Author Archives: Jay

Downhill

Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) are vacationing with their two teenage sons at a ski resort in the Alps. One day, during an outdoor lunch, a controlled avalanche sends a wall of snow down toward them, its powder cloud so substantial that all the restaurant patrons fear for their lives. In the panic, Pete flees, saving himself, leaving Billie trapped at the table, protecting their sons. When the snow cloud clears, no one is hurt, but tensions are high as his wife and sons believe he abandoned them in their time of need.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the rest of their vacation does not go well. Pete won’t admit what he did and Billie simmers in (mostly) silence, their interactions steeped in a strong brew of passive aggression. Things really reach a head when Pete’s coworker Zach (Zach Woods) shows up with his bubbly girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) and their carefree hashtag lifestyle is no match for the simmering stress of their unhappily married friends. Billie tearfully, shakily recounts her brush with death and her husband’s cowardice, while the guests sit in horrified silence. She even gets the boys out of bed to confirm the story when Pete once again denies it. Oooof. The movie is supposed to be uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be so wildly miscast. Louis-Dreyfus is convincingly traumatized while Ferrell is just a buffoon. They’re feel like they’re making two different movies.

Downhill is the unnecessary American remake of the excellent Swedish movie Turist (known in English-speaking countries as Force Majeure). Force Majeure was one of the first films we reviewed here, and one that we talked about for weeks, admiring its cinematography and script, but most of all debating the ethics and themes. We went to a pub afterward, and talked about masculinity, filial duty, gender stereotypes, human instincts, and whether it’s fair to measure your relationship based on a split-second decision. Privately, we all wondered how we might have reacted ourselves.

Coming out of Downhill, all we debated was why Americans feel the need to remake movies and make them worse. Yes, laziness of course. Americans hate subtitles. And reading. But Parasite! Parasite just won Best Picture, and that’s subtitled. Progress? Or wishful thinking? At any rate, Downhill feels unfortunately titled considering how it compares to the heights achieved by its predecessor. If you’re going to bother, skip this one entirely and see Force Majeure. Provoking and invasive, it doesn’t just break the marriage open, it goes inside and pokes around.

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Shaun is a sheepdog’s worst nightmare. He’s kicking up plenty of mischief on his farm, prompting the poor, overtaxed sheepdog to post signs like: no sheep hot air ballooning, no sheep archery, and definitely no sheep tractor hijacking. But this farm has more alarming things going on than harmless sheep pizza pranks. Shaun has made a new friend, an alien who has special powers. And one of those special powers is for making Shaun’s mischief even more mischievous.

While the rest of the sheep rather obligingly cover for his absence, Shaun goes on an epic journey to get his alien friend back home, all the while evading capture by a certain government agency. Meanwhile, back at the farm, the farmer has had the bright and hopefully lucrative idea to capitalize on the town’s UFO fervor and turn his farm into a Farmageddon theme park – with the poor dog in charge of construction. The film clearly positions the dog as Shaun’s nemesis but you can’t help but feel the dog is given the worst jobs and takes all of the blame. I, for one, feel sorry for him.

Shaun The Sheep is very simple story telling, very charmingly told. There isn’t a shred of dialogue and yet the story is easily communicated. All the gags are visual, and most are aimed at children, but some references to the genre (to XFiles, for example, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), are clearly meant for the adults in the audience.

Shaun and friends provide everything you’d hope for in a sequel, plus a far wider world to explore and enjoy. And as we expect from¬†Aardman productions, the stop motion animation is not only sweet but filled with beautiful detail, a film clearly made with love. The character work is great and the film is gratifyingly simple. What else can you ask for?

Heartburn

Two people who refuse to ever marry again meet at a wedding, as you do. Rachel’s (Meryl Streep) a writer, Mark’s (Jack Nicholson) a writer, and they both know better when it comes to love. So of course they end up marrying, though not before Rachel keeps everyone at the wedding waiting for hours and hours as she tries to warm up her cold feet in the room next door. I mean honestly, what’s the max time you would spend at a wedding if the bride was refusing to walk down the aisle?

