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Maudie

Maudie was born “funny” – sharp in her mind but infirm in her body. She is discounted, invisible to the world. Abused then neglected by her brother, his monthly sum to her caretaker aunt doesn’t mean the aunt is nice to her, not at all. So it shouldn’t be surprising when Maudie seeks to improve her situation by lending herself out as a housemaid. The only person who’d have her is an ornery (possibly autistic, in a time way before that would be diagnosed) fishmonger who lives out in rural Nova Scotia.

maudie_01Maudie (Sally Hawkins) and Everett (Ethan Hawke) are a couple of odd socks – the world has discarded them and they do not belong together but for lack of anything better have somehow become a pair. Their relationship doesn’t exactly blossom into romance but their mutual tolerance and sometime thoughtfulness or generosity does translate into a partnership of sorts, and marriage. And while Maudie may neglect her household chores, she blossoms in Everett’s house as a painter. Her arthritis makes it increasingly hard to even hold a brush but her joyful spirit paints their modest, one-room home in bright, colourful designs. Soon the community around her will embrace her for it. Maud Lewis (1903-1970) is one of Canada’s best known folk artists.

Sally Hawkins is phenomenal. She underplays everything because she can, because she can rely upon her talent to communicate big things in small ways. Her eyebrows alone are Oscar worthy. Her smile is reminiscent of the real Maud – wide and innocent. She gives such dignity to this character who really led a simple life, a life of poverty, but a life that was more than enough for a woman who needed only some space and a paint brush in her hand to feel happy. Maudie is not just a tribute to the artist, but to her way of life. I was moved by this film, for Maud specifically and women generally, for anyone who was marginalized and squashed and found a way to bloom anyway.

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By Any Other Name

David Sedaris is one of my all-time favourite anythings, and reading his newest, Theft By Finding, leaves me needing to text Matt “omg, THIS part!” literally every 40 seconds. Sedaris has 514 pages of excellent observations, but one of them, in which he mentions that the title for Groundhog Day is not so much lost in (German) translation, but found, really caught my fancy, and so I wondered what other gems awaited me in second-language cinema.

Groundhog Day was released in Germany as ‘Eternally Weeps the Groundhog.’

What else can I unearth? I’ve published the correct titles in white; you can uncover the answers simply by high-lighting the blank space. Play along, let me know how many you guessed right, and tell me which of these you would have seen!

China calls Pretty Woman – I Will Marry A Prostitute to Save Money

Never Been Kissed is translated in the Philippines as – Because She’s Ugly

Girl, Interrupted is known in Japan as – 17-Year Old Girl’s Medical Chart

China knows The Professional as – This Hit Man Is Not as Cold as He Thought

chocolate-copyGermany knows Annie Hall as – Urban Neurotic

Which movie is known as American Bluff in France, The Great American Swindle in Spain, and United States Cheat Bureau in China? Answer: American Hustle

Japan knows You Only Live Twice by – 007 Dies Twice

Boogie Nights, China – His Great Device Makes Him Famous

France translates The Hangover as – Very Bad Trip

Ocean’s Eleven – Eleven Men and a Secret (Brazil)

Top Gun is known as – Love is in the Sky (Israel)

What movie is known as Strange Coincidences in Spain, Multinationals Go Home! in Hungary, and The Psycho Detectives in Portugal? Answer: I ♥ Huckabees

The Shawshank Redemption is known as The Prison for Angels in Romania

 

 Denmark calls Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – The Boy Who Drowned in Chocolate Sauce

The Sixth Sense – He’s a Ghost! (China)

Animal House is known as I Think The Horse is Kicking Me in Germany.

