-praises one student, Alex,(Michael Cera) while simultaneously ripping apart another (Gillian Jacobs). Whether he identifies with Alex or is simply jealous of him I can’t divine, but we know that Isaac’s own acting career is in the toilet, almost literally (just about the only thing he’s up for is an incontinence ad). But bonus: Michael Cera, inexplicably bad hair and all, does earn some serious laughs as a super pretentious thespian who’s always “doing some animal work” or some other crazy-obnoxious thing.

The second chapter shows him among his immediate family, which is rife with drama. He’s practically the normal one there, navigating rough waters between his siblings (Martin Starr is his brother) and half-heartedly joining in when his mother (Rhea Perlman) decides it’s sing-along time (a rousing chorus of “A Million Matzoh Balls” is as memorable as it is ridiculous). This is the weirdest family dinner I’ve ever witnessed and was uncomfortably effective at making me feel vicariously bad about myself.

The third chapter focuses more on his post-break-up love life. Despite being a complete loser, he seems to have attracted the attention (or at least the pity) of the beautiful Cleo (Nia Long), whose family is nothing like his. The film makers admitted that the two families represent their own in-law struggles, though I can’t imagine having the courage to put that kind of dirty laundry up on a big screen.

Do you delight in the suffering of others? Isaac is not a redeeming character. He’s thoroughly unlikeable. But the movie itself is almost aggressively odd, from the very first shot. What kind of enjoyment can you derive from schadenfreude? And are you in the mood for something obsessively quirky, something unapologetically, erm, esoteric? These are the questions you must ask yourself before settling in to Lemon.

 

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Poor Ruth. Life is rough. A mean old client just died on her while she was in the room. Her house was broken into, her grandmother’s silver stolen. And her neighbour’s dog keeps shitting on her lawn! Somewhere in there was her breaking point.

MV5BMTQ4NjIyNzY2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY4NDE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1571,1000_AL_So she can be forgiven for recruiting a weirdo neighbour who has “ninja sticks” to “ride with her” on a mission to retrieve some of her stolen stuff. How empowering! Now Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is unleashed and creepy neighbour guy (Elijah Wood), well, he was always a little unhinged.

But wait: this movie is written and directed by Macon Blair, the actor who so unsettled me in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room. I can’t help but suspect something a little more sinister from a man of that pedigree. And true to his spirit there will be some interesting elder abuse, some more out-of-toilet pooping, a really great church singalong, projectile vomiting, and some very unnecessary rat tails.

Now, it’s nearly always entertaining when lay people decide to take justice into their own hands. And it’s nearly always a bad idea. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so tempted if movie cops weren’t always so inept, so unwilling or unable to do their jobs. As you may have guessed, Ruth is not having ANY OF THAT.

Melanie Lynskey is a pretty underrated actress. Watching her go from meek to badass in this role is a whole lot of fun. Recently she was at SXSW and sat in conversation with her Sadie director, Megan Griffiths. She talked about sustaining her stellar indie career with a profitable recurring role on Two And A Half Men, and relying on her gut when choosing roles: “I learned that I operate very much from instinct. It has to come from somewhere that’s very truthful inside of me…” If this role comes from a truthful place inside her, well by god, this necessitates a whole other conversation!

 

 

SXSW: Win It All

Eddie’s friend asks him to babysit a duffel bag for him, while he’s in prison. He’s not to touch it, not to open it. Just house it for the duration of the prison sentence, and he’ll be handsomely rewarded. But Eddie’s an addict. He’s not good at resisting temptation. He certainly doesn’t resisit this one, at least not for long. And when he finds loads of cash inside it, it triggers his gambling addiction, never exactly dormant, always waiting for a cash infusion.

Cut to – you guessed it – Eddie’s lost everything. He’s deeply in debt. He is drowning in regret. Win-It-All-MovieAnd also debt, duh. Eddie (Jake Johnson) takes his sob story to his older brother Ron (Joe Lo Truglio) who’s heard it all before but takes pity on him, and offers him a job in the family business. If Eddie works as a landscaper for the months remaining on the prison sentence, Ron will make up the difference in whatever else he owes. It’s a great deal, and Eddie throws himself into the honest work for the first time in his life, extra determined to turn things around because of a new woman on the horizon. But guess what? Prison buddy is getting out early! So the months-long plan to make the money back is now completely fucked, and so is Eddie. What shall he do?

Director Joe Swanberg is known for his low-budget, genre-blending stuff. He had such a good time doing Drinking Buddies that he decided to keep the mojo going with its star, Jake Johnson, and the two became a writing team who eventually came up with the script for Win It All.  Jake Johnson is extremely charismatic, which helps sustain his losery character through lots of personal ups and downs. Pairing him with Joe Lo Truglio is the real stroke of genius. He’s affable and earnest, the exact opposite of the sleaze that pops up in Eddie’s other life. Keegan-Michael Key also pops up as his sponsor, who is sometimes shockingly and hilariously very un-sponsor-like.

