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.

Please Stand By

Wendy went to live in a group home when her sister got pregnant. Wendy (Dakota Fanning) has never been allowed to meet her baby niece for fear of her (autistic) tantrums, but under Scottie’s (Toni Collette) care, she’s doing much better. They work on routines, sustained eye contact, and interpreting emotion. Wendy lives by the rules she carefully writes down in the notebook around her neck. She has a job at Cinnabon, a pet dog, and a penchant for speed-knitting sweaters for said dog – Pete, a chihuahua. In her spare time, she has written a 400+ page manuscript, a Star Trek episode. She’s a fan of the show and a particular fan of Spock’s, a dude whose half-Vulcan blood means he too has trouble understanding human emotion.

A visit with her sister (Alice Eve) that’s meant to be celebratory turns sour when Audrey MV5BMmQ5MzJlNmItNzg3MC00MTZjLTkwNTUtYzllOTdlZGM4ZjdhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQxNzUzNzQ@._V1_has again not brought baby Ruby, and hints that she may be selling the family home and moving away. A meltdown seems imminent, but Wendy is fixated on her script, and getting it to Paramount Pictures on time for a contest. When she’s mysteriously not in her bed the next morning – well, let’s just say it’s not much of a mystery.

I love Toni Collette and she’s faultless in this, but it’s not her movie. It belongs to Dakota Fanning, who is Dakota Fantastic. Her portrayal may not be 100% authentic to autism, and could never be representative of everyone’s experience, the material is revived by using Star Trek as a tool for talking about her challenges. Dream sequences serve to reinforce this.

The story is slight but the heart is big. I really enjoyed Please Stand By, its attempt to show a different kind of coming-of-age, its commitment to keeping things light and fun but true. In an age where super heroes overcome astronomical, impossible, unbelievable things in at least 3 different acts of each movie, it’s refreshing to see a young woman overcome such humble obstacles and know that they mean so much more.

 

 

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The Grinch

The original, made-for-TV How The Grinch Stole Christmas! will always be the version that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s as old as my mother, and like her, it’s a classic. That’s the one I’ll always need to rewatch. But I can see how 2018’s The Grinch will be a favourite for kids in the years to come.

It’s a safe retelling, sticking fairly closely to the original story, with a few embellishments here and there to puff it out to 86 minutes. The Grinch is a mean, green dude who lives in a cave with no one for company but his faithful dog, Max – and that’s the way he likes it. In the town down below, however, the Whos of Whoville are a happy, joyful people, who eagerly and lavishly celebrate the holiday The Grinch most despises: Christmas.

Whoville is an orgy of colour and action. Imaginative details abound – from the mouse skating by on candy cane skates, to the machine that cleverly collects snow MV5BNjJhYmE0NGYtOThhMC00ZGIwLWExNDUtZmU3NWI3NmNlNmViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjgxNTQwNw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_and poops out snowballs for the trail of excited children behind it. The animators have outdone themselves drenching everything in lights and tinsel and Christmas cheer. The Grinch himself looks better than ever, his green fluffiness rendered hair by hair. And Max, half companion, half servant, all wonder dog, has fantastic and recognizable doggy traits.

A couple of noticeable differences: The Grinch doesn’t seem to be entirely bad, even while still misunderstood. He can be quite sweet to his pal Max, and he’s compassionate with new addition Fred, a rubinesque reindeer, dopey with good intentions. And The Grinch’s “nemesis” Cindy Lou Who is now the adventurous daughter of a hardworking single mother, a detail that helps move this timeless story into this century. I didn’t mind any of the new stuff, but I did miss just a few details from the original film, which I know and love so well.

A lot of the voicework was fantastic: Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, and especially Kenan Thompson. Nothing against Benedict Cumberbatch but I found him terribly mis(voice)cast as The Grinch. And I found it baffling that they hired him only to make him do an American accent – he might have sounded better in his own voice. Ah well.

All in all, kids will love this movie. I know this for sure because my theatre was filled to the brim with some sort of organization’s boatload of kids. Their joy and mirth brought an extra layer of fun to the screening – not to mention squeals like “He’s naked!” followed by every single kid dissolving into giggles, the sound of which is sure to grow anyone’s heart by two to three sizes at least.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is actually 6 distinct stories. The first one opens in spectacular fashion, Buster(Tim Blake Nelson) mounted on his horse, strumming his guitar, his pleasing singing voice echoing off the mountains around him. When he rides into town, he lives up to the second part of his illustrious reputation: he’s the best gun slinger in town. And indeed. no matter how jaded a western, shoot em up, action hero connoisseur you are, Buster has some moves that will impress you. This opening vignette sets such a strong tone, and an enjoyable one, that its abrupt shift left me confused and grief-stricken, and maybe even bored.

