Category Archives: Sean

Rampage

dimsI didn’t know what to make of this movie after seeing the trailer but I had a bad feeling this would be one of those movies that Jay uses as leverage against me. But I knew I would drag her to anyway. You see, when I was a kid one of my favourite quarter-munching arcade games was Rampage, because it let me be Godzilla, smashing buildings, eating army guys, and grabbing helicopters out of the air. So when I did not realize this movie was based on that videogame until the title popped up at the very end of the trailer, I was more than a little skeptical.

After seeing the movie, I can confim my skepticism was totally warranted. Rampage is just another middling entry in the Rock’s mindless action movie portfolio. It’s not a standout as an action film generally, and not even noteworthy when compared to the Rock’s other action films. At least Rampage knows it’s dumb and has some fun at its own expense (a Rock specialty), and it actually feels quite a lot like the videogame once the action starts.

images (1)Where Rampage fails is that it takes FOREVER for the action to start, which is the worst thing a dumb action movie can do. That plodding pace is particularly egregious when the video game version is as light on exposition as anything ever made, while the movie wants to include a lentghy origin story for the monsters. I didn’t care how the monsters came to be (“radiation” has always been a good enough reason) and I definitely didn’t care to spend time with a sociopathic brother-sister team who made this DNA modifying thingamajig that fell from the sky. Three city-destroying monsters fighting the Rock would have been enough. No more was needed.

So Rampage manages to be too dumb for someone like Jay, who doesn’t like dumb action movies, and not dumb enough for someone like me, who just wanted to see an old mindless videogame become a new mindless blockbuster. If you liked the game you could do worse when Rampage is available on Netflix (but probably also do better), and if you didn’t know Rampage was a game until reading this review then you should probably skip this one altogether.

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Indian Horse

imagesThe residential school system is not the only black mark on our country but it has to be the darkest stain. We and our government could not have done worse by our indigenous people if we tried. We should have known from the start that this imperialistic plan would go horribly wrong. After all, we chose to put the Catholic Church in charge of many of these awful residential schools (and not just the Catholic Church, but a bunch of others share the blame, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada), because it wasn’t enough to tear children from their families and literally beat their culture out of them, it seemed appropriate for some reason to facilitate child molestation too, feeding 150,000 potential altar boys and girls to more than a few insatiable priests over the lifetime of the program. 150,000!

Not surprisingly, the end result of this utter disaster was the destruction of generations upon generations of indigenous people, something we cannot ever be ashamed of enough. And this is not something we can blame on our long-dead racist ancestors, since the last residential school did not close until 1996.  1996!

Indian Horse tells the story of one of those unfortunate kids who was sent to residential school, a boy named Saul Indian Horse. Saul happens to be a natural at hockey, quickly becoming the star of the school’s team. But for some reason, despite his hockey-playing prowess, Saul is clearly struggling to find his place. Could the reason for his struggles be that he and everyone he knew were subjected to horrific abuse every single day?

You don’t have to watch Indian Horse to learn that yes, all those years of abuse hurt Saul really, really badly. And you don’t have to watch Indian Horse to grasp that his story is just one of 150,000 about those who were directly and irreparably harmed by residential schools, not to mention the thousands more who were harmed just as badly by the loss of their family members to the schools, and not to mention the subsequent damage caused by attendees of the schools when, surprise, surprise, after being removed from their families and their culture as kids and abused by those who were supposed to take care of them, they were unable to even care for themselves, let alone their children, a cycle that we still haven’t been able to break. But you should watch Indian Horse anyway.

You should watch Indian Horse to remember that to the extent that Saul or any other survivor of residential schools fell short, it’s not for lack of will or effort on their part. It’s because the Canadian government, and by extension the white Canadian majority, failed them monumentally.  Indian Horse demonstrates our country’s massive failure clearly and effectively despite its shoestring budget, while at the same time paying tribute to the inner strength of one survivor who, but for his race, would have been a hockey-loving Canadian kid on his way to stardom.

So here’s to Saul and to each of his friends. I’m so sorry for what you had to suffer through, and I promise not to ever forget it or let anything like this ever happen again.  I know that’s not enough to right these wrongs and nothing ever will be.  But hopefully it is a step in the right direction after hundreds of years of horror. It is truly a shame that the Pope doesn’t feel that way, but hardly surprising the Catholic Church won’t acknowledge any of its wrongdoings – we’ve seen that movie already.

 

Roxanne Roxanne

Imagine your surprise when you issue a challenge to (rap) battle the Queensbridge Project’s champ, and she turns out to be a little girl. She has to ask her mom permission in order to curse and stand on a milk crate just to look you in the eye.

