Category Archives: Kick-ass!

Jay says: go see it. Now.

Free Fire

Free Fire is basically a movie about an HR issue. Justine and Ord are two “point guys” in an arms deal. She’s bringing Chris (Cillian Murphy), an IRA guy who needs some M-16s to the table, along with his rag-tag crew, and he’s bringing Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the money-obsessed guy with a van full of guns (although, notably, NOT M-16s) and his own motley crew. From the minute these two rival gangs meet, the two sides are twitchy. All they have free-fire1to do is exchange the briefcase full of cash for the crates full of guns, and the deal is done. But they just rub each other the wrong way. Everyone’s got an unchecked ego, everyone wants to be the boss, and nobody’s going to make this easy. If arms dealers had HR ladies stashed away in some ficus-strewn office, all of this could have been resolved with a stress ball and some trust exercises. But arms dealers tend to offer very few benefits as employers, so instead it goes to hell.

It goes gloriously to hell. It turns out that the driver of the first gang had an issue with the driver of the other gang the night before, and seeing each other turns a bad situation worse. Suddenly everyone’s whipping out their little pistols and bullets are flying. How many bullets? About 7000 rounds, said director Ben Wheatley. That’s a LOT of bullets. So the whole of the movie takes place in this abandoned warehouse where this arms deal has been all but forgotten, everyone shooting at each other, everyone forgetting which side they’re supposed to be on, the sides in fact disintegrating as it quickly becomes every man for himself.

I knew going in that Free Fire is a 70s shoot-em-up genre film, but I had failed to fathom how funny it is. Sharlto Copley is an absolute scene-stealer, his over-the-top character MV5BZjk1NjRiNzctZWFiOS00MGJkLWE0YWEtYTI5ODBmYzQwNjg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_really embodies the pure fun and wackiness of this film. It’s madcap madness and I totally loved every minute of it. I didn’t know I could have so much fun at a Ben Wheatley film. A terrific script by Wheatley and Amy Jump is quotable, the cheeky dialogue rolling off the tongues of a delightful ensemble cast. The frenetic, non-stop energy sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of who is shooting who, and where, but once you realize that even the principal players are confused, it really takes the pressure off. The anarchy is entertaining and you can tell it was as gleefully acted and directed as it is consumed. No true hero ever distinguishes him or herself , which doesn’t mean you won’t find your own favourite to root for, only that’ it’s an even playing field where anything is possible.

Free Fire was meticulously choreographed by Wheatley but still required logistic heroics of cinematographer Laurie Rose and precision editing by Wheatley and Jump. The movie charmed me with its audacious humour but it also pulls off an hour-long assault that sounds one-note on paper but honestly, I could have had more. I love the recklessness, the wickedness, the irreverence; I was greedy for it the whole way through and Ben Wheatley served it up as only he could.

 

 

 

Check out the comments section for a Q&A with Wheatley and some of the cast!

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SXSW: Catherine (Short)

This short animated film requires a huge suspension of disbelief: that cats are anything but awful, awful creatures. That said, if you can stomach the premise, you might find Catherine to be quite endearing.

Catherine is a little girl well on her way to becoming a crazy cat lady. It would seem the only prerequisite to being a crazy cat lady is accidentally killing everything else (or driving CATH_A3_poster_v006them to suicide) and that seems about right to me. Even though Catherine’s a bit of a hazard, you can’t help but root for her, root for her happiness. I am completely drawn in by the animation by Creative Conspiracy studios – it looks very picture-book friendly, yet the humour within is surprisingly dark. The colours are like candy and used thoughtfully throughout. I always admire short films because to tell a story well they must be economical and equally strong visually and narratively. Catherine (the film) is all of these things wrapped up in a cutesy little package. Catherine (the character) is not so perfect, nor, it turns out, so cute: Catherine grows up. Into a woman who means well but can’t connect with humans. Wonder why? See the film!

Director Britt Raes was of course inspired by her own kitty, Kato. She’s assembled a terrific little film that you can’t help but be excited about. Special mention goes to Pieter Van Dessel (Marble Sounds) who composed this nifty little score that uplifts and contributes to the story. It’s a very admirable little film that I hope you’ll take the time to see as it makes its North American debut at the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival this Sunday March 12 at Zach Theatre (10:45am slot), and again on the 13th at 8:15pm, and on March 16 at 3pm at Alamo Lamar. Happy watching, cat lovers!

