Monthly Archives: June 2017

Paul

There’s just something right to me about a Nick Frost – Simon Pegg pairing. And this movie celebrates their inherent dweebitude. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are just a couple of nerds visiting the U.S. for comic con and then an alien-themed road trip, you know, Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, all those popular conspiracy theorist tourist traps. Only this road trip just happens to bring them a real alien, and his name is Paul (voiced\motion captured by Seth Rogen).

MV5BMTQxODA4NDc2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQzMDQ2NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpgPaul crash-landed here decades ago and has put up amiably with interrogation and testing, but he’s making his escape now that the only thing left is to slice and dice him. Is the government simply going to let him get away? Of course not. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio are all hot on his tail (he doesn’t have a tail). Graeme and Clive have an RV and a religious one-eyed woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and that’s about it: not ideal fleeing-the-government provisions, but it’ll have to do.

Paul is a love letter to science fiction fans. Pegg and Frost made the film’s pilgrimage in real life, and based the script on some of their odd encounters. The idea first came to them on a rainy night on the set of Shaun of the Dead, where they quickly sketched the character. Cameos and references to pop (science) fiction abound – how many can you spot? Paul is a real tribute to the genre but also just genuinely funny, even for those of us without an intrinsic love of extraterrestrials. This isn’t an excellent movie, but it’s a good enough movie, and frankly, it’s funnier than anything presently in theatres.

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Okja

The new CEO of Mirando, Lucy (Tilda Swinton), announces that her company has made a discovery that will rid the world of hunger: a super piglet that looks like a cross between a rhino and an elephant that we’re assured tastes really fucking good. 26 super piglets are distributed to farmers around the world to be cared for over the next decade. In 10 years, popular TV veterinarian Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) will judge them and declare one ‘the best.’

Cut to: 10 years later, Wilcox hikes up a remote Korean hillside to visit Okja, a prized super piglet raised by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her father. Raised on love and freedom, Okja is objectively the best of the bunch, but that means this beloved pet must go to NYC okja-creature-littlegirl-woodsto be paraded around by its parent corporation (to disguise the secret testing) – unless of course she’s kidnapped by the Animal Liberation Front headed by Jay (Paul Dano), “not a terrorist,” along the way. And the ALF is only the first group of people Mija will come across that want to control the fate of her large friend, Okja.

Co-written and directed by Snowpiercer’s Bong Joon Ho, you can bet he’s got some interesting thing to say about these events: GMOs, image-obsessed corporations, eco-terrorism. But he cleverly brings it back to one of the most basic relationships to remind us of what’s important: the one between a girl and her best friend, the family pet. Here in North America, not only can we not imagine eating dogs, we object to it morally. Here, we name our dogs, we sleep curled up beside them, we feed them table scraps from our fingers, we look into their sweet faces and tell them they’re good boys, very good boys. If we accorded all animals the respect we give our pets, it would change the food industry okjaas we know it. This is the way Bong Joon Ho choose to frame Okja’s predicament.

Tonally, Okja is very different from Snowpiercer. If the score doesn’t alert you to its farcical nature, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s voice doesn’t do it, then the unconvincing CGI will likely push you in that very direction. But Bong Joon Ho’s skill as a director means that he juggles these switchbacks in tone very carefully, and Okja’s whimsy never fails. Yes, it’s a completely weird movie, one that can feel like a cartoon and a horror at the same time, that can make you laugh amid the darkest of scenes. I realize this movie won’t be for everyone, but I found it profoundly interesting. Tilda Swinton is excellent, and Gyllenhaal does something we’ve never seen from him before. But it’s Seo-Hyun Ahn who steals the show, her bond with Okja and her purity of heart that elevate this movie from fantasy to fable.

 

 

 

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

Farewell: Daniel Day-Lewis

Last week, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting. He’s got one final role to unleash on the world, an untitled Paul Thomas Anderson film in which he plays fashion designer Charles James, which comes out around Christmas. And then he’s done.

