Author Archives: Jay

Life

When I think about space, my limited imagination often goes to the arrogant American astronauts boldly planting a flag on the moon. In fact, there are now 6 American flags on american-flag-moonthe moon, one from each Apollo mission that landed there. Of course, none of these flags would be identifiably American any more, the stars and stripes long since bleached away by radiation from the sun. And none of them ever rippled in the breeze as the famous photo would have you believe (there is no wind on the moon, there is no atmosphere on the moon). It was a ruse devised by NASA and enabled by Neil Armstrong. The flag has a hidden metal rod along the top of the fabric; when Armstrong planted it, he gave the metal bar a push and the flag “waved.” It was a cheat, but after declaring a giant leap on behalf of “mankind”, the Americans wanted a way to tell the world “We got here first.”

Why am I rambling about the flags on the moon? Well, mostly because I don’t think there’s a single inch of film in all of Life where director Daniel Espinosa could plant his flag. It’s a complete retread. And I don’t mean that it’s bad, just that it owes a lot to space movies that have come before it, and it doesn’t have anything original to add to the “trapped in space” trope.

There’s questionable judgment and the flagrant flogging of protocol. There are plot holes to rival black holes. If you think about it at all you’ll be sucked into the vacuum of space where there’s no enjoyment of anything. But there is a way to enjoy this film: lay back and enjoy the ride. Because what Life is is a pretty intense thriller. My anxiety was so high I life3had to look away from the screen and focus on my gold Converse for safety’s sake. It was so tense I had the bones in Sean’s right hand nearly as mangled as a certain someone‘s in the movie.

Basically, six surprisingly attractive astronauts are hanging out in the International Space Station, waiting for a special delivery, some samples from Mars. Their mission is to probe the samples that arrive, and before long they’ve found the first incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars, which is cool for about 10 seconds before it starts trying to eat them. This is of course their own damn fault for pushing the thing out of hibernation in the first place. Note to everyone: curiosity killed the cat. So yeah, this alien thingy becomes very strong and oddly sentient and wildly out of control. The astronauts’ lives are in imminent and immediate danger, which is hard to care about because we hardly know them before the single cell from Mars becomes the monster that threatens humanity. And that’s the other slight problem is that the lives of the astronauts are overshadowed by the greater threat against all of humankind.

Luckily, the acting is pretty good. None of the characters is all that distinguishable but between Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, there’s enough charisma to circle the earth roughly 16 times a day (Zing! that’s an international space station joke, y’all!).

Okay, I’m quitting while I’m ahead. Life: fun but forgettable.

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SXSW: Us And Them

Danny is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. He’s not as eloquent as Howard Beale, but he IS galvanized into action. Angry about the iniquities between the haves and the have nots, Danny decides to kick start a revolution by live-streaming an attack on a member of the 1%.

Danny (Jack Roth, son of Tim) picks Conrad (Tim Bentinck) as his target, a wealthy banker he holds hostage alongside his wife and daughter in their McMansion. Danny and his pals hope to inspire\terrify the elite into making change, forcing Conrad to choose between his wife and daughter. Whether or not this is a good idea, it certainly doesn’t go as planned. Danny’s co-conspirators are a little less “big picture” than he’d hoped, and Conrad refuses to play the game. The anger and frustration are palpable from both sides, raw with hard edges, everyone’s values questionable.

The truth is, Danny is just as prejudiced against ‘them’ as they are against him. No one has the moral upper hand. Who do you root for then, as this thriller spirals out of control? Writer-director Joe Martin taps into the heart of outsider politics but muddies the water with unsympathetic characters. It’s also reductive, filtering the conflict only through the class system in Britain, working class vs wealth. Primarily played as a dark comedy, some of the flashbacks weaken the punch lines.  I can’t say I was ever truly on board with this one. The pacing is weird, sometimes frenetic, sometimes quite sedentary. But it’s the mixed messaging that’s most disappointing. This movie loses its thread and rejects its own cause. When you finally make it to the end you may just find yourself rooting for the wanker with the garden spade, and that’s not an enviable position for anyone.

SXSW: This Is Your Death

Before being cast in Breaking Bad, Giancarlo Esposito was bankrupt and depressed. He started wondering if maybe his family was better off without him. That’s when this script dropped into his lap. It was the right thing at the right time.