Poland calls The Terminator – The Electronic Murderer

Due Date – Odd Couple, Wacky Trip, Go Together in Time for Birth. (Thailand)

What movie is called Western Department of Memories in China, Harmonica: The Avenger in Sweden, and Play Me The Song of Death in Germany? Once Upon A Time In the West

Lost in Translation, or as it’s known in Portugal, Meetings and Failures in Meetings

Risky Business – Just Send Him to University Unqualified (China)

The Honor Farm

Honor farm

I hadn’t seen my friend Josh in months and was eager to tell him all about the exciting new movie I saw at the Fantasia Film Festival. “I just saw The Honor Farm and I’m still trying to figure it out,” I told him while seated at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

I hadn’t seen the baby boomer somehow standing right over me until he chose this moment to cut me off. “I just saw that,” he complained. “It was terrible“.

I didn’t really want to get into it with this guy nor was I even confident that I had understood the film well enough to defend it so I just smiled politely as he told me that it wasn’t even scary. I bashfully admitted that I was the guy who jumped and cried out during the final act.

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The Honor Farm is exactly that kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie that you need to let sink in while you ignore those who will immediately and loudly dismiss it. Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate) seems to feels like she’s just going through the motions as she prepares for her prom. After her drunk date embarasses her and tries to force himself on her, she reluctantly agrees to accompany her best friend Anne (Katie Folger) and a classmate she barely knows into the woods to take shrooms in an abandoned prison farm.

Other than that, the less you know about The Honor Farm the better. Although you should probably be warned that horror fans like the one described above may be disappointed. Because the set up seems bloody perfect. Eight teenagers, most of them seeming to fit a typical scary movie stereotype, entering a creepy prison on prom night might make you start placing bets on who will be first to die but this isn’t your typical scary movie. What follows is truly surreal and genre-bending and few of these character arcs play out like you’d expect.

I may have been a little lost during the closing credits but The Honor Farm keeps getting better the more i think about it. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

To The Bone

The first image from the film is a trigger warning and believe me, take heed. To The Bone is a serious, unflinching look at eating disorders that will absolutely be upsetting to each and every one of us, but particularly to those suffering from or recovering from eating disorders themselves.

Lily Collins, herself a survivor of eating disorders, plays Ellen, a young woman still very much in the throes of anorexia. The film shows her getting treatment in a centre run by Keanu Reeves, which should tell you all you need to know about how inauthentically the healing is portrayed. In reality, treatment is heavily regimented, usually in a medical setting. Eating disorders are the most deadly of mental to-the-bone-sundance-e1495026297494illnesses, no one’s going to let an emaciated Lily Collins push a fish stick around her plate for dinner. And they’re also very difficult to treat because unlike drinking, you can’t simply give up food. You have to learn to eat in moderation. Eating disorders are often (but not always) about control. Often there is some type of childhood abuse that accounts for someone wanting very much to exert control over their bodies now.

This both is and isn’t the case with To The Bone, but the family dynamics are a strong point of the film. Ellen’s family situation is sad and disjointed. Family therapy does not go well. Her father is absent, her mother can’t deal anymore, so support is provided by a step-mother who maybe doesn’t have the closest of relationships with her husband’s tiring and trying daughter. Some of you may find this movie enlightening. Certainly I believe that Ellen and her disorder have been portrayed empathetically. But it’s a tough watch that could definitely be a hardship for some, and may glamourize a terrible disease for others. This is a film to be watched only with care, and preferably in the company of others.

Based on writer-director Marti Noxon’s own experiences with anorexia as a teen, the film forced Collins, in recovery for eating disorders, to lose 20lbs. She did so with the “help” of a nutritionist, but there’s nothing healthy about a young woman already on the brink of being too thin being asked to lose up to a fifth of her body weight. I hate that movies do that and I can’t imagine that graphic shots of protruding bones and skeletal characters is putting anything but negativity into the world. And it doesn’t help that none of the other characters are put into any kind of context. They help show that eating disorders are not just the stuff or rich white girls, but by keeping those characters one-dimensional, we do them a disservice. The thing is, even with good intentions, sharing stuff like this can be dangerous. Details about how to purge or count calories can come across as tips; Collins’ skin-and-bones frame can be seen as aspirational. And I suppose this is where we ask ourselves: is this film doing more harm than good? What is responsible film making? Without knowing the answers, I do know that I am not comfortable recommending this film without some heavy caveats.

