Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Our reviews and thoughts on the latest releases, classics, and nostalgic favourites. Things we loved, things we hated, and worst of all, things we were ambivalent about.

Something Borrowed

Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Darcy (Kate Hudson) are lifelong best friends. Rachel is the goodie two shoes, the more reserved, quiet, wallflower of the two, and Darcy is of course attention-seeking and wild. But Darcy is, nevertheless, the one who is getting married to Dex (Colin Egglesfield), Rachel’s friend and secret crush from law school. No matter how many study sessions they enjoyed together, Rachel could never bring herself to make a move, but the minute Dex and Darcy meet, it’s fireworks, and the far more forward Darcy seals the deal and he is hers, forever. Rachel is left to quietly pine in the arms of her strictly platonic friend Ethan (John Krasinski).

It’s not really worth reviewing a movie like this because you get what you deserve. It’s a love triangle romantic comedy that’s gross and predictable and paints so carefully by the numbers that Bob Ross would burn in shame.

The only thing about this movie that I feel moved to comment upon is the friendship, the female friendship that is central to this movie and its premise. Rachel and Darcy are best friends. Except Darcy is routinely selfish and she’s completely dominant. MV5BMTM0NjI4MTk4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA2NjE5NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_Sometimes she’s mean to Rachel but mostly she just doesn’t really consider her feelings. At all. Even Darcy’s boyfriend seems embarrassed by this, and their mutual friend Ethan comments on it constantly. But Rachel is a pushover. She gives in to Darcy as if she’s a petulant child who must be tolerated and indulged. She gets nothing out of this friendship for herself. And you know what? I’m tired of Hollywood portraying female friendship in such a toxic way. A real woman would dump Darcy’s ass. But of course, the writer needs the audience to not hate Rachel too much when she steals/sleeps with Darcy’s boyfriend. Darcy is a bitch, so she deserves it. Never mind asking ourselves what kind of person Rachel is – a woman too passive to own her feelings, too insecure to insist on healthy relationships, too blind to see the hunky guy she’s friend-zoned, yet still an immoral homewrecker. Nice.

And while shitty people do exist, there is a huge gulf between the reality of this character and her questionable behaviour, and how she is presented as this cute, underdog, girl-next door heroine. So now we’ve got two weak and thoughtless women starring in a film marketed toward women. And that’s just gross.

Advertisements

Who is a Producer & What Does She Do?

I have often wondered what exactly makes up the difference between a producer and an executive producer, and now that I know, I’m passing it along to you, in case any one else dared wonder the same thing.

An executive producer is not really involved in the day to day of the film. Their role is mostly served well before a movie even begins filming. You pretty much get an automatic Executive Producer credit if you helped secure at least 25% of the film’s budget. You have to be a very well-known and well-respected producer to do that – you have to have a lot of hits under your belt. OR you have to be a big movie star with a guaranteed draw, and you have to be willing to be really attached to this film – no dropping out due to scheduling conflicts, even if your dream job opens up, no just showing up to the set for filming either, you have to actually go to all those boring pre-production meetings about money and where to find it and how to save it. You might also get an Executive Producer credit for coming through on some key thing without which the movie would not have been made – maybe you’re the one who secured the source material (ie, bought the rights to a book or a life story, for example), or maybe you had an in with the Pope, which allowed the movie to shoot inside the Vatican for a week. If your contribution was big enough and rare enough, they might repay you with an Executive Producer credit.

The producer, on the other hand, is actually intimately involved with the movie, working alongside the director. The producer is the person who actually handles all the money. They executive producer gets funding, and the producer spends it. And not just spends it, but allocates portions of the budget to all the departments, and tries her best to make sure everyone sticks to that budget. The producer is therefore involved right from the beginning; they will oversee writing and hiring and assembling the whole necessary crew. Then the producer becomes the time manager (or perhaps micromanager). The average Hollywood film has about 600 people working on it. A big-budget, effects-heavy movie like Avengers will have probably more than 3000. Budgeting for all of those people falls to the producer, and so does keeping them all on schedule. The average movie budget is $65 million to make, and another $35 million to market and distribute. And a producer has to know where that money has gone, down to the penny. She likely also has to fend off a director who constantly wants more more more, and sometimes has to go back begging to an executive producer for more cash if the movie is in danger of not getting made without another injection of funds. It is the movie’s producers who accept the Oscar for Best Picture when it wins.