 

 

SXSW: Through The Repellent Fence

Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film is a documentary screening at the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival.

It’s about a trio of Indigenous artists (they create under the collective name Postcommodity) who are putting up an art installation, a wall or a fence if you will, between Mexico and the U.S. It is not meant as a separation in the way that Donald Trump intends his, rather, it’s meant as a fence that can bridge the two cultures\countries, and it will travel not along the border but a mile into each country.

It’s clear that the artists have put much thought into how this piece of land art will be perceived. MV5BZGNmM2E0MmEtMjc0YS00YzdkLWFkMTktNzIwOTdiMDY5YTU3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE4OTc1MzE@._V1_They want something temporary, first of all, so as not to permanently alter the land. Think of sutures: something that dissolves after the healing is done. To that end, they come to a beautiful and striking solution of tethering helium-filled balloons. However, the fence is not just symbolic of connectedness, but represents an awful lot of actual collaboration between peoples and communities to make this art happen.

It’s not just about the art, though, but also of our reaction to it. The documentary allows us to talk about borders: real, shifting, fluid, imagined, and imposed. I watched it for exactly this reason: the art spoke to me, but the reasons are what compel, and are why a documentary is a great companion piece to such an important work. But it turns out the documentary, directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas, is thoughtful, intelligent, and a piece with its own inherent value. Its flavour is distinctly Indigenous, serving as a reminder that borders are a construct but life within and around them is always so much more rich and complex than we see in typical media portrayals.The documentary is also surprisingly beautiful, gorgeously lensed by cinematographer David Layton, with sweeping shots of some of the most cinematic landscapes on the planet.

Through The Repellent Fence, a worthy addition to the SXSW lineup, is screening at Rollins Theatre at The Long Center on Saturday, March 11, 4:30pm, and again at Alamo Lamar on Monday, March 13 and Friday, March 17. It’s visually intoxicating and culturally significant: you have nothing to lose.

Starting today, we’ll be in Austin taking in as much SXSW goodness as we can handle. Follow along on Twitter at @assholemovies!

 

Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane.  She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, 2017

Borrowed Time: a sheriff returns to the site of a crash, the source of his guilt, the symbol BORROWED-TIME-2.gifof his grief. The animation is twelve steps above incredible, from the flecks of gray in his beard to his slightly crooked teeth and the just-noticeable ripple of his mustache in a gentle breeze, the animators clearly know what they’re doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj tell the story precisely and economically, every frame adding a tragic detail. Builds to an impressive emotional valve in just under 7 minutes.

Pearl: told from a hatchback car that has traveled the country with a dream and a song, 3060252-inline-1g-dont-be-surprised-if-googles-animated-short-pearl-wins-an-oscar-this-yearPearl is the story of a girl, her father, and their music, clearly a family gift. We got to see this short in the Oscar package at the fabulous Bytowne theatre, which means we saw it on the big screen, which is actually not how it was intended to be shown. Pearl is the first virtual reality movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Director Patrick Osborne chooses a blocky animation style paired with endearing music that makes me wish that I too had enjoyed the VR experience, because it’s a whirlwind of pride, sacrifice, and in virtual reality, you’re the one with camera: every viewing would literally be a slightly different movie.

Piper: this is the one most of you will already be familiar with, having screened in advance of Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory. It’s about a baby sandpiper being taught to forage for her tumblr_og1b37dVCN1qd79gyo5_540.gifown food. The beach is not always as serene as it looks and an unexpected wave leads to some PTSD for one cute little birdie. But she learns confidence and resilience, and the joy of helping others, all in less than 6 minutes. The animation is stunning. The ocean’s foam impressed me, the movement of each individual grain of sand. In great Pixar tradition, writer-director Alan Barillaro offers us something truly beautiful.

Blind Vaysha: pictograph-style animation (Sean called it “deliberately ugly”, I would blind-vayshadescribe it more like wood-cuttings, if I was feeling generous) tells a parable of a little girl born effectively blind – her left eye seeing only the past, her right only the future, which means the present is one big blind spot. And guess what? There isn’t any happiness in the past or in the future, it’s all happening right now and if you can’t see that, you can’t really see anything. Director Theodore Ushev has a great theme and plays on it with swirling visuals, challenging the audience to experimentation.

