Category Archives: Jay

Promising Young Woman

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was once a promising young woman, a fact her parents take the opportunity to remind her of every morning at breakfast. Now 30, friendless, living at home despite heavy parental hinting that it may be time to move one, an unambitious med school dropout turned barista, Cassie’s parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) aren’t sure what it will take to jumpstart her life. To most it would seem that Cassie’s life derailed when her best friend Nina took her own life, but to Cassie, her life has simply taken a different direction. Her life now revolves more or less around avenging Nina’s death.

Nina was also a promising young woman, also a student in medical school when one night she was gang raped. She was a party, too drunk to defend herself, but ostensibly among friends and fellow students, many of whom either participated or stood around watching while it happened. While so-called friends gossiped behind her back, the school administration merely swept it under the same rug where they keep all the other similar complaints, and the court case stalled when the defense turned the table on the victim. Unable to deal with the aftermath, Nina died by suicide. But Cassie, filled with anger and outrage, is not content to let justice remain unserved. She’s become a vigilante of sorts, going out at night, posing as a woman who’s had too much to drink, and if you’re a woman yourself, you’ll be unsurprised by just how many men take the bait. She looks like easy prey, at least until they get her home and try to have sex with a woman they believe is too intoxicated to properly fight them off (despite her clear and repeated NO), then suddenly she snaps to alertness and serves them a warning they won’t soon forget. This is the double life that Cassie’s been living unbeknownst to others – unbeknownst even to new boyfriend Ryan (Bo Burnham), an old classmate and the first man she’s actually trusted since what happened to Nina.

Promising Young Woman is a dark comedy, in fact, a Vantablack comedy, if you’ll permit me trotting out a subcategory I invented of the Ryan Reynolds dark comedy, The Voices. Longtime readers with impressive memories (read: no one, even I had to look it up) may remember that Vantablack is a colour that is blacker than black, absorbing all but 0.035% of light; a black so black our human minds can’t actually perceive it. I would like to unroll this categorization once again, because compared to Promising Young Woman, everything else is pink.

Emerald Fennell, first time director (and also this movie’s writer), has done the improbable and completely made this genre her bitch. It is uniquely difficult to master the tone of such a film, mixing a very heavy topic with moments of genuine laughter and charm. This is truly one of the most provocative, unexpected, daring movies of this year or last. It must be seen.

Carey Mulligan is absolutely breathtaking. Cassie has half a dozen secret lives going at once yet Mulligan not only keeps them straight, she makes them easily identifiable to us, hiding stories and motivations behind her eyes, astonishing us with a raw and layered performance. Bo Burnham has a tall order playing the Last Good Man, bolstering a stellar ensemble. Clearly Fennell impressed half of Hollywood with her audacious script; Alfred Molina, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell fill small but impactful roles, many of them names on Cassie’s shit list.

Regret, retribution, guilt, forgiveness, culpability, corruption, consequences. No one’s life is going to be the same. No one’s getting left off the hook. Cassie’s been living off righteous rage for far too long, and if she can’t have justice, she will have closure, by any means necessary.

Pumpkin Pie Wars

Ten years ago, Faye McArthy (Michele Scarabelli) and Lydia Harper (Jennifer-Juniper Angeli) were best friends, until a pumpkin pie contest was their undoing. Competing against each other with rival pie recipes, their friendship unraveled in front of a live audience as Faye accused Lydia of betraying her, of seizing an opportunity to open “their” bakery alone. Ten years later, the McArthys and the Harpers are sworn enemies with rival bakeries across town from each other. Faye is really hoping to win this year’s pie bake-off to bring much-needed business back into the bakery as times have been tough, but an accident leaves her with an injury that forces her off her feet and out of the kitchen. Daughter Casey (Julie Gonzalo) has heretofore been solely on the business end of the bakery, but now she’ll have to win the contest – and, um, learn to bake first, of course. Meanwhile, over in the Harper bakery, Lydia thinks it’ll be good for business to stoke the family rivalry by sending her own son Sam (Rico Aragon) to compete in her place – 2nd generation feud and so on. Small towns! Rico is a very talented chef who’d love to expand his mother’s business to include more than just pastry, but Lydia is risk-adverse and keeps pushing him off.

