Author Archives: Jay

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

I never thought that Maleficent cried out for a sequel. The first one seemed to wrap up the story rather neatly: Maleficient, thought largely to be a villain, was actually just a fairy with a dark past, a magnificent wardrobe, a broken heart, and a slight hairpin temper. Inside, she was rather like a pussy cat. More or less. But all-knowing Disney thought there was more money to be made more story to be told, so it milked an old fairy tale for more malevolence.

When we left Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), it was generally understood that she wasn’t so terrible after all. Really kind of sweet, and fiercely protective of the little girl she’d raised as her own. Years later, it seems that message never penetrated the minds of the villagers down below who still fear her. Aurora (formerly Sleeping Beauty) (played in this series by Elle Fanning) has been prancing about barefoot in the forest as Queen of the Moors, home to all kinds of fairies and mythical creatures. Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) has continued to sniff about and likes the flower crown in her hair and her whole boho-chic vibe. He proposes and she accepts, and they’re pretty much the only two who are happy about it. Maleficent is mostly just concerned because she knows she won’t exactly be welcomed by “his kind.” And maybe she’s also a little sad to lose her precious goddaughter. His mother, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), makes it clear they’re on shaky ground with her as well. You can imagine how awkward the engagement dinner’s going to be. Or, no you can’t, because it’s next-level awkward. I won’t say it’s the reason that humans and fairies go to war with each other but it’s not not the reason, if you know what I mean. So if you thought planning your wedding with your in-laws was fraught, imagine the tension when both mothers are intent on destroying each other. I mean, the seating chart alone is going be bizarrely complicated when you need opposing armies at the same table.

Anyway, Sean thought Mistress of Evil was “not great” and overlong. And at 20 minutes longer than its predecessor, it’s hard to argue that point. It does take way too long to establish certain facts. But I thought the movie was “not that bad” (is she quoting herself there? Indeed she is). I enjoyed meeting all of the little woodland creatures, especially more of Maleficent’s ilk, including the lovely Chiwetel Ejiofor. But mostly I was there for Maleficent. Poor, dark, misunderstood Maleficent. Yes her black eyeliner is intimidating and her horns are slightly reminiscent of a Beelzebub type. That does’t mean she has a heart of darkness! Don’t judge a book by its brooding black cover. Not even when that book falls from a top shelf and caves in your skull. Err. Well maybe then. Anyway, I love Maleficent because I love Jolie in the role. She’s menacing and conflicted and vulnerable and powerful and it’s terrific to see her don the wings and the cheekbones again.

Does Maleficent: Mistress of Evil justify its existence? Not remotely. Jolie and Pfeiffer make an electric pair and it’s sort of wonderful to see two such formidable women square off so maybe that’s enough. And if it’s not enough, the incredible costumes by Ellen Mirojnick will more than make up the difference.

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Ten years later, the gang’s still together, living in the White House like one big semi-content family, and even more improbably, still alive. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have been together long enough that their zombie battles are like a well-choreographed ballet. They know each other intimately. Columbus and Wichita have somehow remained romantically involved, even if it’s stale (the lack of options might be keeping them together), and Tallahassee has appointed himself Little Rock’s substitute father, whether she wants or needs one or not.

You don’t even have to read between the lines to know that one day, the boys will wake up and find the girls gone. Sometimes you’d rather risk your brain being slurped out of your face holes than spend another night watching Netflix with your smarmy, curly-haired, concave-chested boyfriend.

The only hitch is that while these 4 bozos have gone stagnant this past decade, their zombie counterparts have not. The zombies are evolving, becoming harder to kill and better at killing. Which is depressing. Anyway, against their will, circumstances will see them all hitting the road with some new comrades in arms, hitting up Graceland and a hippie commune and literally an ice cream truck in between. Rosario Dawson joins the crew as Nevada, a badass innkeeper, and they pick up Zoey Deutch as Madison, a woman who has thus far managed to survive the zombie apocalypse because she’s absolutely brainless. It’s a role that you will make you hate her AND admire her for performing it just a little too well.

I’m naturally skeptical about sequels and I bet you are too. And yet this one reunites the whole gang and manages to recapture the magic. It leans on some of the things that made the first film unique, but doesn’t shy away from trying new things out. It finds the laugh more often than not.

I was particularly mesmerized by the clever set design; the White House is full of funny sight gags and Easter eggs that the movie doesn’t even pause to appreciate. The commune, while wholly different, is also very generously designed and outfitted. Everything in the movie is amped up – especially the violence. A head caving made even stoic Sean flinch. Or maybe he was suppressing a sneeze. The point is, my head was so firmly turned away from the screen in self-protection that I was watching him rather than the movie. Which only sounds like a complaint. In fact I quite enjoyed myself. There was really no need for a Zombieland sequel and it’s not overly concerned with justifying itself. But director Ruben Fleischer and company manage to make blood and guts endearing – go ahead and get splattered with good times.