Some of the top producers include

Kevin Feige: Feige producers the Marvel movies so he’s made a crap tonne of money. I mean, he’s done ALL of them, all the way back to Iron Man, so he’s got a well-oiled machine. Avengers: Infinity War had a production budget of 300 MILLION DOLLARS and went on to make 2 billion at the box office. So. Why has he been so successful? Well, he had a vision for the shared Marvel universe from the get go; he has allowed the movies to capitalize from being interconnected. He has kept in touch with the Marvel fandom but he’s grown his audience by making movies that people want to see, regardless of whether they were previously super hero fans. And he’s done it even with lesser known heroes, like Black Panther and Guardians. Plus he’s given the reigns to exciting new directors like Ryan Coogler and the Russo brothers, which has allowed him to make 3 Marvel movies every year, so he’s growing the talent pool and developing new voices.

Kathleen Kennedy: Kennedy has such a great story. She was hired in 1971 by Steven Spielberg to be a secretary on the production of 1941. Both agree that she was a lousy typist but had great production ideas. She came on to 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark as an associate and got her first producing credit in 1982 on a little low-budget movie called E.T. She co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Spielberg and fellow producer/future husband Frank Marshall, where she worked with Martin Scoresese, Robert Zemeckis, and Clint Eastwood. She has produced 8 Best Picture-nominated films: E.T., The Color Purple, The Sixth Sense, Seabiscuit, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, War Horse, and Lincoln. She was Executive Producer on Best Picture winner, Schindler’s List. In 2012 she became co-chair of Lucasfilm with George Lucas, and she took over as president when it was sold to Disney, so she’s the brilliant mind behind all the recent prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. She is without a doubt the most powerful woman in Hollywood.

True Grit

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is just 14 years old when her father is murdered by the coward Tom Chaney. It should not fall to her to avenge his murder, but it does, and Mattie proves more than up to the challenge. Though not particularly skilled with guns or wilderness, she and her quick wit are nonetheless game when both are required as the search for Chaney takes her into Indian land. She hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), supposedly a man of true grit, to get the job done; Rooster is none too pleased to find a little girl as his sidekick, but the money’s too good to turn down. Mattie, however, is the one who ends up disappointed when she quickly learns that Rooster is a slothful drunk. Neither is she pleased when Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins the fray – he’s after Chaney (Josh Brolin) for his own ends, but Mattie insists that he will hang for no other crime but her own father’s murder. It’s a fine point, perhaps a moot one, but to Mattie, it’s the whole point.

3688_truegrit1825 was not a great time to be female. LaBoeuf feels entitled to both kiss and spank Mattie, a 14 year old girl mind you, at his will and against hers. Most other men just discount her completely. But this is a story of true grit, and so it must involve a woman. Joel and Ethan Cohen edge the spotlight over to Mattie, where it belongs, which is what makes this film even stronger than the original. Which is not to say that Rooster and LaBoeuf are lost. Indeed they are not. The Cohens can write like the dickens (or, perhaps, like Dickens), and they’ve found a way to sharpen up a very interesting little triangle. Hailee Steinfeld was 13 when she was cast, but she acts alongside of Damon and Bridges like a gun toting, horse riding champ, and it earned her an Oscar nomination (which she lost, of course – True Grit got 10 nominations and 0 wins, which is what the french call “not right.)

True Grit is gritty, but it’s beautifully made. I love the snappy, tongue-twisting, quotable script, I love Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, I love the actual wild of the wild west, I love the slapdash feel of the gun fights, I love the sound of beans cooking in their can, I love the gleaming buckles on Matt Damon’s hat and the way he talks after losing his tongue. It feels improbable, and maybe even impossible, that you could take a beloved American classic and actually improve upon it, but credit the Cohens – they have, and they’ve made it look effortless.

Nothing In Common

I’m not going to write a full review, she tells herself. Not even a full rant.

1986: a year I can’t even fathom. The Challenger blows up. Out of Africa wins best picture. Chernobyl is unleashed. Oprah gets on TV. Lady Gaga, Robert Pattinson, Armie Hammer, Kit Harrington, Shia LaBeouf, and the Olsen twins are born. Donna Reed, James Cagney, and Cary Grant die. Top Gun, Crocodile Dundee, and Platoon top the box office. Dionne and Friends’ That’s What Friends Are For and Lionel Richie’s Say You, Say Me race up the top 40 charts. A jar of Skippy peanut butter could be had for $1.49, and a Mustang for $7452.

And Tom Hanks made a super weird movie with Jackie Gleason called Nothing in Common. Now, I thought I’d done a pretty deep dive into Tom Hanks’s catalogue, but I hadn’t seen this, or been aware of it, or been prepared for it, more importantly.

David Basner (Hanx) is a womanizing, successful ad executive whose life gets derailed when his mother (Eva Marie Saint) suddenly leaves his father Max (Gleason). This divorce is totally unexpected and shocking. For Max. And David. Not so much for the long-suffering wife who had a neglectful lout for a husband for 30 years or more. Of course, Max is a typical man of his time: totally and completely useless. He doesn’t know how to grocery shop, much less make a sandwich. Or how to do laundry. Or find which drawer the bills go in. Or prevent himself from getting lazy-boy-induced pressure sores (probably). So poor David has to put his life on hold to act as the go-between between his feuding parents.

