Author Archives: Jay

Latte & the Magic Waterstone

The animals of the clearing are worried about drought. Collectively they have only 4 pumpkins full of water left, and the sources are drying up, but Latte, a spunky young hedgehog and an outcast from the forest community, has her own small reserve. A young squirrel named Tjum tries to seize her water for the communal coffers but in the ensuing fracas an entire pumpkin is upset, spilling a quarter or more of the clearing’s dwindling water supply. Yikes. The animals are, as always, quick to point the finger at Latte, but this time Tjum recognizes the anti-hedgehog sentiment and takes sole responsibility for the accident.

It’s nice and all but still doesn’t account for the water shortage. Luckily a crow with impeccable timing arrives to tell them all about this mythic waterstone that once rested at the top of bear mountain, allowing water to flow abundantly down to to everyone in the forest and beyond. But then the bear king stole it for himself, leaving all the other animals to go without. Latte resolves then and there to retrieve that stone, and Tjum follows after her. If the bear king doesn’t sound scary enough, they’ll have to cross a perilous forest to get to him, encountering predators like wolves and lynxes who are just as thirsty and even more desperate, not to mention a cockeyed toad whose motivations are mysterious.

Latte & the Magic Waterstone is a German animated film, and German fairy tales aren’t exactly known for their light-hearted joviality. Nobody gets their eyes pecked out (Grimm’s Cinderella) or any kind of blinding (Grimm’s Rapunzel) indeed; eyes are largely safe in this one. But there is some real sadness to contend with: a sweet little hedgehog alone in the world, a community content to shun her. But the movie doesn’t really dwell on such matters. It sticks to its simple and predictable story, an easy little adventure to find or not find a stone that may or may not exist. Dying of thirst or dying of loneliness: what’s the difference?

This movie is occasionally visually stunning and mostly just a forgettable little cartoon about a hedgehog who probably deserves better.

Disney Park Tag

We’ve had to cancel our 2020 Disney World trip due to COVID concerns; yesterday there were more deaths in Florida than there were cases in all of Ontario. Not to mention the Canada-U.S. border has remained closed to keep the virus at bay (Canadians worked hard collectively to shut things down and flatten the curve early on and we don’t want our efforts wasted by an errant American visitor, who’ve played so fast and loose with people’s health).

Disney World closed its gates for many weeks but is now reopened despite an alarming increase in new cases in Florida (and elsewhere of course; Florida is by no means the only American hotspot). For now, our only Disney travel will be in our dreams, and by trips on the nostalgia train with videos like this one.

We truly value each and every one of you who has discovered us on Youtube and lent their support with subscriptions and comments.

p.s. Apologies if I’ve been appearing and disappearing as a Follower on WordPress. I’ve had some recent interruptions and I’m still trying to gain back my list!

The Sunlit Night

You’d have to be desperate to accept a job in Norway’s Arctic Circle painting a barn alongside a gruff, acerbic artist during the months when the sun never sets. But desperate she is; Frances (Jenny Slate) is technically homeless after her own breakup, and her parents’, which dissolves the family home. She’s an artist, but not the kind who’s been first choice for any apprenticeship back home. Hence the sunlight nights.

She spends her days painting a barn yellow under the direction of cantankerous Nils (Fridtjov SÃ¥heim), her evenings making friends with goats and brown cheese, and her nights not sleeping as the sun’s rays continuously penetrate the windows of her camper. She meets Haldor (Zach Galifianakis) an American who plays a Viking Chief in a nearby “authentic,” “historic” Viking village settlement meant to attract tourists, though there are few, and Yasha (Alex Sharp), who has traveled here to give his recently deceased father a proper Viking funeral.