Los Reyes

Well, I’ve never seen anything like it before, that’s for sure.

I’m not even sure what to call it – documentary seems inaccurate and also somehow inadequate. “An enchanting nonfiction portrait of canine companionship” is what the Planet In Focus film festival has settled upon, and I’m game enough to go along with it. Set in a Chilean skate park, the film somehow makes 2 stray dogs its focus.

Chola is a sweet, proud girl who finds joy in chasing cyclists and is endlessly fascinated by dropping her beloved tennis ball town the skate park’s many ramps. Futbol, on the other hand, is more sedate, more stoic perhaps, but is rarely seen without some ‘toy’ to chew on, though that toy is most often garbage and if all else fails, a rock.

Besides the dogs, the skate park is often full of skaters, mostly teenage boys, slight no-goodniks, young rebels who are just learning to navigate an adult world they aren’t quite ready for. But there are no human faces in this film, just occasional body parts, the merest hint of human, as if the dogs don’t quite care to pay them full attention. More likely to be on screen: patches of sky, blades of grass, close-ups of bugs – whatever might be considered a dog’s eye view. The film is laconic. There is a lot of laying about in the sun, or obsessively sniffing a suspicious mound of earth. Perhaps mimicking the mind of a dog, there’s a lot of open space in the film, room to contemplate individual things but rarely a larger whole.

The film fest posits that Los Reyes will “delight dog- and doc-lovers alike” and while that may be the case for some, I’d guess that it won’t be for everyone. Largely silent, the film only occasionally picks up snippets of conversation from the nearby youth who seem to always have a domestic situation or a drug deal going down. The dogs remain uninterested. Two years into filming, the dogs are also surprisingly comfortable with the cameras, allowing for extremely up close and personal explorations of their bodies and the other inhabitants of their fur. It is not always pleasant viewing, especially because the lives of stray street dogs are probably not exceptionally long. I love dogs, but I love them to have homes and be cared for, and for me, this movie never shed its inherent melancholy.

The Dark Tower

This movie seems overly complicated and unworthy of my full attention, so I’m immediately fiddling around with different things, multi-tasking with Netflix making noise in the background, Sean filling me in on important details he knows I’m inevitably missing.

I feel like the premise is this: somewhere in the universe there’s a dark tower which prevents dark (bad?) things from happening to us (more than they already do?). Its guardian is a gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). Its nemesis is a man who presumably also has a name but I keep just hearing him called The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey). Oh, it’s Walter. Walter is a bad guy, I think. He and his cronies keep kidnapping children from Earth because apparently the tower can be toppled by the mind of a child, which seems deliberately obfuscating. Much like the word obfuscating. So they strap kids into a contraption that looks worrisomely like an electric chair, and it somehow concentrates a beam of their thoughts (?) onto the tower, which absorbs the damage. So far the tower remains upright, but every time it gets hit, Earth thinks it’s having an earthquake, and presumably the rest of the universe is feeling it too.

This whole thing is happening off-world but a peculiar kid by the name of Jake has been dreaming of it and isn’t overly surprised when he has to go on the lam from phony seam-faced psychiatric workers. He hides out in an abandoned building and Sean shouts “The wall just moved…like a dimensional portal.” [Insert Jay looking at Sean like ‘Oh, is there such a thing? An exact way a wall can “move” to “suggest” a “portal”?] And then a portal appears and the kid steps through because why the hell not, he’s 11 years old, time to get some hair on those balls, and now he’s on some parallel universe where his dream sketches have come alive [ugh dream sketches, such a tired trope].

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall

Mossville Louisiana was established by newly freed slaves, post-abolition. They designed it to be self-sustaining and community-minded. Many of the town’s recent residents are descendants of its founders. I saw recent rather than current because nobody lives there now.

A South African company (Sosol) came in and started buying up land. Those who didn’t get out immediately had to put up with construction, loss of basic services like electricity and sewage, and have weathered increased buy-out pressure from the company. The few remaining holdouts haven’t stopped the company from building its plants, but the residents are already decimated, poisoned by petrochemical plants and dying in droves, cancer not just visiting one or two but virtually all. Not that the company minds: when a resident dies, it’s that much easier for them to buy their land. Cheaper too.

