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SXSW: Porto

porto-F70243.jpgThe loss of Anton Yelchin somehow seems larger as time passes.  As you probably know, he died tragically about a year ago, crushed by his own (faulty) car as he checked his mail.  The outpouring of grief from his peers was massive at the time, and the more I learn about him, the more I get it.  He was a glue guy, an artist, a student of film, a true professional.  He made everything easier for those around him.  Those sentiments were echoed by Gabe Klinger during the Q&A for Porto at SXSW.  Porto is Klinger’s first narrative feature and he freely admitted how much Yelchin helped everyone involved and made the project better, because of Yelchin’s vast knowledge of and experience in making movies.

Technically, Porto is an interesting movie because it was shot on three different types of film: 8mm, 16mm and 35mm.  And it IS film, none of this was shot using a digital camera, and the movie feels better for it.  There is something about film that digital can’t match yet – a depth, a richness, and a darkness.  All those elements are appropriate for Porto, which is a story of intense love and loss, and the film types neatly indicate which time period we’re currently watching.

Porto’s lack of continuity makes a conventional story feel a bit more unconventional, but it also leads to repetition.  I wondered during the film whether that repetition was a consequence of Yelchin’s death but it appears to have been an intentional narrative choice, since a little post-movie research shows that filming was complete before he died.  The fact that a few details were added, or the scene extended, helped explain the repetition but I still found it to be a distracting choice.

That distraction was a minor one, especially considering the great chemistry between Yelchin and Lucie Lucas that’s on display here.  The leads’ performances make Porto worth watching.  Yelchin and Lucas have a spark that makes the audience feel the allure and power of this very brief relationship, and that in turn makes us understand why they still reminisce about their short time together.  I am sure Lucas deserves as much credit for that as Yelchin, as she’s his equal on screen.  Still, it’s hard not to focus on Yelchin since this might be the last time we see him, and I am struck by how much I took his effortless performances for granted until he was gone.

 

 

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SXSW: Colossal

colossal-F71894Other than a major difference in size, Godzilla and a drunk have a lot in common.  They both stumble around erratically, they both have a temper, and they both wreck a lot of stuff.  Though Colossal does not feature Godzilla, presumably due to licencing issues, it does feature a giant monster terrorizing an Asian city (though this time it’s Seoul, Korea instead of Tokyo, Japan).  As you’d expect, the monster’s appearance is big news, so even Gloria (Anne Hathaway) hears about it eventually.  It takes a while for her though because of how drunk she got the night before.

Gloria’s got a lot of problems.  She’s just been kicked out by her longtime boyfriend for drinking too much and she’s been unemployed for way too long.  She’s got no direction and no prospects, so after losing her relationship and place to stay, she heads to her hometown and meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  Since Oscar owns a bar, Gloria stays there all night drinking, and a giant monster appears in Seoul about the time she’s stumbling home the next morning.

Colossal is different than I expected, which is not a bad thing.  Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has created something unique, something much different than any kaiju movie I’ve ever seen.  Colossal is slow paced and focuses largely on people, not monsters, and the characters’ personal growth (/lack thereof) is a very important part of the story.  I don’t want to say more about what Colossal is or isn’t, as I think trying to figure out this movie is part of the fun.  There are definitely some surprises along the way, and those were high points for me.  It’s always interesting when a movie takes an unexpected turn and Colossal offers a few of them.

In support of the unique story, Hathaway and Sudeikis both deliver excellent performances, and the quality of those performances is why this movie works so well.  Seeing Gloria and Oscar reconnect after all these years, discovering each other as adults, is something we can all relate to but we soon learn that the stakes are a little higher here, because Seoul is in peril every morning.

Colossal is set to be released in North America on April 7, 2017.  If you’re interested in seeing a different kind of kaiju movie, one that is more character study than city-destroying rampage, then Colossal is worth watching.

SXSW: The Ballad of Lefty Brown

the-ballad-of-lefty-brown-F71455The Ballad of Lefty Brown starts from an interesting place. Writer/director Jared Moshe was curious about the bumbling sidekick in John Wayne movies, the guy who functioned as comic relief. That archetypal character could not do anything right, so why did someone like John Wayne choose to have a bumbling guy like that as the one watching his back?

