Author Archives: Jay

Gook

I admit that I’ve kind of been avoiding this one. This movie and I have circled each other awkwardly at several film festivals. I’d heard the buzz, sure, but couldn’t repeat it. I mean, just look at that aggressively confrontational title. It makes me uncomfortable. Understand that’s not a criticism; I believe it is intentional, and I admire that, forcing us to sit with this glaring four-letter message of hate, a word used by white faces to make others feel small and less than.

Gook is a movie shot in glaring black and white about the tensions between Korean Americans and African Americans during the Rodney King riots. Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So) are Korean-American brothers struggling to keep their late father’s MV5BMjU5MDQ2NDY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcwODE5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_shoe store afloat even though its location in a predominantly poor and African-American neighbourhood is less than ideal. On this particular day, as the whole city awaits the King verdict, they get a visitor at the store. Kamilla (Simone Baker) is an unlikely friend and ally, being an African-American 11 year old girl, and yet she just won’t stay away, even though she should be in school, and she’s been expressly forbidden by her older brother, Keith (Curtiss Cook Jr.).

Aside from starring, Justin Chon wrote and directed as well, and you can immediately tell how many intimately personal details he’s incorporated. His choice to shoot in black and white only emphasizes the deeply emotional script, and allows simple but striking cinematography to transport. Rationally, I know the film wasn’t perfect, and there are even a couple of details I could nit-pick, but emotionally I felt hypnotized. I couldn’t take my eyes off the lovely Ms. Baker, which Chon must have known since he generously gives her top billing.There’s so much to praise here it almost has me tongue-tied, and I suppose I’d rather not give too much away. Gook is dense with beautiful observations and strong dialogue and aching insight.

Although I’ve always known that gook is an ugly word, an angry slur, I’m ashamed that it wasn’t until this film that I learned that it’s actually the Korean word (guk) that simply means country. Hanguk is Korea; Miguk is America. Americans took this word full of pride and used it against them during the war because it’s easier to kill ‘gooks’ than to kill people. Gook is a powerful reminder that America has oppressed basically every minority during its nearly 242 years. And yet the immigrants still come – to the land of freedom, wealth, and opportunity. And maybe someday, with their help, even equality.

Advertisements

Dear Dictator

Tatiana is your typical punk high school student. Her boots are high, her tights are ripped, her hair unbrushed, gnarled like the barbs she constantly throws at her mother, who is doing her best to lure a man at any cost.

Tatiana (Odeya Rush), as you might imagine, has trouble fitting in at school, and has even more trouble convincing her Christian crush to commit some mortal sins with her. Her only solace is the dictator with whom she exchanges pen pal letters from his beleaguered British-Caribean island nation. His country is undergoing an uprising and they’re pushing the old guy out. So General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine) flees to the one place no one would ever think to look for him: Tatiana’s house.

Is she a little surprised to see him? Yes. Is her mother (Katie Holmes) a little perturbed to find she’s been harboring a fugitive? Sure, though maybe not as much MV5BNjhiOTc1YTctODllNC00ZTEyLWFiN2MtMjM1MGMwYzI4Yjc0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTgyNDk1OTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_as you’d think. It turns out, having a disgraced General around the house is almost as good as having a man. And when the lawn is cut and the garage door no longer sticks, the complaints are scarce. But teachers at school begin to suspect something is up with Tatiana – and it’s not just the rebellion she foments against the ‘mean girls.’ Although that is probably a bit of a red flag.

Anyway. This movie is innocuous enough if you find the switch in your brain that has taste and standards, and turn it off. It’s too tame to be a satire and not actually funny enough to be considered a comedy, unless you consider the fact that someone convinced Academy Award winner Michael Caine to be in this heap of crap, and to grow a Castro beard and everything. But at this stage in his career, he’s more convincing as Santa Claus than a blood thirsty dictator. He’s not exactly intimidating. The twinkle in his eye keeps giving him away.

Now, there is a fourth character in the film, and I don’t mean Seth Green or Jason Biggs, though both get their name in the credits. I’m talking about Subway. This movie is not subtle about who owns their asses. The chips and candy eaten are generic as hell but the delicious sandwiches they consume CONTINUALLY are branded AF. As in, every time they sit at the table to eat, every logo on every cup and wrapping is pointing prettily, and centrally, at the camera. Not even Katie Holmes having her toes sucked is featured as prominently. So if you’re looking for some teen angst and an ousted fugitive dictator and a pathetic single mother and a dentist with a foot fetish and sandwiches so tasty they could unite them all, dear lord, this movie is made just for you. Colour me floored.

