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.

The Wizard

Proudly brought to you by Nintendo, Vision Street Wear, and young Fred Savage, the Wizard is a movie I somehow avoided for 30 years until Netflix shoved it in my face last night. Even in 1989 there was really no reason for me to see it since I had already played Super Mario 3 at my friend Justin’s house (he somehow imported it from Japan).  And revealing that new game was the Wizard’s raison d’être. 

Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) is a non-verbal kid who’s been stowed away in a care home by his mom and step-dad. Until Jimmy’s half-brother Corey (Savage) busts him out and stows him away on a delivery truck faster than you can say “tanooki suit”, destination California. After the two boys meet tween runaway Haley (Jenny Lewis) at a bus station, their destination becomes more specific. They’re off to Video Armageddon, a world championship of gaming featuring only 8-bit Nintendo games because Jimmy is secretly a wizard at Double Dragon. But will Jimmy be able to beat his Power-Glove-wielding rival Lucas (Jackey Vinson) at a new Super Mario game that no one has played yet? You’re damn right he will.

At the time, Super Mario 3 was the next great Nintendo game. But now, countless Super Marios later, Super Mario 3 is an ancient relic, rather than a selling point like it was in 1989 (because it had not yet been released in North America. The one point of interest for today’s audience is seeing a very young Tobey Maguire make his very first film appearance (blink and you’ll miss it).  In hindsight it’s clear that Maguire isn’t really acting here in his non-speaking role as Lucas’ tiniest sidekick, and that he was always destined to become one of the biggest assholes in Hollywood.

Otherwise, the Wizard is unforgivably forgettable. It’s not a good movie (and it never tries to be) but it’s also not an enjoyably bad one. Savage does his precocious tween thing, Christian Slater does his precocious teen thing, Beau Bridges does his earnest dad thing, and a bunch of other people presumably do their best acting which was not good enough for them to ever get any other major movie roles. Maybe if I had seen it as a kid I’d be more nostalgic, but without the benefit of nostalgia the Wizard is nothing more than a 96 minute commercial for 30 year old Nintendo games.

Advertisements

The Royal Tenenbaums

Before I say anything else, understand that my mind is busily chewing over a fact that makes me very uncomfortable, namely, the near-uniform whiteness of Wes Anderson’s movies. I love Wes Anderson. I love his movies. But I do not love monochromatic casting. But in thinking on this quite a bit in the past few months, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that he doesn’t hire people of colour, it’s that he doesn’t hire African Americans, rather specifically. In fact, The Royal Tenenbaums may be the only time he’s every hired a black actor for a role of substance (Courtney B. Vance got to narrate Isle of Dogs), and it’s really only to service a racist character, ie, Danny Glover’s only there so that Gene Hackman can call him a long list of slurs. And though Wes Anderson’s worlds are so often populated by the same faces, Glover’s has never reappeared. Hiring someone just to be a target seems particularly cruel. However, Kumar Pallana, an Indian actor, had appeared in 4 of Anderson’s films (he died in 2013 – and was originally a barista in Anderson’s favourite Dallas coffee shop). Waris Ahluwalia, an Indian-born, American Sikh, has been in three. Tony Revolori, the terrific breakout bellboy from The Grand Budapest Hotel, is of Guatemalan descent, though so far he’s appeared in more Spider-man movies than he has in the Wes Anderson universe. There was a smattering of Japanese voice actors in Isle of Dogs, though surprisingly and relatively few considering the whole film takes place in Japan. This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but it’s as close as it is short, and between you and I, the minute you start putting together a list of non-white actors, you’ve already lost. That’s 9 terrific, talky, thinky, inventive pieces of cinema with incredible ensemble casts and insane attention to detail and just 1 solitary black man, necessary to the script to be the recipient of a grumpy old man’s careless racist remarks. It’s a terrible tally.

And it’s too bad that Anderson’s movies have this problem because otherwise they’d be 100% my jam.

The Tenenbaums are a fascinatingly dysfuntional family. Matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised her 3 children to be exceptional after her lousy husband Royal (Gene Hackman) left. Chas Tenenbaum was a prodigy investor, successfully running businesses out of his childhood bedroom. Now he’s a recent widower and fresh trauma has him raising his own sons in a constant state of terror. Margot Tenenbaum was a prodigy playwright, earning prizes and praise as a child for her mature writing. Today she’s literally soaking in depression as her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray) knocks helplessly on the bathroom door. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) was a tennis prodigy hopelessly in love with his sister, Margot. He had a career-ending meltdown when Margot married Raleigh, and he’s spent the time since sailing the world, keeping oceans between himself and his family. Eli (Owen Wilson) is the boy next door who grew up gazing upon the relative privilege of the Tenenbaum family, wishing to belong to them. And of course Henry Sherman (Glover) is Etheline’s new suitor and the family’s disruptor.