Lefty Brown is one such bumbler. Played by Bill Pullman, we join Lefty late in life, near the end of a lifetime of sidekicking for a Montana rancher who has just been elected to the U.S. Senate.  Lefty would be at a loss anyway due to his mainkick, but things are made much, much worse when the rancher is ambushed and murdered by a cattle rustler that he and Lefty were tracking.

Pullman is very believable as Lefty, a sad-sack who believes he contributed to, or at least could have done something to prevent, the death of his idol and only friend. Other characters, including many familiar faces, come and go but serve mainly to advance the story. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know them as much as I would have liked, but this is Lefty’s story for once so it would be cruel to complain that he got too much screen time!

The landscape is beautifully shot, and the cinematography really emphasizes Lefty’s isolation. He’s literally in the middle of nowhere for most of this movie, and even when he’s accompanied by others that feeling of isolation remains.

Because of the rancher’s death, Lefty has to assume the leadership role, and as we spend time with Lefty we get to learn why the rancher was willing to place so much trust in Lefty. It’s an enjoyable journey even though, paradoxically, the movie plays out like a typical western because the rancher’s death makes Lefty the lead with a sidekick of his own. But I like to think that the rancher knew all along what our stand-in hero Lefty was truly made of.

If, like me, you’re intrigued by the concept and are in Austin TX this week then you have one more chance to see The Ballad of Lefty Brown at SXSW, on March 15 at 2 p.m.

 

 

 

SXSW: Small Town Crime

small-town-crime-F68309No matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything at a festival like SXSW. To prepare for these big festivals, we study the schedule like our lives depend on it, read the synopses repeatedly, and try to see as many of our favourite artists as possible.  All that prep work helps a lot, but sometimes a tight schedule makes a choice for us. That happened today with Small Town Crime and we were better off for it. Put simply, Small Town Crime is an indie gem that is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.

Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime sparkles.  We are introduced right away to Hawkes’ suitably pathetic, yet undeniably charming, alcoholic ex-cop. He’s got a few skeletons too many in his closet, so he needs some breakfast beers in order to get underway each afternoon. But he is determined not to let that disease keep him from solving a mystery that falls right into his lap.

ian-nelms-F68309Functioning both as a whodunnit and an offbeat action-comedy, Small Town Crime is consistently good, especially when Hawkes’ character shares the screen with Forster’s concerned grandfather and Clifton Collins Jr.’s refreshingly self-aware pimp.  Writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms clearly recognized what they had and give those three characters a hefty share of screen time. That must have been particularly difficult here since the cast is extremely deep. Even with the focus on that trio, I was left wanting to see more of them. I’d be first in line for a sequel (or a television series) showcasing more of their adventures.

In addition to its fantastic characters, Small Town Crime also delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts). Small Town Crime is a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

If you’re at SXSW, you still have two more chances to see Small Town Crime on March 12 and 17, and otherwise, you should cross your fingers for this film to get a well-deserved wide release.

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

Independence Day: Resurgence

id4Will Smith was right to avoid this one.  Honestly, he must be embarrassed for his likeness to have made a brief appearance in this debacle.  Jeff Goldblum should feel even worse for having taken the money to appear in this thing.  Independence Day: Resurgence is every bit as terrible as you’ve heard.  Now that it’s on Netflix, I felt I had to check it out to be sure.  I am writing this solely to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

Independence Day: Resurgence starts out terribly and does not improve one bit.  If anything it gets dumber as it goes, by taking us to a moonbase, then having an alien ship that measures 3,000 miles across sneak past all Earth’s defences, and then creating a totally unnecessary back story for the aliens involving a different alien/robot/spaceship.  Well, totally unnecessary except that it conveniently sets up a sequel!  Do me a favour and stay off Kickstarter if you think a third Independence Day sounds like a good idea.