Pear Cider & Cigarettes: after several warnings to remove children from the audience, this “graphic” offering by writer-director Robert Valley is narrated in the first-person about pearcider_a.gifRob’s charismatic but troubled friend, Techno. Techno’s near god-like status comes crashing down as he slowly poisons himself to death with alcohol. It’s definitely the only animated short with full-frontal nudity. It was originally a graphic novel, or novels, comprising several volumes, which is why this short film clocks in at a hefty 35 minutes, every single frame of which is hand-drawn by Valley himself, over the course of half a decade or so.

The verdict: Piper’s going to win. Borrowed Time is probably its only real competition, and I feel they’re both deserving. I’m not sure how many Academy voters will have seen Pearl in VR but even the theatrical cut is immersive and interesting. Can the animation team from Google really win an Oscar? While Blind Vaysha certainly has an eye-catching style, the story didn’t draw me in, and it ended too abruptly and without much resolution. Pear Cider and Cigarettes down right turned me off. If you’re going to bother animating a 30 minute sequence, you should also go to the trouble of writing, then editing your story- the narrative style just didn’t work for me. I feel unpatriotic down-voting both Canadian efforts, but them’s the breaks; Pixar’s still at the top of the heap. Take aim, animators.

 

I, Daniel Blake

This movie is a surprise. Daniel Blake is an older gentleman who cared for his sick wife until her death, who has now fallen on hard times himself after a heart attack leaves him unable to work. Well, unable to work according to his doctor and his surgeon and his physio team. Totally fit to work according to the government who would otherwise owe him some sort of compensation.

Blake (Dave Johns) was receiving benefits for disability until a “health professional” (read: NOT a doctor, NOT a nurse) deems him fit and yanks his benefits. He must now apply for unemployment benefits, while combing the streets for a job, which actual doctors have i__daniel_blake_-_still_5cautioned him not to take, on account of his bum heart and it possibly killing him. The bureaucracy gives him the runaround, of course, as he must learn to navigate computers and the internet and smart phones and this whole world of job searching that he’s never had use for in his entire life. The whole experience is degrading, dehumanizing. And yet the film never feels that way. The movie is filled with humanity – not just compassion but admiration. Dignity, even. It’s a much more heartening experience than you might deduce.

Of course Daniel isn’t alone in his plight. At one office or another he meets a single mother (Hayley Squires), struggling to support her two kids. With them we see Daniel’s tender side, his need to give what little he has to others. It’s enough to make you cry (which means it made me cry, good honest tears that the film earned without manipulation).

The characters are quite strongly drawn. Their ordeal feels all too real. It’s sad though. So sad. It’s just further reminder that the system is letting down too many people who truly need it. Though this film is British, it feels universal. The righteous anger is restrained just enough not to be alienating, but to bring everyone into the fold, to make us all feel the iniquity and yearn for justice. A must-see.

 

 

The Red Turtle

It’s haunting and beautiful and tragic and oddly seductive. The Red Turtle is the prettiest girl in your class who also happens to pull down straight As: fecking brilliant. I wasn’t sure if it would even earn girl next door status with me – an animated film with no dialogue?

While The Red Turtle has no speech, no words at all, it is far from silent. It has lovely but 1027992-theredturtle-05retiring music throughout, but manages to speak directly to your heart. That’s sort of the catch with this film, you have to let go of the normal film-going experience, and just feel your way through this one.

A man is lost at sea and washes ashore on a deserted island. He makes several escape attempts but his rafts keep getting destroyed. The culprit turns out to be a red turtle, a turtle who just happens to have the power to die and come back a woman, which is a pretty cool power. Imagine how stoked the dude is – doomed to a solitary life but then magically accorded a mate?

Director Michael Dudok de Wit had only a few short films to his name when he got a call from animation superstar Studio Ghibli asking if they could distribute his 2000 short Father And Daughter in Japan, and oh, p.s., would you make a feature film for us? He was floored. Ghibli has never done a non-Japanese film before, but they were clearly entranced with Dudok de Wit’s style and talent. The result, La tortue rouge, is pure visual narrative. It’s extremely simple story-telling, but effective. It laps at you like waves on a sandy beach. Cumulatively, it can knock you off your feet. This may be Dudok de Wit’s first attempt, but he nonetheless has an Oscar nomination to show for it.What do I have? I have a teeny tiny shadow on my heart – a shadow in the shape of a red turtle sliding back into the ocean.

