Category Archives: Half-assed

TIFF19: The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers is about 3 generations of a family spending a holiday at their summer home. The matriarch is contemplating the house, which angers at least one son and pits the siblings against each other. But it is a daughter-in-law, Luisa (Érica Rivas) who has it worst.

Luisa doesn’t want to be there. Unhappy in her marriage, she vents her frustrations to a brother-in-law rather than her husband. There is not enough space in the house for a relationship that’s falling apart. But most of all she’s worried about her daughter, Ana (Ornella D’elía), who is young enough to be getting her first blood, but looks considerably older. She’s already caught the attention of an estranged cousin, Alejo (Rafael Federman), recently resurfaced and apparently without boundaries. Even more concerning, Ana is a sleepwalker like her father. She has recently been discovered sleepwalking nude in her own home, and her mother is understandably concerned about what this may mean in a strange house full of people. But Ana doesn’t take kindly to restrictions, and her moody temperament causes her to lash out at her protective mother, and question just which one of them is truly sleepwalking through her life.

Director Paula Hernández has something to say about the pressure and position of women in the family, but for me it was obscured by camera work that literally made me sick. Almost always, only one main character would be in focus, while everyone else had constant blur. At first it was merely frustrating but after 107 minutes it made me physically uncomfortable – sick. And that’s unfortunate because there were some good bits, some very interesting stuff to be examined, but I felt unable to truly concentrate on it. Perhaps, by taking away my choice in what to look at or concentrate on, Hernández wants to put me in the shoes of a young, stymied woman. But that just makes me feel like she doesn’t trust enough in her script. It left me feeling angry and frustrated and ready to bolt. The two lead female characters keep looking for safe space to unleash, to vent, but I felt denied that myself. I never had the space to orient myself or digest what was happening. I felt like a horse with blinders on.

Luisa and Ana are going through some tense and important times. Their performances are good, restrained, even. Hernández makes their inner turmoil obvious without being obvious. I just wish she could do it without creating so much in me.

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TIFF19: Hustlers

It’s hard out there for a ho.  You’ve got to be a certain kind of broke, maybe a certain kind of desperate, to take to the pole.  When Dorothy (Constance Wu) a.k.a. “Destiny” does it, she’s saving her Nana from debt.  She makes money but not loads – the club takes a big cut, and maybe she’s just not that good.  So call it Dorothy’s lucky day when stripper extraordinaire Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) takes Destiny under her wing.

Ramona makes it rain.  Er, well, money rains down hard on her.  The stage is coated so thickly in cash it looks like it’s been blanketed in snow.  After rolling around in it, Ramona clutches the bills to her like it’s fur.  Ramona IS money.  But then the recession hits, and with Wall Street hit hard, the strip club’s big spenders disappear.

hustlers_0HERO-ForWebsiteONLYThat’s when Destiny and Ramona make a little luck of their own.  Both single mothers, they are struck with the entrepreneurial spirit.  Sex, money, drugs – they’re a match made in heaven.  Or in a gentlemen’s club.  Where the men are ANYTHING but gentlemen.

You can try to extrapolate themes of…friendship, greed, revenge?  Sure.  Let’s call it a rebellion where the poor and disenfranchised rise up against the rich, entitled assholes.  But the truth is, the film is rather light on theme but heavy on girl-on-girl action.  Lots of skimpy costumes that mostly just consist of strings with which to cling dollar bills to glitter-streaked bodies.  There’s lots of booty shaking and titty popping and hip gyrating and pole humping.  Which, let’s face it, is what the people want.  On that score, you couldn’t possibly be disappointed.

Is it hard to root for the protagonists?  Absolutely.  Is it even harder to feel sorry for their victims?  Darn tootin’.  Is it morally murky?  Of course.  It’s a movie about strippers who want more and get it.

Should we bother objectifying the women?  Let’s not.  Jennifer Lopez: you’ve seen her.  She’s amazing.  And she’s 50.  That woman works the pole like her thighs are made of margarine.  So while this isn’t the most fervent review of Hustlers, it’s a 1000% endorsement of J-Lo’s fitness regimen.

TIFF19: Greed

Have we made Steve Coogan an honourary asshole yet?  He’s at his best playing someone despicable, and they don’t come more despicable than retail fashion billionaires, who’ve “earned” their fortunes by exploiting third-world workers and the “rules” of corporate governance.  Coogan’s character, Richard McCreadie, is not a real person but is clearly inspired by the owners of Zara and H&M, both of which are running the same scheme in the real world as McCreadie does onscreen.

