Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

The Circle

The Circle is THE company you want to be working for. It’s a blatant stand-in for Google; the ‘The Circle’ campus and work space looks identical, comes with all the crazy perks we’ve been jealously-not-quite-believingly hearing about for years: sushi bars, yoga workshops, nap pods, etc, etc. Mae (Emma Watson) is ecstatic when she’s hired for an entry level position – the salary is generous, room and board are included, the health plan is fabulous – it’s more than any millennial has the right to expect these days. The only thing The Circle asks for in return is a complete lack of privacy.

And in fact, The Circle doesn’t just ask that of employees, but of everyone joining their network. The Circle is a platform that would link all of your online accounts. You’d have one account, one username (your own, your real one), one password that links to everything, all your aps, your bank, your email, your work, social media, etc, etc. The m-442_circle_11286fdrv1rdream come true starts to feel a little…invasive to Mae. There’s no turning off, no going off-grid. Everyone participates in everything all the time! Horray! So the dream is turning out to be a bit much, but with her father (Bill Paxton) suffering from MS, it’s extremely hard to turn down.

Most of her The Circle colleagues are drinking the kool-aid but she finds a kindred spirit in skeptical Ty (John Boyega). He’s worried about how every single piece of our lives are being accessed and stored, analyzed and monetized, by The Circle: personal data is being mined to make a few people very, very rich. And if you have any presence on the internet at all, there’s nothing you can do about it.

The Circle is a terrific book by Dave Eggers. It’s an urgently fascinating story because our reality is probably only about one and a half paces behind what’s depicted in The Circle, and that’s just what we know about. We’re creeping closer and closer every day. Unfortunately it seems that Eggers’ brilliant books are not that easily adapted into films; A Hologram for the King was also a bit of a flop and that’s too bad because there’s some really thoughtful and thought-provoking material in there that’s getting lost.

The film asks more questions than it answers. In truth, it sort of lets some of the issues it raises fall away without doing them any justice. So that’s unfortunate. I still thought the movie was compelling and watchable, and Tom Hanks is of course irreproachable. I think it’s worth your time. But the book is even more worthy of your time, and if you read it, you’ll see the changes that Hollywood makes to make a story more ‘palatable.’ But I’m pretty confident that you can handle the truth. Right?

 

 

 

This was Bill Paxton’s final film. He died before it was released; a dedication in the closing credits reads ‘For Bill.” Glenne Headley, who plays his wife, died in June. She’s got a couple more movies in post-production.

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Snatched

This film was dismally received by critics but is not as terrible as you might think. A lot will depend on how you tolerate Amy Schumer. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I like her quite a bit, which makes me realize that she’s not anyone’s cup of tea, she’s more like a beloved Jaeger bomb. Some people don’t like or expect raunch from a female comedian but Amy Schumer’s proving that anyone can tell a gross-out joke. Score for feminism? Let’s say yes.

Of course Amy Schumer isn’t some new fangled-thing, she’s riding in on the backs of lots of incredibly funny women and Goldie Hawn is one of them. Hawn hasn’t appeared in a maxresdefaultmovie in 15 years and having her back is a blessing. Pairing these two together is great. It should have been better than great, I’ll grant you that. It should have been phenomenal. But Snatched isn’t ambitious. It’s pretty content to be a so-so movie with a bare-bones plot, some badly-drawn characters, and some overly convenient structures. It’s basically a vehicle for some jokes, and for some shining chemistry between Schumer and Hawn. If you can live with that, then you may just find something to chuckle about in Snatched.

As you may have gathered from the trailer, or heck, even just the poster, Emily (Schumer) gets broken up with right before an nonrefundable trip to Ecuador, and persuades her cautions mum Linda (Hawn) to travel with her. Emily meets a guy who’s too good to be true, and he is! He’s part of a kidnapping ring, and before you can say “maitai”, Emily and her Mom are hog-tied in a blood-splattered cell, begging for their lives, or at least their cell phones back.

The worst I’ll say about the movie is that there’s a lot of missed opportunity. It’s unfocused and flimsy. But Goldie Hawn is still magic. She sparkles up there on the big screen, and it’s kind of cool to see her taking her place as one of the matriarchs of comedy.

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls lived a turbulent childhood: her parents bustled her and her 3 siblings from town to town, evading bill collectors, never quite having enough money for both food and her father’s insatiable thirst. Poverty and addictions pock her youth, but for all their struggles, her mother would never leave her father, and the kids soon realized they’d need to fend for themselves, each disappearing to the big city as soon as it was feasible (a real challenge when someone is constantly drinking up all the money).

Walls went on to write a memoir detailing the hardships she lived through, and that tgc_d02_00156_00157_comp_r2.jpgbook became this movie, though something was lost getting from A to B. The book pulls no punches. Her parents are complex characters, and their children have conflicted feelings toward them. The movie’s a little more pat, the trajectory a little more Hollywood. Someone decided to apply some spit shine to this story, a story that’s naturally very dark and brooding now has themes of hope and redemption that maybe don’t belong.