Broke, homeless, with hackles raised about the new man prowling about, Royal Tenenbaum decides to home after decades away. They won’t have him of course. He spent years disappointing his family before being completely estranged from them. So his only move is to fake cancer as a ploy to gain sympathy – and even that’s a tough sell. But it gets him back in the family home, and one by one the grown children all return to orbit around him. They’re all fucked up in their own ways, but they’ve also got an extremely fucked up dynamic together. They’re a bunch of fire starters just waiting for a match, and Royal is a goddamned flame thrower. Whoosh.

It’s a movie full of quirks that still manages to be cohesive and sell a cogent story about a family full of tragedies. Betrayal lurks in every closet, disaster through every doorway. And even though it contains perhaps Anderson’s bleakest scene ever (set to Elliott Smith’s Needle in the Hay), it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs, but also some actual heartfelt moments. The movie is an act of forgiveness, a representation of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself, to set yourself free from the past and the pain it causes you. Royal may be irredeemable but his family is not. They’re deeply flawed and chronically eccentric, but the script searches authenticity and finds it in abundance.

Fun Facts:

Though the role of Royal was written with Hackman in mind, it was offered to Gene Wilder, who turned it down.

Danny Glover’s look in the film was modeled after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which is possibly my favourite sentence in the world.

There is no such thing as Dalmatian mice; the spots were drawn on with Sharpies.

Anjelica Huston wears Wes Anderson’s mother’s glasses in the film.

The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller’s, it’s Andrew Wilson’s (yes, brother to Luke and Owen). It’s no trick, he really has a BB stuck in there and has since childhood. Can you guess which one of his brothers shot him?

I turned to Sean at one point to say that there were a lot of Beatles songs in the film. In fact, Ruby Tuesday was playing at the moment, which is by the Stones, as I’m sure you’re aware, and as I myself am normally aware, though my brain was clearly existing in some alternate reality at the time. There is a Beatles song, and a John Lennon one, and four from the Stones. Brain fart.

I, Robot

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) hates technology generally and robots specifically. In 2035, he immerses himself in vintage clothes, “antique” furnishings, and “oldies” music (most of which is from the 80s). When a brilliant robotics scientist (James Cromwell) is killed, and a robot is the apparent suspect, Spooner is either the worst man for the job, or the best.

Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is the homicidal robot in question, and this murder investigation is immediately making waves. Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) is particularly motivated to cover up the crime. Robots are subject to 3 ironclad laws that should make harming a human impossible. Robertson’s company is about to inundate the market with robots for personal use. If the public gets whiff of this, it would destroy their appetite for keeping robots in their homes (understandably). So Robertson’s trying to put a lid on this thing, Spooner’s trying to blow the lid off it, and the hordes of robots are starting to feel more and more sinister.

I, Robot is inspired by the work of Isaac Asimov, a sci-fi writer with a curious and probing mind. He teases out the possibilities and then follows them to their logical, if uncomfortable conclusion. The movie is full of flashy embellishments that of course already look dated. 2004’s vision of 2035 already looks pretty shitty to us folk in 2019. Its original script (then called Hardwired) was a lot more Asimov, but once Will Smith came on board, it was quickly converted into yet another summer blockbuster in which Smith saves the world – with jokes inserted that even Will Smith found dubious. Anyway, it’s been robbed of the subversive Asimov element and turned into 96% action and 4% sci-fi, which, for the record, is officially the saddest ratio in the world. It’s like director Alex Proyas shoved in so many self-driving cars and futuristic guns that the brain just fell out. No room at the inn for critical thought or Important Questions or lingering doubt. Just expensive destruction and robots with unnerving eyes.

It’s not just the role Will Smith was born to play, it’s the role Will Smith has already played literally half a dozen times. He’s quite good at it – the chip on the shoulder, the slow-motion last minute saves. It’s rote, but it has a nice gloss on it. Nobody’s bothering to dig underneath the surface in this film, but it’s decent entertainment if you’re just looking for an excuse to shovel popcorn into face.

Fun Facts

The motorcycle that Smith rides in the movie is a 2004 MV Agusta F4-SPR, one of only 300 produced worldwide, capable of reaching in excess of 175 mph. He wrecked it during filming.

Will Wheaton and Emilion Estevez both tried out to play Sonny (the robot).

The most expensive CGI shot in the whole movie is when they digitally removed Will Smith’s penis from the shower scenes when producers suddenly got cold feet.

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

In The Royal Tenenbaums, Eli Cash, played by Owen Wilson, writes a book and describes it thusly: “Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t.” It’s a great line. It kills me. And Owen Wilson passes it off so well.

Quentin Tarantino seems to have had a similar bug up his bum when he wrote Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood.

