Category Archives: Jay

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

Why watch a documentary about a man you’ve never heard of? Do you really need to learn “more” when you know nothing?

To be fair: millions of people DO know his name. He was the world’s #1 astrologer for decades, but because he broadcasted mostly in Spanish, he never made it into my home or into my cultural lexicon (and to be super fair, I can’t name a single English or French speaking one either; astrology just isn’t my thing).

Whether you know his name or not, you should probably check out this documentary. He is indeed a curious character. Lin-Manuel Miranda describes him as dramatic and fabulous, and in Mercado’s case, those are vast understatements.

Androgynous? Asexual? Those are not words people used in Puerto Rico in 1969, when he got his start, nor are they words Walter Mercado uses even today. Labels? He’s not above them – he’s beyond them. Today Mercado resembles a cross between Julie Andrews, Joan Rivers, and Sean’s recently deceased Granny. His wardrobe isn’t so much a cross between Liberace and Elvis as a one-upmanship of both, with a touch of Siegfried & Roy, and a cape collection that would make Lando Calrissian cry. He admits to “a little arrangement” when it comes to plastic surgery, and some botox “like Nicole Kidman.”

Mercado has an origin story to rival a super hero’s, a primo sidekick in faithful assistant Willy (who warns us not to get too bitchy with him), a legendary catch phrase, and a super power. Unfortunately, he’s also got a nemesis because every story worth telling has a villain. And if Walter has a kryptonite, it would be trust.

Trusting his business manager Bill Bakula was his downfall. They battled in court rather than in Gotham, but there were hits, there were injuries, there was damage. Neither had a mother named Martha.

At times known as a miracle-worker, a magician, a psychic, and a sorcerer, most remember him simply as a source of inspiration. Mercado knew there was power in positivity and his horoscopes gave people a reason to believe in themselves. His fandom has keenly felt his absence and many in the community would champion a reboot of the Mercado franchise but not all super heroes are meant to rise again (especially not when their jewel-encrusted capes weigh more than 30lbs).

This is a fascinating documentary, well told, and well worth the time. Mercado is quite a character, and if he is a Hispanic hero, this movie is his legacy.

Father Soldier Son

Let’s be real: this documentary is a super duper emotional watch.

We’re going to get to know the Eisch family over the next decade of their lives, but when we meet them, dad Brian is deployed to Afghanistan while sons Isaac, 12, and Joey, 7, live with uncle Shawn since their mother is out of the picture. The kids are proud of their dad, they think of him as a super hero, but they not only miss him, they worry about him. They’re young but they understand the consequences of his job.

In fact, Brian does return injured. He nearly lost his leg, so the dad they get back is not the same one that left them. He can’t do the camping and fishing and outdoorsy stuff that they used to enjoy together, but he’s also struggling just to be a loving and attentive father. War sucks.

Brian is lucky; besides having some very helpful relatives, he finds love again, a saintly and patient woman who’s willing to abide his mood swings and care for his children as she cares for her own. Brian’s pain is such that he finally agrees to an amputation, but healing post-surgery isn’t as swift as he’d hoped and his prosthetic the answer to all his problems. As depression sets in, a war video game becomes his sole focus. Brian is grappling with his new limitations and his sons are adapting to a family constantly reacting to the aftershocks of war.

Directors Catrin Einhorn and Lesley Davis capture some truly stunning and intimate family moments. Brian of course goes through some major transformations mentally and physically, but I found the young sons to be much more compelling. And remember: we’re with them for an entire decade. We literally watch them grow up, something they perhaps do a little too quickly. Juvenile ideals of patriotism and valour melt into questioning the real cost of war and whether it’s really worth it. As hard as it is to hear a 7 year old say “You shot my dad, I kill you,” it’s even harder to watch him learn the true meaning of sacrifice.

The Eisch home matches their wardrobe completely: plaid and American flags adorn both. Brian coaches his sons to “be tough” and to hold back their tears. Meanwhile, he’s wrestling with his own sense of masculinity, purpose, and self-determination. He’s a third generation soldier who’s no longer mission ready. Is the fourth generation destined to walk in his boots, or has this family paid enough?

This family portrait is painted with generational tragedy but it’s not asking for sympathy. It’s serving real, raw moments of joy and sorrow and we are their solemn witness.

