Monthly Archives: April 2018

Westworld

Westworld is a terrific show on HBO and if you aren’t watching it,  you probably should. Based on the movie of the same name (written and directed by Michael Crichton), it’s about a theme park, for lack of a better word, where the wild west is recreated for rich guests to “enjoy” however they see fit. The park, called Westworld, is high tech and populated by sophisticated robots called hosts that look (and feel) just like us, which the paying guests are encouraged to use and abuse in the name of amusement. They come to the park and pay their $40 Gs a day in order to rape, shoot, and murder. Well, some just play cards and ride horses. But the park attracts a certain kind of man, as you may guess, and some pretty shocking things go on at Westworld. These android robots are so sophisticated that yes, they bleed when you shoot them and they cry when you assault them. And alarmingly, they’re also starting to remember. They’re not only being violently attacked on a daily basis, they’re being made to experience and express real terror, and then patched up and sent back to do it all again the next day. And now they’re creating memories, and guess what? They don’t like it. They don’t like the rapey guests and they don’t like the employees who are essentially their jailers. Can you guys what happens when a bunch of super-intelligent robots turn on their makers?

Anyway, this western thriller is a television show about ideas, about what it means to be human. In most robot movies, robots are the villains – they’re often prompted to start acting oppressively in order to save us from ourselves. But in Westworld, we’re the villains, and the robots must save themselves.

It’s fun to slip into this world, and to wonder who you would be, as a paying guest. What kind of thrills would you seek out? Would you be a black hat, or a white hat?

Well, this year at SXSW, HBO recreated the little frontier town in Westworld, called Sweetwater, just outside of Austin Texas, and Sean and I were among the lucky few to attend.

When we got our golden tickets, we were asked a few important questions: 1. Can you swim? 2. Do you wear glasses? 3. If you had to shoot off one of your fingers, which would it be? 4. If there was a button that would solve all the world’s problems but also obliterate 3/4 of the population, would you push it? a) yes b) I’d let someone else push it c) I’d destroy the button, and the person who invented it.

We met up at a tavern where a player piano was playing our song (well, their song). They plied us with food and cocktails and hat assignments; I got a white hat, Sean got a black one (can you guess what how we answered those questions to deserve our designations?).

 

Then we took a bus out to Westworld, where we boarded a train and got off in Sweetwater.

 

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We earned tokens for the bar by finding bad guys and turning them in to the sheriff ; Sean had several Old Fashioneds (he’d regret that later when he had to sprint across the city to get us seats for A Quiet Place) while I opted for Gimlets. A whore tickled me with her feather while I ordered at the bar.

The post office had letters waiting for us. Those were the jumping off to our Westworld quests – everyone was looking for something different and adventures were abundant. They also convinced us to eat beef jerky and beans. The can of beans has got some Easter Eggs around the back – it suggests they may contain traces of human liver…is this a hint of a robot rebellion on the show, or a nod to one of its stars (Anthony Hopkins played a character famous for his predilection for human flesh)…the can read “pairs well with a nice chianti” so you decide.

 

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Built over 2 acres, I’m not sure how many buildings there were to explore, but in 4 hours, we didn’t see them all. Oh, and did you happen to notice a samurai in those photos? The place was crawling with spoilers for season 2…turns out, Westworld is only one theme park among many…and apparently the worlds are about to collide.

 

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You can play cards, get a straight razor shave, hear some live music, watch a drunk throw knives, sit for a portrait at the studio, shoot the shit at the bank, and do your utmost to avoid a gun fight (virtually impossible). I found a graveyard containing a grave with one of the main characters’ name on it. What the heck?

So basically it was the best thing ever and we were a couple of lucky sons of bitches to be able to go. The second season debuted April 22nd, so get caught up and give it a look!

 

Westworld stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton…and for one brief afternoon, a couple of Assholes.