In 1982, at the age of 14, Lolita “Roxanne Shanté” Gooden is smart, fierce, and is still the most feared (if not respected) battle MC in Queens. She won’t get out of bed for less than $250, but those winnings are going to support her family. Her mother (Nia Long) is raising a family of sweet young girls all by herself, teaching them hard lessons because her own life is nothing but disappointment.

Watching Shanté (Chanté Adams) navigate the world is tough. She may spit rhymes to MV5BOTM0MzhmMjUtY2UxMy00MTQyLWJhMzItN2EzYWRjYmZjMThhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODY2NTE3MTM@._V1_destroy her competition, but she’s a kid, one who engages the audience’s protective instinct. You may or may not know Roxanne Shanté, but she was well on her way to becoming a hip hop legend before she finished high school (not that she ever went). This film doesn’t feel like a typical musical biopic. Instead it’s more of a character portrait, quite intimate, and quite focused on the day to day details, which is a nice window into her little-known private life, but not much of a door to the bigger picture. Luckily, director Michael Larnell’s emphasis favours the excellence of his cast.

Roxanne Roxanne is a testimony to all the people who wanted to take advantage of a rising star. And to the dark, gritty, violent experiences lived by women of colour, in and outside of the rap game. Some of the shittiest, most shocking things are mentioned so casually that you can hardly believe what you’re seeing. And with every beating and robbery Roxanne Shanté suffers, we know what she really bleeds is her creativity, the real theft is of her talent.

When this film debuted at Sundance, Chanté Adams was its breakout star. Now it’s available on Netflix, for you to relive the golden days of hip hop (which are actually quite black) and to pay tribute to one of its founding but forgotten stars.

 

SXSW: Prospect

prospect-126347Hard science fiction is a tough sell, especially cinematically. Soft sci-fi is far more exciting and eye-pleasing. It lets us hop around the galaxy at faster-than-light speed, meet aliens at every space station, and have luxury accommodations in the starships on which we’re travelling. Conversely, hard sci-fi travel is slow and cramped and space is largely empty. Prospect is a hard sci-fi movie that remains resolute in the face of the obstacles posed by its chosen genre, and by and large overcomes them.

Prospect’s aesthetic is reminicent of Alien and I’m sure that was intentional. Like in Alien, Prospect’s version of space travel is analogue, with lots of switches and dials and flashing lights. It’s also utilitarian with a wild-west feel, as space travelling prospectors hitch their “wagons” to a large transport on its last run to a forest moon, the site of a gold rush that seems to be coming to an end. We follow a father-daughter duo in search of one last score, with only a short window of time to get in and out before the transport leaves, as if they miss that ride they will be left to die on the poisonous moon.

Prospect does a great job at dropping clues about the way this world works, showing us the desperation and pressure felt by this working class family from nowhere, hinting at the boom and bust that has hit this moon and those who work it, and suggesting that the colonization of the universe has made humanity revert to a savage, lawless existence on the frontiers. If set in another era, this story would work perfectly as a western, and that seems fitting when our protagonists are travelling to the edge of the known universe to stake resource claims, hoping to strike it rich.

Despite its indie-movie budget constraints, Prospect manages to convincingly portray space travel and an alien world on the big screen. The special effects are not spectacular but they are effective. Prospect succeeds due to its excellence in world-building, both visually and narratively. While Prospect is definitely a niche film, it is one that science fiction fans will enjoy.

SXSW: Fast Color

fast-color-116514Julia Hart, the director and co-writer of Fast Color, almost had me fooled.  She introduced Fast Color to the SXSW crowd as a story about motherhood, and in a way that’s true.  Of course, in a way it is also true that the original Superman comics are about the experiences of Jewish immigrants.  I mention Superman because both Fast Color and Superman use superheroes to tell their stories, although the movies’ respective approaches to the genre are worlds apart.

Fast Color might be best described as a near-future quest for redemption, as Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to stay one step ahead of her pursuers in the harsh wasteland that the midwestern United States has become due to a prolonged drought. Plot-wise, that’s all you’re getting from me, so you’ll have to watch the film to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I hope one day we won’t need to make the case for inclusion, but since we’re not there yet, Fast Color is more proof that diversity in film generates powerful, original, thought-provoking movies. Fast Color possesses all those qualities and a big reason why is because it is a story about women told by women. It is the kind of movie that we need (and deserve) more of. It is the kind of movie that helps us see things from a different perspective and realize that we are made stronger, not weaker, by our differences.

Fast Color is yet another SXSW surprise, a movie that we lucked into by virtue of scheduling and one that I urge you to keep an eye out for. It does not currently have a release date but hopefully a strong SXSW showing will change that, as this is a movie that deserves to be seen.