There’s nothing like self-exile to establish a sense of grief and apathy. I imagine Martin Ahlgren had a cinematographer’s wet dream up there with those incredible, sparkling landscapes. Jenny Slate is her usual effervescent self. But though the film is often charming, it doesn’t really feel complete. Frances often refers to her time in Norway as “detention,” a punishment for not being successful. With time it becomes the site of her awakening, her renaissance as an artist – but it’s unclear to both the audience and to the film itself whether Frances has undergone a permanent transformation. The film lacks commitment, it all feels rather passive. I found things to admire but was left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

Double World

This movie is a little hard to describe. It’s definitely fantasy – hard to distinguish if it’s an ancient civilization (with sporadic impressive technology), some post-apocalyptic but rebuilt future, or just an alternate universe, but in any case, picture ancient China but let’s call it two basic nations: north and south. The north and the south are predisposed to war against each other of course, but there’s been 10 years of peace up until this recent kerfuffle. The kerfuffle has necessitated the 10 neighbouring clans to each send a team of 3 to establish the very best warriors, who will be declared the grand marshals for the coming war. The clan where we’re embedded has few people volunteering for the likely deadly positions, so when Dong Yilong (Henry Lau) throws his hat in the ring, he’s immediately approved, even though he’s literally strung up by the ankles during this meeting, having only moments before been caught for stealing and about to be executed. No one in the village would miss him. Known as The Bastard, he’s always been an outsider, and his clan sees him as expendable if not worthy. The next volunteer is known as The Deserter (Peter Ho) because he was the sole survivor in the last war. These two (yes, there’s a third, but let’s not get too attached to him) set out toward what promises to be an extra bloody competition, but the road there is also filled with peril. The Bastard has nothing but a broken comb, the only thing left to him by his mother who died in childbirth, and The Deserter carrying a broken spear that returned from him from the last battle.

If the plot sounds confusing, don’t worry. This movie is all about the action. If you’re here for anything else, you’ve got the wrong film. But as an action adventure fantasy, it’s pretty much everything you could want. First off: nonstop action. They don’t wait until they get to the war games, they encounter lots of danger from lots of sources before they even get to the part that’s supposed to be the challenge. And in fact, we meet Dong Yilong as he’s being pursued for theft. So: An Aladdin-style pursuit, a near-execution, a giant Scorpion thingie that’s definitely learned some tricks from Tremors, and a sandstorm that could stop a horse, but not the intrepid young woman (Chenhan Lin) who’s destined to be their third (the generic, unnamed member of the original trio has no backstory and no special possession, so you know he’s not going to make it to the end, but he barely even makes it through the beginning!).

And that’s just the cost of travelling! The actual warrior competition is going to involve shackles, impalings, a ferocious puppy, and a beast who makes dragons look like mosquitoes. Plus some supernatural shit for good measure.

The fight choreography is gorgeous, the CG is flawless, and the action’s non-stop. We went in with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised by a fun watch that helped curb those summer blockbuster cravings.

Banana Split

When something is billed simply as a “Dylan Sprouse comedy,” you adjust your expectations accordingly. Many people will know Dylan and his twin brother Cole as the stars of Disney channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. I am not those people. Since I’m old as fuck, I know them as the kids who played opposite Adam Sandler in Big Daddy. They’re grown up now, arguably too grown up (28) to be playing a high school student, but in the great tradition of Hollywood, it is what it is.

A happy surprise though: this is not a Dylan Sprouse comedy. He’s in it, but he’s not exactly the focus.

An even happier surprise: though this is the second movie about high school sweethearts headed for college on opposite coasts released by Netflix this weekend, Banana Split is a lot more palatable than The Kissing Booth 2.

April (Hannah Marks) and Nick (Sprouse) have spent their last two high school years as a couple, half of it desperately in love and in sync, and the latter half bickering and growing apart. Still, it’s a blow when they’re accepted to schools so far apart. They break up, and it seems their last summer at home will be spent in separate corners, licking wounds, mending hearts, and sharing custody of mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts).

But Ben throws an unexpected wild card into the mix: Clara (Liana Liberato). Clara and April hit it off immediately. They’re kindred spirits, destined for instant best friendship. Clara is the sunny antidote to April’s funk. There’s just one little wrinkle: April’s not the only one to fall for Clara. So does Nick. Nick and Clara are dating, so to preserve the friendship between the two women, they agree on some rules, mostly consisting of not talking about Nick, and not telling Nick about their relationship.