As if that was an inauspicious enough start to their marriage, the two embark immediately on a home renovation. Which, as we all know, is responsible for like 78% of all divorces and about 94% of matricides (when a wife kills her husband). But they get through it, even with the added pressure of a baby on the way who can’t possibly be born if the lace curtains aren’t hung. And Rachel, newly domesticated, is surprised to find how happy she is. And is totally devastated to find, during the waddliest waddle of her second pregnancy, that Mark is cheating on her.

What now? The Streep takes us up and down a whole xylophone of emotions, hitting every octave with masterful precision. Nicholson is the oboe to Streep’s xylophone, a little jauntier, but hitting complementary notes, pairing nicely. Plus his back hair catches pleasingly in the moonlight. But make no mistake: the xylophone is dominant.

Directed by Mike Nichols based on an autobiographical novel by Nora Ephron, the intimacy is authentic enough to make you feel like a voyeur but you need to decide in advance that you’re here for the performance, not the story. Because there isn’t much of one: love goes off the rails. It’s sad but it happens all the time. The minute Rachel shoves a key lime pie in Mark’s face, she’s every cliche we’ve seen before and none we haven’t.

Crazy Stupid Love

Poor Cal. He thinks he’s moments away from a creme brulee when his wife Emily hits him with a wallop: she wants a divorce. And that’s not all. On the tense car ride home, Emily (Julianne Moore) confesses that she slept with someone. Cal (Steve Carell) pulls a LadyBird out the car but it’s not going to save his marriage.

At a local bar, a very despondent Cal is attracting the wrong kind of attention. Crying in public will tend to do that. Resident lady’s man Jacob (Ryan Gosling) takes pity on him, and takes him under his wing to dress him up and teach him how to flirt. Best wing man ever? Suddenly Cal, who’s only ever been with his wife, is putting serious notches into his new, single guy Ikea bedpost. Which doesn’t sit well with Emily, but who is she to complain. Right?

Meanwhile, Jacob’s love life is going in the opposite direction. He’s met a woman he actually wants to not just sleep with, but wake up with. Hannah (Emma Stone) is the right mix of neurotic-quirky-cute and for the first time, Jacob’s falling in love.

Sure it’s a little too sweet sometimes, but Crazy Stupid Love is a legitimately funny rom-com with effervescent dialogue delivered by an A-list cast. Carell is likable as ever, making a convincing transformation both inside and out. For his part, Gosling is game for poking a little fun at his own image, punctuating some of the absurd if not ever quite crazy idiosyncrasies of dating, whether it’s the first or second time around. There’s a maturity (perhaps a pre-Tinder maturity) to it that gives it universal appeal.

Sonic The Hedgehog

Does the world need movies based on video game characters? Not really. But a good story can spring up from anywhere, except perhaps from the minds of screenwriters Josh Miller and Patrick Casey whose credits are so sparse they literally feature “community television” and yet Sonic The Hedgehog will still not make their highlight real.

Sonic The Hedgehog isn’t bad but it is speeding in the exact opposite direction of good, leaving only lightning farts and a blue blur in its wake. Is Sonic allergic to not sucking? Okay, so it’s kind of bad. The script is bland and overly familiar and exceedingly safe. There’s nothing new or exciting here, just a paint-by-numbers that any idiot could have written, and in the case of Sonic, we got two. I mean: someone got paid for this. Miller and Casey literally cashed a cheque for writing the line “Let’s go do some ROCK-conaissance!” and Jim Carrey got a much, much bigger one to say it.

And ugh: Jim Carrey. I was fine with him having disappeared off the face of the earth. I was never a fan of his annoying, rubber-faced schtick, the over-the-topness of his obnoxious expressions and over-enunciation. NOT. HERE. FOR. IT. I very kindly tolerate him when a director keeps a tight leash on him (Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but Jeff Fowler is not that director. Not only is Carrey unleashed, it’s pretty clear he’s a very bad dog who’s probably pissing on Fowler’s shoes. Fowler, whose credits are no more impressive than Miller’s or Casey’s (ie, he’s never made a movie before), is quite content to simply point his camera in the right direction.

James Marsden, charming and inoffensive, is relegated to saying things like “Good grief!” which is not a thing for grown men to say, or anyone outside of Charlie Brown’s inner circle, really. Tika Sumptner, playing his wife, is given even less to do. Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, and though Schwartz is known for rather larger than life characters, you could go the whole movie without placing his voice, generic white guy √† la Zach Braff.