This review is a little…late, and while, yes, we were happily at the cottage when it came out, we have not been in a hurry to see it since we got home either, and in fact only saw it this past weekend because it was playing in the right time slot. Had Dora been playing at that time, I would have happily-ish seen that instead. The truth is, I’m kind of over Quentin Tarantino. I just don’t feel like racism is the price I want to pay to see his films. $12? Fine. Gratuitous use of the n-word? No thanks.

And while it’s impossible to say this film is racism-free (it isn’t), it’s not the film’s biggest problem. Sean and I just found it…boring.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a washed up TV star struggling to stay relevant. Dalton is a fictional amalgam of several stars of that era. He was a big star on a western television series a decade ago but now he’s lucky to guest star as the heavy on single, sporadic episodes. He drowns his sorrows in a pitcher of whiskey sours. His one time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is now mostly his driver…and sometime handyman. He seems pretty content with his lot, his laid-back surfer dude persona disguising his continued ability to kick some serious ass.

Rick Dalton just happens to be living slightly beyond his means next to Roman Polanski in the Benedict Canyon neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Polanski is off filming a movie, leaving behind his 8 months pregnant wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and several houseguests…including the man who continued to love her despite her recent marriage to someone else, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

Sharon Tate bops around town while Quentin Tarantino fixates on her legs…and eventually, her dirty feet. Margot Robbie is the picture of youth and health and vitality and promise. But other than as a symbol, she has little to do in the movie. She was few lines and little screen time. Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood is only tangentially about the Manson Family murders. It’s mostly Tarantino’s love letter to old Hollywood, and in that respect, it’s a good one. There’s lots of period cars and neon lights and references to old-timey movies and actors (Damian Lewis appears as Steve McQueen). But the movie acts mostly as a vehicle for DiCaprio and Pitt, indulging in lengthy scenes that are great testaments to their acting abilities…but don’t really serve a greater story. One flashback scene is so long and absorbing, Sean literally forgot it was a flashback scene, and then the story just spits us back out where we belong – it’s interesting, sure, but it corroborates a single, throw-away detail, which makes it totally irrelevant. This film is 161 minutes long…it didn’t exactly need any padding. I would normally suggest the story needed some good editing, but I think the real problem is that Tarantino isn’t sure exactly where the story is. He’s got a series of good ideas but no cohesive narrative into which he can plug them.

DiCaprio and Pitt are acting their little tushies off though. Pitt in particular. He steals every scene he’s in. When he, a 55 year old man, takes off his shirt, revealing an extremely fit physique, it earns whistles and applause in nearly every theatre it screens in. Arguably, old man abs are not exactly acting…but he backs them up charm and dynamism.

This puzzle had many attractive pieces. But some puzzles, when you finish them, you spackle them with glue to frame and hang on your wall. Others you merely break apart and put back into the box…where it will collect dust until you sell it in a yard sale, usually at least one piece short. Once Upon A Time In…Hollwood is the second kind of puzzle. It’s fine. It’s just not great.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Remember when the Fast & Furious gang were street racers who dabbled in highway robbery? Because the franchise’s writers seem to have totally forgotten. The street races are long gone, replaced with international espionage, world-devastating weapons, and an ever-growing cast of action heroes.

Two of those additional action heroes, Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), are now spinning off from the main storyline and saving the world without any help from the rest of the franchise’s former street racers. This time, Idris Elba plays the unstoppable cyborg bad guy who’s racing against Hobbs and Shaw to track down a supervirus that Shaw’s superspy sister (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with. Luckily, the supervirus takes 72 hours to take effect, giving Hobbs and Shaw a chance to find a way to extract it…if only they could put aside their differences and find a way to work together.

Of course Hobbs and Shaw will find a way to work together, but it takes longer than you’d expect. Probably because Vin Diesel isn’t around to remind everyone that they’re family.  That’s Hobbs & Shaw in a nutshell: a very competent (though brainless) action movie that more than anything will make you miss Diesel and the rest of his Fast & Furious family.

No matter how many explosions or dune buggies are involved in a showdown with the villain’s helicopter, Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t measure up to the other instalments in this franchise. At best, it’s a teaser trailer for Fast & Furious 9, but the energy that went into Hobbs & Shaw probably would have been better spent on something involving the whole crew. Because when it comes to big, dumb action films, bigger is better, and that’s a lesson I thought this franchise had learned a long time ago.

 

Good Boys

Eleven is such a precious age. You’re straddling the cusp of childhood and adolescence. You’re feeling big in your britches but the world’s still treating you like you’re a little kid.