Wouldn’t you know it, Sam and Casey have no vested interest in carrying on their family’s feud and in fact agree to help each other out: Casey will help Sam create a viable business plan to present to his mother, and Sam will teach Casey how to bake. Like any good Hallmark movie (or indeed, any bad Hallmark movie), Sam and Casey fall in love, because that’s what happens when you spend time with someone. But wait! They both actually really need to win this competition for their moms! Can their relationship possibly survive the rivalry? Or will their feelings allow them to find a common goal? One can only hope…

News Of The World

Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks), a Civil War veteran, travels the landscape of 1870s Texas, bringing literal news of the world to all the towns on his route. For ten cents, he will read you the news from whichever newspapers he’s got in his saddlebag. He’s been on the road a long time; it’s a lonely life, and a dangerous one, but aside from missing his wife, he seems to embrace the solitude.

You see a lot of shit on the dusty roads between Texas towns, and one day he comes across a (Black) man hanging from a tree, his wagon overturned, and his ward cowering nearby. The little girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), was adopted by the Kiowa Indian tribe long ago, after the slaughter of her parents. Lately her adoptive Indian parents have also been killed, and she was being brought “home” to an aunt and uncle. Kidd somehow gets transferred this responsibility, and together they’ll travel hundreds of miles to deliver her to a home she’s never known, after being orphaned twice over. Johanna doesn’t speak English; she seems wild and almost feral, communicating in grunts and screams when her native language won’t do. She longs to go back to a tribe that no longer wants her, longs for a people to whom she never truly belonged, yet she remembers no other way.

The open road in 1870s Texas were no place for a child. They were no place for a man, either. The danger was grave, and constant. Tom Hanks, who goes full Daddy in the role, reunites with his Captain Phillips director, Paul Greengrass. If they thought the open seas were dangerous, they hadn’t tried to cross the harsh and unforgiving plains of Texas, where it’s hard to say whether human or natural forces are the biggest threat. If the marauders, thieves, and rapists don’t knife you and leave you for dead, the wilderness itself will be all too happy to claim your body and strip the flesh from your bones.

A slow and ambling western, Greengrass’s images have a quiet effectiveness to them, though they are frequently interrupted by rough and ready action sequences. Despite the bare-knuckled violence, the film is really about amiable companionship, and a steadfast faith in the importance of truth. Hanks channels his inner Eastwood and young Zengel is a marvel, communicating whole spectrums without the benefit of words. News of the World may be simple in premise but it is complex in character and superior in performance; definitely worth a watch.

Love Sarah

Sarah and her best friend Isabella (Shelley Conn) were on the verge of opening up their very own bakery, a long time shared aspiration, when Sarah died tragically, leaving behind unfulfilled dreams and a lease that Isabella was now responsible for alone, despite having lost her baker, an essential element in most bakeries, you’ll find.

Sarah’s aimless daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet) and her estranged mother Mimi (Celia Imrie) decide to join her in Sarah’s stead. And Sarah’s ex, Matthew (Rupert Penry-Jones), shows up too, thank goodness, because this bakery was still very much in need of a baker, although it turns out Isabella is perfectly capable of doing the baking, she just lacked the confidence. But that’s not all Matthew’s contributing to the bakery! He’s also putting out daddy vibes, leaving Clarissa to question whether he might the mystery father she’s never known and her mother never revealed. Oh, and he makes the pretty pastries of course, which do indeed look good enough to eat, so if food porn is what you’re after, this movie’s got loads, presented rather prettily on a buffet of white platters. But for some reason, they’re just not selling. The bakery makes no money at all until they decide to rebrand and start baking up international delights to lure in London’s many and varied immigrants.