 

 

OJ: Made In America

First, understand that OJ Simpson, to me, is the murderer. I was a kid when he killed his ex-wife and her friend, so I hadn’t known him as a football player or movie star or celebrity before then. The first I ever knew of him was when his white Bronco interrupted my Saved By The Bell marathoning.

This documentary doesn’t just seek to illustrate the life and times of one Orenthal James Simpson; rather it places his career and his crime within the context of L.A.’s race wars in the 1980s and 1990s. While the things you thought you knew about his sensational murder oj-made-america-show-400x400trial aren’t wrong, they’re explored with new understanding, through a lens of his being a black man, sort of, but not really.

What on earth do I mean by that? OJ grew up in the projects, as he is fond of saying when it’s convenient. He dreamed not of glory or achievement or wealth, but of fame, of being known. Certainly his football career granted him that. He was a big deal in college football circa 1968, kept his nose clean, stayed out of politics, and earned himself the Heisman trophy. He was drafted to the NFL where he suffered a bit of a slump but had a rebirth by 1973 when he set a record rushing for 2000 yards in one season. I walk my dog further than that nearly every day, but apparently that’s some sort of accomplishment in football.

OJ became a star athlete and celebrity whose fame transcended his race. White American embraced him, and OJ played his part. He courted white culture and did his best to never remind anyone that he was still technically a black man. He was the first national black spokesperson, for Hertz rental cars, and that meant he’d arrived. When he retired from football, he traded in his black wife for a white one and transitioned to Hollywood.

Yeah sure he beat his wife on the reg, but with a wink and an autograph the cops would be slapping him on the back, making no reports, casting no aspersions. Life was good until Nicole up and left him and his jealousy surged. The one night Nicole was found dead, nearly decapitated in fact, in a small ocean’s worth of her blood. A friend who had had the misfortune of stopping by at the wrong time, Ronald Goldman, was also killed. And this time the cops couldn’t deny that the crime had OJ’s name all over it.

We all know that OJ was acquitted, but this documentary shows his acquittal as an act of vengeance. The jury was stacked largely with poor black people who had seen members of lead_960the LAPD be acquitted in he Rodney King beating. Here was a chance to right that wrong and make the system work for a black man for once. Everyone conveniently forgot that OJ had spent his entire adult life distancing himself from the black community and they made him a civil rights hero. His lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, played the race card and he played it hard “dealt it from the bottom of the deck” it’s said. And he got off. But instead of relishing his incredible good luck, OJ’s life continued to derail until he found himself in court once again, this time found guilty and sentenced to some 33 years in prison, whether or not his crimes truly warranted it. This, again, was retaliation rather than justice.

At 467 minutes, this documentary achieves a depth we haven’t seen before and earns itself an Academy Award nomination – but is this fair? It had a qualifying run in theatres (though who would pay to sit for nearly 8 hours is a mystery to me) but it was produced and aired on television, in 5 parts on ESPN. Every other documentary had to play by different rules, hovering around that 90 minute mark that makes a film viable and marketable. This is the longest film to ever receive a best documentary nomination, and I can’t help but wonder if this will change things moving forward.

I can’t ignore that this film is very effective, juxtaposing the American dream with American reality, pinning OJ’s circumstances in a time and place that were far from ideal. It is balanced and cheese almighty is it ever thorough, complete with Marcia Clark in a redemptive hairdo. Glory be! It doesn’t waste any of its 467 minutes, nor are any redundant. There is much ground to cover and the film makes clear that OJ is not just a man of his own making, but an idol that a whole culture had a hand in creating (and destroying). There are so many insights here that I sent constant missives to Sean, just venting my hurt and frustration. I’ve come away with a breadth of understanding that his filled a gulch I didn’t even know existed in my awareness of this epic and polarizing event. There are discoveries to be made here, if you’re willing to follow director Ezra Edelman’s trail of breadcrumbs for the requisite 7 hours and change.

