Monthly Archives: December 2017

Call Me By Your Name

Seventeen year old Elio is facing another season at his parents’ summer home somewhere in boring, idyllic Northern Italy when the clouds part, the angels sing, and a yellow ray of sunshine pools on the golden head of a god, arriving by taxi. Actually it’s Oliver, a grad student about to spend the next 6 weeks helping out Elio’s father, a professor. Elio is immediately smitten.

It’s complicated, though, and it’ll take those full 6 weeks for the two young men to reach the peak of their affair. It’s the summer of 1983 and neither one is ‘out’; what we see is their friendship, the confidences they share, the fumbling flirtation. It’s a quiet movie, as 913a movie must be between two characters who are still learning about themselves, and in some cases, learning to repress. The pace is languid, but after 132 minutes, I’m thinking more about what’s left out than what is covered. Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) share a mostly silent passion. Have they ever been attracted to men before? Are they afraid of being seen? Their affair exists within a bubble – isolated in a small village, surrounded by intellectuals, sheltered. But there’s always a sense that the affair cannot last.

We feel the blush of their first love. But director Luca Guadagnino does not want us to see much more than that, does not want the reality of gay sex to change the tone of the movie. Why doesn’t he trust us? In an otherwise beautiful film about desire, theirs is the only physical intimacy that we don’t see. When one of them hooks up with a woman, we eavesdrop on their thrusting and grunting. We even get fairly graphic with some person-on-peach sex. But when Elio and Oliver come together the camera looks away. The only real nudity is female.

And that has left me feeling off-balance. I can only praise the performances by Hammer and especially by Chalamet – his energy, his wit. Although Elio is the younger of the two, and voices more self-doubt, we actually see them negotiate a balance in their relationship that feels very healthy and mature. And though Oliver is adamant that he wants neither of them to get hurt, we see how woundable Elio really is, how vulnerable. This isn’t just love but self-discovery, mutual discovery, only some of which will be lasting.  Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) counsels him to stay this way, thin-skinned, to not close himself off to pain, even in heartbreak. And Oliver wonders if that’s the real difference between the two: not their age or experience, but their parents. And we’re left to think on that as the credits roll. Who might they have been had they both had supportive families? It is in these final minutes of the film when we finally feel emotionally connected to the material, and to the characters. This is the beating heart of the film. It’s just too bad it’s saved for last.

Advertisements

Bright

bright_unit_06597_r_wide-67b1f15cb792c81ccc1359a7e8a2e6c0bce7b718-s900-c85What’s worse than being flat, derivative and uninspired? Being all those things, showing a tiny bit of promise in spite of them, and then throwing the interesting parts away in search of a flashy climax and tidy resolution. That’s Bright.

The concept is sound – what if there were Elves and Orcs and magic in our world? It’s not a new idea and that’s fine. The hodgepodge of fantasy elements forming the basis of this world are standard fare as well, straight out of Tolkien or World of Warcraft. Orcs are brutes with sharp teeth, Elves are beautiful and rich, magic wands are super powerful but not everyone can use them. The script, complete with minority and 1% allegories, practically writes itself.

The problem is, it feels like no extra effort was put in to creating Bright. Like, at all.  Like, I’m pretty sure Will Smith was quoting himself from Men in Black every time he let a sarcastic quip fly. Not incidentally, well over 90% of his lines in Bright are sarcastic quips. Either stop phoning it in or stop being in movies, please.

Joel Edgerton doesn’t phone it in like Smith but he is totally unrecognizable and totally wasted here as the sensitive Orc sidekick. He had no chance of saving this mess. Full disclosure: this is a recurring exchange between Jay and me:

Jay: We should go see [small indie movie]. Joel Edgerton is in it.

Me: Who’s Joel Edgerton again?

Jay: The guy from [slightly older small indie movie that we saw a few months prior].

Me: That was Joel Edgerton?

Jay: We literally just had this conversation when you made me watch the Star Wars prequels.

Me: JOEL EDGERTON IS IN STAR WARS?

Jay: I hate you.

It happened again in Bright only I swear, this time it was not my fault. It was David Ayer’s, and Bright is proof that we should have cut Ayer off long before Suicide Squad. Thanks for writing Training Day, really, but that goodwill was used up long ago.  A glimmer of promise and then an avalanche of mediocrity and disappointment – just like Bright.