It’s just a mess.  Like peeing your pants, which two of our heroes admit to doing after one of several mediocre action scenes.  Billy Madison made peeing your pants cool, but Liam Hemsworth and Travis Tope prove here they cannot pull off the same thing.  Not that I could pull it off either but at least I know enough not to try.  Despite what my love of comic book movies may suggest, I’m not six years old.

If you are still on fence about this movie then I’ve failed, and in that case I have to wonder whether you were worth saving anyway.   Independence Day: Resurgence gets a score of 3 soiled undies out of ten.

Logan

loganWe reached comic book movie overload several years ago and the number of those movies has only increased since. It seems clear they are not going away anytime soon. At least there are a few I can sell to Jay as having something original to offer. It helps that she has endless patience for the things I enjoy. Based on its trailers and positive reviews, Logan was one of the easier sells in recent memory. And while I doubt it justified the superhero movie genre’s continued prominence for her, I think she may have enjoyed it. Well, once the Deadpool trailer ended – I’m pretty sure she hated that especially since it pretended to be the start of the film.

nepbctpbbkoesw_2_bLogan is an interesting take on a superhero movie. It’s based on Old Man Logan but barely. It includes X-23 and Professor X, but that’s about it for recognizable mutants. It’s not a franchise builder; it’s a coda. And that’s a refreshing change that helps the movie immensely. We’re so used to these movies going bigger and bigger that I found it immensely refreshing that Logan chose to act like a regular, standalone movie, and tell a self-contained story that entertained on its own merits.

I also found it fascinating that this movie is set in a quasi-apocalyptic America, circa 2029, where all the Americans wanted to escape to Canada, and it was an entirely believable situation. ikea-mexico-border-wall-spoof_dezeen_heroThanks to the election of Donald Trump, the collapse of the U.S. in the next 12 years feels like a realistic scenario. So you best be nice to us or we will build our own border wall at your expense. Yeah, it sounds just as stupid when I say it as when Trump does.

Anyway, in conclusion, Logan is awesome and you should go see it. It’s a really good movie that happens to star everyone’s favourite X-Man, a few times over. Farewell, Hugh Jackman. I am comforted somewhat by the fact your Wolverine will continue to exist in the hundred alternate timelines created throughout the course of the past nine X-Men movies. So let’s not say goodbye, let’s just say, “Hugh! Come back!”

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jackreacher2-tomcruise-carwindow-gunpointMovies like Jack Reacher: Never Go Back make John Wick: Chapter 2 look like John Wick: Chapter 1.  I really enjoyed the first John Wick for its simplicity, tight action scenes, and original feel.  I criticized John Wick: Chapter 2 for its overly repetitive fight scenes but despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable film.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is not enjoyable.  It feels old and tired, a cliché of a cliché.  The only fun I had while watching was making fun of all the things that Tom Cruise’s character could never go back to (and there’s a lot because he’s essentially a hobo who seems to piss off everyone he interacts with).

Basically, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the most generic Tom Cruise action film you can imagine.  He runs really fast as always, though here a woman keeps pace with him somehow so she must have had superpowers.  Despite not winning the race, Cruise’s character redeems himself by being smarter than everyone, persisting in the face of slight facial injuries that show us he’s up against impossible odds, and drawing on the legal skills he learned during A reacherFew Good Men to avoid incriminating himself in one particularly Tom-Cruise-y scene (as you may have deduced, while watching this film I decided to treat Tom Cruise’s filmography as if he has literally been playing the same character this whole time, because figuratively he has been doing exactly that for the last 35 years).

I skipped the first Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back made me really glad I did.  If only I had been smart enough to skip this one.  If you’re a fan of Mission: Impossible then you may get some minor enjoyment out of this one, but it’s a pale imitation (incidentally, when I saw the trailer I thought it was a new M:I movie so that’s an indication of how generic this movie really is).  Also, if you’ve seen the trailer you have already seen what might be Cruise’s best sequence in the movie.  Basically, there’s no need to buy this cow especially when the free milk being given away isn’t even fresh.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back gets a score of 4 unhandleable truths out of ten, because a film this mediocre and generic does not deserve any original wordplay.

