Author Archives: Jay

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.

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Earth

Just for example, around 2 billion years ago, igneous and metamorphic rocks formed a gorge, and then around 70 to 30 million years ago, through the action of plate tectonics, the whole region was uplifted, resulting in a high and relatively flat plateau. Five or six million years ago, a river began to carve its way downward (during heavy flooding, the water takes boulders along with it, which act as chisels along the bottom). Further erosion by tributary streams led to the canyon’s widening. In another couple million years, it might be a little deeper still, but mostly it will have continued to widen. That’s how the Earth naturally made a very big hole in the ground, 446 km long, up to 29 km wide and more than 1,800 meters deep. We call it the Grand Canyon. Earth is a fine architect given millions of years, but we humans are moving 156 million tonnes of rock and soil per day. People are moving mountains. They’re changing the shape of the Earth.

This documentary takes a look at the people doing it. Labourers who tunnel through the Earth from above and below provide some interesting insights from a personal perspective – “If all else fails, there’s always dynamite. We always win.” And though many profess to “feeling bad” about obliterating landscapes, it is short-term profit who is driving all that brutal machinery, not long-term critical thinking or morality or common sense.

Earth is an interesting movie with an uninspired title. It would benefit from better editing, both in terms of smooth transitions and tightening up some scenes that are unnecessarily long. I know some 5 year olds who are insatiable when it come to trucks and diggers, and every time I pass a construction site I see a number old old men watching the machinery do its work, but for me this movie ran overlong. Still, it’s a neat little package of stuff we don’t see nearly enough, certainly not all collected together. It makes for thoughtful viewing.

Addams Family Values

The Addams family home is all shook up: the kids are playing Marie Antoinette with a real, working guillotine with their new mustachioed baby brother Pubert, and Gomez and Morticia have brought in a new nanny named Debbie to sort them all out. Uncle Fester of course falls madly in love with her.

There’s just one problem. Well, clearly there’s more than one. But the big one, aside from Wednesday and Pugsley trying to kill their baby brother, is that Debbie (Joan Cusack) is a black widow. She has a nasty habit of marrying wealthy men and murdering them on their wedding night. And Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is indeed a wealthy man. Well, he’s wealthy anyway. And he’s smitten.

The rest of the Addams family, not so much. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) try to wish him well, even when he cuts them out of his life, but little Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), though somewhat neutered by summer camp, are naturally more suspicious. But now that he’s estranged, can anyone possibly reach him before it’s too late?

Addams Family Values is a rare sequel that seems to have gained in momentum from the first. It introduces new characters that add new dimensionality to the family. Fester really comes into his own in this film, and Joan Cusack is an absolute dish. It’s also exceedingly fun to watch the Addams siblings do a sleepaway camp. Never have two people belonged anywhere less. And the way in which they ruin a historically inaccurate play is the absolute most fun. I could watch this as a spin-off all day long. I should also note that Granny gets replaced in the sequel; Carol Kane replaces her. And Carol Kane is god. She’s also younger than Huston, who plays her daughter, but watcha gonna do? Huston gamely gets back into character, and I love the way they’re lighting her face, with just a beam of light across her eyes. It’s so strikingly different from everyone else in the room. And I know I said this last time, but I’ll say it again: Christina Ricci is a child actor tough to outdo. She really nails Wednesday and makes sure the kids aren’t just placeholders in these films.

All told, Addams Family Values good fun. It’s not great, but it’s like training wheels for future horror fanatics and the freaks and creeps in all of us.

Fractured

Ray Monroe and his family were driving home from Thanksgiving, just like Sean and I were tonight. We had bellies full of pie and a camera full of pictures of kids making silly faces. Ray has a wife who’s spoiling for a fight and a daughter who’s whining about batteries and has to pee. Sean and I were listening to a murder podcast and luckily had emptied our bladders before leaving.

I say luckily because when Ray (Sam Worthington) stops at a sketchy highway rest stop, his daughter’s favouritie toy gets misplaced and his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) has to go search a grungy bathroom while Ray digs through a messy backseat. His daughter, told to stay nearby, of course wanders off, and breaks her arm in a fall. Ray and Joanne rush her to the hospital and the doctor treating her (Stephen Tobolowsky) thinks a C.A.T. scan is in order, just in case. And that’s it. Ray never sees either of them again. Not because they’re dead; they’ve simply vanished. And it’s not a simple case of missing persons because the entire hospital suddenly denies their existence. So Ray has to struggle to find out what happened when everyone else either believes him to be crazy or is in on the conspiracy. Is there a conspiracy? Ray’s drinking problem and some past tragedies suddenly cast doubt on his story. But everything about this hospital, and in fact this little town – they just seem shady. Something here isn’t right.

