Monthly Archives: July 2018

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

Advertisements

The Vanished

When director Chang-hee Lee saw Oriol Paulo’s 2012 film, The Body, he enjoyed it, but he also saw how he would make it differently, and perhaps more importantly, how he could inject it with some Korean spice. Chang-hee Lee introduces the film to us at Fantasia Film Festival, and appears overwhelmed to have traveled all this way for his first feature film, awed at the reception, abashed at the applause. After greeting us in French (garnering immediate rock star status), he reassures us that this is not so much a horror film as a thriller, and so of course the opening scene causes me to pee just a teeny, tiny, barely perceptible bit. It was hella scary.

OF COURSE it’s scary: a night security guard goes down to the basement DURING A BLACKOUT on a rainy night BY HIMSELF armed with only a flashlight TO A MORGUE where he sees – what? a woman? a body? a ghost? We don’t know, because someone (or something) shadowy gives him a crack on the head, and when the police arrive it’s night really the security guard who grabs their attention, but the empty drawer in the morgue.

Yoon Seol Hee, newly dead, formerly a young, successful CEO, has gone missing. Well, her corpse has. Bad-boy detective Woo Joong Shik is on the case, and he’s cynical as hell and casts an accusatory eye at her “trophy husband”, Park Jin Han, although he’s more concerned with murder than mere body snatching. Of course, since Park and Yoon run MV5BOTk0ZDAzOTMtMTg3NS00Y2Y3LWI4ZDYtNjE2MGU3NTRkNTc4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_with an elite crowd, the higher ups are cautioning Detective Woo to back off – but he’s much too much a loose canon to respect authority, isn’t he? You know he is. Meanwhile, if Park is looking inadequately grief stricken, he’s overly concerned about his wife’s missing body. And pretty soon he’s frantically claiming that she’s responsible for her own disappearance, and is somehow still alive.

The cool thing about this movie is that it takes place over the course of just one night, which gives it a real sense of urgency. Movie detectives are often of this variety, the old “renegade cop” trope, the guy who plays by his own rules. He’s tough, a bit of a cowboy, a definite anti-hero, often with a side of alcoholism or anger (mis)management. But there’s something about seeing this Detective among his much more restrained, polite, effacing, perhaps more stereotypically Korean colleagues that’s intriguing and fresh. No one quite knows what to make of him, and he definitely shakes up the investigation.

Even if you’ve seen the original Spanish version, you’ll still get a kick out of The Vanished; the Korean setting of course makes for quite a change, but circumstances and even outcomes have been rearranged as well, for your viewing pleasure. And to be honest, it was quite a pleasure. I can’t believe this is a first feature for the director. It looks slick and cool and there are lots of visual details to admire, we get a sense of his style and aesthetic and the whole thing just glows. The cinematography is beautiful. As I mentioned, this film takes place over the course of a night, so DP Lee Jong-youl coats it in a cold blue wash that lends just a touch of creepiness to an already creepy scenario. But in flashbacks he floods us with warm, natural lighting, which is a bit cruel actually – it gives us a false sense of comfort when really we should never let our guard down.

The thing about The Vanished is, it’s a very compelling puzzle. And even if you’re very clever and you manage to slot all the moving pieces into just the right places, you’ll find it’s one of those trick puzzles that only look complete – actually it just unlocks like 3 more puzzles to solve! The veteran cast (Kang-woo Kim, Hee-ae Kim, and Sang-Kyung Kim as the rumpled Detective) close ranks and draw us in with their institutional politeness – but something stinks in this morgue, and it’s certainly not the dead body. Because, you know, it’s missing. And maybe not even dead.

Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Cam

Mostly, we’re very lucky to travel the world, attend film festivals, and see great movies eons before any of you jerks. But, to be honest, there are a few downsides. Popcorn isn’t a food group. It’s hard to take notes in the dark. There’s only so many times you can sincerely shake Matt Damon’s hand and say “Pleased to meet you.” But worst of all: sometimes you see a really great, or really interesting, or really controversial film and all you want, in fact NEED, to do is talk about it with fellow film fanatics but you can’t because literally no one else has seen it yet. I remember seeing La La Land at TIFF, my eyes stinging as I went from my dark corner of the theatre to broad daylight, sobbing as I walked through downtown Toronto to my next film, and walking straight into Arrival. Back to back massive, amazing films that I needed to discuss and debrief – but with whom? And then I saw Jackie and Lion and Loving and The Lobster, 4 or 5 movies a day for 10 days, at the end of which, I’m punch drunk. And then I have to sit on all this movie madness for anywhere from 3 months (lots of Oscar contenders are aiming for Christmas releases) to 3+ years (if the festival fails to bring in offers for distribution). Thank goodness I drink; if my memory were any better, I’d probably be fucked.