But is he DONE done? Or is he retiring like Michael Jordan retired from basketball? Or Jay-Z retired from rap? Day-Lewis is at the top of his game, where, in fairness, he has been for the past 30 years or so. It just seems to me that people who are both very good at\very passionate about what they do don’t retire, they keep doing the thing they love until they physically cannot do it anymore.

And it’s not like we would have noticed Day-Lewis’s absence had he simply taken a Lew_main_1661547asabbatical. The man is notoriously reclusive and generally does only about one film every five years or so. After winning an Oscar for Lincoln in 2012 (which was the last time we’ve seen him on screen), he announced a hiatus during which he’d spend time on his farm in Dublin, learning “rural skills” like stonemasonry. You know, practical stuff. Between 1997’s The Boxer and 2002’s Gangs of New York, he left Hollywood to apprentice as a shoemaker in Italy. He’s obviously a curious man willing to try his hand at all kinds of pursuits. But quit acting?

Whether or not he eventually comes out of retirement for “one last role” I can’t help but feel this is the end of an era. DDL is the kind of actor who used those fallow periods to truly transform himself into his next character. When he did Lincoln, he stayed in character for 3 solid months; even Spielberg had to address him as Mr. President. To crawl so deeply beneath someone else’s skin must be quite draining and it’s no wonder that he’s needed such lengthy recovery times between films. But Hollywood has gotten away from this kind of acting, the total-immersion kind. Now people play versions of themselves. George Clooney, say, or Ryan Gosling: both very good actors, but if you think about it, they play versions of their charming, winking selves. Have we ever seen Clooney lose himself in a role, or even just play against type? Day-Lewis’s commitment to diving into a role completely is impressing, but is also probably a dying art. He’s only 60 but perhaps he is already a dinosaur in the industry. A super talented dinosaur who will be sadly missed.

 

What’s your favourite DDL role?

How long before he comes out of retirement?

 

Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.

Rough Night

Rought Night is a rough watch. It’s aiming for somewhere between Bridesmaids and The Hangover, but winds up just a shade north of unwatchable. The cast is nimble enough (though I have no love to spare for Scarlett Johansson), but the script treats them abominably.

The premise, as you might have deduced from a trailer that’s not doing it any favours: ScarJo is getting married, and her friends treat her to a bachelorette party in Miami. But MV5BMjI4ODU0MTM3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjgzMzA2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1404,1000_AL_the fun gets spoiled when the stripper gets accidentally murdered, and the hen party suddenly has to hide the dead rooster. The situation is wildly implausible and uncomfortably phony. Some have complained that the script focuses more on comedy than on story, and while I agree that story was largely absent, so were the jokes. I don’t think I laughed once, and I love me some Kate McKinnon.

The thing is, the film tries to do this interesting gender swap, where the ladies are at some wild, drunken weekend of debauchery and the bachelor party is having a sweet and sensitive wine tasting, chaste and polite. And the poor groom is left behind, wondering if his honey is cheating on him, stressing about unreturned phone calls and unrequited love. But in actuality, all it really means is that both the plot and the subplot are disturbingly trite, pathetic, and thoughtless. Basically, it’s twice the suck. Suck squared. And my life just doesn’t need that much disappointment, ya know?

It’s not much of a feminist comedy if only 2 of the 5 main characters matter. It’s not much of a comedy period if the 2 characters who do matter are one-dimensional at best, and there aren’t enough laughs to make these cardboard cutouts any thicker. I didn’t have the time of day for this movie. I mean, it literally stole 101 minutes from me, and left a big empty hole where some belly laughs belonged.

Little Boxes

There are a million movies about country bumpkins going to the big city: fish out of water hilarity ensues. In this case, a family does the opposite migration; they move from Brooklyn to small town Washington and culture shock ensues. In fact, the Burns family has a flat-out identity crisis. Mom Gina (Melanie Lynskey) has accepted a new tenure-track position at the local college but her new colleagues find her photography to be a little “New York centrist”. Dad Mack (Nelsan Ellis) struggles to keep up with is cooking show critiques without working appliances – the moving truck hasn’t arrived yet, so he’s chasing them instead of devoting time to his second novel. And son Clark (Armani Jackson) is finding out how it feels to be the only black kid in town as he attempts to befriend some girls who are looking for a token minority third.