Gifted

Apart from dramatic courtroom confessions, dick jokes, and Shia LaBeouf, there’s nothing more obnoxious onscreen than smart kids.

The smart kid in Gifted- Marc Webb’s first non-Spiderman film since 2009’s 500 Days of Mckenna Grace as “Mary Adler” and Chris Evans as “Frank AdSummer- is a 7 year-old math prodigy named Mary. Mary (Mckenna Grace) has been doing just fine being home schooled by her uncle Frank (a bearded Chris Evans) and hanging out with their neighbour (Octavia Spencer) until Frank decides she needs friends her own age and sends her to public school. It doesn’t take long for her first-grade teacher (Jenny Slate) to discover that she’s a genius and word travels fast to Mary’s estranged but suddenly very interested British grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan).

For a child prodigy in a movie called Gifted, Mary isn’t that bright. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing. Compared to the smartass, impossibly wise and witty kids in most Hollywood movies, she’s surprisingly and refreshingly childish. She acts like a kid, talks like a kid, and plays like a kid. She’s just crazy good at math. Like Rain Man good at math. But apart from the advanced calculations that she can do in her head, she’s just an ordinary 7 year-old. And, as played by the also very gifted Mckenna Grace, she’s the best thing about this movie and is much more convincing than an uncharacteristically charismaless Evans.

Chris-Evan-GiftedScreenwriter Tom Flynn doesn’t handle complex problems quite as well as Mary does. Because the question of how best to raise any child, never mind such an unusual one, can’t be as easy as his script seems to think. The drama unfolds at a tense custody battle between Frank (who just wants Mary to have a normal childhood) and Evelyn (who wants her to go to some fancy school and dedicate herself to reaching her full potential). There are interesting questions to be had here but Flynn comes up with enough sneaky screenwriting tricks and twists to get out of having to have any of them.

If you can forgive Evans’ bland performance and Flynn’s sentimental approach, there’s a lot to like about Gifted. Actually, I’m quite confident that most people will love it and even be annoyed with me for nitpicking at it. The local audience at Wednesday’s preview screening applauded wildly at at least a half-dozen zingers and speeches. Which is my only real problem with it. It’s an entertaining movie about characters that we care about but it’s more interested in soliciting applause than it is provoking discussion.

Mission to Mars

It was the year 2000: my skirts were short. Practically microscopic. And the little shirts I wore hardly bridged the gap. I thought I was hot shit, and presumably so did the two boys treating me to a Sunday night movie (a school night!). Notably, we’d hit up the hip new restaurant in town, Wendy’s, just minutes before. Oh, you’ve heard of it? Well I grew up in a teeny little town that celebrated the coup of a luxurious chain restaurant. It was glamorous to eat at a place we’d seen commercials for on American cable! So I ate the meal that a real foodie had recommended: the spicy chicken sandwich. And then the guy I was currently fucking and the guy I’d fucked roughly 2 months before at the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties (remember, it’s the year 2000) decided we’d see Mission To Mars.

I’ll get to the “review” part of the movie in a minute, although caveat: I’ve never seen it. Why haven’t I seen it, despite having been to the movie, as it played in theatres? Shut up. I wasn’t making out. Or not much. The truth is, I feel asleep. Which has happened to me approximately never. I’m a crazed insomniac who struggled to achieve sleep in her own comfy bed. I never sleep anywhere else. Except this one time I fell asleep while sitting between two men who were each touching various parts of my body suggestively under the cover of darkness in a dingy small town cinema. Later I went home and threw up undigested spicy chicken sandwich. I’ve never attempted to eat Wendy’s again, nor have I revisited Mission to Mars. Turns out I had mono. Yes, the dreaded kissing disease.