We turned the movie off halfway through. But that opening part really stayed with me. It did such a good job establishing the movie as one to watch that  I succumbed to the MV5BMjQwNDI4MTA3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQ1OTEzNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,960_AL_pressure and made attempt #2 the next night. I rewound to the beginning and what I found was: yes, the switch between the first and second chapter is brusque, and because for me unexpected, I had lost interest when I failed to keep up. In this second portion, James Franco is a bank robber who gets the ultimate sentence for his crime. Our first extended look at his face is perhaps one of the most striking portraits of a man I’ve ever seen on film. The editing is astonishingly economical: the story is told not so much quickly as efficiently. But during my second watch, with all guns firing, not only was I less confused, I was incredibly impressed.

Joel and Ethan Cohen know what the hell they’re doing. If their movie isn’t speaking to me, I should damn well know that it isn’t their failing as writer-directors, but mine as a viewer. Subsequent chapters star the likes of Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and Zoe Kazan. They all tell their own stories about brutal and unforgiving life in the Old West.

The Coen Brothers have been at this a long time yet they’ve still got the ability to surprise. Their brevity inspires them to experiment in yet more ways, crafting stories that are compelling exhibitions of their dark humour and signature style. Did I like this movie? No. I fecking loved it. It took me two tries to get there mind you, but it was fecking worth it.

The Death of Stalin

You know that feeling when everyone’s on a band wagon, and it looks like a nice wagon, it probably has bales of hay and ribbons and shit, maybe even a thermos of hot cocoa nestled in there somewhere. A damn nice wagon, and all  your friends are on it, everyone you like and respect. And you’re just standing on the side of the road like a dummie, waving at the wagon that probably has speakers blasting cool music and everyone’s got spiked punch and they’re whispering juicy secrets to each other, the kind that make them raise their eyebrows. But you’re not on the wagon. The wagon’s having its wagon parade without you. You are a lonely loser, unworthy of wagons.

Anyway, this is what it feels like to be me today. And by today I mean for the past month, ever since I watched the movie everyone’s been talking about it, and didn’t like it.

MV5BNWI0MjZkN2EtMTE5MS00MDYxLWE1ZDAtOTMwYTY2YjI1OTI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_It’s 1953 and the awful dictator Stalin has just died unexpectedly, and left quite a stain on a very nice rug. All of his cronies spring into action, each filled with fantasies of how he might benefit from the situation. Most bypass grief or even basic respect and go straight to power mongering.

It’s supposed to be this wonderful, hilarious political farce. It stars Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, and Jason Isaacs, among many, many more. Big titles, small men. And everyone was raving about it!  And the thing is, I wasn’t bored by it, I just wasn’t entertained by it. So I feel like I failed. For some reason (perhaps its 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes), I can’t dismiss it, can’t find fault in the movie. Instead I’m blaming myself for being a bad movie watcher (distracted? grumpy? too obtuse to appreciate the humour?) and I’d resolved to simply not write about it so that no one would know my secret shame. No one could look down on my from atop that rockin’ wagon and point their judgy little fingers at the lame movie reviewer who couldn’t get her shit together.

So there it is: apparently a very good movie that I was not very good at enjoying. This is not the first populist movie I’ve failed to love, and it likely won’t be the last. Possibly you’ve got a movie or two housed among the skeletons in your closet. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to reveal yourself (no, please do, please confess your movie sins!) but I’m thinking of starting up my own little reject wagon, possibly more like one of those little red flyer ones, with tinsel on it, or streamers. Not too festive of course, but not totally oozing with shame either. A recovery wagon, for losers like me, losers like us, who occasionally just hate the fuck out of movies for no reason.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

For the life of me I cannot get the title of this movie right.  I’m so used to Wreck-It Ralph wrecking stuff, not breaking it.  So I’m trying to adjust to this relatively small change, but it’s been tough, and that must mean I’m getting old.

In related news, my knee started hurting this week for no reason at all.  Granted, it worked out just fine because I used my knee pain as a convenient excuse to storalph-breaks-the-internet5p cleaning the kitchen and start playing Red Dead Redemption 2, but still.  Making me feel even older is that I just learned it has been six full years since Wreck-It Ralph was released and I never would have guessed it had been so long.

Just like in the real world, six years have passed for Ralph (John C. Reilly), Princess Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and the rest of the gaming gang, who have all settled into comfortable routines inside Litwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade.  Sure, the routine may be a little boring, but Ralph is happy with his predictable days and nights, wrecking (sorry, breaking) Fix-It Felix’s building by day, and hanging out with Vanellope at night.  Vanellope, on the other hand, feels trapped by her routine, having mastered the three available race tracks in her game.  When Ralph tries to alleviate Vanellope’s boredom by building a new track, things get both wrecked and broken, and Ralph and Vanellope are forced to explore the arcade’s newly-installed internet in search of a new steering wheel for Vanellope’s game.