I can’t say what exactly is wrong with the film except it’s just too easy. The grit is gone. Sure Jeannette’s father Rex is charming but he’s also kind of a monster. He’s a negligent parent who abuses his wife and kids and helps keep family molestation on the down low. And of course he wants deathbed forgiveness. Meanwhile his wife is a “free spirit” who chooses homelessness over independence from the man threatening her family’s well being. Neither parent is capable of putting their children’s needs first, or of meeting those needs even if they ever did. Which they don’t.

But The Glass Castle is worth a watch for the performances alone. As Jeannette, Brie Larson lives up to her previous Oscar win, but it’s Woody Harrelson as Rex who you’ll remember. He’s tortured and endearing and inspiring and hateful. Is this the film he’ll win his Oscar for? I wouldn’t be disappointed if he did. But shame on Hollywood for trying to put gloss and a positive spin on childhood poverty. These kids were failed not just by their parents but by the system. And now their brave story is being watered down to make it more palatable for film audiences. Shame.

Out To Sea

Herb and Charlie are best friends and brothers-in-law. Herb is the responsible one, Charlie the scamp. So of course it’s Charlie’s idea to scam a free cruise by pretending to be a dance instructor, and to trick his recently widowed bud Herb into doing the same (though at least Herb’s got some legit moves).

Of course, Charlie’s hoping to do more than just dance on this cruise; he’s hoping to score himself a rich wife. Herb (Jack Lemmon), still in love with his deceased wife, is not ready lemmon-and-matthau.jpgfor the swinging bachelor existence Charlie has planned for them on board, but that’s only half his trouble. A snarky entertainment director is on to them and their little ruse could cost them thousands of dollars that neither can afford (hello, gambling my old friend!) if found out and no amount of Rue McClanahan flirtation can save them.

Matthau and Lemmon are of course good for some madcap hilarity. I’m struck by how physical Matthau’s comedy continues to be into his old age. This movie is pretty stupid plot-wise, but the chemistry between old pals Matthau and Lemmon is tonnes of fun and magical as ever. This is the 9th of their 10 collaborations and you never get tired of seeing them together. Does it make up for a weak script? Not really. But if you’re reaching all the way back to 1997, you’re doing it because these are beloved figures who crack you up doing their soft-shoe shtick, not because you’re expecting to uncover a hidden gem that’s somehow lain dormant for two decades. Jack and Walt were the OGs as far as Bromance is concerned. Matt and Ben have a long way to go before we’re willing to let them flirt so shamelessly with our grandmas.

Wilson

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a grump and a misanthrope. He has no social filter or skills or clue. He’s just out in the world, spitting old man vitriol. His neuroses aren’t great company and his acidic “honesty” doesn’t do much to help with the loneliness.

But then he gets a chance to reconnect with is ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), and he finds out that they share a daughter, given up for adoption 16 years ago. This ready-made MV5BMDU0ODI3ODAtMmYxYi00Yzk3LThlNDAtNGRiZjI1MDRiMzgwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SX667_CR0,0,667,999_AL_family appeals to him greatly, though his fantasy diverges quite archly from the reality. And because life isn’t fair, this grown-ass man gets to wreak havoc on the lives of not one but two women in order to finally grow up himself.

Woody Harrelson is an utter delight. Wilson should by all rights be detestable, and yet Harrelson makes our time with him enjoyable. Unfortunately, his great performance is just about the only thing this movie has going for it. It’s not that interesting or concerned with plot or momentum. Is Woody enough? For me, yes. I don’t regret watching Wilson. Harrelson finds humanity and humour in the awkwardness. And Dern’s not a bad counterpoint as a former party girl trying to turn her life straight. They’re a complete fucking train-wreck as far as couples go and completely unprepared to host a houseplant for the weekend let alone a teenage daughter, but by all means, let’s eavesdrop on their bold but bewilderingly inept stab at playing adults.

I suspect director Craig Johnson didn’t quite know what to do with what he had. The film feels a bit episodic and the shtick gets stale after a while. Full credit to Harrelson for making Wilson just charismatic enough to keep us watching. Otherwise, Johnson would have easily lost us with his generous seasoning of sentimentality and a lackluster finale.

 

 

Museum

Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is having a rough go. He’s tired. His overworking, long a point of contention in his marriage, has finally culminating in his wife and young son leaving him. And now he’s got a serial killer on his hands.

A few things about this serial killer, because he’s unlike anything you’ve seen in film GAGA_C&C_A4_frontbefore, and yet draws from many familiar sources. The serial killer only works in the rain. He plans elaborate, gruesome kills that seem to be some sort of punishment to his victims. And – how do I put this – he also appears to be a man with a frog head. There. I said it. Moving on…technically, the source material here is the manga, Museum: The Serial Killer Is Laughing In The Rain. But you’ll find the movie remind you of Seven, Saw, and maybe even Oldboy. I can’t say that Museum is that caliber of film, but it’s plenty bloody.

The first half works much better than the second does. Once the serial killer is “unmasked,” for lack of a better word, a lot of the fun and the sizzle leeched out of the movie for me.  I worried that the frog head would seem cartoonish and silly but I did find it rather sinister and regretted it when we lost it. Some of the acting, though, veered toward cartoonish, and that’s particularly hard on North American audiences who are more used to subtlety.