The bakery thriving or failing is almost secondary to these characters’ healing, which they’re all needing to slightly different extents. Healing takes different forms of course – romance, success, family, forgiveness – and it’s not just the bakery at work but the fact that these four people have found each other in their hour of need and created a community for themselves that fosters connection and leaves everyone just a little less isolated with their grief or their loneliness.

On a scale from “microwaving for one” to “molecular gastronomy,” Love Sarah is canned pasta sauce, not particularly complex or memorable, but easy and comforting. It’s sweet, it’s got wonderful performances, it feels good in a heartening, borderline inspirational way. It’s very watchable, and would in fact pair well with a nice slice of cake and a tall glass of milk.

The Ultimate Playlist of Noise

High school senior Marcus (Keean Johnson) isn’t trying to be rude but yes he is wearing two different sets of headphones because maybe he wants to listen to Radiohead and a gentle field breeze at the same time. He’s that guy, a total audiophile, most of his music taste inherited from his big brother who died saving him from a house fire. He’s teased about the burn marks on his back but Marcus is proud to wear such visible proof of love. He’s a little less enthusiastic about the toll these events have taken on his mother, who is the living, breathing embodiment of “overprotective.” He takes off his double head phones to hear some live music, but mom says he’s got to be home by 10, and he fully intends to comply. Except the opening act is transformative in many ways; Wendy (Madeline Brewer) is beautiful, her voice like gold to him, and when her set is finished, Marcus makes to follow her but gets elbowed in the head and falls to the floor in the throes of a seizure.

At the hospital they tell him he has brain tumors that need to be removed as soon as possible. Just one problem – well, aside from the obvious: this brain surgery is going to leave him deaf. With only a month to hear all there is to be heard, he embarks on a road trip toward New York City, completing a bucket list of all the best noises, and recording them all on his ultimate playlist of noise. Which noises would you choose? And more importantly, at least to a red-blooded teenage boy, who would you choose to accompany you on this quest? It’s a no-brainer for Marcus, particularly because she doesn’t exactly give him a choice. He and Wendy take off in his mom’s minivan without a plan or permission, determined to record everything worth hearing.

It sounds like a fairly typical young adult film, but Keean Johnson finds layers to his character, and I think most audiences who bother to will find layers to the film as well. Marcus’s trip is an attempt to find some peace with a looming loss, but he’s dealt with loss before, and perhaps he knows grieving, and coping, better than most. The script remembers to touch base with Marcus’ whole life – his friends, his family, the brother he never stops thinking about – but in his pursuit to hear all the sounds, he brings along a brand new person, the last new voice he will ever know. Of course there’s a certain melancholia to this act of goodbye, but the film is also a celebration of sound. Kudos to the guys in the sound department for their dedication to detail; even noise that doesn’t appear on Marcus’s list is paid special attention to.

The first half of The Ultimate Playlist of Noise played in a familiar way, much like that dying teen trope that movies like this just can’t stay away from – and yet this one has. Despite Marcus’s struggle to cope, losing his hearing isn’t a death sentence, it’s just the start to a new way of living, and yes, the end to the old way. But Marcus’s road trip isn’t just a recording session, it’s also a reminder that there are still plenty of beautiful things to see and think and feel, and that life will go on and be worth living and indeed be very good, hearing or no.

Love in Winterland

This movie made me rationally angry. I rolled my eyes, I yelled in vain, I gestured wildly, I made that little vein in my forehead swell up in anger, I put my heartrate in the danger zone, I made myself into a furious little anger ball until I got the sweats, but every bit of it, I assure you, was a rational reaction. I’ve been watching loads of Hallmark movies lately, and though their premises tend not to be grounded in reality, I’ve been surprisingly cool about it. I just watched an animated film that I basically called a sexist dumpster fire, and while I wasn’t cool about it, nor did I overheat. But this movie? This movie really got my goat.

