Monthly Archives: February 2018

Mute

mute.jpgFor me, the most memorable scene in Mute was a few-second long callback to director Duncan Jones’ debut, a marvelous little movie called Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, that you should track down immediately if you haven’t seen it yet.  Apparently, Mute is intended to be the second entry in a very loose trilogy, an approach that Netflix seems to be very keen on at the moment (as evidenced by The Cloverfield Paradox along with Mute).  Come to think of it, we saw this same thing happen with Split not so long ago, where two movies really have nothing to do with one another except that they happen in the same “shared universe”, with that link often seeming to constitute a big reveal.

I have asked before and, thanks to Mute, have to ask again: why is it becoming a thing to tie movies together in this way?  What is the point, when Mute is a totally separate story not at all influenced by the events in Moon (and vice versa)?  Why does it matter that these movies occur in the same world at the same time if the events of one film do not impact the other in any way?  Why are we even mentioning this link and including a scene with Rockwell in Mute (other than the fact that he is so hot right now)? sohotrightnow Are people being drawn to Mute because it’s related to Moon?  Did anyone choose to watch Mute because of that link who otherwise would not have?  Is Rockwell such a big box office draw that his inclusion got Mute off the ground?  I have a hard time believing this one little throwaway scene helped Mute and yet, why else even bother?

Really, the only benefit of Rockwell’s inclusion was that it made this review easier to write, because Mute is otherwise forgettable even as you are watching it.  Visually, it is for the most part a shameless ripoff of Blade Runner only it’s bereft of any philosophical discussions about anything meaningful, with the only takeway being that parents should not make friends with pedophiles, a point which, much like the movie itself, did not really need to be made.

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Game Night

I’ve had such bad luck with comedies lately that I saw this trailer with nothing but dread and skepticism. Of course I saw it anyway, but only because many of my reliable film buddies made it sound relatively watchable. And I’m happy to say they’re right. This is no comedic gem, no future cult classic, probably not even a movie you’ll discuss or remember with any fondness or clarity on the car ride home. But it is a solid movie with some laughs and an unexpectedly great performance by Jesse Plemmons – that alone is worth the watch.

game-night-movie-review2

Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are famous among their friends for hosting ultra-competitive game nights. It’s the best part of everyone’s week, and the only blemish is having to hide them from creepy next door neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemmons) who’s been disinvited ever since he and his wife split up. But a new blemish has popped up in the form of Max’s big brother (and the source of his low self-esteem and sperm count), Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks is rich and successful and has never lost at anything, ever. Max can barely stand to be around him. So when Brooks proposes the latest in rich-guy game nights, the incredibly realistic murder mystery, with Max’s dream car up for grabs by the winner, you bet every single one of them is raring to go.

Except of course it’s possible that the game gets intersected with some real kidnap and murder shit that’s all but impossible to sort out. And Annie and Max keep playing the game with criminals who really aren’t.

McAdams, nearly 40, and especially Bateman, who is pushing 50, are a little old to be playing the young couple who’s only now wondering about starting a family, but the directors are confident they’re believably 30-somethings, so go with it. It’s also kind of difficult to believe that their group of friends are actually somehow friends, but go with that too. Stick it out for Jesse Plemmons. Watch and see if he cracks a smile even once, though he’s playing the most absurd character on screen.

There’s some memorable flair to the direction (I liked the establishing shots), and it mostly stays away from the groan-inducing lowest-common-denominator stuff that seems to be the bulk of comedy scripts lately. The cast is solid (McAdams in particular looks like she’s having fun), the premise is fairly fresh, and it’s a pretty entertaining night at the cinema.

 

 

Do you and your friends get together for game night?

Irreplaceable You

As a little girl, Abbie knows what she wants, and she goes out and bites it. That’ll make sense when you watch the movie. What Abbie wants is Sam, and they’ve been together since they were 8. They’re extremely until-death-do-us-part, headed toward marriage and newly pregnant, except they find out what she’s pregnant with is a belly full of tumours, and she’s going to die, soon.