Cam is one of those movies that I’m dying to talk about, and it proves that a press pass is a nice thing, but 17 press passes for my 17 friends would be much nicer. Of course, I MV5BNjI1MTQ2YWEtYmE0OS00NzJkLWFhMDgtNmM3OTJkYzFlZDYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODc4ODY5Mzc@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,998_AL_come home and stare at this white, white screen, trying to distill my thoughts, keep them straight, not confuse them with any of the other 32 trillion movies I’ve seen, and find a way to sort of talk about them with all of you. And that’s possibly the hardest part for me because I’m a bit of blabber mouth but a review is not about telling, it’s about hinting, hinting just enough so that you have an idea whether you should see it or skip it or read some other, more cohesive review that doesn’t waste 400 words complaining about having seen a terrific film.

I buried the lead there. Surprise: Cam is a terrific film!

I’m so glad I got that off my chest. I was playing it so cool during that first paragraph, trying to distract us both with all my reminiscing (I’m pretty sure those are my  memories anyway – of course, I wouldn’t swear to it. Not on my mother’s life. Not even on yours – no offense, of course, but I don’t even know the lady).

Cam is about a sex worker named Alice – though her fans know her as Lola. She’s a cam girl. She works for a website where men can live-stream women for “free” – although getting her to do pretty much anything requires a lot of “tipping.” Lola is quite popular. She’s able to maintain relationships with several men outside the chatroom – not in the real world per say, but in other digital venues, where they’re encouraged to spend more money, and even send gifts, for a more personalized show. Alice (Madeline Brewer) is a surprisingly ambitious sex worker, and she’s smart too. She pushes her shows to the limit, choreographing, staging, and even faking gruesome suicide scenes which her horny, horrible customers seem to gobble up. Alice has her eye on the top: she wants to be the #1 camgirl. But that pride in her work only extends so far – her mother don’t know shit about how Alice pays her rent. She keeps her two lives separate and firmly on lockdown – and that works, until it doesn’t.

One day she finds herself locked out of her account, and stranger still, someone else is using it. Well, not someone else. It’s still her. It’s just not her her. Who is this impostor? How is this sneaky, thieving lookalike even possible?

Cam descends into this pulsating vortex where we must question everything. What is digital identity? At this point, is it even separate from our “offline” identity? How valuable is it? How do we prove it? How do we safeguard it?

Alice is a many-flavoured protagonist, and Madeline Brewer will FREAK YOU THE FUCK OUT. Damn she’s good in this, in a can’t-watch, must-watch kind of way. Fierce and fearless, she’ll turn you on, she’ll mess you up, she’ll  haunt your dreams.

Cam is a smart, timely movie about sex work, but it’s also this swirling, confounding, complicated piece of cinema that manages to look stylish and cool even as it challenges some pretty core notions. I like its subversive nature, how it pokes the bear in sly and cool ways, how it opened me up to an underground world I’ve never really seen before. I was “lucky” enough to be in the audience for its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, but I won’t be truly happy until you’ve all been infected with it also, so I can finally dissect it the meaty, enthusiastic way it deserves.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Confession #1: I had no earthy idea what or who the teen titans were. We had tickets to a press screening and passed them to some kids we knew who were keen to go – we were at a comedy festival seeing Will Forte and not that sad to miss it. The kids were big fans of the movie and it was only a couple of days later I found myself actually paying to see this movie because it was in the right time and place.

Confession #2: When the movie started, I was surprised to find that it was about young, recognizable super heroes – super girl, bat girl, etc. Then it ended. Because it wasn’t the movie, it was just a short before the movie. So, okay, not super heroes then. That makesMV5BNGZlZjYwZjEtMDQzYS00MThlLTljNGYtM2ZkYWRmYmQ4ZGNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzExMzc0MDg@._V1_ more sense. Then the real movie begins, and it turns out it IS about young, recognizable super heroes, just different ones. The group is helmed by a young Robin, and includes Cyborg, and 3 others who I’d never heard of before: Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy.

Confession #3: Okay, I lied. I have heard of Beast Boy before. In fact, I’ve played it with my little nephew, Ben. It’s just that at the time I assumed Beast Boy was a PJ Mask, a compatriot of Catboy, perhaps. Turns out these are DC characters who have been around as long as I have (do not be fooled by an extensive Stan Lee cameo!). Though they live in Jump City, they exist in the same world as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, who all make appearances in this film.

In fact, the old guard kind of get the whole thing going. The Teen Titans kind of live in their shadow, never really getting the opportunity to fight true crime, and certainly never getting to star in their own movie. And it’s the movie big that really rankles, particularly for Robin. He pursues fame quite single-mindedly. And if the only way he can land a movie deal is to find an arch nemesis, he’s not afraid to put friendship on the line and travel back in time to get the job done.