Anyway, in 2000 we were apparently obsessed with Mars, this being the first of two movies about that particular planet released that year (Red Planet is the other – I haven’t seen it either. co12Probably). Neither did well commercially or critically. Mission to Mars is set in the distant future – 2020. Oh wait, that’s only a few years away? Fuck me. Well anyway it seemed like the very distant future at the time. A future in which I’d be so improbably old that I might even wear skirts that entirely covered my snatch. Hard to imagine, I know. And in this future, there’s a mission, and it’s to Mars. Don Cheadle goes on this mission along with, you know, other, expendable astronauts, and weirdly enough, Don Cheadle is the only one to survive it when a “freak” storm hits. So then his real buddies, who had stayed back due to grief and whatnot, come to rescue him. And they learn that there’s a “face” on Mars that’s causing some weird shit. So as you can tell from this brief, befuddling synopsis, you really haven’t missed much.

The movie cost a lot of money and didn’t make it back. I’d like to know the exact dollar amount Brian De Palma okayed on the  14,000 gallons of paint used to spray the soil of a Vancouver sand pit “Mars red.” I’m guessing $toomuch. The actors wore $100K space suits for filming (Tim Robbins complained that he could always hear  himself breathing) which seems like a lot of money on outfits, except the real NASA space suits actually cost more like $12M. Maybe NASA should talk to them about this knock-off version? Well, maybe not. De Palma wanted Cheadle’s space suit to look dirty after the storm, so the costumers eschewed real space suit material – teflon – because it never looks dirty.  They used 10 massive 350-horsepower wind machines to blow dust on the poor guy, forcing the crew into gas masks, even though we all know THERE’S NO WIND IN SPACE.

Anyway. Fast forward a dozen years or so. Now I’m at Disney World with a husband who is neither of the men from the movie theatre, two thirds of my sisters, one third of my brothers-in-law, and my one-year-old nephew. The sisters have stayed at our rented home to swim with the baby. The brothers-in-law were out playing golf. And I was for some reason at EPCOT standing in line for a ride I did not want to go on. Gary Sinise was welcoming us to Mission-space-epcotMission: Space, an attraction that needs several strongly-worded warnings. Just when you get your courage up, Gary Sinise starts talking you out of it. Not that I needed any help from Gary Sinise. I am a chicken shit. I knew damn well this ride wasn’t for me. It simulates an actual spacecraft launch, complete with g-force, and a pretty rough landing. There are barf bags in this ride AND THEY GET USED. Each spacecraft holds 4 “astronauts” and we’re each given a specific role – navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer – and tasks to perform during the mission. This is a hilarious example of misplaced optimism. I don’t think I pushed a single button the entire ride because I was too busy TRYING NOT TO DIE. The thing about simulations is that your brain (not to mention your stomach) doesn’t know the difference. It believes! Lots of props from this movie are in display in the queuing area for this ride. I didn’t really appreciate them because I was busy sweating through my socks. I lived through this ride but I cannot and will not say that I enjoyed it. I bore it. Almost stoically. But you know what’s funny? I didn’t need the barf bag. I didn’t throw up, not even a little, not even just in my mouth, which as we all know, is more than I can say for the movie Mission To Mars.

Little Men

Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are two 12 year old boys who form a quick friendship when Jake’s family movies into the apartment above Tony’s Mom’s store. It’s a nice friendship for both as Jake, a budding artist, is a bit of an outsider without many friends, and Tony, an aspiring actor, has plenty of soccer buddies but not a lot of fellow artists to relate to. And it just so happens that Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) is an actor himself.

The friendship weathers bullying and other outside forces but takes a hit when the two families conflict. Jake’s dad  Brian has just inherited this apartment when his own father littlemendied – not just the apartment, in fact, but the building, which includes Leonor’s (Tony’s mom) store. Brian’s sister is demanding her fair share, and that means increasing Leonor’s rent, which has languished very generously far below market price for years. She can’t afford to pay the higher rent and insists that Brian’s father wanted her there. Brian is pulled by his sister, who is rightfully wanting her share of the inheritance, and his wife who supports the family herself (what little acting work he gets doesn’t pay much).