The Greatest Showman

Phineas Taylor Barnum was a showman first and foremost. His legacy includes a best-selling memoir, museums, philanthropy, and a circus who just closed its doors earlier this year, after something in the neighbourhood of 175 years of success. The Greatest Showman is the story of his life, only not: it’s the fictionalized, glamourized, told-in-an-entertaining-and-succinct-105-minutes version that somewhat resembles his life, or at least a rags-to-riches edition of it. It’s not historically or personally accurate but it IS beautiful and breath taking and fun. In fact, it’s the most excited I’ve felt at the movies all year.

Hugh Jackman has already established himself as a versatile actor: he makes Logan, a veritable man of steel, seem both tough and vulnerable. Here he straddles Barnum’s pursuit of fame, money, and success with his more modest but fulfilling tumblr_os9fxwinjy1qd4rf5o2_500.gifgoals of happiness and family. Ultimately we see Barnum find both fame and family in the circus. He collects ‘freaks’ and ‘sideshows’ and gives them purpose and a platform. People pay the price of admission to look on in sensational horror.

The film is glossy, a glory to look at, and a wonder to hear. It’s a musical, with lyrics by Tony-winning (Dear Evan Hansen) and Oscar-winning (La La Land) duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. A mashup of modern-sounding, toe-tapping, pop and hip hop, the music reflects an aesthetic that isn’t so much true to the time period, but more a tribute to Barnum’s constantly being ahead of his time. With dazzling, daring cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (Life, Nocturnal Animals, Atonement) and buoyant, irrepressible, vibrant production design by Nathan Crowley (Dunkirk, Interstellar, The Dark Knight trilogy), The Greatest Showman is a work of art by veteran professionals – except for its director. Michael Gracey had in fact never directed any movie at all before – why, then, did 20th Century Fox trust him with 80 million dollars and a promising script, co-written by Bill Condon, Oscar nominee for best adapted screenplay for Chicago, and winner for Gods and Monsters?

Hugh Jackman met Michael Gracey 8 years ago when Gracey directed him in a TV commercial in Rio de Janiero. The two hit it off creatively, and within months Jackman was suggesting him as the director a passion project of his, and with Jackman on board as star and producer, it only took about a hundred pitches or so before someone finally said yes. Yes! And true to the Barnum name, the movie wouldn’t just be a musical, it would be over the top, larger than life, bursting at the seems with spectacle.

In addition to Jackman, the cast boasts the likes of Michelle Williams as his long-tumblr_os9no4BmGt1qk2b83o5_r1_540.gifsuffering wife, Charity, Zac Efron as his business partner, Zendaya as a talented trapeze artist, and Rebecca Ferguson as the songstress who legitimizes his success (though credit for her amazing voice goes to Loren Allred, who dubs her in the film).

The Greatest Showman is like the best parts of Big Fish and Moulin Rouge smooshed together. It lit my heart aglow. If you’re looking for a true account of PT Barnum’s life, read a book. What The Greatest Showman offers is a damn good time at the movies, so see it in theatres, on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen. Hugh Jackman will thank you for it.

Pacific Rim

Some sort of portal opens up in the ocean’s floor, and the aliens that flow through are immense monsters called Kaiju. A war ensues that humans seem poised to lose until they develop humongous robots called Jaegars controlled neurologically by two synched-up pilots. The world’s resources are devoted to these specialized weapons, but the Kaijus only up the ante. Now, with resources dwindled and the world seeming defenseless, we’ve got one last chance, with a fallen, washed up pilot in Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and a complete novice in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).

Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) runs the last-ditch program but even he doesn’t have confidence in the only option they’ve got left. And two wacky scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) on his team are devoting their time and energy to connecting neurologically to the Kaiju, which is either a brilliant idea that will reveal the Kaiju’s plans or a terrible idea that will spoil the only thing the human race has going for them – the element of surprise.

Pacific Rim is a send-up to the fantastic monster movies of yore with the benefit of tumblr_mgeodlgqPl1qcga5ro1_500.gifmodern effects and technology – and yes, it looks slick as hell. It’s basically Transformers fighting dinosaurs, which appeals to the little boy that exists surprisingly near the surface of nearly every man I know. This movie was released just before my dear sweet nephew Ben was born, but it strikes me now as made especially for him. I know one day we’ll watch it together, and my old bones will creak for the next six months as we painstakingly recreate every battle scene without the benefit of CGI.