MILF

Three middle-aged best friends are on vacation, more or less. They have left behind children, lovers, and burdens to spend some quality time together, although they may not all agree to which degree they are technically vacationing. Elise’s (Axelle Laffont) daughter is spending time with her father, Sonia (Marie-Josée Croze) is planning to meet her married lover in Spain, and Cécile (Virginie Ledoyen) is hosting them at her former family home. She hasn’t been there in 3 years but finally intends to clean it up and put it up for sale. She has mourned her husband and will now mourn the house. Elise and Sonia, however, are a little more open to fun.

In between packing and dusting, Elise and Sonia lure Cécile to the beach where they catch the eyes of some handsome young men who are leading a junior sailing expedition. Desperate to be noticed, Paul (Waël Sersoub) deliberately capsizes a child in his care so he can showily strip off his shirt and engage in some heroics. Most seasoned ladies would be wary if not downright insulted by such an obvious pick-up scenario, but Elise and Sonia are at least down for some harmless flirting. When they are spotted by the same guys at a club later that night, it seems like the vacation god Tequila is determined to make a match. Elise pairs off with Paul, while Sonia, still waiting to hear from her married boyfriend, spends time with shy and sensitive Julien (Matthias Dandois), who is easily smitten. The next day the boys bring a third friend for the ladies’ third friend, though Cécile, who is already scandalized by the age difference, is horrified to recognize Markus (Victor Meutelet) as her children’s not-so-long-ago babysitter.

The world has long since come to expect May-December romances and is usually fairly tolerant of them, so long as the December is male. In this case, the ladies are the more mature (and for their sake I feel compelled to point out that the boys are April-ish at best, and the ladies are perhaps late August to mid September). Is such an age difference the end of the world? Surely not. Has it the makings for an exciting summer fling? God yes: boys in their 20s are in their sexual prime – athletic, energetic, full of lust and dripping with stamina. Nearly a perfect match for a woman in her mid to late 40s who is just now hitting her own sexual peak; unburdened by the fertility aspect, she’s learned what she wants and how to get it. There may be fireworks in bed, but considering how women already mature faster than men, can this dynamic really work outside of the bedroom? MILF doesn’t really have an answer. It lacks purpose, and frankly, even passion. When Stella got her groove back, both Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs brought the heat. Their Jamaican romance may be partially responsible for global warming. MILF doesn’t come close, except as a cautionary tale for young men to get the fuck off of YouPorn before it ruins you for good.

The movie thinks MILF is a compliment (as opposed to cougar, which suggests that the older woman is purposely hunting), but for most of us, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and even isn’t accurate since one of the women isn’t even a mother.

Axelle Laffont’s direction isn’t particularly inspired, a fine pairing for a decidedly lacklustre script, though it must be said that she’s certainly not afraid to objectify her own body through a camera lens. There was no need to convince us: these 3 ladies are hot and could believably land any man they wanted. What of it? Well, no one’s really thought much beyond the sex, and if nothing else, these experienced ladies should have known better.

Fatal Affair

Ellie (Nia Long) and Marcus (Stephen Bishop) are recent empty-nesters who have sold up, left the city, and are starting a new chapter in a beautiful new home by the sea. Ellie is finishing up one last case before she’ll quit the firm and put up her own shingle nearer to home. But this one last case presents a wrinkle: her boss hires an IT “consultant” to help out (ie, obtain some emails in a less than legal way), and David (Omar Epps) isn’t exactly a stranger. Ellie and David went to college together, and it seems as though he may still be carrying a torch. A night out together turns a little steamier than Ellie meant so she puts an abrupt end to things, returning home to husband Marcus feeling more than a little guilty.

As if you couldn’t tell from the title, this is an extremely generic entry in the thriller-horror genre. It’s not called Happy Trust Exercise or Successful Long Term Relationship. It’s called Fatal Affair because David is obsessed with Ellie and he’s not going to let her marriage or indeed his own come between them. Obviously, the only reasonable way forward is a killing spree. Because the way to woman’s heart is stalking her family and murdering them in the face.

For any such plot to work, you’re going to have to accept that no one will answer their phones when they should, no one will call the cops when they should, no one will turn on a goddamned light when they should, and nobody remembers that David is a conveniently (for him) master hacker. Who is also oddly good at murder.