The parents force this tension onto their children, trying to keep them apart, forbidding them to set foot in each other’s homes. It’s an awkward situation and one of the reasons why this film is titled Little Men: these two 12-year-olds are dealing with pretty mature issues, which is why it’s so sad and frustrating when they’re unable to be each other’s support system. It’s further heart breaking because Tony, having an absent father, was rather leaning on Brian for some fatherly advice. Jake will perhaps recover more quickly, having two loving parents, but what of Tony? It’s a question that doesn’t quite get answered but I think is worth asking.

Little Men is an interesting reminder of how economic power can poison relationships. The grown ups each believe themselves to be not just right, but righteous. Their strained politeness turns cold, then hostile. It’s a cloud that casts a dark shadow over the friendship of their sons, and that friendship is willingly sacrificed by the adults. But those adults are kept at a remove; director Ira Sachs doesn’t judge them much, he’s more interested in what the boys are going through. Their experience is somehow discounted because they are young. We, the cynical audience, watch the parents declare that they’d do anything for their kids while in reality, they flush a genuine relationship down the toilet over money and real estate.

Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

My favourite thing about sitting down to watch a short film is having no idea what to expect. I rarely watch a feature film without having seen a trailer or at least having read something about it. When I watch a collection of shorts, I am pretty much ready for anything.

 

mindenki_behindthecurtainMindenki (Sing). Everyone who wants to is welcome to sing in choir, promises the principal at Zsófi’s new school. The truth, she will soon discover, is more complicated. Zsófi is an enthusiastic student until her spirit is crushed when Miss Erika, who thinks they may have a real shot at the championship this year, takes her aside and asks her to stop singing out loud.

Mindenki has a lot going on in just 25 minutes. Watching a 10 or 11 year-old being told by her favourite teacher that she simply isn’t good enough and that she should just “mouth the words” while the others sing is pretty much as heartbreaking as it sounds. It says a lot about the ways some students can get left behind and the ways that a careless teacher can demoralize a child and stifle creativity.

silent-nightsLikeable actors, terrific editing, and a timely story go a long way in elevating the imperfect but nonetheless effective Silent Nights. Mostly a love story set against the backdrop of the immigration and refugee controversy in Western Europe, Silent Nights follows a brief affair between a Danish girl volunteering in a shelter and a homeless man from Ghana.

Silent Nights packs a lot of story into 30 minutes and it features a much clearer beginning, middle, and end than I’m used to seeing in short films. It’s actually structured like a min feature film complete with subplots that lead nowhere. The script is ocassionally a little too sentimental but it earns big points for introducing us to two complex characters that we can care about.

 

With just 15 minutes, Timecode is the shortest of the five nominated shorts. It’s also potentially the most confusing. Luna is a parking lot attendant who discovers that her colleague Diego has left a surpritimecodese for her. He has danced his heart out in front of the security cameras for her amusement. I have to admit though that it took me awhile to recognize it as dancing. I thought at first that he was fighting off an invisible assailant. So begins their unusual shift exchange ritual.

Timecode has already picked up several awards including the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and more importantly Best International Shortfilm at the Whistler Film Festival so its got a serious shot at the Oscar. It’s cute, well-made (even if not always well-danced but hey we forgave La La Land), and is probably the least pretentious of the five nominees. I just simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the others.

 


Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within)
is the more disciplined of the two Europeans Can Be Racist shorts (see Silent Nights above). Enemies Within is mostly just two people in a room talking but holy shit is itennemis-interieurs3 tense. A citizenship interview slowly morphs into a full-on national security interrogation.

Ennemis Interieurs can sort of feel like just a really good scene from the glory days of Homeland but the acting and directing are superb and it says a lot in a short time about institutional racism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

 


La Femme et le TGV
is my favourite of the five. And not just because it has trains. An aging woman discovers that her daily ritual of waving at passing trains hasn’t gotten unnoticed or unappreciated. The train’s conductor decides to write her a thank you note and their pen palling reignites her passion for litgvfe.