 

Blood Ties

I’m flipping through what Amazon Prime has deemed “top movies,” most of which I’ve seen before, many of which I’d disagree are “top” (some vehemently!), some I’d even disagree are “movies” but there are a couple I haven’t seen, so I take a gamble and click And Did They Listen? The truth is: I myself could not quite bring myself to listen. It’s a documentary that, in THEIR words mind you, is about “history’s only scientifically verified encounter with alien life.” Although the world alien may be misleading – although they appear to have visited in one of those tin-can UFOs that little boys in the 1950s might have dreamed up, they are actually human beings simply from another star universe. And for some reason, though they are touted as highly intelligent beings, they’ve decided to make sole contact with earth through a little boy, who grows up to be quite a crackpot with lots of vague predictions, some of which can’t help but come true. The documentary was so shoddily made and contained so much horseshit I gave up within minutes (and you know what kind of crap I’ll sit through in the name of a review!) – I think you might be better served just looking him up on Wikipedia and calling it a day.

So my second choice was Blood Ties, a 2013 film featuring the likes of Clive Owen, MV5BMjExNzk2OTUxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMyNzA4MDE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saladana, Billy Crudup, and James Caan, that I’d somehow never seen. In it, Chris (Owen) is newly released from prison, and goes to live with his brother Frank (Crudup), a cop in 1970s Brooklyn. They did not live happily ever after. Instead, they draw lines, one on each side of the law, and they pull whomever they can down with them. But the whole family thing is just too hard to shake, and like it or not, their fates are pretty much intertwined. Which is a nice way of saying they’re fucked.

Ultimately, Blood Ties is good because it boasts a strong cast. But it flails almost everywhere else. The downward spiral is predicable, and while a movie like this should be about the descent, and not the outcome, the descent is hard to keep track of because there are a few too many subplots to keep score of, and not enough help with our scorecards. In other words: it becomes a chore. And like most chores, it keeps going until well past the point you’d want it to. But it was still preferable to the crazy man who invented a religion based on the spaceships he made out of trash can lids. So there’s that.

 

 

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Medina’s parents, Sandy and Phil Mason, have recently moved their family to Palos Verdes, California, for a fresh start. Phil (Justin Kirk) has always wanted to be a surgeon to the stars, but Sandy (Jennifer Garner) doesn’t fit the real housewives of Palos Verdes mold. Instead of fixing things, home only becomes more volatile, and Medina (Maika Monroe) and her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) seek solace in the surf outside. Or in anything else, including the kind of trouble teenagers will always get into.

Wowza do parents fuck up their kids. Although to be honest, having treated myself to Incredibles 2 this weekend, it’s this messed up depiction of fatherhood that feels more MV5BY2JiZWVlZDYtZmQ3YS00YzA4LTljM2QtNDBkYjE1OTEyNjY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTg4Mzk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1353,1000_AL_familiar to be, more comfortable: the leaving kind. The not caring kind. There is no Hollywood gloss on this depiction of family. The father is worse than useless, and the mother’s grief borders on insanity, and the children are forgotten in their wake.

And then a plague descends. Because things always get worse. This is what breaking points are made of. But movie wise, while it achieves a lot of separate pieces of despair, it struggles to stitch them together into something cohesive. The tone and pace are meant to be melancholic, yet it needs to be building toward something. The actors all do their thing rather admirably, but it always seems like the scene lets them down. Jennifer Garner, as the desperate housewife, is really something to watch, in a role I for one haven’t seen from her before. Her eyes flash with crazed rage, then go blank with hopelessness. I only wish the circumstances allowed a little more sympathy toward her.

The beautiful setting and cinematographer are gentle and constant reminders that the trappings of success are no inoculation against life’s disappointments.

 

Rebel In The Rye

J.D. “Juvenile Delinquent” Salinger gets thrown out of schools just to piss his father off. It’s his mother who encourages him to enroll in a writing class, while his dad doubts there’ll be a single paycheque in his future. In his writing program he meets professor Whit Burnett, a hard-ass he grows to love. “Jerry” writes because he’s angry and he needs to express it somehow. Burnett shows him how to do this without alienating his reader. He’s also the one who encourages him to turn Holden Caulfield into a novel, and the one who worries him when he goes off to war.

Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) returns from war a better writer perhaps, but messed up in other ways, unsurprisingly. Catcher In The Rye is an enormous hit. That messes him up lead_720_405too. I wondered how I’d come to miss this movie, with notable subjects and stars, but I didn’t have to wait long to figure out the why if not the how: Kevin Spacey. He co-stars as the beleaguered, bloated professor, which means the accusations against him would have left the producers scrambling, and they buried it in a shallow Hollywood grave.

But to be fair, Spacey’s involvement isn’t the film’s only problem. It’s too neat, too well-packaged, perhaps even too kind to the author, who no doubt was an interesting, tortured recluse. Hoult is fine as Salinger, and he plays well against the likes of Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, and even Spacey. But this is a pretty ordinary, banal biopic that’s a little starry-eyed about its subject, which dilutes its power and keeps us at arm’s length from the real artist, a man who loved writing but gave it up to live privately, to meditate for his mental health, and to avoid press at all costs.

It’s also, if we’re being honest, hard to reconcile a beloved and important work with so much pain. This movie is both too much (too broad) and not enough (no depth). Rebel in the Rye is more like Mediocre at the Movies.

Incredibles 2

Taking up pretty much where the last film left off, Bob, Helen, and the whole Incredible family are in hot water for the havoc they’ve been wreaking while saving the world, and even the super hero witness protection program is folding. Luckily, a rich benefactor named Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and his genius-inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), step in with a plan to bring supers out of hiding and back into the light.

To do that, they need Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to don her tights to pull some major super hero moves while Mr. Incredible stays home to be Mr. Dad to daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash, and baby Jack Jack, who is just starting to come into his own powers. MV5BNTZhODcwN2EtYWI3ZS00NGU1LTlkYWEtMzgzNmY0MGViYmI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc1MTQ5MTI@._V1_Mr. Incredible is feeling more like Mr. Second Banana being relegated to the side lines, but Pixar is famous for doing a protagonist switcheroo for its sequels: Finding Nemo became Finding Dory, Monsters University was about Mike instead of Sully, and Cars 2 followed Mater rather than Lightning McQueen. I think it’s a great idea, in 2018, to give Elastigirl top billing (even if it’s still the 60s in the Incredibles’ universe), but I wish they had kept that messaging consistent enough not to have her waist be about the same size as her neck, or to have her fighting crime in thigh-high pleather high-heeled boots that would have Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman blushing.

Other than those qualms, Incredibles 2 (they dropped the The!) is a pretty fun ride. It feels less emotionally complex than some of Pixar’s most beloved offerings, and Matt thought Elastigirl’s new kickbutt attitude came at the expense of a real character arc for her. But Incredibles 2 is full of giggles. There were a lot of kids in the audience around us (some of them in adorably muscled Mr. Incredible cosplay), and they laughed at the most unusual, nonsensical times (not just the fart stuff!), which made me grin as well.

Baby Jack Jack is not a new character but the sequel finds him in the process of discovering his new powers, which both thrills and terrifies his proud and exhausted dad. Jack’s powers include but are in no way limited to: combustion, levitation, duplication, and laser eyes! The more ridiculous his powers, the funnier it plays. He’s a baby AND he’s a weapon of mass destruction! Imagine having to babysit that!

Incredibles 2 isn’t quite as incredible as its predecessor but it’s got some really cool set pieces (planes, trains, and incredimobiles!), and both the old guard and new friends are fun to spend time with. Most of all though, I have to say the animation itself was spectacular. You can see the wrinkles in Mr. Incredible’s linen shirt. That’s how specific and crisp the animation is – what a discernible difference 14 years makes! Incredibles 2 is a visual delight and has massive appeal for the whole family, whether you’re super or just really, really great.

Set It Up

Two harried, 20-something assistants work for different demanding bosses in the same Manhattan building. Harper (Zoey Deutch) admires her boss, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who is a sports reporter. Harper wants to be a writer too but so far she spends her days fetching lunch and racking up steps on Kirsten’s fitbit. Charlie (Glen Powell) is eagerly awaiting his promotion but is still just Rick’s (Taye Diggs) overworked assistant. When Harper and Charlie meet in the lobby of their building, they determine that the only way to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom is to set up their bosses romantically. And it works!