I remember going to Denny’s once, and the waitress brought me one of those paper kid’s menu-placemat hybrids with 3 crayons so I could choose between the grilled cheese or the chicken nuggets. I was insulted. Beyond insulted. The kid’s menu was for 12 and under and I was 9. Nine! Practically a grown-ass woman, I thought. How dare she. I have never been back to a Denny’s. That’s a true story. I hold a grudge. The point being, those tween years are tough. They didn’t even call us tweens back when I was a tween. In fact, my little sister gave me a homemade card calling me a “teeny bopper” which makes it sound like I grew up in the 1950s – actually, that’s just a word she got from my grandfather, but it stuck. I didn’t care much for that either, but surprisingly, I still speak to both my sister and my grandfather, though I do sometimes still harbour dark doubts that they deserve it.

Max (Jacob Tremblay) is the undisputed leader of the bean bag boys, a trio including golden-voiced Thor (Brady Noon) and nervous nelly Lucas (Keith L. Williams). They have just unlocked the most coveted of achievements: they’ve secured an invitation to cool kid Soren’s (Izaac Wang) party, a kissing party with girls and everything. None of them know how to kiss, which is a problem, but not insurmountable. Between the 3 of them, they come up with quite a plan for learning how, but their brilliant plan falls apart when they lose Max’s dad’s work drone to a couple of teenage girls, then steal their drugs in retaliation, then spend the rest of the movie in an epic quest to make things right.

I loved the characters from the start. The script really captures the line they’re straddling between youth and adulthood. The kids are just beginning to think about sex but haven’t got a clue. They talk big and swear hard, but their innocence is always quite apparent. As a grown-up, you just want to clasp your hands to your heart and declare them precious, but doing so would probably have them die of embarrassment. Oh lord it’s hard to be eleven.

All 3 kids are well-cast and have a great rapport. You believe them as a unit, even as they’re starting to realize that they may not be destined to be best friends forever as previously believed. The script is a magnet for vulgarity, and perhaps embraces it a little too heartily, but for all its gross-out humour, it has a lot of heart. I especially love how much the kids have internalized the concept of consent. It gives me hope. Good Boys reminded me of my own awkward transitional years, but mostly it made me think of my oldest nephew, who will turn 8 in a couple of weeks. I cradled him in my arms the day he was born, he peed on me while I gave him a bath, he’s clung to my neck when he had a booboo. But every day he’s getting bigger, and thinking more for himself, and growing apart from the very adults that he used to want nothing more than to play with on the living room floor. It’s nearly impossible for me to stop seeing him as a little guy, but since I’ve known him, all he wants to do is grow. I remember when his biggest goal in life was to weigh 40 lbs so he could go from car seat to booster seat. And then he wanted to be just tall enough to ride the Vortex water slide at the Great Wolf Lodge. Now he wants to be old enough to watch End Game. Meanwhile, who among us doesn’t occasionally wish we could hit pause? Have him stay cute and cuddly forever, sweet smelling and polite?

Good Boys made me laugh, but more than that, it made me smile.

Sextuplets

Skkrrrrrrrpppppt. Skkkkrrrrrrrppppppptt. Ssskkkkkkrrrrrrrrrrpppppppppptttt.

That’s the sound of Netflix scraping the bottom of the barrel. When they’re borrowing the very worst ideas from the 1990s, you know we’ve hit peak terrible. Insert: Marlon Wayans. Not to shit on Marlon Wayans exactly, but has anyone wondered what he’s been up to? No. Has anyone been clamoring to bring this dude back? Certainly not. But ever since Tyler Perry retired Medea, there’s been a hole left in cinema, a hole that perhaps should have been filled in quickly and never again spoken of, but Netflix has instead decided to jump right into it without consulting anyone. Marlon Wayans, aka, the poor man’s Tyler Perry, didn’t need to be asked twice.

And that’s how you get a movie like Sextuplets, a movie that makes you wish for Adam Sandler’s quality programming. It’s just Marlon Wayans playing 6 roles, each one nastier and more cliched than the last.

Alan (Wayans) is expecting a baby with his wife. She comes from a good family who are concerned that he brings little to the table, “generationally” since he grew up in the foster system. It seems a weird thing to get uppity about, an indefensible thing, but the whole movie hinges on Alan really taking it to heart, so he does. And even though his wife is 8.75 months pregnant, he goes off on a road trip to find his birth mother.

And you might want to sit down for this, but *spoiler alert* he instead finds 5 siblings. And each sibling is just Marlon Wayans doing an uncomfortable caricature. Lots of fat suits involved, which are of course cringe-worthy, but even when he runs out of fat suits (male AND female), he only gets more offensive. So brace yourself. And even though his White Chicks self must have been yearning for a little white face, the closest he gets is with a “ninger” and you know I am NOT going to define that for you, but I will let your wildest imagination scold him for even thinking it up. Ugh.

Sextuplets is like a black hole of laughter. I was mad less than 90 seconds in, and he hadn’t donned a single derogatory costume yet. His performances get more and more wild as he desperately searches for a laugh but the truth is, all he hits are sour notes. It’s ugly.