And let me tell you, 1986 was a pretty slimy time. Because even goody-two-shoes Tom Hanks comes off pretty badly in this. He thinks his mother should go back just because. And he has to listen to his father call his virginal mother frigid. Garry Marshall’s in the director seat, and makes some very mid-80s decisions regarding music. There’s an EXTEEEENDED opening song. Whew boy, I’ve never been in a 30 year marriage but I almost felt like I had by the time the opening credits shut the fuck up. I can’t even tell if I liked this movie – it’s hard to tell ANYTHING when 1986 is punching you repeatedly in the face. And I have a worrisome feeling that this movie could be the story of my own grandparents’ mid-80s divorce, if they weren’t good catholics who believe that god wants them to be miserable in an adversarial marriage for 60 odd years before they die (67 years and counting!), although if my mother is the Tom Hanks in this scenario, she’ll die long before they do because they are driving her to an early grave, and not slowly either! Having old, cantankerous parents is fun, I’m told. Loads and loads of wildly xenophobic fun.

Tom Hanks is charming, but this movie is not so much the fun. But hey, at least Chernobyl can sleep a little better knowing it wasn’t the worst thing to happen to 1986.

 

Vox Lux

There are two acts to Vox Lux, and they’re both not great, but the first is at least sort of watchable.

13 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) barely survives a school shooting in 1999. Unable to translate her feelings into words for the memorial, she, accompanied by her sister El (Stacy Martin), instead perform a song, which launches a pop career. Somehow. Guided by The Manager (Jude Law), the girls grow up way too fast, but Celeste manages to translate the song into a video and the video into an album, which comes out more or less around 9/11 and manages to tap into a country’s, and in fact the world’s, collective grief. Celeste is a star, mostly because she was the one shot in the throat that fateful day, and her sister, the more talented of the two, had stayed home sick.

Fast forward to present day. Celeste is now 31 (and played by Natalie Portman), mother to a teenage daughter, Albertine (unfortunately played by Cassidy, again, in a performance not at all distinguished from the above). Celeste is as global a superstar as you can be, complete with a recent meltdown and nearly career-ending swerve. But she’s counting on this new album to get things on the right path again. She’s still drunk, though, and still perved on by the same greasy manager. And as luck would have it, just as she’s about to kick off her world tour, there’s another mass shooting wherein the terrorists wear masks from her first music video. And just like that she’s relevant again. But it’s a tragedy, right? Not a cancel the tour tragedy of course, because it happens overseas.

Anyway, the first bit reminded me a bit of Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique – by which I mean, it’s gritty and eerie and atmospheric. But it’s a copy, and not a great one. And that’s the absolute highlight of the film. It’s steeply downhill with rollerskates and a highly motivated dog from there.

Natalie Portman’s grown-up Celeste has no redeeming features whatsoever. She’s shrill and vacuous and we don’t see any of what happened to her in the interim to possibly explain away this complete and horrid transformation.

Clearly writer-director Brady Corbet means to say something about celebrity culture at the very least. But what is it? It’s tempting to say that the second half loses the MV5BMTkzNzAwOTYyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY5MjQ4NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_thread, but the truth is, the first half is boring enough that I don’t care about a lost thread because the whole damn sweater is garbage and a waste of good yarn. You know? Like, Sia worked hard on these songs. And the movie is slick looking, with cinematography just dripping its luridness all over the screen. But damn is it pretentious in a deflated, empty kind of way. And then the last 20 minutes or so are just concert footage, just full on Natalie Portman in a spandex body suit not quite nailing her choreography all over a stage full of unconvincing dancers. Was my jaw completely unhinged watching this or did it just feel that way? I can’t be sure. Sean tried to watch this with me, but it wouldn’t play when we rented it initially and he was gone off to work by the time I went back to it, and bully for him. I’m the one who watched it, aghast. This is Natalie Portman’s follow-up to what probably should have been an Oscar-winning performance in Jackie?

[I mean, to be fair, it’s not. She was also in Annihilation, and quite good in that, and Song to Song, which is not worth mentioning.]

Vox Lux is a derivative piece of junk. So, not unlike a pop song I suppose.

Space Jam

It’s fitting that LeBron James is taking the Space Jam reins from Michael Jordan, since last week James passed Jordan in career points scored and the two have always been compared since James was in high school.  Jordan would have scored many more points if only he hadn’t taken two years off in his prime to try his hand at baseball.  Rumour has always held that Jordan went to play baseball in order to avoid a gambling suspension, mainly because it made no sense at all for the notoriously competitive Jordan to have “retired” at age 30 (Jordan would retire twice more before his basketball career was over).