Abbie’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) last days are preoccupied with finding Sam (Michiel Huisman) a new partner. She’s grieving, she’s preparing, she wants to leave him settled, imageshe wants to know that he’ll be okay. But it’s creepy and invasive and neither Sam nor his prospective dates are super into this idea. Even Abbie’s support group is pretty skeptical. They’re also a pretty good source of humour in a movie that may have been overwhelmed by its maudlin theme. Thankfully the likes of Steve Coogan, Kate McKinnon, and Christopher Walken, all favourites of mine that I never dreamed would somehow end up sitting in the same little circle in the same film, go a long way to providing some comic relief.

The script, by Bess Wohl, is kind of terrific. There are lots of unexpected little nuggets of joy, such as the wonderful Merritt Wever’s truth bomb about the world’s only monogamous fish. Watch and learn. Frankly, I would have liked to see director Stephanie Laing push the film even further into black comedy territory. Instead its tone is confused and we’re never sure whether to laugh or weep (I had no problem doing copious amounts of both, but your experience may be different). On the whole, I liked this movie very much. I like Gugu Mbatha-Raw very much and she makes this character flawed instead of the saintly dead wife that almost any other movie would have made her out to be. Her character inhabits our worst fears while being relatable enough for us to confront them in some sort of comfort. Sure it’s tear-jerker porn, but it’s the best kind as long as you have plenty of soft, name-brand tissues to see you through.

Annihilation

Kane’s been missing for a year when he suddenly turns up at the home he shares with his wife, Lena, hemorrhaging blood. He’s been deployed on a top-secret mission that Lena can’t fully understand even as she’s recruited to join the next one. Of the dozens of men deployed, Kane is the only one to return, and he’s just waiting to die of organ failure.

Three years ago, something mysterious happened to a nearby lighthouse, which has been enveloped in a “shimmer”, a danger zone inside which terrible things are happening and from which no one returns. The zone is growing daily, and their own city will be overtaken if they don’t figure it out soon. So Lena (Natalie Portman) joins the next mission, the first one to be all-female, an expert biologist but also just a wife wondering why her husband would sign up for a suicide mission. She joins a group of women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) highly trained but with nothing to lose as they enter what is likely to be their last mission.

63a7237ca43826d1507503b739fc4d55Inside, every living thing has been transformed. Mutations have made some things astonishingly beautiful, and other things the stuff of nightmares (imagine an alligator-shark hybrid). And now those things are also taking on human DNA.

Director Alex Garland took on human uniqueness in Ex Machina and further explores the subject here. When they are reflected back on us in other living things, which of our traits make us truly special, truly human? It’s a scary question. Garland continues to excel in the creepy, quiet moments between the splashier, gorier stuff. His style throws us off-kilter even as the visuals delight. The audience is continuously confronted with questions to chew on while scary monsters breathe down our goose-pimpled necks. Alex Garland is clearly a talented sci-fi film maker, and even if you leave the theatre confused, you won’t be able to let it go.

For fans of the novel, by Jeff VanderMeer, don’t go in too attached. Garland chose not to re-read the book before embarking upon the script, so the movie turns out more a distant cousin of the book rather than a faithful adaptation. In fact, the details I remembered most from the book were absent; clearly Garland and I latched on to different themes. But the essence remains, the terror remains, the curiosity remains. Annihilation doesn’t exist just to scare you, it wants to challenge you. This is a bold film that doesn’t fit inside any comfortable Hollywood mold. The studio is crapping its pants because it think the movie’s too “cerebral” for us folk. But you know what? Embracing the unknown can be freeing. And exploring these concepts with women as our protagonists, free from macho bullshit, allow us to also experience these things for their beauty and their terror at the same time. Portman’s character is remote, unreachable. Rather, Thompson and Rodriguez provide the most emotional heft as their characters contemplate the most gorgeous and familiar of mysteries.

I left this movie shaken.

