Category Archives: Sucks ass

TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

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TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

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.

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.

UglyDolls

Uglyville is home to some fairly upbeat if misshapen dolls – they’re missing eyes or teeth or limbs – but most seem content. All but one doll, Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), who dreams of going to the “big world” and living with a child who will love her. She gets together a band of misfits (truly the only kind of band that CAN be assembled on this island of misfit toys by any other name), including Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), Wage (Wanda Sykes), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) and Uglydog (Pitbull), and together they stumble upon the Institute of Perfection, the last stop between the best dolls and their forever homes.

The Institute of Perfection is run by Lou (Nick Jonas), an alarmingly blonde-haired, blue eyed bastion of excellence. He gets all the beautiful dolls ready to run the gauntlet, the final hurdle to be cleared before being placed in a home. Moxy and gang find these perfect dolls to be outwardly pretty but inwardly ugly – they soundly and definitively and in many cases quite cruelly reject Moxy and friends for looking different.

From the very first frame, you know where this film is headed. We’re teaching kids to embrace differences and to accept imperfections. Sounds nice. But this movie takes an uncomfortably long time getting there and goes through too many catchy songs about the importance of beauty on the way. It makes you really start to sweat all the Hitler references.

In the end, the Uglydolls meet a perfect doll named Mandy (Janelle Monae) who (you may want to sit down for this) wears glasses. And through that hideous physical defect they’re able to bond and together they realize that not only is being weird okay, maybe it’s even possible for a kid to love you that way, in all your freaky glory.

UglyDolls plays like a watered down Toy Story, appealing to only the very youngest of children (my 5 year old and 7 year old nephews preferred to pick up live-action Dumbo over this for a recent car trip, but it was Sean’s recommendation of Shazam that really impressed, which meant we just spent 10 days sequestered in a cottage with kids who couldn’t go more than 5 minutes without singing “Lightning with my hands! Lightning with my hands!” and requesting this new band they’ve just been introduced to through the movie – Queen). Its fuzzy feltness and bouquet of primary colours should serve as a warning that this movie is nothing but saccharine and if you have any other requirements from a film then this one is not for you.

 

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel has robots, cyborgs, martians, floating cities, subterranean caves, hyperviolent arena sports, space battles, and an all-seeing immortal dictator pulling the strings behind the scenes.  And somehow, it manages to make all that stuff boring.  Like a three-handed guitar player (and make no mistake, Alita includes a three handed guitar player), Alita: Battle Angel is far less than the sum of its parts.

MV5BODMzMjlmZTYtOGU2NS00NGM2LWI4ZDItNzQzYTYwNDA2ZmU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXRzdGFzaWVr._V1_CR21,0,939,528_AL_UY268_CR10,0,477,268_AL_The titular Alita (the Battle Angel, as it were) is found by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) in an Iron City garbage heap. Well, Alita’s head and shoulders are, but the rest of her body is missing. Turns out, Alita is a 300 year old cyborg from before the “Fall” and Dr. Ido really easily brings her back to “life”. Like, it’s no trouble whatsoever for him to reboot her, and you might wonder why no one else has tried for the last 300 years.  But don’t, because if you start asking questions like that about this movie, you will never be able to stop.  Trust me.

We come to learn that in Alita the “Fall”  was a war between martians and Earth’s floating cities, rather than a name for the second worst season (anyone who thinks fall is worse than winter has never lived through a real winter), or an elevator between Australia and post-Brexit London (doesn’t it seem like Boris Johnson’s plan for Brexit might be to build that stupid elevator from the worse Total Recall? But I guess that makes sense when Donald Trump seems to have already ripped off the Mars colony part from the also-not-great original).

The only floating city that didn’t fall happens to be the one directly over Iron City, and oh yeah, Alita was found in the garbage falling from that floating city, and oh yeah, somehow after 300 years she still is in great condition without her body even though if any other cyborgs in this movie lose a finger they instantly die (except where screaming would add dramatic effect). Also, the only way to get to the floating city, obviously the home of the immortal dictator guy (Edward Norton!?! I had no idea he was even in this but of course Jay spotted him right away), is to win the Motorball championship (like a White House visit, I guess), but there is infinitely more political commentary in the previous two paragraphs of this review than in the whole of Alita. That’s probably for the better, considering how brainless this James Cameron script is. This was the best he could do after working on it for TWO DECADES?