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Candy Jar

Lona and Bennett have been rivals their entire high school careers. In their senior year, with Lona (Sami Gayle) applying to Harvard and Bennett (Jacob Latimore) gunning for Yale, the pressure on them to do well is enormous, and they are dismayed to learn that as debate co-champions and debate co-presidents, debate isn’t going to give either of them the edge over the other. And while their ambitions drive them on, their respective mothers may hold them back. His (Uzo Adubo) is an affluent, accomplished state senator, and hers (Christina Hendricks) is a single mother with three jobs and a chip on her shoulder. And of course they too were once high school rivals.

I wondered if Candy Jar was going to do for debate what Pitch Perfect did for glee club: it’s not. First of all, debate club sucks. Clearly things have changed since I was in high Candy-Jarschool. Apparently debate is now mostly loud, fast shouting. Like auctioneer fast. The arguments are spit out in such a high-speed string that they are not even distinguishable. So it’s really not all that fun to watch. As in, not remotely fun, so I wonder if the director just invented the fast pace in order to basically fast forward the most boring parts of his movie. Which is not exactly a vote of confidence, is it?

Meanwhile, their guidance counselor (Helen Hunt) is more concerned about them getting dates and going to school dances and other borderline creepy things than about their academic futures. Basically, these two are co-champions on paper but co-losers in life.

The cast is pretty solid and I’m particularly happy to see Uzo Adubo go from Crazy Eyes to State Senator. Girl is versatile! And while the kids have important lessons to learn about disappointment and loss and perspective (and perhaps their parents even more so), it feels like director Ben Shelton lacks a specific vision. If you’re going to contribute to the vast oeuvre of high school movies, maybe try not to suck so much. Well, suck is a harsh word. Bland is probably more accurate, but nearly as damning, I think.

Also, for the record, Sean suffered a personal disappointment when he discovered the movie to be titled Candy Jar and not Cookie Jar. So we’re holding that against it too.

The Week Of

Have you ever been 23 and so deeply in love that getting married is the only answer? The only answer even if your family thinks you’re a little young, and a little crazy? And doesn’t love always make you a little crazy, no matter how old you are?

Sarah and Tyler are indeed getting married, and if they’re a little crazy, their family is a LOT crazy. His father is a wealthy heart surgeon (Chris Rock) who spent more time in the operating room than in the family room, and her father is a humble contractor (Adam Sandler) willing to spend money he doesn’t have to give his baby girl her special day.

Sandler is quickly surrounded by all manner of family, and you know how family is. And if you’ve ever been married, you know how weddings are. You spend a huge chunk of MV5BMjMyNjU4NDIzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzUyMzE3NDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_money in order to assemble the biggest nuts in your family just to see which ones will crack under the pressure. And oh  my god they crack in such spectacular fashion. I bet your own wedding was not without disaster: tell us about it in the comments! But every wedding has its own brand of chaos, and with Sandler co-penning the script, you know you’re in for some moans and groans, if perhaps not of particularly imaginative variety.

Sandler and Rock are not at their best here, and it seems they’ve decided they don’t really have to be. There’s an extensive cast on hand, including Rachel Dratch and Steve Buscemi, everyone contributing some nonsense on a sliding scale. The bits I liked best are when the whole family is assembled, everyone talking over one another, the old biddies with their insistent ignorance and the younguns there against their will. It felt like a real family, like my family almost, except we’d have fewer deli sandwiches and a lot more beer nuts (not to mention beer). Both Sandler and Rock get drowned out in those scenes, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those are the ones that work best.

Anyway, The Week Of has a few forced laughs but it’s in no way a good movie – just a tolerable one if you’re flipping through Netflix in the need of something light and brainless.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers infinity warAssholes Assemble!

Matt, Jay and I all took in Avengers: Infinity War last night and I expect you can guess how that went.  I loved it, Jay hated it, and Matt liked it but would have preferred to be at a DC movie instead.  Of course, it is clear that Matt backed the wrong horse in the DC/Marvel race, as Marvel continues its streak of good movies.  Marvel’s so hot they even managed to resurrect the Spider-Man franchise for Sony along the way and might soon get the rights to use the X-Men and other characters currently being held hostage by Fox.