The Party

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is hosting a dinner party to celebrate her recent promotion (her husband Bill – Timothy Spall – is quite useless). The guests include a couple, Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer), who’ve just found out they’re expecting triplets, another couple, April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz) having one ‘last supper’ before they break up forever, and half of a couple, Tom (Cillian Murphy) who brought his own cocaine and gun. Are we having fun yet?

MV5BZTcxMmI2MzUtMWUyOC00NzNiLWFmN2YtNGNhNjBhZmQ5YTA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_Poor Janet. She’s just achieved a major career coup and every single guest at her party will make a thunder-stealing announcement. It’s really not her night. It’s REALLY not her night.

I love Patricia Clarkson, luminous Patricia Clarkson, and this is the script that she deserves – compact but with lots of punch. Serving as best friend to Kristin Scott Thomas, the two make a fine pair for this satire and I probably would have really loved this film had it just been their two glorious faces in black and white, conversing back and forth in their clipped and candid way.

The film is well-directed by Sally Potter. Basically told in real time, the editing is quick and fluid as we bounce between the various characters and their various bombshells. The Party feels and is a very small film but it’s hard to tear your gaze away from the very talented actors. It’s not very penetrating and at times it embraces its farcical nature; I’m not sure this is the kind of film to stick with you for any length of time. But for the performances alone, and Clarkson’s in particular, I’d say there are worse ways to waste 71 minutes.

Pitch Perfect 3

The Barden Bellas from the first 2 movies are back, but they’ve been replaced. Having finally graduated from college, a new crop of girls is singing acapella at their alma matter and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete. Shitty jobs aren’t panning out and dreams are already broken, and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete (I know! Who would have guessed that majoring in mouth music wasn’t really the best life choice?!). A last ditch effort to reunite comes in an invitation to perform for the troops in a USO show and since the Bellas have literally nothing else going on (except for one unwanted pregnancy), off they go to a warn-torn Spanish resort hotel to do their part.

Now you might think that being in a war zone is the toughest part of this new chapter, but in fact, to the Bellas, because they’re not crazy AT ALL, the worst part is dimscompeting against bands that play instruments. How dare they! I thought college was supposed to prepare you for the real world but these ladies are literally not even prepared for guitars. Yeesh. (Not to give too much credit to the new “bands”, including Evermoist, led by Ruby Rose, because after seriously mocking the Bellas for being a “cover band”, it turns out they all do covers too! A Cranberries tribute is particularly poignant with the recent death of Dolores O’Riordan.)

Anyway. There was absolutely no call to make a third movie here, and the script strains so hard to justify itself you’ll want to buy it a squatty potty. If you absolutely must watch it, you’ll want to wait until it’s available at home, where you can fast-forward to all the Sia bits and avoid the inane “plot” (though you’ll want to hear John Lithgow sing with an Australian accent at least once, just to say you did). It’s pretty clear that this franchise needs to learn the same lesson the Bellas do: moving on is good.

 

 

Every Day

A couple of weeks ago, after yet another heavy snowfall, Sean slid his beautiful car into a dump truck stubbornly parked in the middle of the road. Mournful, he sent me pictures of the damage (he was totally fine, the car incurred some ugly scratches) so that I could send a sympathy bouquet with my deepest condolences. He had his car doctor on speed dial of course, and this week he brought her in for cosmetic surgery. In the meantime, he’s traded in his flashy muscle car for a Toyota Camry rental and it’s destroying his soul. After a 6 minute drive he declared “Everything is backwards!” What, pray tell, is backwards, exactly? Well, the wipers. Well, not the wipers, but the wiper knob, it’s on the other side of the steering wheel. Is that all, Sean? Oh no. Another backwards thing: his car is fast, this one is slow. When I mention this seems more like opposites than backwards, he clearly does not appreciate the difference, or he doesn’t appreciate my pointing it out.