SXSW: The Director and The Jedi

the-director-and-the-jedi-sxswWhen I was a kid, I had a behind-the-scenes book detailing how they filmed the space combat in Star Wars, and I loved it. I could think of nothing better than to get to play with the spaceship models and the huge Death Star set used for the climactic scene. I found it fascinating to see how the movie was made.

And though my book did not inspire me sufficiently to pursue a career in film, my story is not much different than one that Rian Johnson tells in The Director and The Jedi, or for that matter one that Barry Jenkins told in his amazing keynote speech here at SXSW a couple of days ago about filming Moonlight in the same projects where Jenkins grew up.  Peeks behind the scenes can inspire the next generation of filmmakers, and give birth to a dream that a kid might not otherwise know to have, because it’s not immediately obvious that for every actor there are ten creative people behind the scenes, designing sets, making costumes, and on and on. But beyond that, even for someone like me who’s made a career choice that is not film, it’s just really cool to see how a huge film like Star Wars: The Last Jedi gets made.

The Director and The Jedi spans the course of The Last Jedi’s creation and documentarian Anthony Wonke was clearly given full access to the production. In granting unfettered access to Wonke and his crew, Johnson seems to have been trying to pay it forward, and in doing so he’s given a huge gift to all Star Wars fans.

There are some really amazing moments captured in The Director and The Jedi, with a particular favourite of mine being the destruction of the Jedi library, especially seeing the creature designers lose their shit over meeting Frank Oz.  And really, who can blame them? After all, he’s probably the reason they got into that career, and maybe even the reason their jobs even exist!

Maybe, just maybe, one young Star Wars fan will be inspired by this film to become the next Rian Johnson or Barry Jenkins. But even if not, there will be something of interest in The Director and The Jedi for every kid who ever wanted to fly his or her own model X-Wing through the trench run.

SXSW: American Animals

american-animals-128159American Animals is billed as a true story, and I have no reason to doubt that claim. The problem for me is an ethical one. I don’t feel good about helping people profit from their illegal activities, because it feels I am encouaging them and others to repeat that behaviour. On a related note, I also don’t want to spend any time with people who commit crimes, get caught, and then sell their stories, because they give assholes a bad name.

The criminals we meet in American Animals are a little different than expected, because they were students when they committed their crimes. I’m not sure whether their status as privileged college kids makes them more sympathetic than the average criminal, or less. It is clear that these students were not in financial need, were not stealing to feed their families and were not trying to pay off a big gambling debt to a leg-breaking mob boss. They essentially do it for kicks and, actually, I’m now sure their circumstances make them much less sympathetic. No matter how charming they are, and the real people are very charming indeed (they all feature prominently in the film in a neat hybrid documentary choice), I kept hoping they would get what was coming to them.

What made this movie work anyway, and work well, was that the script doesn’t take sides. We are allowed to feel how we want about these guys, to make up our own minds, and interestingly, to decide which of them to believe when their stories told to writer-director Bart Layton conflict with each other (which is a running gag within the movie). I did not feel at any time that Layton cared whether I liked, hated, or was indifferent to the protagonists, and it helped immensely that this movie did not gloss over or minimize these criminals’ naivete and stupidity.

American Animals is a very stylish, humourous and original film that I recommend in spite of my general misgivings about the true crime genre. My only complaint is the film dragged a bit, as by the end I just wanted them to get caught already, but that may have arisen from my desire to see the characters punished rather than any flaw in the pacing.

The film is scheduled for release on June 1 so you will soon be able to check out (and harshly judge) these (American) assholes for yourself.

Ready Player One

ready-player-oneThere are very few immutable truths in this world, but here’s one: if you don’t like Steven Spielberg’s movies, then you don’t like movies. The brilliance of Ready Player One (and it is brilliant) is that it’s a Spielberg movie through and through, only because its source material references Spielberg repeatedly, the result is something exponentially more Spielberg than you could ever have though possible.  Ready Player One is a true blockbuster and a worthy addition to Spielberg’s list of classics.

All the references contained here, not just to Spielberg’s past work but to every pop culture thing ever, are essential for this movie to work, and Spielberg clearly knows it. Moreover, he embraces it without reservation. After all, the book (which should be read immediately by anyone between ages 30 and 50 who grew up playing videogames) is the perfect vessel for 80s nostalgia. The movie clearly is trying to top the book’s reference count, and it may have succeeded (the totals are way too high to accurately count).

What is great about the book remains great in the movie. And yet, the movie and book tell significantly different stories, which is greater still because there are all sorts of some amazing surprises to be found in the film even if you’ve read the book repeatedly. At tonight’s SXSW world premiere, Spielberg introduced the film by stating he approached it as pure fan service and his mission was to give the people in the seats exactly what they wanted, and I can confirm he accomplished exactly that. Oh, yes, that’s right, WE GOT TO WATCH READY PLAYER ONE WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG. It was every bit as mindblowing as it sounds.