You know this movie. You’ve seen this movie. I mean, it’s brand new on Netflix, but you’ve seen a movie exactly like it at least half a dozen times. Its only saving grace is that Long, Epps and Bishop are very watchable, but when Long is forced by the script to break into David’s apartment even though she already suspects him of murdering his ex wife, there’s only so much she can do. These tropes are tired and the actors can try to inject them with fresh terror but this audience has seen it all and we’re not impressed. The only new ingredient director Peter Sullivan brings to the table is David’s murder hat, and even that’s nothing remarkable: it’s not a beekeeping veil or a Burker King crown or a half-ironic “60 and Sexy” trucker cap (which I only mention because my 6 year old nephew Ben recently inherited one from his great grandfather and wears it quite proudly). There’s nothing glaringly wrong with this movie, it’s just so overfamiliar that it saps all pretense of thrill right out of it, and a thriller without a thrill is just an er, a disappointing er.

Color Out of Space

1. Do you like horror movies? If yes, proceed to #2. If no, proceed to Becoming, a documentary about Michelle Obama that will fill your spirit with hope and strength.

2. Do you like b-horror movies? Perhaps not super low budget, technically, but definitely campy, outrageous, and grotesque. Not going to be mistaken for Ari Aster or Jordan Peele. If yes, proceed to #3. If no, proceed to The Invisible Man, a horror that’s both smart and well-acted.

3. Are you okay with body horror (defined as: intentionally showcasing graphic or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body)? If yes, proceed to #4. If no, proceed to Knives And Skin, a film that mixes fear, desire, and deadpan black comedy.

4. Are you cool with unexplained supernatural or paranormal events? If yes, proceed to #5. If no, proceed to Dead Shack, an ode to 80s slashers and practical effects, it’s a fun, severed-tongue-in-cheek horror that’s been underappreciated.

5. Do you think teenage girls who complain about their rural address and long for fast food but ride barefoot on a horse dressed like Robin Wright in Princess Bride are a) confusing, probably badly drawn characters, or b) exciting and full of intrigue? If a), proceed to Gwen, a spooky and haunting story about a no-nonsense teenager. If b), proceed to #6 and I promise, no follow-up questions even though I have many.

6. Are you comfortable with toxic parent-child relationships? If yes, please proceed calmly to #7 without making eye contact with other readers. If not, feel free to enjoy Game of Death instead – a horror so good it’ll make your head explode!

7. On a scale of 1-10, what is your tolerance for Nicolas Cage gone completely gonzo? If you answered anywhere from 1-8, please check out Prevenge, a film that is daringly transgressive. If you’re sure you can handle a fully bonkers Cage, please see #8, but be prepared to put this in writing.

8. Repeat after me: I, ______________________ (please say your name out loud for the witnesses), do swear not to hold Jay personally responsible, or AssholesWatchingMovies.com generally responsible, if Nicolas Cage adopts and then loses and then finds and then loses and then picks up and then discards an accent that makes no sense, or if he goes completely apeshit on some innocent produce. If you have solemnly taken this oath, you may proceed to #9. If you can’t do it, and I don’t blame you one bit, check out The Orphanage if you got this far and you want a good scare without Nic Cage Nic Caging all over the place.

9. Do you love alpacas? Do you mildly like alpacas? Do you feel fairly neutral about alpacas but wish them no harm? The Cleanse, a horror about loneliness and poop, may be a better choice for you. But if you’re like: “Fuck alpacas!” then by all means, proceed to #10.

10. Wow, okay, you’re still here. Maybe you deserve this movie. I’m partially joking here. This movie is actually well-received by people and critics who are receptive to this kind of thing: a highly stylized, super weird, fairly pulpy, crazy hokey, occasionally downright goofy horror movie that is totally unique, and perhaps fated for cult status. If you’re dealing with any lingering doubts at all, there’s always Zombeavers. Yes, it’s about zombie beavers, but I assure you they’re considerably less ridiculous than Nicolas Cage in Color Out Of Space. But if this is your thing, by all means, have at it. For your efforts, I bestow upon you the following honour.