Cut to: a Camry-ride later, we’re at a screening of Every Day, the newest in teen romance. One of the “lead characters” is…well, not a ghost, maybe more like a soul, who migrates MV5BNDQwYTJhYWItNzY1MC00NzM5LWI1YjgtM2ExNzE3MWRiODk1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDI4MTE4OTU@._V1_SX1499_CR0,0,1499,999_AL_to a different teenaged body every day. This entity will henceforth be named A. A. happens to fall in love with a girl named Rhiannon (Angourie Rice). Rhiannon never knows what her love will look like, so she just has to walk around school until she finds a stranger giving her the creeps. That’ll be today’s version of A.

As you can imagine, there are some challenges to dating someone who is, erm, bodily challenged. It’s a lot for a couple of kids to take on. Luckily, these aren’t normal teenagers but the world’s most tolerant, imaginative, understanding teenagers who are so open-minded they might just make this thing work (if only the skeptical\logical adults don’t get in the way). It’s hard to imagine less vain members of the selfie generation – A. runs the gamut from hot cheerleader to the fat sidekick from Spiderman: Homecoming, and yes of course A. chronicles them all on Instagram, because duh.

It seems statistically impossible that, of the more than a dozen young actors who play A., not a single one of them is any good, but this is where the long odds pay off. At some point the casting agent must have just said fuck it and gone for the perfect score, even if it is in the wrong direction. What I’m really grappling with is how old this movie made me feel. I am now so far away from being a teenage girl myself that I can’t even identify what a “cute boy” is anymore. Understand that my mother called me boy-crazy since I was 3; my bedroom walls were plastered in Luke Perry posters, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Joey McIntyre, and Leo, of course. So I used to be a bit of a heartthrob aficionado, not to brag. But now? My hottie-thermometer was stone cold. I could not have distinguished between the “hot boyz” and lint pulled up from between the sofa cushions. The struggle is real, y’all.

In conclusion: if you are a 14 year old girl, proceed with gusto. Everyone else should probably consider carrying a special spray just to ward this one off. Watching this movie is like main-lining progesterone. It hits you in the ovaries so hard I went home and immediately had the period cries.

Sean watched the movie hands clasped, eyes to the ceiling. Was he praying for his own death? We’ll never know. But as we walked back toward the Camry humbly awaiting us in the cinema parking lot, he wondered if it was actually his beloved Mustang simply manifesting itself in the ugly body of a reliable, economical, mid-size sedan. Maybe?

Paddington 2

I’m not sure what happened, really. I saw Paddington 2 all by lonesome in a cozy dark theatre on a snowy afternoon and then promptly forgot to tell you all about it, apparently. I think it got swept up by the Black Panther press screening we attended later (is that right? I don’t even know anymore!).

Anyway, the bear. The bear is cute and cuddly and everything that is right with movies generally and family movies in particular. It does not particularly pander to adults (aside from that nostalgia factor) but its earnestness and whimsical panache will reel you in like a bear to marmalade.

Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are back and Mary and Henry Brown, the big-hearted couple who adopted sweet Paddington in the first movie. He’s well ensconced in the Brown family, but gets into a bit of a scrape when his plan to earn money doing odd jobs (VERY odd jobs) for his aunt Lucy’s birthday present goes Brody-Paddington-2awry. Basically he’s chosen too good a gift, and someone beats him to it – a thief! But it’s poor Paddy who gets the blame, and somehow he gets thrown into gen pop prison, even though a) he’s a bear and b) he’s really just a cub. It says terrible things about Britain’s criminal justice system, when you think about it. Anyway, while in prison he falls in with rather a rough crowd, as tends to happen, and soon he’s Knuckles’ bitch. I mean, it’s decidedly less vulgar than I’m implying. He and Brendan Gleeson basically make sandwiches together until until either they escape or the Brown family gets their shit together.

Hugh Grant joins the cast as a rather seedy actor, a part he seems quite qualified to play. In fact, a whole Boaty McBoatload of famous British actors line up to do these movies so you can basically play a rousing round of who’s who Bingo and never come up short.

Paddington 2 still enjoys a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I’m certainly not going to be the difference maker. It’d charm the pants right off you, if only Paddington was the sort of bear who wears pants (he’s not; he thinks a coat and hat suffice). It’s awfully sweet but not tooth-decayingly, and it’ll warm up your hibernating heart.