I’ve read one reviewer accuse La Femme et le TGV of stealing its tone from Amelie. While I agree that Amelie would give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect, I would argue that my favourite live-action short of 2016 takes some of what worked best from Amelie to deliver something funny, touching, and lovely.

Jason Bourne

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I knew how this one would end before it began.  Screechy repeated musical notes and Matt Damon fading into a crowd after having eluded capture yet again.  I don’t even consider that a spoiler, which surely means this is a tired franchise overdue to be retired.  It makes me sad we’ve gotten to this point with Bourne when initially these movies felt like a revitalization of the secret agent genre.  Now, the James Bond franchise is the vibrant one and Bourne is the one that’s just regurgitating what has come before.

That’s the most damning criticism I can make.  Jason Bourne is point-by-point the exact same movie we’ve seen four times previously from this team.  This is not a case of a poorly executed movie or a badly acted one.  It’s far worse.  This is like if CCR’s John Fogerty had plagarized a song he wrote himself, only without any possibility of a similarly bizarre yet logical lawsuit on the horizon.  So there’s not even an intellectually appealing consequence to be found here.  Even if you liked the other movies I can’t recommend this one, because it offers absolutely nothing new.

The only interesting thing about this movie is to wonder whether Matt Damon looks more bored here or in The Great Wall (China’s latest attempt to break into the North American box office).  I’m not sure and I’m not at all looking forward to finding out.

Jason Bourne gets a score of don’t even bother out of ten.

From Here To Eternity

The year is 1941. Prew (Montgomery Clift) has requested an Army transfer and ended up in Hawaii. His new captain, Holmes, knows his reputation as a keen boxer and is anxious to get him on the company team. Prew refuses, he’s given it up, but Holmes isn’t used to being told no and enlists all of his subordinates to make his life hell until he relents.

There’s more to it though: turns out a certain smoldering sergeant Warden (Burt Lancaster) starts seeing the captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr). Prew’s tumblr_mrqbi1zbfr1qzgwh4o1_500friend Maggio (Frank Sinatra) keeps running into trouble with a stockade sergeant (Ernest Borgnine) with a mean streak. And Prew himself is falling in love with Lorene (Donna Reed). It might seem like normal every day stuff, except you and I know what’s coming: Pearl Harbor. It’s awful to know what’s around the corner for them, how petty all of these problems will seem soon enough, if any of them are left to still have them.

Montgomery Clift really threw himself into the role, learning to play the bugle and taking up boxing, and this in turned forced better and better tumblr_myepenqdmm1qzgwh4o1_500performances from his cast mates. Burt Lancaster was so nervous to act alongside him he’s visibly shaking in their first scene together. Sinatra was just grateful for the part. You may know that Mario Puzo fictionalized his movie career in The Godfather; a certain studio exec is convinced to hire him after finding his prized horse’s head in his bed. In real life, it was a lot less dramatic: Sinatra was married to Ava Gardner at the time, and she happened to have some pull with Columbia. Or at least that’s the version everyone agrees to.

The now-famous scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr (who were romantically involved in real life) rolling around on the beach was banned by the MPAA for being too erotic. If you were lucky enough to see the scene included in the movie at the theatre, it was probably foreshortened because tumblr_lhgtk3owtx1qb515bo1_500lots of naughty projectionists would cut out a slice to keep as a souvenir. Censors demanded that Kerr’s swimsuit be skirted so as not to be too “provocative.” And that wasn’t the only modification made. In the book, the captain’s wife gets gonorrhea from her philandering husband, but that part is conveniently edited out. And in the credits, Donna Reed is credited as a “social club employee” which is 1950s code for hooker. And the military had their own standards to contend with: you couldn’t portray military sloppiness, hypocrisy, brutality…or homosexuality. Not to worry. The gay stuff was also left out, along with all the other juicy bits that led to the novel being called From Here to Obscenity by some. But that scene. The scene on the beach. Makes me want to recreate it when we’re in Oahu today (it was in Halona Cove), but only if I can find a modest skirted swimsuit.

 

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