The Wedding Year

Mara (Sarah Hyland) and Jake (Tyler Jesse Williams) are not normally the commitment types, but ever since they met they are astounding friends and relatives with their continued, healthy relationship. That’s not like them! Except together, maybe it is. Everything’s going smoothly until the wedding invitations start arriving…and don’t stop! Everyone’s had a year like this, the year when all your friends seemed to get married at once. When every other weekend was earmarked for a bridal shower or a stag and doe or a bachelor party or a say yes to the dress excursion or a wedding favour boot camp, or the weddings themselves of course, which may also include welcome cocktails, rehearsal dinners, and morning-after brunches. Weddings can suck up your time almost as quickly as your money once you factor in travel, time off, outfits, hair, shoes, hotel, plus shower and wedding gifts, and that’s if you’re NOT in the wedding party, which may require you to shell out for tux rentals, professional makeup application, even out of town trips for lavish bachelorettes. It’s a lot. Ad then there’s the toll it will take on your own relationship.

If you’ve ever gone to a wedding with a new partner as your +1, you know it’s a gamble. It means introducing them to your family – your whole family – before you may be ready. And it’s a lot of pressure to put on a new boyfriend or girlfriend, meeting everyone like that, sitting with them, trying to remember names, fielding questions about marriage and kids that are totally inappropriate, dealing with drunk uncles while trying to remain polite, navigating family photos when you’re not really part of the family. Total nightmare. But it can be equally hard, and perhaps worse, when you’ve been in a relationship for a while, have perhaps attended more than a few of these family events together. Now the pressure is on to declare when it will be “your turn.” Relatives of all kinds will think it’s their right to ask you deeply personal questions. Ever felt pinned to the spot by the question “When are you going to propose?” Instant anxiety, and of course your partner is looking on, with hungry eyes, or disinterested ones, and either way it’s uncomfortable. Or perhaps you’ve gotten “Isn’t your clock ticking?” because of course your womb is aunt Susan’s business and of course you should be made to declare your thoughts on fertility and family planning in public.

These are the kinds of things Mara and Jake will encounter during their Wedding Year. Brothers, sisters, cousins, friends. It’s a lot of forced joy and a big shiny spotlight on the state of your relationship. So even though they go into wedding season strong, all the love that’s in the air is going to feel sweltering, even suffocating by the end. Can their relationship possibly withstand the pressure?

This movie is not a great movie. It’s as bland as the food they normally serve at these banquet functions – inoffensive and totally forgettable. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to pass some time – just be careful who you watch it with 😉

The Crimson Wing

The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos sounds like it might be a classy film noir detective story from the 1940s where everyone smokes and matchbooks are almost always a clue. It’s not. It’s an early (2008) Disneynature documentary, before they developed the simple titling system that created such gems as “Bears” and “Penguins.” Today’s Disneynature docs are slick affairs, incredible photography paired with an anthropomorphic narrative that makes it fun to follow, and the big-name celebrity lending their voice sure doesn’t hurt.

But while The Crimson Wing is still working out this recipe for success, it’s still a pretty good watch.

Lake Natron in northern Tanzania is quite unique. Its water can often reach the same alkaline levels of pure ammonia. Thanks to a nearby volcano, a sodium crust forms on its surface. This is where a million crimson-winged flamingos are born (or lesser flamingos, if you will), live, and die, and have done so for nearly 20 million years. It’s a dramatic and unforgiving landscape. The salt builds up around little baby ankles, like shackles, that perilously slow them down, or shuts them down altogether (yeah, dead baby birds, it’s rough).

But the drive to stay alive and thrive is innate in all of us, and these flamingos aren’t chicken. They’ve kept the species going this long, hardship is in their blood, and the presence of a few cameras isn’t going stop them from living life. This is a rarely-photographed slice of Africa, a vast area of little besides drying salt that often gets left off even maps. But Disney gives us a bird’s eye view (ew, pun), and if you’re willing to tolerate the agonizing stamping out of the fuzziest, downiest life you’ve ever seen, young, hopeful little creatures who keep persevering long after being left behind, defying the odds, the predators, the searing heat – all just to succumb to salt accumulation around their dainty little ankles. If nature is the mob, then salt is the cement shoes, and soon their fluffy little bodies become just another bump in the road.

All right, enough moaning. I understand that death is part of life (sound like bullshit to anyone else?) and blah blah blah, why be upset about this one headstrong, floofy little chick when heavy rains literally washed out every egg in the nesting grounds so that the crew had to sit around on their own butts waiting for the flamingos to breed again.