You might almost want to call Little Boxes a companion piece to Jordan Peele’s Get Out for its quiet inspection of white liberal racism, but the truth is, this one lacks bite. It’s a little too tame in its condemnation. But what makes the film worthwhile is the excellent MV5BZWJmMWJmNzYtNzZhZi00MjFmLTliMmEtODdkYmQ0OWI1YzU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU2NDMyOTM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_family dynamic between Lynskey, Ellis, and Jackson. I always feel chuffed to see Lynskey in anything; she’s the Queen of indie movies and I bow down before her. Ellis was strong right out of the gate, but I struggled to place him. It was the voice that tipped me off: I knew him from somewhere. It took until the last scenes of the movie before I had my light bulb moment – True Blood (he played the cook, Lafayette). Even the kid is good, and I’m of the opinion that child actors can make or break your project. Too many directors don’t spend near enough time finding a kid who’s more than just cute. I’m happy to report that Jackson earns his spot in the Burns trifecta. They make a family you’ll fall in love with immediately, which is what makes it so effective when they hit a rough patch. Their disharmony transfers to us.

The messiness of life is addressed honestly if not always subtly. There are many ways in which to not fit in, and Little Boxes finds at least three. But it also finds a comforting way to put things back together, and maybe that’s the point, not the oddly-shaped puzzle pieces that life gives us, but the glue that holds them together.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Dee Dee Blancharde had had a rough go: displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she was the sole care-giver for her severely disabled daughter, Gypsy Rose. Gypsy’s diagnoses were many: epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, chromosomal and developmental defects. She was confined to a wheel chair, fed by a tube, often breathing with the help of an oxygen tank. She endured frequent surgery and chronic pain. She was brain damaged and stuck at the intellectual age of 7. Dee Dee, devoted to her daughter, didn’t work. They accepted charity in the form of a house from Habitat for Humanity, met Miranda Lambert through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, got free trips to Disney World, Gypsy’s favourite. Kindly neighbours pitched in what they could; the Blanchardes were community fixtures, and well-liked. Then one day Dee Dee’s Facebook status read “That bitch is dead” and when police investigated, they found her stabbed to death in bed. Gypsy was nowhere to be found.

This case caught my eye at the time and I read about it extensively. It turns out that MV5BZGI5Nzg5YzktOGQ5NS00MGJhLWI4MWUtODQxZGE1MGQxYWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0OTQxMDQ@._V1_Gypsy was never sick, wasn’t even paralyzed. She had endured years of abuse, via ‘Munchausen by proxy,’ a condition wherein a caregiver fakes and actually induces health problems in their child in order to gain sympathy and attention for themselves. Gypsy, armed with a secret internet boyfriend, had had enough, and plotted her mother’s murder.

Mommy Dead and Dearest is a shocking documentary that explores this case in depth. People who knew them were shocked to see Gypsy Rose walking unassisted, and wondered how much she herself had been in on the deception. But even Gypsy Rose didn’t know her true age, or the extent of her health problems. Many of the medications given her to treat fake illnesses gave her real, troubling side effects. The documentary follows her trip through the justice system and asks us whether we must consider her to be a cold-hearted perpetrator, or a victim who finally fought back. Director Erin Lee Carr lets the story tell itself, giving the narrative time and space to unfold itself, deftly answering questions before we even ask them. This case is so astonishing that Carr’s guidance is particularly necessary, yet her presence is minimally felt. I was completely fascinated and absorbed by the story, and I bet you will be too.