I may prefer del Toro’s smaller films, but his visionary genius means that when  you give him a pile of money to make a monster movie, he’s going to make you feel every inch of the enormity on screen. The scale is astonishing. Del Toro likes to create huge sets, giving his actors plenty of real stuff to react to, so though this movie is of course effects-heavy, it’s probably not as heavy as you think. There’s loads of practical stuff in there too – miniatures, and models, whole sets built on hydraulics so things will jostle exactly as they should when a mega monster stalks by. Guillermo del Toro is a world builder, and Pacific Rim has a lot of his usual hallmarks, just swathed in the gleeful fantasies of his inner 10 year old child.

This is likely the movie that keeps Michael Bay up at night, eating too much Häagen-Dazs: it’s the movie he always means to make but never knows how to.

You may have heard that a new Pacific Rim sequel (“Uprising”) is about to drop – without del Toro at the helm. He’s still producing but declined to direct in order to make The Shape of Water instead (good call, Guillermo!). Charlie Hunnam isn’t returning either (opting to do Pappillon instead, with Legendary’s blessing), so instead John Boyega fills his shoes as Stacker’s son and Mako’s new partner. Are the monsters back? Substitute director Steven DeKnight will attempt to answer – but as a noob, he seems at an immediate disadvantage. I mean, he did direct one episode of Daredevil and 2 of Smallville, so as a white male, that more than qualifies him to have a go at a $150M project. I can’t imagine that he’ll replicate anything like Guillermo’s instinct and soul, but we’ve not got long to wait: Uprising drops in March 2018.

 

PTU

PTU follows a group of police officers charged with patrolling the city of Hong Kong, who are asked for help by another officer who lost his gun in the area during a fight with a street gang, but is hesitant to report the loss to HQ, worried it will affect his upcoming promotion.

I really don’t know what to make of PTU. It’s not at all the movie I was expecting (having seen Heroic Trio last month, I thought someone would have superpowers here) but at the same time it didn’t defy my expectations, plowing along without any real direction. PTU is almost farcical at times yet it’s so straight-laced as to make me wonder whether the silliness is by design or whether this is intended to be a straight procedural drama whose seriousness has been lost in translation.

Because when a cop slips on a banana peel, it’s hard to take him seriously.  When he does it more than once, I have to take the second fall as a “shame on me” moment. And yet, to view that cop as incompetent brings everyone else’s competence into question too, since they take him seriously to the point of taking his advice.

PTU’s slow, deliberate pace might have fit well with a different police drama, but it quickly became a problem here by giving me time to raise these questions of competence for every character involved. And they all failed the test. A more action-oriented film may have kept me too busy to get bogged down in the details, but with PTU having such a slow pace, none of the characters looked good in the end. I couldn’t invest in any of them and couldn’t connect with PTU as a result.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I barely know where to start with this one. If you’ve seen any of Yorgos Lanthimos’ work, or better yet, if you heard the mad rantings of anyone who did, then you know he’s a bit crazy bananas. Watching his movies is like taking a bone saw to his cranium, lifting off the top flap, and peering inside at all the nuttiest ideas that the rest of us tamp down in the interest of social order but for some reason, Lanthimos gives them a confident voice. It’s scary but completely enthralling.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is about a man who will be forced to make a really tough lead_960choice. Steven (Colin Ferrell) is a surgeon with a devoted wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), two talented children, and the devotion of a teenager of an ex-patient (Barry Keoghan). But you know that everything’s about to unravel. Maybe Steven isn’t such a great surgeon. And maybe his family are all a little more self-interested than we thought. And maybe Martin, the teenager, is hiding something sinister.

Colin Ferrell embraces the stylized (read: stilted and simple) dialogue, and at times Keoghan does as well, but the rest are not as committed. Not that I’m complaining. Robot-like delivery can get tiresome. It’s crazy how much Lanthimos can divorce human emotion from our worst, darkest impulses.