It works for a while. But more importantly, the story works. It works because the script is good. While The Kissing Booth 2’s characters are the exact same age, their antics are fairly juvenile, the film aimed a much younger target audience. Banana Split, however, is much saucier, and comes with an R rating. I always have a soft spot for teenage girls who talk like salty sailors because I was one, and I get them. I get bonding over rap lyrics and driving tests and the mysteries of corned beef (I have LITERALLY ranted about corned beef my whole life. Corned beef? Exactly how is something corned and why on earth would you want it to be? Diiiiiiisgusting).

Anyhow, this movie caught me off guard. Marks wrote it along with Joey Power and gives it an authentic flavour. This may be a Gen Z comedy, but April and Clara’s friendship is timeless and I love a script bold enough to write toward it and not treat it like it’s the side piece. Bravo.

Romance Doll

Yeah, I know about sex dolls. Sure. They used to be inflatable, although I believe/hope those were mostly novelty items since I’ve sliced my finger on the vinyl seam of a beach ball and don’t think you’d want to risk more favoured appendages to a similar fate. By 2007 things had improved somewhat, if Lars and the Real Girl can be believed. And earlier this year, a Canadian sex doll rental company expanded its locations to better serve the community. For $189 for two hours or $289 for the night, you can peruse their catalog of “girls” (they each have backstories and personalities) and have them discreetly delivered to your door with a guarantee of cleanliness (hopefully the process is a little more rigorous than the whole spray of Lysol into the bowling shoe scenario).The dolls are incredibly life-like, at least to the touch. They have soft skin, chic wigs, and joints that can accommodate any number of positions. They’re so impressive they’re called love dolls now.

Or Romance Dolls, if too many movies have already been titled the former. Tetsuo (Issey Takahashi) never meant to get into the sex doll business, but he was an unemployed art school grad and money talks. As a sculptor, he is tasked with making as realistic a doll as possible, but his first attempt is ridiculed for not being grope worthy enough. He confesses to coworker Kinji (Kitarô) that he hasn’t seen breasts in years, so the two hatch a harebrained scheme to lure a model to sit for a plaster cast by posing as doctors doing research for prosthesis use. Sonoko (Yu Aoi) is a luminous angel, but her session with Tetsuo perfectly sedate. Sonoko is shy and demure, her coyness inspiring “doctor” Tetsuo to catch feelings. It’s a divine miracle that when he runs after her to profess his love, she doesn’t blow her rape whistle. This girl has very poor creep radar.

Like so many love stories, the fairy tale wears off after the wedding. The Sonoko doll proves quite popular, so Tetsuo works overtime, returning home late, so tired from making sex toys for others that his own sex drive is dead. Pressure mounts even more when Tetsuo starts working on Sonoko 2.0. He’s obsessed with the silicone Sonoko but neglects the actual, real life Sonoko sleeping in his bed. Plus there’s the problematic secret between them; Tetsuo never did come clean about his job, so his wife still believes he’s in medicine rather than erotic toys.

Impressively, Yuki Tanada not only adapts from her own novel, but directs the thing too. And it’s got a lot of good pieces: the objectification of the female body, the ultimate rejection of one’s muse, the cancerous nature of secrets…but like a sex doll (I hope/imagine), you can have all the right parts and they still not add up to a satisfying thing. The husband gets a pass because he’s an artist, his wife makes all the sacrifices, and female sexuality is handled in a rather depressing way. Plus there’s the whole “husband preferring the version of his wife who is undemanding and never talks back.” It’s enough to make a feminist ejaculate anger out of her eyes.

And just a quick head’s up to our Dutch readers: in the making of this review, I learned that sex dolls are often referred to in Japan as “Dutch wives.” You, erm, might want to look into that.

Animal Crackers

Zoe and Owen are enthusiastic circus goers when they meet as children, and the circus is the background of their courtship growing up. But when Owen (John Krasinski) is ready to settle down with Zoe (Emily Blunt), he heeds her father’s advice, leaving the circus behind in favour of the family dog biscuit business. It’s not his passion, not even close, but it pays the bills and seems befitting of a family man. It takes a tragedy – the untimely death of Owen’s eccentric, long-lost uncle Buffalo Bob, who bequeaths to him his circus.Unfortunately, the circus is not at its best. With aging performers, absentee animals, and a ledger in the red, it’s definitely past its prime.

Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?

The good news is that Owen finds Buffalo Bob’s recipe for success, one that’ll guarantee amazing animal acts and paying butts in the seats. But he also remembers that he has not one but two long-lost uncles. Uncle Horatio (Ian McKellan) owns the largest chain of circuses in the world, and there’s no way in hell he’s going to let his dweeby nephew Owen threaten his empire.

Animal Crackers has an all-star voice cast, which is the entire list of things it has going for it. The script is clumsy, the story unremarkable, the songs subpar. It’s not going to knock the clown socks off anyone. But since we’re experiencing a movie drought due a certain global pandemic who shall remain nameless, this might just about fit the bill for a family film night. Hand out the Cracker Jack, or dare I suggest – animal crackers? – and I can promise you that young kids won’t hate it. Neither will you, of course. It’s completely harmless and completely forgettable. But it’s new and it’s available for streaming on Netflix, so step right up, put on your red nose, and prepare to be whelmed.

The Kissing Booth 2

In the first fillm, Elle (Joey King) confronted her crush Noah (Jacob Elordi) at a kissing booth, which was awkward because Noah just happened to be the older brother of her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), and according to the strict rules of their friendship pact, siblings were off limits. But the heart wants what it wants, sparks flew, and Elle and Noah spent a glorious, loved up summer together, before he headed off to college.

Now Elle’s starting her senior year of high school while juggling a long distance relationship which everyone else basically assumes means break up. Even Noah is feeling a bit neglected because of Elle’s misguided attempt to give him “space.” In fact, Noah wants just the opposite, encouraging Elle to apply to schools near him despite the fact that the Elle and Lee Friendship Pact also states that best friends should go to the same school, and that’s on a whole other coast.

Don’t worry, there are going to plenty of harmless, G-rated shenanigans: a series of games that until now I’d assumed only got played at church picnics, vying to be top score at an arcade even though it’s 2020, accidentally describing walking thirst trap Marco in excruciating detail over the school PA system – just your typical modern day high school antics.

I didn’t really care for the first movie and I didn’t expect much from this one either. Nor did I get it, to be honest. It is what it is: a sweet teeny bopper romance for the tween market. But it’s also a reminder of how much we ask of kids – kids who are still dressing up for Halloween! They have to predict what they’ll be happy doing for the rest of their lives, what the future job market will look like, whether their love can withstand the strain of distance and temptation, where to relocate geographically, and how much debt to cripple themselves with long-term, assuming they won’t be totally priced out of home ownership, and the institution of marriage still exists, and the gig economy hasn’t imploded any hope of insurance, and there’s still a planet healthy enough to withstand a generation after theirs. No pressure though, right? We definitely feel comfortable saddling 17 year-olds with these decisions? The exact same 17 year olds who thought they could solve the bulk of their problems with a Dance Dance Revolution tournament? Cool cool.

No hate for The Kissing Booth 2. It obviously has an audience, and its audience will find it without my intervention. Every generation needs its cheesy romances, and I’ve almost made my peace with that. Am I thrilled with this movie? Not even close. But it wasn’t made for me. Perhaps it was made for you. Or perhaps it’s not a perfect fit exactly but you’re looking for something undemanding and inoffensive. This’ll do. And maybe while we’re at it, this review will convince you I’ve matured, I’m mending my asshole ways, I’m more open and forgiving. It’s total horseshit of course. I suspect the truth is that COVID-19 has deadened me. It has decimated the movie industry and with so few options, it’s hard to completely discount any of them. We’re so desperate for content we’ll watch a sequel to a movie we couldn’t stand the first time – in fact my review said I’d rather eat my own toenails. Yikes. And now here I am two years later, eating COVID pie. It’s not good, but it’s literally all we have.

 

 

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

Why watch a documentary about a man you’ve never heard of? Do you really need to learn “more” when you know nothing?