Paterson

There are lots of reasons I am not a bus driver. I don’t even like driving my own self to work, first of all. No aptitude for it of course. And then there’s my habit of being monumentally distracted. Now, this is only sometimes a problem in my own driving – I occasionally sail by an offramp or I miss a turn. I’m paying attention for hazards but I daydream and revert to habits too often in navigation. This means I’ve often driven Matt back to my house instead of dropping him off at his.

paterson_03Paterson (Adam Driver) is a conscientious bus driver. He doesn’t even loathe his passengers, which I find hard to believe. He’s not exactly immune to daydreaming; he writes poetry, thinks it up while driving, writes it down on his breaks in his secret notebook. My first impression was that he isn’t much of a poet – writing words in an uneven column does not a poet make. But he chews on them, refines them, until they start to sound like true beauty.

And he’s a sensitive soul too. He loves his wife, tenderly. He cares for others. He’s not even awkward around kids. And if he tackles a guy to the ground, he also helps him up. I’ve had a real problem with Adam Driver ever since I knew there was a guy named Adam Driver. He played a douchebag on Girls, and I vicariously hated him on Hannah’s behalf. Then I went to Chicago and saw his big ugly mug all over the Gap ads down Magnificent Mile. Ugh. My opinion did not approve through Inside Llewyn Davis, or While We’re Young, or This Is Where I Leave You, or The Force Awakens, or Midnight Special, or Silence. Safe to say I just don’t like the guy. OR DO I? Jim Jarmusch, you salty dog, you may have just melted my Eskimo ice cream heart.

[Sorry, I had to use it. I just learned that Eskimo ice cream, or Akutaq, is whipped fat with paterson_06berries, the fat being anything from whitefish, or reindeer tallow, or moose, or walrus, or cariboo, plus sugar, milk, and Crisco.]

Paterson is a quiet movie, contemplative. It’s not for you if you need things to “happen.” But this movie works at face value and as metaphor. It’s zen. It’s one week in the life of a guy who wakes up without an alarm, kisses his wife’s bare shoulder, eats a bowl of cereal, goes to work, comes home, walks his dog, drinks a beer, goes to bed, repeat. But it’s finding the beauty in the little details in between that ignite this film. Jarmusch hums the poetry of the everyday. Adam Driver and his co-lead Golshifteh Farahani (as his wife, Laura) have terrific creative chemistry. Their relationship envelops each other’s quirky habits and their artistic foibles. There is much to admire here. I will even reframe my Adam Driver opinion if necessary. Paterson is cool beans.

 

The White Helmets

The White Helmets is a short, 40 minute Oscar-nominated documentary that’s available on Netflix right now, and here’s why you should watch it:

My amazing godson is into many things: Ghostbusters, Paw Patrol, trampolining, and putting Sean in jail (aka my mom’s closet) are just a few. When he was one, I remember sitting out in the backyard on a sunny summer day, and marveling at his chubby little finger pointing at the plane leaving a white cloud across the sky. None of the adults would have noticed it, but at one he was fascinated with planes and trains and automobiles and had a habit of pointing them all out with unabated fascination.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, are a group of volunteers social-share-01known for the white helmets they wear while rushing into the crumbling buildings and raging fires left after an airstrike. They live in and around Aleppo, and are committed to saving as many of the innocent but somehow still targeted civilians that get attacked every single day in Syria.

Over 400 000 Syrians have been killed in the past 5 years. The city of Aleppo is in ruins. There are no more services, no more infrastructure. Ordinary people – a tailor, a blacksmith, a builder – are learning the art of first response because they must. No one else is coming.

This documentary doesn’t touch the terrorism, it tackles instead the every day heroism of those who pull bodies from the rubble. The white helmets are of course not exempt from the violence. Their homes are just as likely to be bombed as anyone else’s. They pull family members from the wreckage. They know pain. And they risk everything to help. 154 White Helmets have died to save others, but 78 000 others have been saved to date. They have been nominated as a group for the Nobel Peace Prize but are banned from entering Donald Trump’s United States of America.

One man, a devoted White Helmet volunteer, tells the camera of his young son who crawls into his lap, cowering in fear every time a plane goes by. To him, plane = bomb. And that’s what tore me to shreds. By accident of birth, by geographical lottery, I am privileged. My godson is privileged. He thinks planes are wondrous. This little boy knows planes only to be destructive. It isn’t fair.

 

 

 

To donate: https://peoplesmillion.whitehelmets.org/act/peoples-million