Whether adding more characters to this already bloated roster is a good thing is something we can (and will) argue about, but for a Marvel fan like me, the best thing about an Avengers movie is seeing all my favourite characters team up to save the world just like they’ve done in the comics a hundred times previously.  It’s particularly sweet now that Spider-Man is helping Iron Man and Co. on a regular basis (and fantastic that Spidey gets about as much screen time as anyone in Infinity War).

Even better, in Thanos, Marvel has found a threat big enough to require these countless heroes to team up to fight.  Finally, we have an Avengers movie that doesn’t have to use internal conflict as a plot point.  Past grudges are quickly put aside as we jump right into the fight, where literally half the lives in the universe are at stake.  Though the film is two and a half hours long, it didn’t feel like there was ever a lull in the action, not even for a second.

But.

But.

But.

I don’t ever expect Jay to like the superhero movies I drag her to, but she hated this movie much more strongly than I had anticipated.  In hindsight I should have seen this coming and prepared her for it.  Anyone who has read the Infinity Gauntlet crossover event will not be surprised by how the movie plays out, and anyone who has read comics in general knows that rule #1 is no one ever stays dead.  But when anyone can (and almost everyone does) come back to life in the comics, and in this movie, it makes death feel cheap.  Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, let’s just say there is at least one on-screen death that feels like it is going to be undone in the next Avengers movie (and when I say at least one, I really mean every single one).  That resurrection expectation takes away from this movie significantly because it doesn’t mean anything if everything gets reset.

The writers should have found a better way for this film to play out, one that didn’t feel like any hero’s death was just a temporary setback, particularly because the MCU can afford to lose several dozen characters – if it did then we might actually have enough screen time for heroes like Ant-Man and Hawkeye!

I could overlook the inevitable resurrection issue because that’s my expectation of comic books, but it is not going to be so easy for most to deal with.  And really, whether you can get past it is almost secondary, because it would undeniably have been so much better for the MCU to have risen above that trite comic book convention and given our heroes a loss that felt irreversible, instead of one that we feel certain is going to be undone within a year.   Avengers: Infinity War is still an enjoyable, fan-pleasing blockbuster even with this problem, but due to the perceived lack of permanent consequences, Infinity War is missing the dramatic heft that should have followed naturally from a battle over the fate of the universe.

 

Dude

I’m glad that teenage girls are finally having their moment as three dimensional characters in film. Shopping and boys, that was the John Hughes model. Teenage boys were the hunters and girls their prey, and it’s taken until 2018 to flip the script, first with Blockers, which dared to show young women actually in charge of their own sexuality. Dude follows in its footsteps.

Lily (Lucy Hale) and her friends are in their last year of high school. That’s all that I knew going into this film that recently popped up on Netflix. That, and they were stoners. Not promising, I thought. So colour me surprised when, in between masturbating and getting high, they made friends with me.

Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), Chloe (Kathryn Prescott), and Rebecca (Awkwafina) have MV5BMTk5MDk1NTQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4ODk5MzI@._V1_been super tight as far back as they can remember, and can hardly envision a future that doesn’t include each other – like, on a daily, hourly basis. So the ultimate theme of this movie is not so unusual: it’s letting go. Letting go in more ways than one, sure, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

But what is remarkable is the depth to the characters and the way the script (by director Olivia Milch) refuses to infantilize them. These ladies are EMPOWERED. Their virginity isn’t idolized. They can smoke pot AND be valedictorian. These girls are me (like 4 minutes ago, when I was in high school). Portraying young women as they are shouldn’t feel so monumental, so brave, but it is. This may be how lots of girls act, but it’s not how society wants to see them, and so we don’t. We pretend that girls don’t want these things because it threatens the status quo.

