Category Archives: Jay

Beats

August (Khalil Everage) hasn’t left the house in 18 months, not since his sister was gunned down in front of him. Now he’s suffering from crippling PTSD, living the hermit life, which his mother (Uzo Aduba) isn’t too mad about. They clearly love and care for each other, but they’re both so broken they can’t heal each other. August retreats into his music, creating beats, safe under his world-cancelling headphones.

But then one day his school’s security guard Romello (Anthony Anderson) comes looking for him. Coincidentally (or not), he’s a washed up manager with one big ex-client and a whole lot of baggage, including an estranged wife for a current boss, who expects him to bring back truant students so her school’s funding doesn’t get cut. But instead of bringing August back to school, Romello wants to bring him into a studio. He hears gold records, and a chance to get back on top. But that’s going to be extra challenging when your 17 year old prodigy producer is a recluse with mental health problems.

In Chicago, hip hop and gun violence intermingle, but in Chris Robinson’s movie about both, it’s fear that reigns the day. It feels trite to talk about the ‘healing power of music’ but it’s clear that for August, his music is a retreat, and a balm. But as good as his beats are (and they do hold up thanks to some authentic Chicago talent), it’s going to take more than that to get August back on his feet, and to make this movie better than average.

So is it? Better than average? I’m going to say yes. It’s not super profound but for all its simplicity, it does really speak to a particular brand of tragedy. It’s a painful testimony to all the victims in Chicago’s south side and beyond. August’s story isn’t particularly noteworthy in his community. Everyone has suffered loss. Everyone risks their lives just walking home at night. We really understand how something so horrific can come to feel normal to people who live it every day. It’s only through August’s mother’s eyes that we remember how crazy this is. She is willing to sacrifice everything, to keep her son locked up at home, if that’s what it takes for him to live to his 18th birthday. Uzo Aduba is of course wonderful, her presence strong. And Khalil Everage also makes a strong impression on his first time out.

Netflix dropped Beats today, perhaps in honour of Juneteenth. Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, it’s a national day of observance that commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and in fact the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the confederate states. The Emancipation Proclamation was of course enacted as of January 1, 1863, but Texas was quite remote, and the proclamation was not enforced until after the confederacy collapsed.

While it’s certainly worth celebrating, this movie is perhaps a good way to think about the modern manifestations of slavery, and the ways we may be withholding true liberation, inadvertently or not.

Beats has a strong sound and a good message. It’s not solving the gun violence in America, but it shows us how to have courage even when things look hopeless.

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Toy Story (1995) (1995?) (1995!)

You can blame John Wick for this review. As the lights were dimming in our theatre I suddenly thought – should I have rewatched the previous films? The answer was yes, but I hadn’t. I am a learner of lessons. More or less. Occasionally. When the lesson means watching movies instead of doing work. I did rewatch the incredibly complex The Secret Life of Pets in order to fully appreciate the nuances of its sequel. No I shall do the same for a much better franchise of movies, one that has more than earned a spot on this site anyway – Toy Story.

As you can likely tell from the title, I was taken aback by the year of its release. Intellectually I probably could have told you the year, but emotionally I just wasn’t prepared to face the consequences. This movie is dang near 25 years old. I was a kid when it came out and don’t remember if I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I don’t remember seeing it for the first time at all, which is strange for such a defining moment in animation (and I’m sure I called it such when I reviewed it on the playground).

Toy Story introduces us to a little boy named Andy and his most beloved toy, a cowboy with a pull-string and a snake in his boot but no gun in his holster named Woody. Woody is the natural leader of Andy’s toys, of which there are many: an etch-a-sketch, a Mr. Potato Head, a dinosaur named Rex, a slinky dog, a Fisher-Price classic chatter telephone, Little Bo Peep, a pig-shaped piggy bank named Hamm, green army guys galore. But Woody is Andy’s absolute favouritest toy, and we see them at play in Andy’s cloud-wallpapered room, and tucked into bed together at night, under a Sheriff Woody duvet. But Andy’s birthday brings a plethora of new toys as birthdays often do, but only one toy competes for Andy’s prime affection: a space ranger named Buzz Lightyear. The interesting thing about Buzz, other than his quest to save the universe from Emperor Zurg, is that Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy. He believes he’s the actual hero, and that the galaxy depends on him.