It’s easy to want to solve this by relocating the sickly stragglers, but given their attachment to the land, the ancestral ties, their proud heritage, their unwillingness to abandon it is perhaps justified. My house was built by a stranger in a part of the country I don’t even like, but I still wouldn’t want to move. And the more someone tried to force me, the deeper I’d dig my heels. But for people like Stacey Ryan a.k.a. Mossville’s last man standing, he hardly has the strength left to put up a fight; he’s too often crippled in an emergency room to effectively advocate.

This documentary takes a cold hard look at environmental injustice and racism, and the embarrassing truth that a company with ties to apartheid has now come to the U.S. looking to do the same. Politicians are sacrificing communities belonging to the disenfranchised. They hope you won’t notice, or care. But please do.

Boo! A Madea Halloween

Brian (Tyler Perry) is called away from home on Halloween night but isn’t crazy about leaving his teenage daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) home alone when there’s a big frat party happening just down the street. And he’s right: that girl is scheming to be up to no good. But Brian’s solution is probably a questionable parenting decision. He calls over Madea and crew to babysit without seeming to actually be babysitting.

Tiffany is IMMEDIATELY on to them of course, and she’s got a plan for that too: make her house seem haunted. Madea (also Tyler Perry, natch) is scared. Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) is scared. Hattie (Patrice Lovely) is scared. Joe (Tyler Perry once more) is scared. But they don’t vacate. Nor do they fall for the old pillows under the covers trick. No matter how much you wanted to go to a frat party, NOTHING and I do mean nothing can be worth Madea and her posse rolling up on the party. You don’t know embarrassment until your very large great aunt busts out some vintage stripper moves. Anyway, revenge works both ways and the night is still young.

I don’t know if I’ve just seen a string of bad movies or what but Madea in an awful lot more palatable to me right now. I still don’t think this or any of them are great movies, but suddenly I’m not hating it. Is this nostalgia kicking in? Tyler Perry has announced his intention to retire the Madea character, and I’m not exactly mourning what I think of as a tired schtick, especially since I tend to love Perry in almost any other capacity. But in this movie…the fun he’s having is often infectious. The good news is, he has very recently opened Tyler Perry Studios, which means there will be plenty of output to replace the Madea content. Tyler Perry Studios was purchased and established in Atlanta, 330 acres of the formerĀ Fort McPherson. Not only is this one of the largest film production studios in the nation, it makes Tyler Perry the first African-American to outright own a major film production studio. Friends including Spike Lee, Oprah, and Beyonce (maybe you’ve heard of them?) came out to celebrate. And I’m guessing pretty soon, we all will.

 

 

Zombieland

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us the first rule of surviving in the United States of Zombieland is: cardio. “The first to go are the fatties.” Well, shit. I mean, not that I’ll mind much. I’ve gone on record before – I am not a survivor. I would 130% rather die than live without clean fingernails, hot soup, pillow-top mattresses, a good light to read by, air conditioning, my hot tub…well, the list is nearly endless. I am what they call “high maintenance” and I am not embarrassed. My happiness is not accidental, it is the result of favourable conditions and many comfort items. It’s basic math. More is more. Plus, I think running for your life is undignified. I won’t even walk briskly for a bus.

Columbus, a loner and a weakling, is perhaps himself an unlikely survivor, but his odds increase when he teams up with fellow traveler Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is infinitely cooler and braver and better at this zombie shit. And yet they still fall prey to a couple of young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are simply smarter. It’s when all 4 start traveling together that the fun really starts. Sure it contravenes some of Columbus’ dearly held rules, like traveling light and not being a hero, but just because you’re being chased by brain-hungry hoards doesn’t mean you’re not also horny.

It’s sort of incredible that it’s been 10 years since Zombieland came out; it was one of the first movies that Matt, Sean and I would have seen together. I would have met Sean about 2.5 months prior and he was already being the third wheel on Jay & Matt adventures. We saw Zombieland at a downtown Ottawa theatre that no longer exists – The World Exchange. I was about to say that we could walk there from our apartment but in October 2009, it was still technically only Sean’s apartment (and always would be – when I moved in with all my stuff, we moved up 2 floors to a spacious 2 bedroom). Now of course we’ve done the big suburban exodus. In 10 years we’ve bought 1 house, 3 more dogs, 4 cars, 6 weddings (5 of them ours). We’ve added 15 people to our immediate families – 9 by birth and 6 by marriage. If life can change this much in a decade for us and our cushy little existence, imagine how much things have changed for the people living the zombie apocalypse. They have no government, no infrastructure, no twinkies. When we left them at the end of Zombieland, all they had was each other. What have they been up to? How are they possibly surviving? Did they hole up in a farm? Contract the flu? Did Wichita beat Columbus to death with a studded baseball bat? We’ll find out this weekend, when the sequel finally hits theatres.