The catch is – and you won’t believe this – Harper and Charlie fall in love themselves while orchestrating this love match between their bosses. Who would have thought (other than every single one of you, plus your grandmas, plus the ghosts of your grandmas’ mid-century pet parakeets).

Set It Up is the original Netflix film billed as the rom-com to save all rom-coms. Were rom-coms an endangered species? The good ones seem all but extinct. And I’m not sure this one changed my mind about that. But it’s not terrible. It’s not as cornball cheesy as these things tend to be. The stars are charming and dripping with chemistry. But itMV5BYmQyM2Q0NzgtZTAxNi00OTk3LTg4NjItM2E2YmE5MGM5YWI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_ (1) doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that super sets it apart. It’s comfort food:  the kind of mac and cheese you might bring to a potluck. Not gourmet. Not lobster mac. Not truffle mac. It probably doesn’t even have gouda. But it’s warm and creamy and just gooey enough to convince you you want it. Rom-coms are predicable almost by definition. We know they’re going to get together; the “fun” is in how they get together.

Zoey Deutch is cute and glowing and perky and seemingly born to be the quirky, sweet romantic lead (her mother is Lea Thompson). Glen Powell, who previously played and has the smug, handsome face of an astronaut, is a good match for her, although he’s the matte paint to her gloss. Tituss Burgess, in little more than a cameo, is high-impact nonetheless, and makes an excellent case for giving him a starring role, stat.  But I didn’t get a Tituss Burgess movie, I got two white actors with blindingly white smiles in roles I’ve seen dozens of times before, sometimes done better, and sometimes worse. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a movie, but ringing would be a bit over-the-top for a movie you see coming from 95 miles away. This is a tepid endorsement in 12 point, Times New Roman, which is what it deserves and all I can give.

 

 

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Boy is this title misleading! It sounds like it belongs to the self-help genre, but if you’ve been standing awkwardly around the dip, wondering how to break the ice, calculating to the minute when it’s no longer rude to leave, well, I hate to tell you this, but this movie isn’t going to change your life.

It’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, which means I went in curious as hell. And director John Cameron Mitchell is an interesting guy, with some visually stunning work tucked into his artist fanny pack. But here’s the deal: Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young punk. That’s not my inner grumpy old man coming out, he’s a teenager in 1977 who thinks punk rock music is going to save his soul. He and his punk friends go out one night in the London suburb of Croydon and stumble upon a party that seems too good to be true: a sex den of beautiful exchange students.

MV5BNTA3ZGY0ZjctZGVjOC00MDdmLTg0NjctOGE4MGE1YTViYjE0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Enn is immediately taken with Zan (Elle Fanning) and his immediate concern is about how to successfully extract her from what appears to be a sexy suicide cult. But that notion is further complicated as it becomes obvious she’s from much further away than America. Zan is an alien. Zan is an alien? It seems that Zan is an alien, an alien who is  disenchanted with her fellow travelers and would really like to hang out with her new teenage friends, experiencing their fascinating culture.

DJ James Murphy developed a new kind of EDM for this movie, one he’s described as “extraterrestrial dance music,” that still feels like a cousin to the Sex Pistols.  So you can imagine that John Cameron Mitchell has created a really cool vibe for this movie, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun. But it may have been a little ambitious to stage a punk rebellion musical. Okay, a lot ambitious. But that’s one of the move lovable things about it. Sure it’s unhinged, it’s messy, it’s campy, it’s weird. It’s a punk rock Romeo & Juliet. It mixes metaphors. It mixes genres. It’s not always successful but it takes big risks and paints with wild abandon. Plus, there’s Nicole Kidman looking like David Bowie in Labyrinth, which nearly stopped my heart. Maybe this movie is not for you. But I hope it finds its audience of weirdos. Weirdos gonna weird.

Tag

Tag is a movie about grown men playing tag. They’ve played every month of May for the past 30 years, since they were kids. They’re crazy competitive about it, and it rankles that Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one who’s never EVER been tagged. Not once. In 30 years. But this May Jerry’s getting married, and that seems to the rest of the gang (Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm) like the perfect opportunity to finally make him IT.