 

Landline

This movie is deliciously familiar.

Manhattan, 1995: a time when people still smoked inside, while sitting on their plush, wall-to-wall carpeting. Personal phone calls were made on the street corner, on a dirty pay phone, and it cost a quarter. And in the Jacobs home, a forgotten floppy disk leads teenager Ali to discover her father’s affair (and embarrassing erotic poetry). Ali (Abby Quinn) recruits older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) into her investigation. The pair are bonding for the first time, perhaps even bonding over the secrets and lies, while also coming to terms with their own sex and love lives.

It’s really fun to watch Quinn and Slate together on screen. It’s obvious the sisters have some history but ultimately they care about each other, and about their parents, who are seeming more and more human all the time. Do you remember the first time you saw your parents as fallible, flawed people? This is their discover. Their father (John landline-5931Turturro) may be stepping out on their mom, but he’s also the geeky guy who still takes them to Benihana for special occasions even though they’re far too old. Their mother (Edie Falco) has never struck them as a sexual being before, but it turns out that she too has wants and needs, and that maybe not all her tears and concerns are for them. This is a really great script that unfolds over just a couple of days, but pivotal days that will completely reconstruct the family.

Director Gillian Robespierre clearly has some love for the 90s and at times coasts on those references, which are admittedly a bit indulgent, but fun to savour. Landline doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of theme or content but it’s a commentary on cheating by cheaters, and the implosion of a nuclear family just as it was about to expire anyway. There’s some nostalgia here, not just for the time period, but for that period of time before the kids grow wiser than the parents. The family’s shifting dynamics exhibit growing pains that are universal. And the great work by a talented ensemble means this family is fun to watch even as their ship is going down.

 

 

I Could Never Be Your Woman

This was such a weird movie I’ve waited two weeks to write the review and still haven’t found the angle. Not that it’s urgent: it’s from 2007, so you’re not exactly waiting on the edge of your seat to hear my proclamation. You’ve maybe even already seen it, but then again, probably not. It didn’t exactly make a big splash in the land of movies.

Here’s an interesting thing: it’s a film by Amy Heckerling, the woman who wrote and directed Clueless. This movie is about a woman, Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer), who writes a MV5BMTk3NDc3ODk2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDc3NDI3._V1_TV show that looks and sounds a lot like Clueless. It’s about the very coolest of high school students, and stars adults who don’t quite pull off their roles. Among them – Stacey Dash, a crazy lady who was 28 when she played Dionne in Clueless and 40 when she reprised the role of too cool for school adolescent in this film. Paul Rudd, only a couple of years younger, turns up in this one too, playing a teenager on set and the role of younger suitor to Rosie, who is mortified. And, of course, flattered, and maybe interested.

Not that Rosie has a lot of spare time to consider younger lovers. She’s trying hard to save her show, and to co-parent with her youth-obsessed ex-husband (Jon Lovitz), and to parent her wise-beyond-her-years actual teenage daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan in her film debut – yeah, this kid was always going to be a star).

Anyway, there’s three paragraphs to distract from the fact that I still can’t quite make a pronouncement. The truth is, there’s some juicy satire here. It has lots to say about a woman’s insecurities, and generational differences in falling love, and the impossible standards of show business. But for every great little quirk (many provided by Ronan – her character parodies songs sort of a la Weird Al, but with a feminist twist, likely years beyond her grasp) there’s a lot of rom-com cliches to wade through. But there’s the added bonus of Tracey Ullman as a personified Mother Nature, guiding us through the dark forest of female self-esteem. Heckerling clearly has a lot to say and I bet this film was quite personal to her, but she spirals out of control a few times. In the end, if you’re a sucker for Paul Rudd (and let’s be honest: who isn’t?) or if you’re curious how a little girl with a strong Irish lilt fares blasting out the angry lyrics of a certain Canadian songstress, go ahead and look this one up.