The script is true to addictions without getting lost in their seriousness. It does go to some dark places, inevitably, but you can feel Johnson and Swanberg always tugging the reins back toward the light. It’s the little field trips from expectation that elevate this material about the normal schtick. Win It All ends up being a little slice of human nature with room for some character work. Falling into this film is a heady experience; it keeps subverting its own subversion, which keeps you on your twinkle toes. And possibly casting some side-eye to whatever duffel bags are in your closet.

 

Catch this film April 7 on Netflix.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

This is a completely unnecessary comedy that I’m feeling kind of forgiving toward because I watched it on a plane. Had I paid money to see it, I’d be spitting nails [What a weird expression. Should I just be squirreling away nails in my cheeks to have handy should some unacceptable circumstances arise?]. But I had some time to kill and only Air Canada’s seat back entertainment system for diversion. I briefly considered counting the rings in my fingernails to determine how old I was. I also flirted briefly with learning the “safety” card by heart, just to impress people with my emergency plane procedure knowledge, but in the end, no, I turned on a movie, mostly to drown out the phlegmatic cough that was going on in front of me, but a little out of curiosity and a certain about of what-the-heckness.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play a married couple who are very cozy in the little rut they’re in. The kids are away at summer camp but they still can’t figure out what KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESESthey should do differently. And no one’s talking about the big hairy elephant in the room: how does a Grade A hottie like Fisher settle for Zach Galifianakis? It’s not just that he has pervasive neck beard. His character doesn’t make serious bank, he isn’t independently wealthy, and he’s about as charming as a toddler who ate cake for breakfast and is now hearing the word No for the first time. He’s a buffoon. He’s what the word buffoon was invented for. It’s under these questionable circumstances that they meet their new neighbours, the Joneses.

Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm have just moved in next door. Isla Fisher is immediately suspicious of them: why would any suburban married couple still have the hots for each other? They travel the world, they engage in public displays of affection, they dress well and have nice things. The true secret of their success is that they don’t have kids. But since this is the movies, they’re also international spies, which Isla somehow intuits despite the fact that no one else has ever breached their cover in all their years in the field.

The spies are targeting Zach’s work, so of course he gets sucked into an operation that’s well over his head. And that’s not a knock on him; he is NOT a spy, never claimed to be, and it’s kind of unfair that with only an expensive suit for cover, he suddenly has to go head to head with super-baddie Patton Oswalt. Haha, that’s such a ridiculous thing I just said. Zach Galifianakis vs Patton Oswalt: it’s a showdown I wouldn’t mind seeing, just not like this.

In summation: nothing super wrong with the performances. The story’s just flat. There’s no polish. A few laughs, yes, but the simple fact is that keeping up with the Joneses has never been this easy.

 

SXSW: The Hero

Writer-director Brett Haley made a great little film called I’ll See You In My Dreams. It starred Blythe Danner as a woman coming to terms with widowhood and a new chapter in her still full life. It was a surprisingly mature film from a young film maker, and it has spawned another one. In I’ll See You In My Dreams, Haley cast Sam Elliott as a love interest for Danner, but it was Haley who fell in love. He so enjoyed the experience of working with Sam and his enchanting mustache that he wrote a movie just for him. That movie is called The Hero.

Sam Elliott plays an actor, a guy who used to be a big western star, back when westerns MV5BNjA3OTI2NDc3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU4NDE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1776,1000_AL_were big. Nowadays he’s lucky to get work schilling BBQ sauce. Bad news about his health forces him to put his life into perspective. So does receiving a ‘lifetime achievement’ award at a time when his lifetime is feeling quite finite. He has a tangled relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter) and a complicated, budding relationship with a woman roughly his daughter’s age (Laura Prepon). Just about the only person he can talk to is a former costar\current drug dealer (Nick Offerman) who has a pretty relaxed attitude about everything.

The Hero has a languid pace, reminiscent of Sam Elliott himself. The film is introspective, beautifully shot, contemplative, fulsome. This was a must-watch for me because of a playful, giggly Nick Offerman, and he doesn’t disappoint, but he’s a secondary character, as everyone is, to macho Lee Hayden, cowboy in his golden years, not quite ready to ride off into that sunset.

The good news is this is not just another weepy cancer drama. Despite some flaws and heavy-handedness, if you keep your focus on where the film intends, that is, on Sam himself, you won’t be disappointed. This role is Elliott adulation. It gives him the time and space to savour the spotlight all by himself, to feel its warmth, to get applause. His performance earns it and warrants it all the way. Lee Hayden is not a hero, he only played one in the movies. In his personal life he’s a bit of a failure, but he does get one hero thing right: it’s never too late.