Still, the Assholes managed to enjoy this one, more or less. It has a frenetic energy to it thanks to manic editing. And if you just give in to the weirdness, the slight foreignness, it’s a little fun to watch the whole thing go down. Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival focuses on “genre” selections, which means you always get something special. We get exposed to titles we’d otherwise struggle to find, and it’s honestly a lot of fun to be pushed out of our comfort zone once in a while.

The Love Punch

When Richard’s company gets bought out by a bigger company, he and his colleagues see their retirement fund disappear overnight. With the prospect of not being able to support his daughter just off to college, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) and his ex-wife, Kate (Emma Thompson) appeal to the young new director who – surprise! – doesn’t give a shit. So they hatch a little plan to steal their money back in the form of the very large diamond lately dangling from his fiancee’s neck.

the_love_punchRichard and Kate, who haven’t spoken much in years, now find themselves travelling to France together to the perfect cover to their crime: the high-society wedding between the director and his blushing bride. Kate gets relegated to some hen party high-jinks while Richard naps, but her intel is good: a foursome from Texas, business partners the director has not yet met in person, are expected to attend. All they need are two more accomplices. So they call up their good suburban neighbours Pen (Celia Imrie) and Jerry (Timothy Spall) who are for some reason pretty game to join in this merry heist.

Then follow the obligatory jokes about retirement-aged folks planning the perfect crime: weak bladders, low endurance, the need for naps, har har har. If you’ve always wanted to see Emma Thompson in Dallas-era hair and a twangy accent, this is your chance. A couple of James Bond references make the movie a little cheeky and the talent between the four leads means an awful lot of charisma. Emma Thompson shines in everything. But this material is beneath her, beneath them all and they can’t save a clunky, predictable scrip that is frankly a little insulting to anyone over the age of 60. And that’s too bad because I really enjoyed director Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, also starring Thompson and Dustin Hoffman who enjoy a late-in-life romance. Watch that one instead.

Take Me

Ray (Pat Healy) is an unconventional entrepreneur: he runs a simulated kidnap business where he abducts people and holds them hostage for as many hours as they’ve paid for. He thinks he’s hit pay dirt when a beautiful young woman (Anna, Taylor Schilling) is willing to pay for a whole weekend’s worth of captivity and is prepared to throw in a little extra for some rough stuff.

But Anna’s abduction doesn’t go as smoothly as all the others: someone’s reported her MV5BM2Q5ZWUzMGYtOWEzNS00N2IzLTlhNTItM2RjN2ZhZDBlOTg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTE2NzA0Ng@@._V1_disappearance to the cops, for one thing. And Anna’s claiming that whoever hired him, it wasn’t her. So now her kidnapping is for real, Ray’s in trouble with the law, and he can’t let her go until he sorts it all out. Too bad Ray’s not exactly the brightest bulb. Bumble, bumble, bumble.

First time director Pat Healy creates an interesting atmosphere that’s half tension, half farce, and the two leads toe the blurry line well together. It took me a while to get into this because it’s not your typical crime thriller; Ray is not a criminal mastermind, he’s actually just not very good at his job. Tonally, you might find it more in the vein of Mindhorn than Taken. It’s quirky, there are some great gags, the character study is fascinating. It explores this seedy fantasy\role play underground culture while keeping a fairly light, jovial tone. But at 83 minutes, it also feels like it’s stretching to make an interesting premise into a feature-length idea. It feels thin in places. So while it’s an interesting experiment in film, it doesn’t quite work the way you wish it would.

Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.

Table 19

I sort of wonder if this is an oddball comedy or just a comedy filled with oddballs. It IS filled with oddballs, that’s the premise. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the ex-maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Having recently been broken up with the bride’s brother\best man, she knows she shouldn’t be there but to prove a point she RSVPs yes, and as a reward for her bravery, she gets seated at dreaded table 19 with all the other losers and rejects who should have known better.

MV5BYThmOTM1OTktODc4Mi00NzU4LWI5MzItYzc0ZDY1YWJhZjVlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg0ODEwMjU@._V1_The table 19 crew: Bina & Jerry Kemp (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) who are diner owners who don’t know the bride or groom personally, and barely know each other anymore; Renzo (Tony Revolori), a young kid who’s mother told him he stood a better chance of picking up at this wedding than at his junior prom; cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), newly out of prison for having embezzled from the bride’s father; and Nanny Jo (June Squibb) who was basically a retaliation invite.

They’re a gang of misfits and the wedding is doomed for them. The critics have doomed Table 19 entirely, but I thought it had its charms. There’s certainly a lot of sympathy for the odd ducks of the world, and the performances are pretty winning (Squibb and Merchant being favourites). Some of the gags are tired but it’s kind of nice to see the weirdos normally relegated to the background have a moment in the spotlight. A Mumblecore film more concerned with characters and dialogue than plot, this movie isn’t going to light the world on fire. But like any wedding, it can be made tolerable with an open bar.