But that’s the thing, this is why his movies are fun and exciting to watch: they’re twisted and dark and make us think terrible, terrible things. But they’re really just hypotheticals. Steven never feels like a real person. He’s stiff and icy and even though you can’t wait to see how he plays this thing out, his choice ultimately feels without consequence. He doesn’t feel so we don’t feel. The Killing of a Sacred Deer just doesn’t exist in our world. So while I will always watch these movies for the sheer mental exercise, I can never quite love them.

Utter Christmas Crap

Christmas Inheritance

Ellen is set to inherit her father’s ambiguous “gift” business but first she must prove she’s worthy by travelling to a small town and hand-delivering a letter to a man who isn’t there. She leaves her grinchy fiance behind, all the better to fall inappopriately in love with the good-hearted jack of all trades who drives the town’s cab and serves as the hotel’s bell boy, played by a face you’ll recognize if not the name – Jake Lacy was on The Office and in Girls, and has starred in real, legit movies like Carole, Miss Sloane, and Obvious Child. I’m guessing this movie was a last-ditch effort to save his knee caps. But what then is Andie MacDowell’s excuse?

Anyway, this movie hits all the Christmas movie check marks: baking montage, helping the homeless, fake snow that looks suspiciously like shaving cream. Plus the plot never makes a lick of sense. Not a lick.

 

Christmas in the City

Wendy moves to the “big city” in order to save her dead father’s candy store by working a minimum wage temporary job in a failing department store where she’s terrorized by the new “marketing” expert who hates Christmas as much as she hates Wendy, who she deems a romantic rival. I think.

Ashanti stars as the “witch” and believe it or not, she’s the only one in the movie who doesn’t sing. She also throws a mean wreath – and every time she does, the extras react like she threw a baby right on its soft little fontanel. The mere suggestion that Christmas is somewhat about presents brings literal tears to their eyes despite the fact that they all work in a DEPARTMENT STORE.

Oh, and if the ending where everyone joins hands and sings their hearts out in the direction of the one person who lacks Christmas spirit feels familiar – I’m pretty sure it’s lifted directly from The Grinch.

Christmas Crush aka Holiday High School Reunion

Georgia is “on the verge of her first milestone” (which I take to mean she’s pushing thirty) and barely feels like she has time to find Mr. Right with the pressure to settle down and marry breathing down her neck (or is that her mother?). When she goes home for Christmas, she finds that her old high school is also hosting a reunion and lo and behold, the torch she’s been carrying for her high school boyfriend Craig is reignited. And this time she won’t let anything come between her and the one that got away – not even true love, played by the guy who was also in the unfathomably necessary Christmas Kiss 2, and the glorious A Dog Walker’s Christmas Tale and also featuring a dude from the above Christmas in the City, plus Harry Hamlin and Merilu Henner, all of whom embarrass themselves as you know they must. But if your idea of a holiday classic involves slutty dancing to Christmas hymns (which are, not coincidentally, royalty-free!), you’re in luck.

 

 

Father Figures

On her wedding day, Helen (Glenn Close) lets loose a secret bombshell to her grown, fraternal twin sons, Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Pete (Ed Helms): their deceased father is not in fact deceased, or in fact their father. Their actual father, she confesses, is hard to pin down, since she was a bit of a slut. So they do the only thing a couple of twins who can scarcely stand each other can: they embark on a quest to find out their true parentage.

First stop: Terry Bradshaw. First, but not last stop on a long tour of hearing about how MV5BYWZjNDdmMzctZDI0Yi00NGVhLTlmY2EtOWRmNmJmN2FmMjM1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3NTA3NzI@._V1_much of a cum dumpster their mother was.  The movie suffers an identity crisis very early on: is this a raunchy comedy? A movie full of surprise twists? Sentimental slop? Buddy stuff? A road trip movie? Or just an excuse to slut-shame sex-positive Glenn Close?

It wasn’t awful, let’s start there. I laughed, probably more than I laughed at almost any other comedy this year, with the notable exception of The Big Sick. But a loose collection of vacuous laughs don’t really amount to much. Father Figures can’t even replicate the success of The Hangover, or Wedding Crashers. It’s just an intermittently funny movie that you’ll forget, possibly even while you’re watching it – the movie goes off on enough side tangents that it’s hard to keep track.