A Man Called Ove

There is indeed a man called Ove. He is a crotchety old man who rules his condo tenement with fierce rigidity. He’s aged out of his job and his wife has left him (well, died, but he’s such a grump I can only assume it was purposely, to escape him). I shouldn’t joke; his wife’s grave is the only time and place where he’s a little tender. Does he list her a litany of complaints? Of course he does. But only because the world’s gone to MV5BNTgzNDcxYzEtZDljOC00NDZmLTk2ZTAtOTVhM2Y1MWI1YzUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDc2NTEzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1581,1000_AL_shit without her. The only reason he hasn’t committed suicide yet is the damn neighbours, who need constant monitoring and discipline, and who else would take it upon themselves to mete it out?

It turns out that Ove has had a pretty interesting life. It’s just that no one knows it because he isolates himself, sequestered in a condo that’s still a shrine to his dead wife. It’s only because some boisterous, needy new neighbors draw him out against his will that we learn the ups and downs that have contributed to his current thorny state. If you’re feeling like this sounds a little sentimental, well, it is. But it stays just shy of saccharine thanks to a nuanced performance by Rolf Lassgård in the title role. He never lets Ove go full-martyr, he keeps the role alive and flawed and beautiful. Ove’s may not exactly be a unique character arc, but it’s charmingly irresistible in Lassgård’s hands.

The film is a little predictable but so sweetly executed that I’m finding it hard to fault it. It’s surprisingly funny at times, mixing genres fairly deftly, making for a lovely, bittersweet, and humane character study that’s a pleasure to watch.

 

The Shack

Mack takes his 3 kids camping and only comes home with 2. While he was jumping into the lake to save his son from an overturned canoe, his youngest daughter disappears, presumably kidnapped and killed. The guilt and grief eat at him until a mysterious letter invites him back to the shack where her bloodstains and sundress were found. He goes out there alone, armed with a gun, and finds exactly what was promised but not what he expected. Are you ready to believe?

The Shack is a Christian movie. Sam Worthington plays Mack, the dad in mourning gallery-2who’d survived his own harrowing childhood and has his faith diluted along the way. Octavia Spencer plays ‘Papa’, the fond nickname Mack’s daughter had for God. Oooh, God is a black woman, how wonderfully liberal while still being completely conservative.

God’s son is there too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and also the “breath of wind” (Sumire Matsubara) and they’re all prepared to love him back to health and happiness. The question is whether you, potential viewer, are willing\able to swallow it.

I read the book because I read all the books. In it, Mack is described as “rather unremarkable,” “slightly overweight,” “a short white guy, balding, about to turn 56.” I bet Sam Worthington was over the moon when his agent sent him the script. It was a slightly uncomfortable read because its white author attempts ebonics, is kind of sexist despite the overt attempt to seem cool (but hello, black god is so 1997!), and constantly refers to “the trots” in the presence of god.

The shack is a literal place in the movie, but meant more as a metaphor for the house\prison you build out of your pain. As far as Christian movies go, well, this one doesn’t have Kirk Cameron, or, god forbid (ha! I made a funny) Nicolas Cage. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re a believer, really makes you feel all warm and fuzzily validated, and if you’re not, well, you may smirk a few times, but it’s a fairly harmless work of fiction. I can see how people would find comfort in it. It’s humanizing, non-threatening, non-denominational, and embracing. But it’s not going to convert a single soul.

I don’t believe in god, and I take issue with religion, but my main problems with the film were ones like: how is god not a vegetarian? And how on earth do you let her do dishes? I can’t even let my Grandma do the dishes, and Mack’s allowing himself to be waited on BY GOD. And where did the holy spirit get those cute sandals?

Yes, some of the metaphors reach too far, and yes some of the sermonizing hits you over the head like a rubber mallet. But you know what? Octavia Spencer couldn’t be any better if she was a god. She’s sublime and note-perfect, in this and in everything. The Shack is still too heavy-handed for me to recommend it, but I will say that if you believe, and you struggle to reconcile belief with life’s tragedies, then maybe this film can shine a little light in your direction. I’m not especially fond of The Shack, but if you’re looking for some spiritual guidance, you could do worse.