Surprisingly (to me), Teen Titans is full of songs and in-jokes. There were definitely a few winks to the parental audience, but this is firmly a kids’ movie, barely more than an extended episode. Charming enough, I suppose, with bright colours and a certain brand of zany fun. Fart joke within the first 5 minutes. That kind of thing. The kind of movie where every single kid the audience can take a bathroom break, maybe two (AND THEY DID) and not miss much at all. On the upside, I’ve really informed my Beast Boy cosplay, and I know a 4 year old who’s about to be super impressed! That’s right, Ben, Aunt Jay has done some research!

Our House

Our-House-TrailerOur House is a retelling of the age-old cautionary tale about the dangers of science. As we all know, science experiments’ most common outcomes are monsters, ghosts, and superviruses, with temporal paradoxes or dimensional portals being all-too-common as well.

Despite the known risks of science, Ethan (Thomas Mann) has to experiment and push the envelope anyway, consequences be damned, as he works on his wireless electricity machine. The Fly poster on the wall of Ethan’s garage/lab is a sure sign that his science project is a risky one, bound for disaster, and he should know better. Even so, for a while it seems like Ethan’s project might actually work, since when his machine is on his little sister can talk to recently deceased loved ones, but inevitably, much more sinister beings begin to make their presence felt.

IMG_2042Full disclosure: I was fortunate  to watch this film with a ferocious guard dog on my lap, so I knew I could handle whatever scares were thrown my way. You likely will not have that same advantage, at least while Our House is in theatres. But even without the dog, the first hour of this movie will be bearable for everyone, including scaredy-cats like Jay. There’s not any significant tension in this film until the final third of the movie, but that last third contains a very suspenseful sequence that made me wish the intensity had been raised sooner, to allow for a longer showdown with the ghosts.

Leaving me wanting more is not a bad thing, and the movie is right to lean heavily on the family drama aspect with its very strong young cast including Mann, Percy Hynes-White, and Kate Moyer. It’s just that a few more ghosts would have made this movie more memorable, because it’s when those ghosts are actively pursuing Ethan and his family that Our House is at its best.

The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot

Sam Elliott knows he’s recognized for roles in Tombstone or The Big Lebowski. And he’s instantly recognizable too, from his trademark mustache to his deep, commanding voice. But as anyone who’s hit the film festival circuit lately knows, Elliott has shown a preference for independent film in the later stages of his career, and indie film loves him back. In fact, not that long ago he had a role written especially for him – it suits him like a lustrous patch of facial hair. It’s called The Hero, and you should definitely check it out.

But at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Sam Elliott is playing a different, and more specific kind of hero: he’s playing the man who killed Hitler, and then the Bigfoot. These bigger-than-life events serve to bookend the man’s career. When we meet MV5BNjdkNzYwNjYtZDc3MC00Y2Y2LTgzYTctMjkxYTJkYzY1ODE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk4ODI4ODE@._V1_Calvin, he’s a tired old man, safe in his routine, happiest at the bottom of a bottle. But one night the FBI shows up at his door, with a delicate problem on their hands. It’s the Bigfoot. He’s patient zero for a world-ending virus, and he’s already decimating populations up in Canada. Calvin, with a reputation for excellent tracking and a specific immunity to the disease, is a last resort. If he can’t stop the Bigfoot, the president is going to nuke Canada to keep himself safe.

I realize that the title alone spells out two really big scenes that you can’t wait to watch (Aidan Turner plays a young Calvin), but the truth is, it’s what’s in between that really matters, to us and to Calvin, who downplays his heroism and manages to come across as a normal, if heartbroken, man. But it’s the specific ways in which he’s broken that’s interesting. It’s the pain in his face, the pain in his body, the way he loses focus and we get drawn into another intense flashback, and after being inundated by all these memories, we start to realize what life has been like for Calvin in between bouts of adventure, and it’s not a beautiful life.

First time director Robert D. Krzykowski evokes the headline of an obituary with his splashy title, but the story focuses more on aging than on adventuring. This is the winding down of a big life and the toll such a life has taken on a man who is, after all, just a man. Sam Elliott is perfect casting, and I have to imagine to a first time director, it’s also dream casting. There’s something deeply satisfying and not a little cathartic in Elliott’s stoic, deadpan acceptance of some pretty absurd situations. And Krzykowski, in love with process, and detail, is more prone to showing the little moments than making a big spectacle. So the most shocking thing about a movie involving the plot to kill humanity’s embodiment of evil AND a mythic monster infected with a doomsday virus is that it’s really not shocking at all. It’s a moody, bittersweet little indie film with a lot to say about every day things.