Jordan’s baseball career features prominently in Space Jam’s loose plot, as if he had been playing basketball at the time, the evil aliens from the Moron Mountain amusement park would have taken Jordan’s skills and he never would have been able to help the Looney Tunes gang.  But because Jordan was retired, the aliens had to steal other NBA players’ talent, space-jam-bill-murrayincluding Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley.  Jordan is then recruited by Bugs Bunny to play with a bunch of other cartoon characters, with some help from Bill Murray and no help at all from Wayne Knight, as the cartoons take on the aliens in a basketball game to determine whether the aliens will enslave those loony ‘toons as an amusement park attraction.

This movie was probably never any good but it has been made worse with age.  The animation is dated, the green screen work is horrible, and worst of all, the “stars” involved in this movie, other than the great Charles Barkley, have been forgotten by all but the most attentive New York Knicks fans (who would punch me in the face for saying anything bad about Ewing and who will never forget LJ hitting a clutch four-point play against the Pacers in 1999’s Eastern Conference Finals).  Space Jam also really highlights how much the Looney Tunes feel like variations of one another (cat/duck and man/pig in particular) and pale imitations of their Disney counterparts.

Even with only a 90 minute run-time, a significant part of the movie feels like filler, including an opening scene with a 1- year old Jordan, about 5 minutes of Jordan highlights during the opening credits, and a subplot of sorts that features some really terrible acting by the three kids playing Jordan’s family (like so bad that you figure they have to be Jordan’s real kids, but they’re totally not – I checked).

lebron-vs-mjIf LeBron’s career arc is any indication, the next Space Jam is destined to be technically superior to Jordan’s original but lacking the same emotional core.  That doesn’t bode well for the reboot when there was no substance or emotion to the first Space Jam at all.  Watching it again only makes one wonder why anyone bothered to make it in the first place, as well as why James would want to invite any more comparisons to Jordan’s six for six NBA Finals record against LeBron’s three wins and six losses in his attempts (which I don’t begrudge but I’m in the minority on that point).  On the other hand, since the original Space Jam has nothing to offer, the reboot can’t possibly be worse!

Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell! Shazam! Mar-Vell! Shazam! There is a long and interesting legal saga surrounding the Captain Marvel name (though if you are not a law geek it’s probably much more long than interesting). Basically, the red and white Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam) came first as a blatant Superman rip-off. DC sued, put the creators out of business, bought Shazam for cheap and quickly forgot they owned him. Meanwhile, Marvel captain-marvel-mar-vell-shazam-differences-header-1108262-1280x0Comics decided that if any comic publisher should have a Captain Marvel, it should be them, so Marvel threw together a half-baked story about an alien named Mar-Vell to secure a trademark for the Captain Marvel name, won a lawsuit against DC and others, then gave Mar-Vell cancer and made him the only comic character in history to stay dead.

Given that history, I don’t think it is a coincidence that DC’s Shazam will follow within a month of Captain Marvel’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If there’s a lesson here, and there may not be, it’s that “legal reasons” give birth to a lot of strange things (and don’t even get me started on the 90s Captain America and Fantastic Four films).

Incidentally. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is not a resurrection of the alien who died from cancer. Marvel revamped the character through a whole other convoluted saga, and she’s primed to be the first female hero to get her own MCU movie.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a space-faring Kree soldier with memory problems, a self-described noble warrior hero fighting a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After captain-marvel-international-poster-top-1200x675a Skrull ambush, she crash-lands on mid-90s Earth (smashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, as probability would dictate) and realizes that she’s been on this planet before. Teaming up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel chases after the Skrulls who came to Earth along with her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) while also trying to uncover her forgotten past.

In many ways, Captain Marvel is a standard solo origin story, which at this point they can crank out with no effort at all. But this film still feels like a necessary addition to the MCU. Captain Marvel is a worthy star and the galactic stakes are high enough here to make this film stand on its own. A great deal of those positive feelings are due to Larsen, who does a great job of keeping us invested in the character even before we (and she) know who she really is: the cosmic-powered superstar who is going to undo all the bad stuff that Thanos got away with last time (as you probably can guess, I’m still mad that he turned Spidey into dust). And the icing on the cake is the 90s nostalgia reminding us that no matter how bad your internet is during a snowstorm, things used to be much worse.

Aside from Shazam (which is almost certain to be terrible), Captain Marvel is bound to be compared to Wonder Woman, and for the only time ever, DC’s entry is the better one. Captain Marvel does not have the same crossover appeal as Wonder Woman does, but Captain Marvel is a really fun superhero movie on its own merits, as well as a great lead-in for the new Avengers film next month.