Woody, who up until now has assured all the other toys that just being Andy’s toy is an honour, is of course insanely jealous. And when he is kinda sorta responsible for Buzz “falling” out a window into the sadistic neighbour’s yard, the other toys are naturally upset with their old pal Woody and mount a rescue mission for new friend Buzz. In actuality, Buzz has all but saved himself, but our two heroes end up outside, essentially “lost toys” in the world, and they’ll have to rely on each other to get home safely. Andy’s family is moving in just 2 days so there’s no time to waste!

Toy Story was the first animated film to earn an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, and it’s well-deserved [It lost to The Usual Suspects. It also lost best original musical or comedy score to Pocahontas. There was no best animated film category in 1995, that didn’t happen until 2002, but John Lasseter was given a special achievement Oscar to commemorate the film’s ground-breaking success. Those are pretty rare; the only other one handed out in the past 25 years was in 2017 to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for his contribution to VR film Flesh and Sand.]

The characters are wonderful because the toys all manage to feel timeless. Buzz and Woody are created especially for the film and each is meant to be a character on a hit TV show (though Woody seems to be a relic, perhaps a toy handed down from Andy’s mom or dad). Buzz is newer, all plastic and flashing lights and fancy buttons compared to Woody’s stuffing and low-fi technology. But Andy’s other toys may be more recognizable. In fact, slinky dogs and potato heads and telephones saw a resurgence in popularity after each of the Toy Story films were released. The wonderful voice actors of course go a long way to help bring these toys to life. Tom Hanks (Woody) was drawn to the project because he too had as a child wondered what his toys were up to when he wasn’t looking. Tim Allen (Buzz) was drawn because his comedy idol, Chevy Chase, had been offered the role and turned it down (so had Billy Crystal, who was wise enough to regret it – when Lasseter came calling again, for 2001’s Monsters Inc, Crystal said yes before Lasseter got a single word out). Hanks recorded his lines in the early 90s, while filming Sleepless in Seattle and A League of Their Own – he wanted the voicework wrapped up before he started in on Philadelphia or Forrest Gump as he felt he’d be in the wrong frame of mind. Little Bo Peep is voiced by Annie Potts, but Bo almost didn’t make the film. Initially, Pixar had planned for her to be a Barbie, but Mattel was sure this movie would be a disaster and declined the role, rather fooolishly in hindsight. Similarly, Pixar was not able to use G.I. Joe’s name either; they rewrote the character as ‘Combat Carl.’ Rex the dinosaur, voiced to perfection by Wallace Shawn, is a particular favourite of mine because the idea of a neurotic dinosaur who suffers from self-esteem issues and extreme anxiety turns out to be a whole lotta fun. He’s got an inferiority complex and doesn’t do well with conflict, at odds with him being the biggest of the toys, and depicting a classically scary character. Hamm the piggy bank is voiced by Pixar fixture John Ratzenberger. He’s a board game enthusiast and seems to know the most about the outside world. His frequent board game opponent and best friend is Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), who covers his loneliness with sarcastic wise-cracking but he prays every birthday for a Mrs. Potato Head. Like all good dogs, Slink (Jim Varney) is very loyal to his pal Woody; he often manages to have a hang-dog look about him that’s incredibly sympathetic.

Toy Story was the world’s first computer-animated feature film, and it changed animation forever. To be honest, this film still looks good today because they were careful to avoid things they weren’t quite up to animating convincingly yet, like long hair and water droplets. Pixar has continuously astonished us with increasingly intricately-animated films, and by that standard, Toy Story is its worst. What a marvelous, beautiful worst.

All these toys work together to evoke childhood and warm feelings. Toy Story tickled our imaginations, reinvigorated the field of animation, and established Pixar as a giant in the genre.

Late Night

Mindy Kaling is an actress, a director, a producer, an Emmy-nominated writer. She’s written best-sellers and acted alongside Oprah and created television series. You may not know that her foot in the door was portraying Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway play she co-wrote with her best friend called Matt & Ben, about how the pair came to write Good Will Hunting. I wish to god I had seen it.

She was hired to write for The Office when she was just 24 years old – the only woman in a room full of men. She was technically a diversity hire, part of NBC’s diversity writing programme, but don’t mistake that for a lack of qualification. “For a long time I was really embarrassed about that. No one [on The Office] said anything to me about it, but they all knew and I was acutely aware of that. It took me a while to realize that I was just getting the access other people had because of who they knew.” Mindy’s parents, an architect and an OB-GYN, immigrated to the U.S. from India (via Nigeria) only months before she was born, and gave her the most American of names, ripped from their favourite sitcom, Mork & Mindy.