People who live out in these crazy conditions for years at a time just to get one perfect shot of an innocent baby’s last breath must be a special kind of nut. We call them documentary film makers, but that’s definitely a euphemism for nut. And it’s not just because they used both snowshoes and hovercrafts to get around (although: nutty), it’s more that when the nearby volcano erupted during filming, they described it as “fortunate” when literally everyone else on the planet would have gone the other way on that one.

Anyway, the flamingos remain dignified even while being scrutinized by nuts, proving that whoever called them lesser got it wrong.

The Old Guard

Andy (Charlize Theron) is one weary warrior. She leads an elite team of mercenaries but when they’re called for a new job, she hesitates. She once believed they were doing ‘good’ but as she scans the news channels and her friends’ faces, she can no longer find any proof. The world isn’t getting any better. Is it even worth it? But client Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is insistent: a bunch of young girls are being trafficked and only the very best team – her team – can save them. So Andy swallows her cynicism and leads Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) once more into battle. Except Andy’s instincts were right: it’s a trap.

Copley’s been secretly tracking her team all along, on behalf of “the youngest pharma CEO ever” (Harry Melling). Eager to make a splash, not to mention a billion dollars, he wants to study Andy and her team to see what make them so special – and to replicate it, of course. Because humans are both greedy and vain and we never, ever learn a lesson.

This could have been a fairly by the numbers action movie, even if the action is pretty impressive. Of course, it kind of has to be these days; John Wick went and raised the bar on that, and now even a fairly trash movie like Extraction needs some intensely choreographed and inventive sequences. And of course, somewhere along the way, Charlize Theron has become a bonafide action star. But what makes The Old Guard stand out from the rest is its philosophy, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s instinct to slow things down and instead of asking ‘what’s next?’ asks ‘why?’

It’s hard to know whether to categorize The Old Guard as a sci-fi movie or a super hero movie or a straight up action adventure. But like Wonder Woman, a film easily among the best in any of those genres, this movie doesn’t just explore the extent of their so-called super powers, it wonders when to use them, why to use them, and if they should be used at all. If Andy’s Guard isn’t quite human, the people they fight, and the people the save, are. The cost is high and the price is grief; Andy’s body may be strong but so is the emotional toll. And when new Guard member Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the whole group has to decide whether it’s all been worth it.

The Old Guard isn’t a perfect movie but it dares to depict heroics occurring somewhere between survival and sorrow. It shows us not just its true cost, but both the weighing of it, and its weight.

Anna

Anna (Sasha Luss) is a young Russian woman selling tchotchkes to tourists in a market when a talent agent discovers her and makes her a model. She’s a working and indeed sought after model when she’s discovered by Alex (Luke Evans), an intelligence agent, who recruits her as a Russian spy and introduces her to their boss, Olga (Helen Mirren), a woman who attributes her successful career to being as meticulous as she is detached. Turns out, ‘beautiful model’ makes for a pretty good cover – she has access to an elite crowed and her fragile good looks make her seem innocent and naive. She is a deadly assassin but never suspected. Her goal is to work only long enough to retire to a simple life with financial security. But since when are spies ever allowed their own plans? American spy Lenny (Cillian Murphy) definitely has other plans for her – but how many times can one woman switch allegiances?

Anna is of course savvy enough to weaponize her beauty, but unlike Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, she uses sex to manipulate her own handlers. Unfortunately, this film invites too many comparisons to that movie and many others. The spy genre is prolific and writer-director Luc Besson has certainly drank from that well before, but it sort of feels like he’s run out of new things to say. He throws in so many crosses and double crosses you almost feel as though he’s making fun of them, and I might have preferred an out right parody (Paul Feig, I’m looking at you: we’re still waiting on Spy 2) to this twisty mess. Perhaps Besson is a little too comfortable and therefore a little complacent in assassin mode. Granted, the action is slick and well-choreographed, but you’ve seen it all before, and you’ve seen better.

Anna is as solid but bland. It won’t surprise you or delight you. It may mildly entertain you or distract you if you’re a fan of action/spy thrillers and don’t mind a little repetition. If you haven’t seen La Femme Nikita, see that instead and never mind this disappointing retread.