Owen Wilson and Ed Helms are good, but they’re acting against such an inconsistent backdrop it’s hard to really gain any traction. There’s no urgency to seeing this movie and certainly no reason to see it in theatres – at this time of year there are much better options. Pick any.

Scraping the Bottom of the Christmas Barrel

12 Dog Days Till Christmas

A boy named Jack is sentenced to community service by Uncle Carl (Reginald Vel Johnson – formerly of Steve Urkel fame). He’s had a “rough” childhood, as evidenced by his medium-bad attitude. He’s a foster kid who hasn’t quite aged out, and he seems to relate a lot to the dogs at the shelter where he’s sentenced to work his hours. They’re unwanted too. But oh no, the shelter’s closing! So when they have the 12 remaining days before Christmas to find homes for 12 dogs, he greets the task with frantic zeal.

The kid who plays Jack is monumentally bad. He’s either someone’s nephew, or he was sentenced community service hours which he must serve by appearing in this very bad movie, which co-stars the woman who was in the Christmas movie about the dog park about to close before the holidays. The dogs are cute, but a couple of nice gifs should prove far more entertaining than the entirety of this movie. In fact, here’s a Christmas picture of my own dogs. If it helps keep you off the Christmas crack of bad holiday movies, it’ll all be worthwhile.

DSC_0095 (2)

Christmas Kiss 2

The title implies that there was a Christmas Kiss 1 and I can scarcely believe it was so well-received that it merited a sequel. It’s about a woman who seems to get non-consensually kissed by her boss until she falls in love with him. It co-stars the male lead of that aforementioned dog park movie. It seems that multi-picture deals seem to be big business in the horrible holiday movie racket. I have my suspicions about the kind of person whose IMDB credits include ONLY Christmas made-for-TV movies, but I’m going to keep them to myself. No one in this movie is any good at all but oh my god, the woman hired to play the “hot girlfriend” is god-awful. You might think she was hired solely for her looks, but haha, no. No.

And here’s a fun fact about Christmas movies: in 99% of them, someone is a millionaire, maybe even a billionaire, but usually a secret millionaire, and yeah, it’s usually the guy. Only none of these Christmas movies have the budget to convincingly portray a millionaire’s lifestyle. It’s half-hilarious, half-depressing.

Holiday Breakup

Man, this one really makes you work to get to the Christmas part. It’s about a couple who meet on the Fourth of July and breakup by Halloween but then have to fake a relationship through Christmas in order to…I don’t know, really, fend off awkward questions, I guess? I mean, they were a couple for less than 4 months, I doubt anyone was overly invested in it, EXCEPT FOR NANNA WHO’S ABOUT TO DIE, yet they really pursue this terrible plot because they settled on a title first and the script just followed, for worse or worse still.

An actual quote from the movie: “You used to call me ridiculicious.”  “Maybe I’m tired of your ridiculosity.”

 

Okay, one more just in case you need it.

IMG_3546.JPG

 

 

Pottersville

Maynard is the nicest guy in town, so it’s kind of upsetting when he goes home to surprise his wife with a couple of steaks and instead finds her – no, not naked in bed with another man, but dressed up in a plush mascot costume with one, which is somehow worse. She’s not just an adulteress, she’s a furry, the kind of person who gets kicks from dressing up and rubbing herself on someone else, also wearing a sweaty costume.

still1_pottersvilleMaynard is shocked and disturbed, and after a night of drinking, he finds his old hunting gear and an ape mask, though they bring him little consolation. Cut to: the next morning, the small town’s abuzz: big foot is on the loose. It doesn’t take long for Maynard to connect the dots and realize HE’S the one they’re looking for, but he keeps that embarrassing information to himself and the legend grows.

Netflix has a whole bunch of really, um, interesting holiday fare in its lineup this year, and this one stars the likes of Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks (as the furry). I kind of dig Michael Shannon. He’s a great actor whose choices sometimes baffle me – this holiday season you can check him out in this, or the Oscar-bound The Shape of Water. Totally up to you. If you’re looking for a Christmas movie that’s light on Christmas, high on conspiracy, and is a tolerable if forgettable watch, well, I can say with confidence that this is the cream of the crop. If it’s also my opinion that the crop this year is spoiled, well, that’s a whole other post.