In Late Night, Kaling plays Molly Patel, also a diversity hire, straight from a chemical plant (don’t call it a factory!). She’s hired to be the first and badly needed female writer on Katherine Newbury’s show as its steady ratings decline threatens its existence. Kaling wrote the role of Newbury specifically for Emma Thompson and it is indeed a perfect fit. Newbury is exacting and imperious, but has grown out of touch with her core audience. Molly is exactly the injection of colour and culture that this writer’s room needs even though it longs to stay beige. Of course, Kaling had to invent a fictional world in which a woman is actually allowed to host a late night show, but once she does (and we get over that depressing fact), she invents a very good one, one in which her very successful host is over 50 and undeniably at the top of her game, but hasn’t had to sacrifice her life to gain such a position. Newbury has both a love life (John Lithgow) and a sex life, and she still gets to be the boss. Kaling is so devoted to this character, she took a page from her parents’ baby naming book and called her own daughter Katherine.

Late Night is a lot of laughs, and it benefits from the excellent chemistry between Kaling and Thompson. I suppose it takes a woman to write two such meaty yet tender roles for women. Roles that don’t apologize for emotions and characters who don’t get disempowered for expressing them. And a female director to give these ladies their space to create complexity. Late Night tackles a lot of themes as you might imagine, but it never loses its sharp and incisive comedy. Thompson proves more than able, with impeccable timing and buckets of condescension. She’s formidable. Meanwhile, Kaling orbits around her, not just absorbing her light but casting her own glow as well. They don’t diminish each other, they brighten the whole damn screen. It’s a party where ambitious women, perhaps for the first time this century, are truly celebrated. Yes there were applause-worthy moments, though the theatre I was in was unfortunately a packed but non-clapping one (well, okay, save for me, who couldn’t resist). And there’s a lesson plan for how to apologize correctly and take responsibility like a big kid. But mostly there’s just a lot of zing, and a surprising amount of relatability [My work recently turned one of two women’s washrooms in the building into a “gender neutral” washroom which is nice in theory but in practice has become the washroom where men go to poop. Because men, who still had 2 bathrooms to themselves, think it’s more important to stink up a third than to create safe spaces. They’re literally shitting their privilege all over the place.]

Kaling wrote this movie while she was pregnant, and on the set of A Wrinkle In Time. She shot it while literally breastfeeding her daughter. Motherhood is not slowing her down, it’s just another bullshit hurdle she’s going to plough straight through while we lay down our dollars like a red carpet made out of green because she is the Queen and we her loyal subjects.

Playing It Cool

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!

For now: Playing It Cool.

We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.

But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?

This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.

Elegy for a Drive-In

For the past decade, Sean and I have spent many a summer’s eve at our local drive-in. Many. We’ve had 5 different cars there. We’ve been there in our earliest dating days, the summer of our engagement, after we were married, and with 4 dogs in the backseat. We’ve been there rain and shine, we’ve been there through clouds of mosquitoes and minor tornadoes. We’ve watched movies through steamed up windshields thanks to hot pizzas on the dashboard, and steamed up windshields from lots of making out.

And now the drive-in is closed, suddenly and not suddenly. I mean, there was no warning other than the fact that drive-ins generally have struggled to stay alive and that ours personally suffered a steep decline last summer. First it tried out offering only a single movie (instead of the drive-in’s classic double feature). And the thing is, 9 times out of 10, Sean and I had already seen the movie that was playing – and that’s always been true. We see movies the day they’re released, if not before, and in the summers we’d typically see it again, 2-4 weeks later when it finally hit the drive-in. That movie was usually paired with a movie that had flopped at the box office over the winter, so we didn’t normally care for the second movie, and it was a great time to get in some extra canoodles. To galoche, if you will. The French don’t call it French kissing, they call it galocher, and we were firmly on the French side of the border at this particular drive-in, which had bilingual screens (the french screen often had first-run movies on their actual opening weekends, and we tried not to feel too resentful about it). Anyway, the film offerings went from bad to worse last year, and it was increasingly difficult to find reasons to go. We did our best to support them, always making a point of buying something from the canteen even when it wasn’t strictly necessary (called “le restaurant” during the french intermission announcement, and curiously translated as “de snack barrrr” in the english one).