This Is Your Death follows Adam Rogers (Josh Duhamel), host of a Bachelor-style reality TV show where he witnesses a contestant go off the rails and commit some serious violence. Shaken, he vows to use his platform for good, so he partners with network exec Ilana (Famke Janssen) and director Sylvia (Caitlin Fitzgerald) to develop a new show where people will commit suicide on air. This sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it? Exploitative? this-is-your-deathThe exact opposite of what Adam seemed to intend? He hopes the show will give a voice to the disempowered, raise awareness for their plights, maybe even raise money for their widows and orphans. But you can probably guess that this idea is a monster, and once fed by ratings, it will take on its own gruesome agenda.

Adam is not as shallow as he seems; he cares for a troubled younger sister (Sarah Wayne Callies) and is crushed by her disapproval. Ilana is mostly just trying to cement her position at the top – it’s precarious up there, and she’s become a little ruthless. Sylvia is there against her will, bound by a contract and a little sickened by what she’s doing, even if she is rather good at it. The thing is, predictably, Americans respond the only way they know how: by tuning in. By baying for blood. By demanding more, more, MORE. So the show becomes a death machine, gladiator-style, with blood-lusting spectators egging on deeply depressed individuals. Adam, swept up in fame and success, begins to lose his humanity. Will a budding relationship with his director be enough to bring him back?

This movie has elements of dark comedy, and of satire – you’ll especially love the bit with James Franco. But it’s also a mirror being held up to a disturbing trend in reality TV. Is This Is Your Death that far off the mark?

Giancarlo Esposito stars in as well as directs this film. It’s clear that the themes of the film resonate with him personally. This is not easy to watch, and to be honest, I was surprised to be moved as I was, and quite early on. There’s a callousness to the reality-TV world, but This Is Your Death manages to peek around the curtains a bit to glimpse the softer underbelly. The film ended a bit abruptly for my taste, but it’s resonant and noble in its pursuit.

SXSW: Game Of Death

Laurence Morais Lagacé and Sebastien Landry are two young Canadian directors who apparently have wild and sick imaginations.

A bunch of teenagers, who’ve already had the sex and done the drugs, are just bored Game-of-Deathenough to try a dusty old board game, Game Of Death. They should have read the instructions first – once engaged, the game counts down the 24 people necessary TO MURDER in order to “win.” The game doesn’t stop until 24 are dead. When the clock runs out, if no one is killed, the game itself will execute a player. How stoned would you have to be for this to sound fun?

They do what any normal teenagers would: beer bongs. But failing to take this game seriously is a fatal mistake: when the clock runs out, one of the characters’ heads explodes. Like, explosively explodes. Yes, I know, I’m quite the colourful writer! Bow down if you must.

At any rate, this game is For Real. Now there are 23 left to be killed and some interesting choices to be made. Will the kids turn on each other, prey on their neighbours, or sit back and wait for their own skulls to go bust?

Interesting fact about teenagers: they are devoid of morals. Apparently. And video games have definitely made them callous!

Interesting fact about me: I cannot spend an hour and a half listening to a teenaged girl game-of-death-F69597cry. I assume this the same is also true of teenaged boys. I understand that some people cry under pressure, but for the sake of watchable movies, I think film makers need to dispense of this annoying soundtrack.

Interesting fact about this movie: exploding heads are NOT the most disturbing thing about it.

Should you watch it? Hey man, no judgments. There’s no real horror here; no anxiety, no foreboding, no creepiness, just straight up gore and blood lust, plenty of both, and some gratuitous bikini shots thrown in. Perfect guilt-watch?

 

SXSW: Baby Driver

Is this the absolute coolest movie ever?

Honestly, I think I’d pay my $12 just to see that opening scene again.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, the best in the biz despite his young age, according to his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). But Baby has a glitch: he wears ear buds constantly to fight tinnitus. So to him, the whole world is a soundtrack. And you’re about to enter his world.

Doc never works with the same crew twice, so we see a rotation of criminals including MV5BMzk0NzMyNzcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYwNDU5MDI@._V1_Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm), and my personal favourite, Bats (Jamie Foxx), personal motto: “I’m the one with mental problems in the group. Position taken.” GUYS, HE’S NOT KIDDING.

