Category Archives: Jay

Mossville: When Great Trees Fall

Mossville Louisiana was established by newly freed slaves, post-abolition. They designed it to be self-sustaining and community-minded. Many of the town’s recent residents are descendants of its founders. I saw recent rather than current because nobody lives there now.

A South African company (Sosol) came in and started buying up land. Those who didn’t get out immediately had to put up with construction, loss of basic services like electricity and sewage, and have weathered increased buy-out pressure from the company. The few remaining holdouts haven’t stopped the company from building its plants, but the residents are already decimated, poisoned by petrochemical plants and dying in droves, cancer not just visiting one or two but virtually all. Not that the company minds: when a resident dies, it’s that much easier for them to buy their land. Cheaper too.

It’s easy to want to solve this by relocating the sickly stragglers, but given their attachment to the land, the ancestral ties, their proud heritage, their unwillingness to abandon it is perhaps justified. My house was built by a stranger in a part of the country I don’t even like, but I still wouldn’t want to move. And the more someone tried to force me, the deeper I’d dig my heels. But for people like Stacey Ryan a.k.a. Mossville’s last man standing, he hardly has the strength left to put up a fight; he’s too often crippled in an emergency room to effectively advocate.

This documentary takes a cold hard look at environmental injustice and racism, and the embarrassing truth that a company with ties to apartheid has now come to the U.S. looking to do the same. Politicians are sacrificing communities belonging to the disenfranchised. They hope you won’t notice, or care. But please do.

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Boo! A Madea Halloween

Brian (Tyler Perry) is called away from home on Halloween night but isn’t crazy about leaving his teenage daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) home alone when there’s a big frat party happening just down the street. And he’s right: that girl is scheming to be up to no good. But Brian’s solution is probably a questionable parenting decision. He calls over Madea and crew to babysit without seeming to actually be babysitting.

Tiffany is IMMEDIATELY on to them of course, and she’s got a plan for that too: make her house seem haunted. Madea (also Tyler Perry, natch) is scared. Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) is scared. Hattie (Patrice Lovely) is scared. Joe (Tyler Perry once more) is scared. But they don’t vacate. Nor do they fall for the old pillows under the covers trick. No matter how much you wanted to go to a frat party, NOTHING and I do mean nothing can be worth Madea and her posse rolling up on the party. You don’t know embarrassment until your very large great aunt busts out some vintage stripper moves. Anyway, revenge works both ways and the night is still young.

I don’t know if I’ve just seen a string of bad movies or what but Madea in an awful lot more palatable to me right now. I still don’t think this or any of them are great movies, but suddenly I’m not hating it. Is this nostalgia kicking in? Tyler Perry has announced his intention to retire the Madea character, and I’m not exactly mourning what I think of as a tired schtick, especially since I tend to love Perry in almost any other capacity. But in this movie…the fun he’s having is often infectious. The good news is, he has very recently opened Tyler Perry Studios, which means there will be plenty of output to replace the Madea content. Tyler Perry Studios was purchased and established in Atlanta, 330 acres of the former Fort McPherson. Not only is this one of the largest film production studios in the nation, it makes Tyler Perry the first African-American to outright own a major film production studio. Friends including Spike Lee, Oprah, and Beyonce (maybe you’ve heard of them?) came out to celebrate. And I’m guessing pretty soon, we all will.

 

 

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.

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.

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.