Anyway, we miss it already. Dearly. Our next nearest drive-in is the Port Elmsley, which is an hour and a half away. I suppose that’s not too terrible; we went last year before ours was even open, and we did a TRIPLE feature and then drove home because we crazy. And we do love our drive-ins. So I guess now we have to be prepared to commute in order to support our “local” drive-in. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you, love it. Hold it close. See a double feature for me.

Ballerina

Victor and Felicie look and sound like adults, but they act like children. They ARE children, supposedly. In fact, they’re orphans in an orphanage who manage to runaway to Paris – she, to be a ballerina, he, to be an inventor.

Once there, they immediately get separated in the most unimaginable way possible, and quickly make a pact to meet on the bridge the next day. Which is incredibly stupid since Paris is like 87% bridge. And yet they do manage to make their rendez-vous, and she’s already enrolled in in the dance academy (under false pretenses, sure), and he’s already met famed inventor Gustav Eiffel (his eponymous tower is visibly half-built).

Felicie (Elle Fanning) makes friends with a cleaner with a limp, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), which is how she earns her room and board. Odette is somewhat suppressed herself, by a real evil stepmother type (which describes her general attitude and cruelty, not her parentage). There are several Cinderella types, so I suppose it evens out, but the sheer volume of adults being cruel and hostile toward children is a little alarming. Meanwhile, Victor (Dane DeHaan) is working in Gustav’s atelier, where they’re hard at work on the Statue of Liberty. It defies incredulity that these two parentless waifs have managed to make their dreams come true in under 24 hours with no resources or connections or experience. But let’s sweep that under the carpet for now.

Ballerina, also known as Leap!, has some stunning animation where the dance scenes are concerned. But the story is too familiar. Lazy, in fact. I suppose some little girls who love ballet themselves may be enchanted, but there’s no crossover potential for adults , and little to entice other kids into giving this a passing chance. I found it boring, and I’m what might be described as a grown human adult person. The movie veers drunkenly from heavy-handedness to negligence, from unabashed cruelty to unmitigated forgiveness, both unearned. To call it inconsistent is to besmirch the word. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that a mother tries to go all Tonya Harding on a kid with a sledge hammer. That’s dark, y’all. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money to see this movie, but I’m a little sad that my taxes went toward making it. Canada makes some truly beautiful films, but this isn’t one it’ll be remembered for.

Murder Mystery

You may not believe this, but Adam Sandler’s in a Murder Mystery and he’s not playing the corpse.

Nick (Sandler), a New York cop, has repeatedly failed to make detective, and failed to take his wife on a European honeymoon for 15 years solid. Luckily, on the eve of their anniversary, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) picks a fight about this very thing and Nick is able to book extremely last minute tickets and pass them off as a surprise. On this transcontinental flight, she runs into a disgruntled first class passenger, Charles (Luke Evans), who invites them to join him on his yacht.

It’s a little more complicated than that: his fiance Suzi has recently left him for his billionaire uncle Malcolm (Terence Stamp). The yacht is full of people who are not overly happy about this: the son who stood to inherit, a maharajah whose family fortune is entangled with Malcolm’s, a famous actress, the godson Grand Prix racer, his best friend and literal life saver (and a bonus bodyguard). He’s gathered them all together to call them leaches, to cut them off, and to amend his will to reflect only Suzi as inheritor. But just as he’s about to sign the new will, the lights go out, and when they come back up, there’s a body. Malcolm is dead. One of the yacht’s occupants is a murderer.

For a murder mystery, it’s pretty light-hearted. It IS an Adam Sandler project, after all, but his usual humour’s been tempered somewhat and most will find this surprisingly tolerable. Not a great movie maybe, but definitely watchable, despite his mustache. Sandler and Aniston have a great chemistry after a couple of movies together, and the script, though not quite clever enough to actually keep you guessing, is entertaining enough that you won’t really care, and the ensemble cast supports it ably. Director Kyle Newacheck doesn’t try anything fancy but he doesn’t get in the way of the film’s strengths: a few moments where Aniston shines, a few moments where Italy shines, and the harnessing of Adam Sandler’s baser, more juvenile instincts. It’s for the best.