But don’t get attached to any of those fellows. This is Baby’s movie. He’s being coerced into this life of crime, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good at it. He is, however, trying to get out, and nothing is as inspiring as the love of a good woman. So when Deborah (Lily James) soft shoes into his life, he’s got a boner for the open road. But wait – you didn’t think getting out would be that easy, did you?

This is a film by Edgar Wright, whom I love, unreservedly. This is a very different sort of film from him, but he’s already thrust himself to the top of the game. When you catch your breath at the end of the film, you’ll have to answer me truly: have you ever seen action to equal it? Ansel Elgort’s character Baby is obsessed with two things: music, and cars. And so is the film; car chases and music both turned WAY up to 11. Anything that gets between them is incidental.

MV5BMTEyMzQxMTI0ODZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDQ2MDQ1OTAy._V1_Wright is a phenomenal writer, and Baby Driver is just as quippy and quotable as any other in his oeuvre. The music jangles, sometimes wildly incongruous to what’s developing on screen, sometimes deliciously ironic, but it stitches the film together between Wright’s explosive action sequences. Wright’s films are always kinetic. His own exuberance for film making comes across on the screen, is barely contained by it, in fact.

If Ryan Gosling from La La Land fucked Ryan Gosling from Drive, Baby Driver is what you’d get. On paper, this isn’t the kind of movie I normally care about, or for, but on the screen it sang to me, I fuck-yeahed in the dark of the theatre, and I can’t wait until August when I can see it again.

 

 

 

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Incidentally, I have a mini poster signed by Edgar Wright himself. If you’re interested in winning it, Follow us on Twitter (@AssholeMovies), and retweet the relevant post. Comments here are worth extra entries. Good luck!

 

 

Also: super DUPER bonus: check out the comments section for ROBERT RODRIGUEZ doing a Q&A with Edgar Wright and stars Eiza Gonzalez, Ansel Elgort & Jon Hamm.

SXSW: Two Pigeons

I can admit when I’m wrong.

Okay, no I can’t. But I’m going to make an exception here. You know I don’t handle horror well and so I didn’t make 2 Pigeons a high priority at SXSW, despite it having an interesting premise. And you know, about 10 seconds into the film, I realized that I was wrong. It’s already better looking and better sounding than I could have imagined.

Hussein (Mim Shaikh) is an untidy, unscrupulous estate agent; the film’s press release describes him as “oily, amoral” but I confess to two-pigeons-F71465-thumb-860xauto-65830sort of liking him, probably mostly for his loud, flashy suits. Hussein seems like a pretty regular bloke. He gets up, brushes his teeth, hustles his clients, masturbates, goes to bed, does it again. But when Hussein leaves his apartment, we realize he isn’t so regular after all. He doesn’t know it, but he’s got an uninvited, unseen guest living in his home. Orlan (Javier Botet) only comes out at night, or when Hussein’s at work. Why is he doing this? And for how long? Only his dangerously thin frame hints at a time frame no one is comfortable with.

Turns out, this isn’t so much a horror as a super creepy movie. I could possibly handle a stranger secretly living beneath my bed, but I CANNOT abide by a stranger “recycling” his mouthwash back into our (secretly, to me) communal bottle, or using my face cloth in areas of the body that are NOT THE FACE. Although, note to anyone secretly living in my home right now: please, please avail yourself of whatever breakfast cereal you like. All you can eat. I promise, I eat the stuff so rarely I won’t even notice.

But back to the why: this guy isn’t just getting a free ride, he’s fucking with his landlord-dupe. This movie seriously preys on our unconscious fears: that even with our doors safely locked, our bodies, our safety, our personal space are not inviolable while we sleep. Every day, Orlan’s violation and desecration escalates. YOUR SKIN WILL CRAWL.

The one problem I had with the film is how unperceptive Hussein is. It feels just a tad too much that no matter how far Orlan takes the transgressions, Hussein just kind of shrugs it off. And the harder Orlan works at being disgusting, the more personal it seems. And yet director Dominic Bridges keeps us in the dark for far too long.

So that’s it. That’s as far as I’ll take you. Should you watch it? That depends entirely on the iron in your stomach.

 

 

Donald Cried

Peter returns to his hometown for the first time in a long time when his Nona dies. It’s supposed to be a quick, in-and-out trip, but Peter loses his wallet, which complicates things. He asks an old buddy, Donald, for a favour, a favour that turns into A WHOLE THING.