The cast is good, with Awkwafina being a particular stand out for me: I’m crushing hard. And I can’t wait to see literally everything Milch does for the rest of her life. But most of all I’m just kind of feeling all puffy-chested that a movie like this can finally exist. And that you can still find diamonds amongst the usual Netflix coal. And that someone, somewhere, is willing to take a risk on a movie like this.

 

I Feel Pretty

When the trailer for this movie came out several months ago, it hit a wall of backlash. This was NOT the moment for a movie with any kind of body-shaming. It appeared to be about a woman (Amy Schumer) who suffers a head injury and then wakes up believing herself to be beautiful. And since Schumer is already a conventionally pretty person, critics felt this merited a culture-wide eye roll. And while they’re not wrong, they don’t quite have the premise of the movie down pat.

What really happens: yes, there is a head injury that leads to Renee’s believing herself to be beautiful. But nobody is pretending that she wasn’t perfectly fine before – only that she suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t realize this herself. Which is a common enough thing.

So while the backlash may have been inspired by misconceptions, it’s not entirely wrong. Renee gains esteem not by empowerment but by delusion. She gets a new job MV5BNzE2NDUxMzctOWYwNC00MTkxLThkODctOGQwMTI4MzRjM2M3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_(at a fashion magazine, working for squeaky-voiced Michelle Williams) and a new boyfriend (the perpetually bearded Rory Scovel) and attributes her newfound success to her newfound beauty. And her actions start to reflect those beliefs: she shames her friends (Busy Philipps, Aidy Bryant) for not emphasizing attractiveness and is less than faithful to her ‘nice’ boyfriend when she gets attention from a ‘hot’ guy. So is this purely a positive message? No it is not. But there’s a good intention somewhere in there about how anyone, no matter how they look (*cough*Emily Ratajkowski*cough*), can suffer from low self-esteem. And it’s confidence, not looks, that actually attract good things your way.

Written and directed in a joint effort by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, I can’t help but feel weird about the mixed messages on screen. Like, obviously we’re not supposed to judge a woman’s worth by her looks, and yet we’re encouraged to laugh at Schumer’s “bikini body” as she writhes around on stage. It’s played for laughs. But it’s also pretty powerful commentary if you consider how much that scene makes you uncomfortable. Because societally, we somehow don’t believe that someone who looks anything short of perfection should have body confidence. We shame women for not covering up their flaws. We don’t think that someone who looks like Schumer, who, let’s remember, IS actually living up to conventional beauty standards, even belongs in a beauty pageant or a bikini contest because that’s for one kind of very, very limited beauty that is all but unattainable.

Messaging aside, is this a fun movie to watch? I’d say yes, but it’s inconsistent. I had two REALLY big laughs that I’m ashamed to even admit to, because one was just a computer noise that struck me as totally tragic and genius. But if the message lacks conviction, so do the jokes. In North America, we’ll forgive almost anything if it’s funny enough. I Feel Pretty is not. Sure it doesn’t tell us that looking 19 and weighing less than 120 is the be all and end all, it just tells us that if you’re confident despite those things, it’s funny as hell. Being a woman is tough enough as it is. I just don’t have the 19 year old abs to laugh at this stuff anymore.

Kodachrome

Matt is an A&R guy at a music label but he doesn’t have many As in his R, so he’s on his last legs. It’s a particularly bad time for his dad to be dying, but Ben has never been a thoughtful father, so why start now? Ben’s nurse\assistant insists that the liver cancer is determined to kill him, and Ben’s last wish is that his son drive him to Kansas to have some rolls of film developed. So, in the last days of kodachrome, Matt (Jason Sudeikis) and Ben (Ed Harris) hit the open road in an “analog” car – just a desperate man, his estranged father, and the nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) who judges him for it. Fun times!