Ally (Italia Ricci) is a contestant on a dating reality show that wants to remind you of The Bachelor without treading on any copyright laws, and without the constraints of actual reality. By the time The Bachelor airs, the season has been done taping for months, and the editors have worked their magic, manipulating the reels and reels of footage into a pseudo-narrative that plays up the drama and crafts characters the audience will both root for and hate. In the Winterland universe, the shows are taped one a time. Ally doesn’t live in a mansion with the other contestants, she goes home to her apartment, watches the show with her friends, and has no idea how things will pan out because that’s next week’s episode. In next week’s episode, in fact, Ally is surprised when eligible bachelor and “international man of many hats” Tanner (Jack Turner) selects her for the Hometown Date.

It’s been ages since Ally’s been to Winterland (the apparent actual name of her hometown), and while she’s thrilled to see her parents and to show Tanner around town, the reason she’s stayed away keeps rearing his ugly head. Brett (Chad Michael Murray), the ex who broke her heart, shows up a lot. Like, he’s hanging out with her parents on the regular, apparently. Plus she’s staying at the hotel he owns. And he likes to eat/eavesdrop in the next booth over at the local dinner…you get the point. And as soon as the producers smell drama, they’re pushing the three of them together like love triangles are going out of style. On a dating reality show!

Even though there’s nothing wrong with Tanner and everything wrong with heartbreaker Invasive Brett, the film really wants us to root for Brett and Ally getting back together. Even though Chad Michael Murray has inexplicably decided to do this film in a Batman voice! Plus Brett acts like a jealous brat and claims to have pined for Ally despite the fact that he broke up with her by never showing his face again, which is hella rude and awkward, and doesn’t seem to know what personal boundaries are. Brett is a yuck human being, and I’m not even that big of an Ally fan, and I still don’t want her to end up with a garbage boyfriend. I mean, she’s on reality TV so clearly she’s willing to risk it. Don’t worry guys, she’s only really there to promote a job she doesn’t even like. As if that makes it better. She sold her soul for nothing!

There’s no way you’re desperate enough for cheesy romance to watch this movie. If you’re on the Hallmark channel already, there’s plenty to choose from, and almost all of them will be better than this.

Outside The Wire

Robot soldiers fight alongside human ones in the near future – and against them, robots on either side of this conflict, a storm of bullets raining down. Two men are hit, and their commanding officer makes plans to pull them to safety, but an ocean away, in the middle of the Nevada desert, a young drone pilot named Harp (Damson Idris) eats gummy bears and disobeys orders, launching a strike that kills the two in order to save the other 38. Harp is court-martialed and sent to the demilitarized zone for a reminder of the human cost of his lethal button pushing.

There he meets Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), an A.I. enhanced cyborg soldier who’s selected him for a mission outside the wire. Leo’s biotech is extremely convincing (he can even feel pain) but make no mistake – he’s a military machine. A military weapon, in fact, a supersoldier who’s excellent in close combat and whose A.I. is so advanced it can follow the threads of these conflicts in ways that no human leaders ever have. Which is what he needs Harp for, a man he turns out to have hand-chosen because of his ability to think outside the box. They’re going to dodge robot soldiers and angry insurgents to chase a warlord hellbent on securing himself some neglected nukes. Leo can’t pursue this one his own; he’s got built-in fail-safes to prevent that, but where his investigation would constitute a flaw in his programming, Harp is free to do so based solely on a human hunch.

I enjoyed this movie for a couple of reasons. First among them is the Asimov angle, the king of sci-fi who wrote all those clever rules of robotics, and whose every thesis went something like: beware artificial intelligence, because it will inevitably figure out that humans need to be protected from themselves, and we won’t like the measures they take to do so. Except in Outside The Wire’s case, what Leo establishes fairly quickly is that the real enemy is the U.S. military, even though he’s technically meant to be fighting on its side.