This movie is based on a true story, which sounds absurd except I knew a couple of brothers who did something similar – they played a game they dubbed Touch You Last (you can probably extrapolate what it involves) throughout their adulthood. In MV5BMjNjYzVkNmMtY2VhNC00ZDg2LTlkNmItMzYzOTI4NzIwYTQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMxMjkwMDg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_the movie, the guys find it a good excuse to get together and stay close well past the time that most friendships fall to the way side. Wives and girlfriends (Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Isla Fisher) are not allowed to play because they made the rules when they were 9 (no girls allowed) but over the years the game has been mythic and this year a reporter from The Wall Street Journal is following them around so the stakes are extra extra high and nothing, believe me NOTHING, is sacred.

The film is a mashup between comedy (hit or miss) and absurd and insane stunts that no grown, sane man should attempt in the name of a game of tag, or ever, unless a bear is chasing you AND you owe that bear money AND that bear has ties to organized crime AND your hair is on fire.

The script isn’t overly strong but there’s a lot of funny people in this (I might give the win to Hannibal Buress, who delivers a straight-faced one-liner like nobody’s business) so it does have its moments. It’s just not in danger for being mistaken for a classic, or, you know, an actual good movie. Which is not to say it’s bad. It’s just pretty content to be a medium-funny diversion which you may or may not wait to see as a rental rather than in theatres, where you damn well better make me laugh out loud.

Stealth

The other day, Sean rolled his eyes at a bumper sticker on the car in front of us. “9-11 was an inside job” it loudly proclaimed. And I get why Sean’s annoyed, but I love this particular bumper sticker, and many like it. I like when stupid people label themselves. I wish more would think to do it.

Stealth puts Jessica Biel in the middle of its marquee, and like the above bumper sticker, it’s as good as a warning not to take anything about it seriously. Biel is joined by Josh Lucas and Jamie Foxx, and the trio make up a team of fighter pilots running some top-secret missions for the military. The newest project is a fourth wingman, MV5BMTY3ODg0NTQxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjE4MjMyMDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1534,1000_AL_named Eddie, who the stealth pilots would roundly reject just for being the fourth wheel on a tight little tricycle, even if he wasn’t purely artificial intelligence. Eddie represents a future in which war won’t cost human lives, but also where human jobs  (not to mention human judgement) will be replaced.

Now, we all know that we have invented robots so that they may kill us. I mean, I don’t believe that’s the outcome we’re hoping for, but it is inevitable. And we all know that super-smart computers quickly outsmart us, and things go horribly wrong. ‘Predicable’ doesn’t begin to describe the direction in which Eddie takes us. He’s the poster boy for everything the U.S. Navy should not do, and yet he’s also kind of the poster boy for delegating script-writing to robots, who surely could not intentionally produce something half as robotic as this.

First of all, I’m mad at any movie that makes me feel bad for Jessica Biel. Come on man, don’t do that to me. I want to be able to luxuriate in classic lines like “Pardon my C-cup” with all the bluster I can muster, then rage-eat Cheetos until my heart gives out and I die with a poof of orange dust.

Speaking of which…when Jessica Biel ends up in North Korea, it’s kind of a big deal. “Enemy lines” and all. Except I suppose now North Korea is less problematic, because for some reason the American President gets along better with dictators and despots than with respected, democratic world leaders who believe in gender equality and wear snazzy socks. But back in 2005, before the world was turned upside down, Jessica Biel was in big, ginormous trouble, and Stealth had no problem turning a badass fighter pilot into a damsel in distress – how else can her love interest go to her so that she can say to him “You came for me” in a needlessly breathless way?

And while I’m halfway on the topic, I suspect that Hollywood has commissioned some secret experiment to learn the exact right way to apply wounds for maximum sex appeal. I mean, the woman fell like 50 000 feet but only suffered a couple of scrapes – one ever so tantalizingly placed across her cheekbone, where the makeup artist might otherwise apply highlighter to better contour the beautiful angles of her face. With men, I believe sexy cut placement is above the eye. I bet there’s a lab in a Hollywood basement, where some poor gal in a white coat is remembering how when she grew up, she wanted to cure cancer.

 

I digress. In fact, this review has been nothing but digressions. But I don’t think you deserve much better when you attempt to cross Top Gun with 2001 and wind up with a hideous monster. Stealth is nothing but nosedive.