Donald is the kind of friend that makes you question what the hell you were thinking in high school. And he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still a moron, and there’s nothing he loves better than reliving the glory days, days that deeply embarrass Peter now.

03DONALD-master768Kris Avedisian stars as moronic Donald, while also writing and directing. He’s made a film, with help from Kickstarter, that is relatable. Awkwardly, hopelessly relatable. Who among us does not have That Friend?

You can never go home again. Know why? It’s because the things you imagine you’ve left behind are still there, lurking beneath the thinnest little scab.

Donald is unbearable. Peter, it turns out, has always treated him less than kindly. Now he’s tolerating him with condescension, and only because he needs something from him. Ever oblivious, Donald is ingratiating to his old buddy, desperate to keep him around. His attitude and actions induce the heaviest of cringes, and yet the genius of Avedisian’s script is that the balance of sympathy shifts. The past is a clingy bitch, and no matter what Peter believes, he hasn’t quite broken up with her yet. And we, the viewers, feel just as suffocated as he does in the situation, we feel his intense urge to flee.

Donald Cried is uncomfortable to watch because it’s achingly authentic. Jesse Wakeman as Peter and Avedisian have believably thorny chemistry. But it’s Donald we’ve come to see, tears or no tears. It’s pathetic Donald who inspires pity and revulsion in unequal, guilt-inducing measure. It’s a smart little movie that will subtly worm its way into your popcorn-eating gut.

 

 

Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

 

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.

SXSW: Signature Move

Zaynab is a Pakistani-American immigration lawyer who is a) learning wresting moves from a former pro wrestler who went by the name Jolt and b) keeping a new relationship with Alma secret from her conservative Muslim mother who doesn’t know she’s gay.

“Mothers and daughters aren’t friends in our culture,” Zaynab tells Alma. “That’s a very American concept.” Zaynab’s father is dead and her mother lives with her, almost claustrophobically, obsessed with SIG-MOVE-2-1024x683TV and spying on the neighbours but unwilling to leave the house. She’s particularly keen on spotting eligible men with her not-inconspicuous binoculars.

Zaynab, meanwhile, is just trying to find herself, in “life, love, and lady wrestling,” as the subtitle suggests. Signature Move, directed by Jennifer Reeder, is a mixture of culture and possibility, with Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) wishing she could could live her life confidently out but juggling the reality of her mother’s disapproval and the pain the secrecy causes her new girlfriend. I particularly love seeing the generational difference between Zaynab and her mother (Shabana Azmi), how the mother will speak in her native tongue, and the daughter will respond in English as if this is the most natural thing in the world. Alma (Sari Sanchez), meanwhile, is perhaps her opposite, but she draws her out of the darkness while also having her own notions of identity and sexuality challenged. It’s an interesting little slice of life indie film that brings a refreshing twist on the tired romcom format to the screen.

SXSW: Bill Frisell, A Portrait

Bill Frisell’s discography is incomparable. He’s worked with the best of the best, all of whom consider HIM to be The Best. He’s an actual guitar hero, his influence widespread, his sound envied and copies and admired. But Bill remains an unsung guitar hero, his name not well-known to those outside the business, and he’s pretty content to keep it that way. This documentary, however, is a character portrait of this very interesting man, and very influential musician.

MV5BM2Y1N2I1OTktMGIxYy00N2I1LTljOTMtZjBjM2IzNDRiNjg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzMwNzMyMjk@._V1_The good thing about this documentary is that so many people line up to talk about Frisell: director Emma Franz assembles the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, and more, and the amazing thing is that all of the people have nothing but glowing things to say about the man. The GREAT thing about this documentary, though, is that it contains plenty of live music to love and appreciate, and gosh he’s got a lot.

Bill Frisell seems reluctant to talk about himself (he is however, inclined to sing the praises of other artists), so every nugget teased out feels like a treasure. This documentary will look at the very things that shaped his sound, with particular time spent peering into his brilliant mind and trying to understand music the way he does. There’s lots of great insight here, an intimacy I hardly dared hope for.

His guitar collection is impressive, but not as impressive as his genuine love for each one. It’s so endearing. What a great documentary to have stumbled upon, and I sincerely hope that it’ll be available for your perusal also.