Sonic The Hedgehog is the film equivalent of an oatmeal raisin cookie. Kids might reach for it simply because it is a cookie, but if chocolate or peanut butter or even plain old shortbread were on offer, it would be no question. But it’s just 6 weeks into this new year and it’s virtually the only family-friendly movie in theatres. This is how oatmeal raisin thrives: a complete dearth of options.

 

Thunder Road

Officer Jim Arnaud is having a personal crisis and a public meltdown. Recently separated and having just lost his mother, he’s perhaps got some excuses for his erratic behaviour and yet he’s so consistently obnoxious and unreliable that it’s hard to imagine this behaviour is entirely new. In fact, it’s hard to believe that he was ever a good cop or a good husband. He runs his mouth constantly and doesn’t know when to walk away. It seems he must have always been a lousy police officer and a lousy husband, but only recently have his wife and boss agreed.

Still, it’s hard to watch him flounder. And Jim Cummings, who wrote and directed this starring role himself, really, really allows us to wallow in his eccentricities. When he breaks out into an interpretive, music-less dance at his mother’s funeral, the scene goes on for an agonizingly long time – and the dance portion is only the final chapter to a nonsensical and often ranting eulogy. Some of you have a high tolerance for watching people embarrass themselves on screen, but I have an unusually low tolerance for that. And I know I can’t be the only one to feel Arnaud’s energy is just too much.

The guy just has a continual, disjointed stream of consciousness, his entire life is one run-on sentence that never ends. Not only does he never shut up, he never finishes a though, one sentence just trailing off into another random thought, leaving a frustrating trail of loose ends. I found him so irritating that I could never muster any sympathy or empathy for him. Cummings is absolutely committed to this character but personally I just kept trying to manifest a cement truck to come and cave his skull in.

How a man with zero impulse control was ever granted a gun is beyond me, but perhaps this film wasn’t meant to be logical or even likable, maybe it just serves as a performance showcase for Cummings, and as a director he certainly indulges in every actor predilection. I had to watch this movie over 4 nights. It’s only 90 minutes long but I just couldn’t sit with his energy for very long. It’s not so much aggressive as just needy and relentless. He’s the kind of toxic personality all the self-help books warn you to cut from your life, and if you shouldn’t tolerate this from friends or family, I’m not sure why I should take it from a fictional character. I stuck with this film because it has received awards and acclaim but its excruciating long takes and raw-nerve tragi-comedy just weren’t for me.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

Lara Jean and Peter are officially girlfriend and boyfriend.

You may recall in the first film, Lara Jean’s little sister sent out a bunch of love letters that she’d been writing to her crushes to release some of your tortured young passion. The love letters were personal and confessional and never meant to be read by anyone, but most of all not by the people to whom they were addressed. And yet they were.

Which brought Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) together, superficially at first. They pretended to date because they each had certain needs their high school hearts could justify but you might guess that they eventually found themselves falling in love. Cue the sequel!

Everything is right with the world, except for the fact that Lara Jean can’t quite forget Peter’s ex and jealousy doesn’t exactly become her. But there are worse things to come. One of the other love letter recipients finally resurfaces: John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher) and man is he cute. In fact, he and Lara Jean end up volunteering together and circumstances are perfect for dying embers to reignite.

There’s a sweet innocence to these movies that holds some sort of universal appeal – perhaps because we’ve all had a first love and not only can we relate, but it’s sort of fun to revisit. But we also get wrapped up in Lara Jean and Peter’s romance because it’s a lived fairy tale. How does Peter have money to take dates to 5-star restaurants and why does Lara Jean have a series of cocktail dresses? They’re babies. They should be going on awkward group dates to the movies, getting dropped off by whomever’s mom had the biggest mini van, or hanging out in each other’s living rooms with their siblings not only watching but actively trying to humiliate.

Anyway, I’m finding it impossible not to be charmed by this franchise. The leads are exceedingly likable and the whole thing goes down as easily as a box of chocolates on Valentine’s day, so why resist? To All The Boys is one indulgence I’m not going to feel guilty about.

 

 

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