Having come under some scrutiny for his business practices (though not as much as he deserves), McCreadie hopes to gain some more favourable press by throwing an extravagant 60th birthday party for himself, shelling out for numerous celebrities to attend, and building a plywood colosseum in which a rented lion and McCreadie’s aides will put on a spectacle worthy of Caesar.  It is all too real, this game of distraction that McCreadie plays, and having gladiator games as entertainment sets up a good parallel between the ancient Roman slaves who died in service of their emperor and the factory workers who are suffering in service of McCreadie’s business empire.

greed_0HEROGreed’s comedic and satirical elements work well, with Coogan ably and expertly leading the way.   I am sure Coogan could play this role in his sleep but he’s not phoning it in at any point.  He clearly relishes the chance to play this type of character and he delivers a wonderfully over-the-top take on a selfish billionaire (though really, is there any other kind?).

But outside of the scenes featuring Coogan, Greed seems to lose its way.  It felt like Greed was too ambitious. In addition to the party scenes, Greed also shows McCreadie’s early days, both in private school and as he first sets up his business, factory scenes that are filmed documentary-style at real locations featuring real workers,  and a large number of side stories involving McCreadie’s ex-wife (Isla Fisher), their three kids (Asa Butterfield among them), McCreadie’s biographer (David Mitchell), and one of McCreadie’s top staff (Sarah Solemani).  There’s just too much going on, and it seems impossible for one movie to combine so many disparate parts  into a cohesive whole.

Undoubtedly, Greed’s failure in that regard is due to Michael Winterbottom having too much to say about the increasing divide between the rich and the poor, and it’s hard to fault him for being so ambitious.  But I have to think Greed would have been more effective, both in delivering its important message and in delivering its comedy, if it had taken a more focused approach and left a few side stories (including the story featuring McCreadie’s younger self) on the cutting room floor.

TIFF19: Human Capital

Drew is an ex-gambler who has borrowed money he doesn’t have to invest in a hedge fund. When it tanks, he’s pretty desperate, with bills piling up and not one but two babies on the way. Drew (Liev Schrieber) also happens to be the father of a teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), who is dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger).

Jamie’s parents are rich, which gives Drew a lot of envy. humancapital_0hero-hr__1_2Jamie’s dad, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) just happens to be the manager of that hedge fund I was talking about, and he’s super stressed, selling assets to stop the bleeding. He’s not a particularly nice guy, it probably goes without saying. His wife Karen (Marisa Tomei) is fairly pragmatic about their flawed marriage, but she cries a lot. She recently bought a theatre to renovate and run, but with the hedge fund having a coronary, she’s about to lose it.

Jamie and Shannon are actually recently broken up because Jamie is gay and Shannon has a new boyfriend, a bad boy with a record. But for now, both families are together for a high school fundraiser, after which there will be a hit-and-run, and one of them will be responsible.

Human Capital is a tale of guilt and innocence, and how much they’re worth, and to whom. It’s about greed and compromise. It’s based on a novel, and another movie besides, and ultimately fails to justify its own existence. It’s moderately interesting and the performances are fine, but there isn’t a single aspect of this movie that distinguishes itself. Even the whodunnit feels beside the point.

With nothing to uplift it, it may as well have stayed on the page.

Falling Inn Love

Netflix sees a swarm of streaming around Christmastime of those sappy, romantic holiday movies. It’s not a Netflix phenomenon by any means – those movies are all imported from poor-quality television channels that have low budgets and even lower standards. Generally, it shows, and generally, it doesn’t matter. But people are starting to wonder why the bump in ratings has to wait for Christmas. The Hallmark Channel recently hosted a Christmas in July. Netflix, on the other hand, is turning out non-Christmas movies that follow the same basic principle.

They’re cheesy as hell, but if you’re choosing to watch, you know what you’re getting, and you must like it. This particular one, though I have not yet forgiven it for the terrible pun in the title, is about a hard-working city-slicker named Gabriela (Christina Milian) who is going through a turbulent time of transition; in just a few days she loses her job and her boyfriend. But her luck’s not all bad: a “win an inn” contest she entered has borne fruit! So this San Franciscan packs her bags and heads to New Zealand to claim her praise.

The catch? The inn, though pristine in press photos, is derelict. The movie might have turned into a money pit situation were it not for a hot young widower carpenter, Jake (Adam Demos), who likes helping out beautiful Americans almost as much as he likes whipping off his shirt with little to no provocation.

Demos is actually Australian, not a New Zealander, but surprisingly, much of the other cast is in fact Kiwi, and the production seems to have actually filmed there.

Of course, the couple in question MUST start off on the wrong foot. Gabriela intends only to fix and flip the inn, and she’s obsessed with making everything eco-friendly, putting her at odds with Jake, who feels a special attachment to each and every one of the inn’s original fixtures, even the rotted, crumbly ones. But she keeps endearing herself to the locals and he, the handyman-cum-firefighter-cum-beekeeper remains tantalizingly unavailable, what with the tragic dead wife and all.

And then there’s the fun stuff, like the inn being haunted by a goat, and a rival innkeeper getting her knickers in a jealous twist, and controlling ex-boyfriends showing up unannounced. It’s not just renovation porn, but it is that too.

So if you like your romance uncomplicated, Netflix has your back.

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.