To be fair: millions of people DO know his name. He was the world’s #1 astrologer for decades, but because he broadcasted mostly in Spanish, he never made it into my home or into my cultural lexicon (and to be super fair, I can’t name a single English or French speaking one either; astrology just isn’t my thing).

Whether you know his name or not, you should probably check out this documentary. He is indeed a curious character. Lin-Manuel Miranda describes him as dramatic and fabulous, and in Mercado’s case, those are vast understatements.

Androgynous? Asexual? Those are not words people used in Puerto Rico in 1969, when he got his start, nor are they words Walter Mercado uses even today. Labels? He’s not above them – he’s beyond them. Today Mercado resembles a cross between Julie Andrews, Joan Rivers, and Sean’s recently deceased Granny. His wardrobe isn’t so much a cross between Liberace and Elvis as a one-upmanship of both, with a touch of Siegfried & Roy, and a cape collection that would make Lando Calrissian cry. He admits to “a little arrangement” when it comes to plastic surgery, and some botox “like Nicole Kidman.”

Mercado has an origin story to rival a super hero’s, a primo sidekick in faithful assistant Willy (who warns us not to get too bitchy with him), a legendary catch phrase, and a super power. Unfortunately, he’s also got a nemesis because every story worth telling has a villain. And if Walter has a kryptonite, it would be trust.

Trusting his business manager Bill Bakula was his downfall. They battled in court rather than in Gotham, but there were hits, there were injuries, there was damage. Neither had a mother named Martha.

At times known as a miracle-worker, a magician, a psychic, and a sorcerer, most remember him simply as a source of inspiration. Mercado knew there was power in positivity and his horoscopes gave people a reason to believe in themselves. His fandom has keenly felt his absence and many in the community would champion a reboot of the Mercado franchise but not all super heroes are meant to rise again (especially not when their jewel-encrusted capes weigh more than 30lbs).

This is a fascinating documentary, well told, and well worth the time. Mercado is quite a character, and if he is a Hispanic hero, this movie is his legacy.

Father Soldier Son

Let’s be real: this documentary is a super duper emotional watch.

We’re going to get to know the Eisch family over the next decade of their lives, but when we meet them, dad Brian is deployed to Afghanistan while sons Isaac, 12, and Joey, 7, live with uncle Shawn since their mother is out of the picture. The kids are proud of their dad, they think of him as a super hero, but they not only miss him, they worry about him. They’re young but they understand the consequences of his job.

In fact, Brian does return injured. He nearly lost his leg, so the dad they get back is not the same one that left them. He can’t do the camping and fishing and outdoorsy stuff that they used to enjoy together, but he’s also struggling just to be a loving and attentive father. War sucks.

Brian is lucky; besides having some very helpful relatives, he finds love again, a saintly and patient woman who’s willing to abide his mood swings and care for his children as she cares for her own. Brian’s pain is such that he finally agrees to an amputation, but healing post-surgery isn’t as swift as he’d hoped and his prosthetic the answer to all his problems. As depression sets in, a war video game becomes his sole focus. Brian is grappling with his new limitations and his sons are adapting to a family constantly reacting to the aftershocks of war.

Directors Catrin Einhorn and Lesley Davis capture some truly stunning and intimate family moments. Brian of course goes through some major transformations mentally and physically, but I found the young sons to be much more compelling. And remember: we’re with them for an entire decade. We literally watch them grow up, something they perhaps do a little too quickly. Juvenile ideals of patriotism and valour melt into questioning the real cost of war and whether it’s really worth it. As hard as it is to hear a 7 year old say “You shot my dad, I kill you,” it’s even harder to watch him learn the true meaning of sacrifice.

The Eisch home matches their wardrobe completely: plaid and American flags adorn both. Brian coaches his sons to “be tough” and to hold back their tears. Meanwhile, he’s wrestling with his own sense of masculinity, purpose, and self-determination. He’s a third generation soldier who’s no longer mission ready. Is the fourth generation destined to walk in his boots, or has this family paid enough?

This family portrait is painted with generational tragedy but it’s not asking for sympathy. It’s serving real, raw moments of joy and sorrow and we are their solemn witness.