Of all the things in the world besides my knee (which is feeling much better, thanks for asking, though if Jay asks tell her I need a few more days off to fully recover), there is probably nothing that makes me feel older than not knowing any of the memes that have come out in the last decade, except for the select few that Jay has taught me about after realizing I had no idea that (insert hilarious meme) was a thing.  And, as you may have guessed, there are a lot of memes referenced in Ralph Breaks the Internet.  The nice thing is, I felt like Ralph (with some minor help from the creative team) went out of his way to ensure I didn’t feel old for not knowing that (bee puns) were a thing.  Ralph simply made me laugh at his bee pun, and at all of his aprincesses4ttempts to help Vanellope get her new steering wheel.

Ralph’s antics would have made for a decent sequel just on their own, but Ralph wasn’t alone.  Every one of the supporting players in Ralph Breaks the Internet make their own contribution to the comedy.   I was particularly impressed at how the Disney princesses were incorporated, not (just) as a shameless product placement but as a way to teach Vanellope about her hidden princess talents.

The only criticism I might make is that the movie probably included a few too many characters and references, and ends up a bit long as a result.   But don’t ask me what I would have cut out, because everything that’s here is consistently good and often great.  Ralph Breaks the Internet is a very clever and accessible comedy that will provide plenty of laughs for everyone, regardless of age and regardless of whether you’ve ever heard of a screaming goat.  What a wonderfully comforting thing that is (the accessible comedy, not the goat’s screams).  It made me feel young again, a feeling that should last until my next random ache.  Meaning I may need to see this one again very soon.

 

Instant Family

Ellie and Pete are happily married and finally starting to make a profit flipping houses. They seem content, but an offhand comment has them reevaluating their future. Are they really that couple who will never have children?  Ellie (Rose Byrne) feels ready to be a mom, but Pete (Mark Wahlberg) worries he’ll be an “old dad.” That’s how they come to consider adoption – it’s not altruism or idealism, it’s a solution to a problem: older kids need homes too, and adopting them is kind of like making up for a few lost years.

Pete and Ellie take a fostering class, where the teachers (a very hilarious Octavia MV5BOWZlNDE0ZTItZjViZC00YjI5LWFiYTItNDgwMzc3MjViZThkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Spencer, and the always hilarious Tig Notaro, playing her straight(ish) woman) let their students know that they’re in for some VERY hard work. Ellie and Pete end up fostering (with the hope to adopt) not one but three siblings, the oldest of whom is a dreaded teenager. And it turns out that ‘hard work’ is putting it almost hysterically mildly. Parenting is hard. Foster parenting is the stuff movies are made of.

Writer-director Sean Anders wrote this script based on his own experience with adoption. It’s heart-warming and wholesome in a PG-13 way, the kind of way you almost instinctively want to dismiss or diminish. But the truth is, this movie exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. It’s funny, consistently funny, not uproariously, but good for lots of thigh slaps and chuckles (it netted a few tears from my corner as well).

Mark Wahlberg plays the exact same guy he does in all the rom-coms, and I suppose Rose Byrne does too, but she’s so much more magnetic and facile. Spencer and Notaro add a lot of light to the proceedings, as does Margo Martingale, although, when does she not?

This story is told rather conventionally, and Anders has no great directorial tricks up his sleeves. But when a script is doing its job as ably as this, you don’t need so much artifice. I’ve seen too many uneven comedies lately where the good jokes are buried under long stretches of monotony and under-cooked story. This, finally, is a script that’s been adequately work-shopped  before bringing it to the screen. The audience rewarded it not just with easy laughter, but with applause, and how often does that happen?

Dirty 30

Kate is reflecting on her life, as one tends to do on or around milestone birthdays. A string of no-good, very bad, choose-celibacy dates has left her a little dismayed.  Good thing she’s got two reliable best friends, Evie and Charlie, to walk her back from the ledge – particularly when her high school teacher mails her a letter she once wrote to her future 30 year old self. The letter brims with a conviction that rankles; 15 year old Kate never doubted that she’d have love and babies and professional success. She’s going to need both friends and about a gallon of wine to come back from those bounteous predictions. But it’s a chance encounter with an old high school rival that pushes Kate from sad to mad. And mad can be solved with tequila shots and a blowout party.

The party goes off the rails, as you knew it would. It’s peopled with old flames, new flames, current high school students, current high school teachers, and of course, eventually, the cops. It includes antics such as yoga-enabled keg stands, bubble baths, TPing, unhygienic body shots, dentistry, and juicy secrets. It’s got grossly misspelled tshirts and banners, and a cake that’s about 8 sizes too small. Mostly, though, this is a movie about Kate (Mamrie Hart) and her two besties, Evie (Grace Helbig) and Charlie (Hannah Hart). Their chemistry is good enough to make you miss your own best friends.And while you’ll understandably want to skip the rager, and the white russians (does anyone seriously drink those?), a couple of bottles of wine are always appropriate.

For my 30th, I was in New York City. I saw Wicked on Broadway, drank a couple of bottles of wine at a terrific Italian place, and had a carriage ride around Central Park. What did you do – or can you even remember?