There’s more back story and then some Matrix-lite fight scenes with a lot of cyborg spines and blue goo, but at this point I hope you are realizing that it doesn’t matter because it is all really stupid and you should avoid this movie at all costs. Some of the cyborgs might be kind of cool I guess but when Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali and Edward Norton clearly can’t be bothered with this movie, why should you?

Better Off Dead

Random thoughts while watching the 1985 John Cusack film, Better Off Dead

  1. How fragile was glass in the 80s that a single newspaper issue could punch a hole right through it?
  2. Lane (Cusack) showers with his (mismatched) tube socks on. And then he blow dries them. Because why?
  3. How is it that, in a very normal suburban home, a teenage boy has been granted an entire room to use as his personal closet? Especially considering said boy is the same one who showers with his socks on. Not exactly the height of sophistication.
  4. Clearly the dad is supposed to be the bad guy. He’s so grumpy! But really: his garage door is full of holes, one kid is systematically ruining his breakfast while the other has left an eyesore dragging in the driveway for months. I must be old, because now I’m feeling sorry for the dad!
  5. Lane and his girlfriend Beth have 8×10 framed photos of each other in their bedrooms. But why do the teenagers all have large, black and white head shots of themselves?
  6. Did he just attempt to street race someone blindfolded??? OF COURSE the guy he hit was mad! We’re supposed to excuse him or something? Lane is a horrible human being! I don’t know if HE’s better off dead, but I’m starting to suspect that everyone else would be (better off without him, that is).

7. Why does everything the mom makes turn out green?

8. I’m not sure which is more disturbing: that the almost 8 year old, cereal loving little brother has leopard print loungewear, or that he seems to be retrofitting toys into real weapons.

9. The script is so bad, Lane has to constantly narrate his stream of consciousness out loud so we know how deeply saddened by his girlfriend of 6 whole months (the aforementioned Beth) dumping him for the hunky new ski fiend. As if the suicide attempts weren’t doing it for us.

10. The paperboy is such a little punk. But do you remember paper boys? And the little card that you’d keep track of, that they’d hole punch each week that you paid. But they’d ring the bell at random times, and always claimed you owed for 5 weeks, which somehow came up to $2.60, but of course you never had it? What a weird time in human history that that was how we got our news.

11. You know how you get up in class to solve an algebra problem at the board but then just stand there fantasizing about the night you lost your virginity in a station wagon (which is only slightly better than losing it TO a station wagon)? Yeah. No.

12. So Lane attempts to take up roller skating to impress a girl (white guys, amirite?) and somehow manages to accidentally tear all the clothes off a cheerleader, who just happens to be wearing a matching set of lingerie under her uniform. As teenager girls do. Obviously.

13. Lane skis in a variety of Bill Cosby sweaters which makes no sense. But still makes slightly more sense than his buddy who complains about not being able to get real drugs in this small town, and yet he somehow procured a top hat in which to ski.

14. Three suicide attempts later, the movie has made 0 mentions of mental health, and Lane’s parents address the situation by a) telling him to “mellow off” and b) forcing him to go on a date with a girl of their choosing against his will. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are that this method of treatment seems to have not really caught on.

15. Did any of your high school dances have live bands?

16. There’s a claymation interlude of a hamburger singing Van Halen’s Everybody Wants Some. It is very bad but still a welcome break in the actual movie.

17. I can’t believe that a French teenager came all the way to America for an exchange semester, and in her 2 allotted suitcases for 6 months, she packed a coverall. Suspicious.

18. Oh he’s legit going to try to seduce her with a saxophone? A SAXOPHONE IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR, LANE.

19. They take turns skiing under each other’s crotches. Can this possibly be interpreted as romantic?

20. In what I can assure you is an extremely lame showdown, Lane proposes a ski-off to his bully. And despite being the vastly inferior skier, AND having only one ski, AND being relentlessly pursued by the paperboy, he somehow wins. Somehow.

21. But that’s not even half as lame as when he uses the poles to duel his loser neighbour, and then throws the french exchange student over his shoulder when he wins her. Ahem.

22. And then he parks his Camaro on a baseball diamond and makes out with her??? Ladies and gentlemen: peak American obnoxiousness.

23. John Cusack has only ever seen the first 20 minutes of this movie because he walked out, embarrassed and furious at the director. I watched all 97, but can assure you that even 20 is too many.