Director Brad Anderson makes us feel off-balance right from the get-go. Even The Monroes’ post-turkey drive home feels somewhat ominous. Ray’s in-laws, though unseen, have provided more than enough tension to get this thing off to an uncomfortable start. I have a weird tolerance for movies about people who are doubting their own reality, and while I was engaged in this one and enjoyed using my bloodhound nose to hunt for clues, this movie also reminded me constantly of ones just like it, only better. Still, as an original offering from Netflix, and with only Gemini Man in real theatres as an alternative, you can and have done worse. Fractured isn’t bringing home any awards, but it’s just good enough for that awkward time between overeating and food coma.

Gemini Man

This is what we call a “Sean movie” at our house – motorcycles, explosions, heck – Will Smith. It is not a Jay movie but I go along because 1) I believe there are gems in every genre and 2) it’s okay to occasionally do things for your loved one instead of yourself. But now matter how “compromising” and “open-minded” my mood, this should by all rights be a Sean review. But here’s a dirty little secret, and let’s just keep this between you and me: remember the Toronto International Film Festival that ended 5 weeks ago? Well, I’ve written all 43 of my reviews, was finished a couple of weeks ago actually, and Sean’s still working on 2 out of 4 of his. That’s right. That’s the imbalance around here, and I’m calling you out, Sean. Get it together!

Anyway, Gemini Man. Will Smith is Henry Bogan, a top-secret super-sniper with more than 70 impressive kills, helping his government to rid the world of bad guys. But those kills are catching up with him and he’s feeling mentally ready to retire. The official IMDB description calls him an “over the hill hitman” but both Smith and his character are a mere 51 years of age, and far fitter than I am though I am two decades sprier. He’s not so much past his prime as simply too mature and experienced to take this shit lightly anymore. Anyway, no matter what he’s decided, the government isn’t about to just cut him loose. He knows too much, so to them, retirement = death. The only problem is: who on earth is fit to kill the world’s best killer?

It turns out they’ll have to use the product of a highly classified lab run by Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Verris is Henry Bogan’s former Navy Seals commander, and apparently quite an admirer. He’s been using Bogan’s DNA to make a more perfect clone, and now there’s a 23 year old version of Will Smith walking around and he’s not half as tired or dispirited as his original. He’s totally going to murder Henry Bogan right in the face.

Several times during this movie I looked over at Sean with my eyebrow cocked wildly. Sean knows this look and he knows what it means. He knows I’m holding him responsible for every single weird thing this movie does. It’s his fault. He knows and I know it and it’s gonna be a very blame-y car ride home. But to my dismay, before I could even take that first big lungful of air to start in on my diatribe, Sean spikes it with “Well that was bad.”

How dare you, sir! That movie gave you everything you could want in an explosions, motorcycle, and Will Smith movie: explosions, motorcycles, and multiple Will Smiths! Is there no appeasing this man? And if he didn’t like it, who the heck did? Not the critics, that’s for sure: it’s got a measly 26% on rotten tomatoes (just for comparison, Wild Wild West has 17%).

It seems that director Ang Lee is more concerned with making high-tech movies as complicatedly as possible and isn’t so concerned with making interesting or watchable ones. Will Smith is fine, though I’m not really convinced by the de-aging software, especially since we’re pinning him to age 23, which is when he’s at the height of his Fresh Prince fame. He wasn’t just a younger version of his currently buff self. He was skinny and gawky and hadn’t quite come into his own. Will Smith at 51 is much better looking; the gray at his temples suits him, as does bigger suit size. But no matter how fresh he is, he can’t make a convoluted script work, and I had trouble remembering I wasn’t watching Mission Impossible II – not a great sign for a movie as technologically advanced as Gemini Man to be mistaken for a movie nearly 20 years its senior. There were good parts too – the catacombs looked especially cool, and Lee’s got some interesting angles in his pocket. But mostly it just felt a bit derivative and kind of a bore, even if it is 2 Will Smiths for the price of 1.