Also mindblowing: one particular sequence in the movie that pays homage to a classic film (incidentally, it’s not an homage to a Spielberg film; rather, it’s to a film directed by someone who influenced Spielberg – and it’s not something that was in the book).  I do not think I am exaggerating to say it is one of the finest sequences that Spielberg has given us, which obviously is a big deal because we are talking about STEVEN FUCKING SPIELBERG. You will know this sequence when you see it, and as soon as you do you will want to immediately see it again. And again. And again.

That amazing sequence is a standout but it’s not alone. There are several other incredible set pieces in Ready Player One, containing some of the best visual effects we’ve ever seen. Of course, the effects are only window dressing. What makes the scenes so great is Spielberg. As the camera swerves and dodges, and as avatars fight monsters, drive cars through obstacle courses, and traverse epic battlefields by leaps and bounds, the viewer is never lost for a second, because we are being guided through the chaos by a master. I loved this movie and I bet you will too. I’m just sorry to have to wait two weeks before I can watch it again.

 

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Strangers 7-5-17-6620.dngI’ve avoided slasher flicks ever since I was 12 and the idea of Friday the 13th (which I’d never seen but had the plot recited to me on a canoe trip the previous summer) made me run in terror anytime I was alone in the woods at night. Since then, I’ve seen very, very few straight-up slashers (Halloween being a rare exception and a standout) because, honestly, they’re almost always really stupid. The Strangers: Prey at Night is a very good example of “really stupid”, and that is about the nicest thing I can say about it.

Since I really don’t care for this type of movie, I may be dead wrong, but I have always thought the appeal of these films can be distilled down to three basic elements:

  1. Clever kill sequences;
  2. The filmmaker toying with the audience’s expectations, delivering a humourous jolt when we think a scare is coming, or vice versa; and
  3. Seeing idiots get what is coming to them, namely being murdered in some kind of clever kill sequence.

Combine those elements with a memorable mass murderer and you’ve got a franchise on your hands!

The Strangers: Prey at Night has none of those things. Sure, the killers wear weird masks, but doesn’t almost every murderer? Otherwise, these killers just walk around menacingly, more out of obligation than for any particular purpose, and don’t have any discernable motivation, backstory, or personality traits. The only memorable thing is that the killers have a penchant for 80s music. Like, will search the radio presets until they find some, even if there is a potential victim right there for the murdering, so they are pretty big fans.

And there are no clever or humourous sequences, just monotony. The people who die get stabbed. Also, the people who live get stabbed. None of the encounters consists of anything more than that, save for the 80s synth-pop blaring consistently while the fights take place. Worst of all, we are forced to sit through about 25 minutes of family “drama” before the killing even really begins.

So who, exactly, is this movie for? You will have to tell me because it is not for me or for anyone I know.  I also don’t think it would have worried little 12-year-old me in the least, which is the biggest strike of all since back then I was terrified by the very idea of the phantom zone from Superman 2.  Basically, if you are looking for a mix of synth-pop and grisly violence, skip this film and stick with the holy trinity: Halloween, Drive, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

 

Mute

mute.jpgFor me, the most memorable scene in Mute was a few-second long callback to director Duncan Jones’ debut, a marvelous little movie called Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, that you should track down immediately if you haven’t seen it yet.  Apparently, Mute is intended to be the second entry in a very loose trilogy, an approach that Netflix seems to be very keen on at the moment (as evidenced by The Cloverfield Paradox along with Mute).  Come to think of it, we saw this same thing happen with Split not so long ago, where two movies really have nothing to do with one another except that they happen in the same “shared universe”, with that link often seeming to constitute a big reveal.

I have asked before and, thanks to Mute, have to ask again: why is it becoming a thing to tie movies together in this way?  What is the point, when Mute is a totally separate story not at all influenced by the events in Moon (and vice versa)?  Why does it matter that these movies occur in the same world at the same time if the events of one film do not impact the other in any way?  Why are we even mentioning this link and including a scene with Rockwell in Mute (other than the fact that he is so hot right now)? sohotrightnow Are people being drawn to Mute because it’s related to Moon?  Did anyone choose to watch Mute because of that link who otherwise would not have?  Is Rockwell such a big box office draw that his inclusion got Mute off the ground?  I have a hard time believing this one little throwaway scene helped Mute and yet, why else even bother?

Really, the only benefit of Rockwell’s inclusion was that it made this review easier to write, because Mute is otherwise forgettable even as you are watching it.  Visually, it is for the most part a shameless ripoff of Blade Runner only it’s bereft of any philosophical discussions about anything meaningful, with the only takeway being that parents should not make friends with pedophiles, a point which, much like the movie itself, did not really need to be made.