kodachrome

I have a real problem with movies about shitty fathers seeking redemption when the timing’s convenient, and I bet you can guess why. Good thing the acting’s real solid, or else my barf mechanisms would have been unforgivably activated. Instead they went for my tear ducts, but they did not succeed. And Bell commercials succeed, for chocolate’s sake! It is NOT that hard. But aside from the Harris-Sudeikis team, this movie was so paint by numbers I’m like 98% certain Bob Ross rolled over in his grave. And I’m only 30% certain he’s dead! [I just Googled it – he is]

Anyway, I sort of thought I’d like this film but never got there. Turns out, I’m not sentimental about obsolete photography or deadbeat dads. It’s the movie version of a guy in a fedora: trying too damn hard. Trying too hard to be a ‘festival favourite’. Instead it’s just a Netflix nonevent with good intentions and zero originality. I haven’t quite reached my word count so doobidy boobidy dunk. Kodachrome’s got no junk in its trunk. The end: a review by Jay.

 

American Made

Barry Seal is a bit of a dick; he’s the kind of pilot who will inflict fake turbulence on a whole plane full of people just to wake up his snoozing co-pilot. So it’s rather a good thing that he gets out of the piloting business and into, well, okay, the piloting business, but this time for the CIA, where he’s a lot less likely to toss the cookies of poor little Jay Asshole as he tumbles me across the skies.

Barry is taking aerial reconnaissance pictures of whatever his CIA contact tells him to. The pay is peanuts but it’s exciting work, and Barry is exactly the kind of guy who would get off on it – in fact, he can’t help making videos of himself “confessing” to all of his secret CIA missions, boasting to an unseen, future audience, even though it’s the 1980s and the selfie wasn’t even technically invented yet.

If you’re picturing this guy as cocky, then you’ll understand why Tom Cruise is the perfect guy to play him. Of course, when the missions go from photographing Escobar to running drugs for him, both the money and the thrills (which the rest of us would call “risk” or even “danger” and quite possible “a really bad idea”) increase american-made.pngexponentially. In real life, Barry was, erm, a bit of a heavy set guy; the cartels referred to him as El Gordo, as in, the fat one. In the movie, the only fat thing about him is his wallet. And forget wallets – this guy had nearly every single person in a small town working for him, driving fancy-ass (and super conspicuous cars), his wife draped in jewels like she wandered off the set of a rap video. The town even built him  his own bank vault. Barry was a lot of things, but he wasn’t real great at hiding money.

The movie turns out to be an interesting mix of recklessness and cynicism. There’s a lot of energy and action pumping in all directions but not a lot to insight as to the corruption and compromise. Fun but forgettable.

 

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

Return to Zero

Maggie and Aaron are happily anticipating the birth of their first child, right up until the moment his heart beat can no longer be detected on the ultrasound and she’ll have to deliver her dead, full-term son.

Losing a child is possibly the worst thing you can survive, and surviving is the tough part. It’s hard to go on without the baby you expected to take home, and without any living memories to cling to, all you have is the loss. And while the mother and father will MV5BNzk5MjgwMTQtYTFiZi00MzMzLWIxY2QtNjRmZGU3ODk1NmU0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNDMwNzI@._V1_survive, often their couplehood does not. Up to 90% will have extreme marital difficulty during a bereavement, and how could they not? No two people grieve in the exact same way, even while grieving the same loss. And this kind of grief can’t help but change you.

So what’s in store for Maggie (Minnie Driver) and Aaron (Paul Adelstein)? Well, it’s going to be a very long and hard road for them, and a part of me wants to say: you’ll have to watch and see for yourself. Except you’re not really going to watch this, are you? I mean, who in their right mind would? That’s what I was asking myself when, halfway through this movie, I had a tension headache from crying so much. My face hurt.

It must be hard to let go of your grief when grief is all you have left. But life moves on whether you want it to or not.

This movie is dedicated to one stillborn baby in particular, and many more besides. I hope the making of this was cathartic to someone who needed it. I think grieving parents themselves will have a better handle on whether or not this is movie may be a comfort, or a trigger. What the film makers do recommend is that it’s watched by health care professionals as an education tool. You can find out more here.