El Camino

Is this a prequel or a postquel, I wondered, until the movie threw me into a Breaking Bad recap which I badly needed but basically indicated that the movie would pick up where the show left off – why else refresh events? In fact the movie picks up exactly where the show left off, with Walt dead and Jesse driving off madly, and I do mean madly, in an El Camino (says Sean – I can only identify it as far as subcategory “real ugly car”).

This story is told in two parts: the immediate minutes and days following the show’s big shoot-out finale, during which Jesse Pinkman has been liberated from his cage and is finally free from Walter White’s tyranny and all the fallout, and in flashbacks to the time of his captivity leading up to the show’s finale. I found it really difficult to tell the difference between the two despite Sean constantly reminding me “he has a beard!” (which means it’s a flashback”) or “no beard” when it wasn’t. I really should have been able to pick up on that myself, it’s a pretty handy little metric, but it was embarrassingly challenging for me. I’m much more confident in your own ability to keep things straight.

Now truth be told, I needed more than just a 30 second recap. I either have a “piss poor” memory or a “craptastic” one – I can never remember which – but either way, I meant to look up like a nice, meaty 20 minute supercut on Youtube and I guess I forgot to do that too. I annoyed the heck out of the Sean with two main questions that I ran on a loop: who is that guy, and isn’t he dead?

Anyway, poor Jesse survives Walter White, survives cooking in captivity, survives crooked cops and coked up ghosts only to come up $1800 short for taking the Saul Goodman ultimate escape plan route. That’s a tough break after 5 straight seasons worth of bad luck on AMC. Jesse Pinkman arguably deserves a break, but El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie isn’t about to give him one.

It’s kind of nice, after 6 years, to get another little taste of the blue stuff. It’s also nice to revisit old friends. Breaking Bad ended on a bloody and dark note, so it’s kind of nice to have this caveat on a story many of us followed obsessively. Aaron Paul is better than ever and writer-director Vince Gilligan insists on giving us an authentic Breaking Bad experience. While not exactly essential, it’s a nice addition to the canon and proves that every once in a while, you can go home again.

Jungle

The (true) story begins when three white young strangers become friends when they meet each other backpacking in South America. Yossi (Daniel Radcliffe) shames Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson) into ditching their “touristy” plans and joining him on a jungle trek to find a lost tribe of Indians in the Bolivian wilderness led by guide/bushman Karl (Thomas Kretschmann).

Turns out, the jungle is a hard place, guys. But with testosterone and adventure pulsing in their veins, none of these boys stopped to ask “Can we?” or “Should we?”, they just argued over who was going to hold the machete. The first day is grand, and they congratulate themselves on being ever so manly, panning for gold and taking lots of pictures. But then their shoes get wet and the bugs are big and their feet hurt and the whole thing turns into a whine-fest, which is when they get two very stupid ideas: 1. to split up and 2. to build a raft. Build a raft? Has building a raft ever worked in a non-cartoon?

Anyway, long story short, Yossi (Radcliffe) gets separated from the rest and ends up wandering in the Amazonian rainforest alone, for weeks. And you may have heard that the rainforest is quite large, and um, dense with trees but also with stuff that can kill you.

Jungle is a movie determined to alienate its audience with constant gross-out scenes. And it’s hard to know whether to emphasize CONSTANT or GROSS because neither can be overstated. There might be an interesting movie in here somewhere – Harry Potter loses his mind, has a nice relaxing quick sand mud bath and voluntarily gets eaten by fire ants just to stay awake. It’s based on a true story about a guy who defied death for so long in such harrowing circumstances that a two hour movie couldn’t even cover some of Yossi Ghinsberg’s highlights, such as waking up covered in leaches, finding a swarm of termites eating the patches of skin where he’d peed on himself, and sliding down a slope only to be rectally impaled on a stick. If that’s the stuff that DIDN’T make it in, just imagine what did.

I couldn’t help but think to myself that all these man vs. nature movies are the same in that they truly are MAN versus nature. Women are smart enough to never get themselves in these predicaments. Only men are stupid enough to march into a jungle completely unprepared for its realities in inadequate shoes, with the rainy season fast approaching, and an unvetted, complete stranger for a guide. In fact, I think we should rename the genre “men getting what they deserve” and they should all end with said man getting eaten by a cougar from the bottom up so he has to watch. That’s the only kind of karma I’m interested in. Until Jungle gets this re-edit, it’s really not for me.