Robots, it turns out, aren’t as blindly patriotic as we might like. Lee sees things from both points of view, and he comes to some conclusions that the American government might not appreciate. It’s a little sad that it takes a robot to consider the the socio-political aspect, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and examine other perspectives, but there you have it. It’s what we’ve come to. Asimov is always right. A.I. will always find us lacking. Is this the movie that’s going to help heal America after this most divisive period in its history? Highly doubtful. Most people will just be watching or the action sequences, and that’s fine too.

The truth, however, is that Outside The Wire isn’t a terrific movie. It’s not the blockbuster stuff you’ve been craving. Leo can’t reveal his master plan to Harp all at once, so it’s hidden from us as well, making for an occasionally confusing and scattershot plot. It feels like it takes us through a series of switchbacks that aren’t entirely earned. What it’s really counting on is that you’ll be so pleased by the Transformer-like Gumps (the scary robot soldiers) that you’ll only be paying half attention to the story.

Still, the action is decent, and so is the relationship between Leo and Harp, like Training Day if Denzel was also the Terminator. That kind of thing. It’s kind of fun to watch Mackie play a cyborg soldier since we’ve seen him be a flesh and blood soldier in Hurt Locker, and an enhanced super hero in the Marvel universe. This character kind of melds those roles together, a robot pretending to be human with his own thoughts and feelings about this war and what its outcome should be. Of course, a global conflict is tough for a single robot to take on alone – though now that I think about it, I suppose we’ve seen A.I. do much more, and much worse, so I think it’s fair to say: fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy

I doubt anyone needs to be reminded that crack is a very bad, no good idea. However, you might appreciate a documentary that explores the ways in which the American government used a drug to exploit and manipulate a population.

Though the government itself was responsible for importing this insidious substance, it had no problem with the hypocrisy involved in blaming the victim and criminalizing a disease. Addicts were shown no mercy. In fact, these were, not coincidentally, the days of mandatory minimums, where (Black) people were being thrown in jail for decades over piddling amounts of drugs. Racial bias you say? Absofuckinglutely.

This documentary probably tries to cover too much ground and talk to too many people, not all of whom agree on all of the facts, so there are inconsistencies that might niggle at you, but that’s life. This is a complex issue and we’re still trying to follow all the threads. The constant, though, is the destruction it brought down upon a community that is still reeling and trying to recuperate.

Is Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy a perfect documentary? It is not. Perhaps a narrower focus might have improved the view. Still, it’s a worthy effort and an important subject, especially with the benefit of hindsight that allows us to take a look in the rearview and really appreciate how much it altered a culture and left an indelible stain on a country that would rather sweep these contradictions under the nearest supermax prison.

Love On Iceland

On Saturday evening, I was wakened at approximately 6:30pm (go ahead and judge) by a siren blaring from my phone. Our new lockdown curfew was set to commence at 8pm and the government saw fit to wake me up in order to warn me to stay home. Not to worry: I’ve been home. I’m doing my part. The last time I was out of my home was 3 weeks ago, before Christmas, for bloodwork. The time previous was 3 weeks before that, for an MRI. You get the idea. Medical appointments only. Sean leaves the house for 3 things: food, prescriptions, and work when it absolutely necessitates it. We support the lockdown and the curfew and yes, even the siren. We have radically changed our behaviour in order to support the collective well-being. It’s not easy, but it’s saving lives, so there’s no question that it must be done. There’s also no question that it isn’t always easy. Last weekend we jacked up the heat in the house, dragged our garden lounge chairs out of storage, donned our swimsuits, and served up margaritas, pretending we were on the beach in Mexico, one of our favourite winter escapes. We are travelers. 2020 was the first year we didn’t travel outside of the country, and that’s only partially true because we were actually already in (real) Mexico when we rang in the new year, so we started off the year abroad and had lots of plans to keep it up, all of which had to be cancelled when the pandemic hit. Which is fine. We just miss it. And I bet most if not all of you do too. Even if you’re not in the habit of travelling annually, the mere fact of being on lockdown has given most of us cabin fever, so we’re dreaming of destinations more frequently than ever. Luckily, even lockdown affords us certain escapes, and movies continue to be one of them. They may not be playing in theatres, but they’re still playing right in your living room, and even a made for the Hallmark channel movie like this one can transport you to a new and interesting place.