John Wick: Chapter 2

wickbarI lagged way behind and only saw the first John Wick a few weeks ago when it popped up on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, and like action movies, it’s a good one (definitely good enough to warrant a sequel). And that sequel is now upon us.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is faithful to the first chapter’s formula, almost to a fault. That fault is repetitiveness, in a somewhat strange way. You see, one of the things I liked about John Wick (both the first movie and the character) is that he bleeds. He makes mistakes and the bad guys capitalize. He wins in the end through sheer force of will.

The same basic formula plays out in John Wick: Chapter 2 but since it’s a sequel, everything has to be tougher for our protagonist Jonathan (note to Ian McShane: emphasizing that this hit man’s full name is “Jonathan” is weird; please stop).  The problem is the way the difficulty is ratched up. Wick is not given tougher bad guys to face. He’s just given more of them, which makes the extended fight scenes a tedious series of guys running at Wick and Wick then shooting them twice in the body and one in the head.john-wick-chapter-2-keanu-reeves-419484-jpg-r_1920_1080-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx

Or, if two guys (or more) run at him at once (a SERIOUS violation of movie bad guy etiquette) he puts one in an MMA- style hold, shoots the other(s) in the body then head, then gives a head shot to the guy he wrestled down and has probably been using as a human shield while dealing with the other(s). Keanu Reeves obviously practiced this move particularly hard and good on him for still being credible as an action hero, but a little variety would have been nice in order to continue the first movie’s realistic feel.

(Don’t even get me started on the part where Wick is specifically given a gun with limited ammo and then immediately gets a magic movie gun from the first bad guy he kills that shoots about 30 times before he has to cock it again. Or the fact that in this film every second person in Central Park is an assassin.)

There’s more good and bad, and more good than bad in John Wick: Chapter 2. But when this movie’s ending set us up for the third instalment, I immediately thought of Jason Bourne, which I seriously considered turning off on a plane. That is a bad road for John Wick to be headed down.

John Wick: Chapter 2 gets a score of six smashed-up classic Mustangs out of ten. Essentially, the opening car-smashing sequence was a metaphor, in which Wick was this movie and my goodwill toward the first movie was the car. That it was such a nice car to begin with is the most disappointing part.

 

The Lego Batman Movie

batcaveIt’s hard to believe it was about three years ago that The Lego Movie amazed me with its ability to entertain adults and children alike with the same silly jokes.   Time goes by so quickly!  The Lego Batman Movie is The Lego Movie’s sequel in spirit but is not tied to the first in any way, except that both feature Will Arnett’s Lego Batman, the ridiculous beat-boxing self-absorbed antihero who always succeeds on the “first try”.  Only this time, Batman has to take Michael Cera’s earnest, optimistic Robin along with him on his adventures.robin

The Lego Batman Movie is every bit as good as the Lego Movie, and that’s high praise.  Surprisingly, it is also a remarkably faithful  continuation of, and homage to, the whole Batman cinematic universe, including the silly 1966 Batman Movie starring Adam West.  If you are a Batman fan you need to see this film.  One of my favourite elements was the inclusion of so many forgotten members of Batman’s rogues gallery.  This movie has so many ridiculous villains that you will think many must have been made up, but as far as I can tell, every single silly one has been Batman’s enemy over the last 80 years, and I googled as many as I coulbatman-villainsd remember just as Zach Galifianakis’ Joker suggested.

In addition to the inclusion of so many laughable villains, there are so many other references and in-jokes that it is impossible to catch them all on a single viewing.   One that stood out for me was the inclusion of the Wonder Twins, if only because they are my most hated “superheroes” of all time, and yet I still thought it was awesome they were given a little place in this movie. I can only guess what I missed, though, and want to watch this one again sometime soon (if I can ever find the time!).

The Lego Batman Movie is another sparkling example of a movie that everyone can enjoy, and another that organically incorporates a positive message within its zaniness.   We are in the midst of a golden age for animated films and the Lego Batman Movie is a classic that I will be watching with my nieces and nephews for years to come.  It gets a score of nine cans of Shark-Repellent Bat-spray out of ten.

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