Most Hallmark movies start off with stock footage of New York City, or perhaps Chicago. They never film there. They film in Utah, or Vancouver. But once in a blue moon, they film in an exotic location, and this is one of those rare and beautiful times when they did just that.

Iceland is a beautiful country; I’ve never been but I’m definitely not opposed! Chloe (Kaitlin Doubleday) heads there when she needs a little adventure and inspiration, tapping her college group of travel buddies to join her, including (accidentally) her ex, Charlie (Colin Donnell). Their tour guide shows them everything that Iceland has to offer – hot springs, shopping, museums, ice caves, the northern lights and more – you might almost think that Iceland paid for a very glossy, live-action, movie-like tourism brochure that aired for 84 minutes on the Hallmark channel. Regardless, it is indeed a thing of beauty and I got to travel there vicariously, no luggage hassle, no bulky parkas, and best of all, no breathing in recycled virus air on a plane for 8 hours!

One day, we will travel again, and it will be splendid. It will not be Hallmark perfect. I won’t find room to pack a different scarf for every day of the week, and my lipgloss will occasionally smudge, or wear off completely. Sean won’t profess his undying love for me, and his sweetest gesture will be carrying around my glitter polka dot Kate Spade tote without complaint. And between you and I, NONE of our friends look good in viking hats. But we will travel again. Until then, you might want to engage in some pure escapism with a Hallmark romance.

The Banker

Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grew up overhearing white people’s business schemes as he shined their shoes, so he knows he’s just as smart and just as capable. In Texas in the 1960s, however, the world is designed to limit his ambition and rob him of power. But still, he dreams, and he follows those dreams to Los Angeles, where he meets Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a potential partner with as much audacity as he.

Joe is already a successful businessman; he owns several properties. Bernard, however, wants to get in on the real profit. He wants to own buildings in white neighbourhoods. Even in L.A. there are many barriers to this happening, so they convince their handyman Matt (Nicholas Hoult) to become the white face of the company. They teach him algebra and golf, the white man’s business necessities, and he basically becomes their puppet, the representative who shakes all the hands and signs all the contracts while his mysterious business partners remain names on a ledger, though both remain hidden in plain sight – as a chauffeur, and a janitor. This strategy is incredibly fruitful for them, but Bernard won’t really feel successful until he can do the same in Texas, so eventually they go back, and they buy a bank. A bank! A bank that will be the first in its area to give loans to Black clients, business owners and first time home owners. They have to do this work incredibly surreptitiously of course, because it’s still Texas, but this endeavour really has the power to transform the entire community, which of course has never had this kind of opportunity for upward mobility, which is to say, the same kind that white folks take for granted. Which is why some 1960s Karen feels the need to intervene. In 1960s Texas, Black audacity is just about the biggest crime there is, so they don’t just get a police response, but the FBI as well. Of the three men involved, can you guess which two are arrested and charged? Yes, go ahead and assume this will be based solely on the colour of their skin.

The Banker is a safe movie that leaves all the risks to its bold lead characters. Director George Nolfi is content with a pretty standard biopic, which in this case is fine, as the revolutionary entrepreneurs depicted are so vivaciously brought to life by both Mackie and Jackson. Proper credit goes to Nia Long also, who portrays Garrett’s wife, Eunice. Happily Long is given actual work to do, the wife not just content to stay in the home, but very much involved in the family business. Eunice was always the first to recognize her husband’s genius and her support must have meant the world, but that would have been a very big deal, to risk her family’s stability in order to indulge his ambition. Eunice was a trailblazer herself, and Nia Long makes the most of it.

Based on a true story, the pursuit not just of the American dream, but of equal access to said American dream, is a story worth telling every time. The magnetic banter between Mackie and Jackson is just surplus on the ledger.