The Dark Tower

This movie seems overly complicated and unworthy of my full attention, so I’m immediately fiddling around with different things, multi-tasking with Netflix making noise in the background, Sean filling me in on important details he knows I’m inevitably missing.

I feel like the premise is this: somewhere in the universe there’s a dark tower which prevents dark (bad?) things from happening to us (more than they already do?). Its guardian is a gunslinger named Roland (Idris Elba). Its nemesis is a man who presumably also has a name but I keep just hearing him called The Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey). Oh, it’s Walter. Walter is a bad guy, I think. He and his cronies keep kidnapping children from Earth because apparently the tower can be toppled by the mind of a child, which seems deliberately obfuscating. Much like the word obfuscating. So they strap kids into a contraption that looks worrisomely like an electric chair, and it somehow concentrates a beam of their thoughts (?) onto the tower, which absorbs the damage. So far the tower remains upright, but every time it gets hit, Earth thinks it’s having an earthquake, and presumably the rest of the universe is feeling it too.

This whole thing is happening off-world but a peculiar kid by the name of Jake has been dreaming of it and isn’t overly surprised when he has to go on the lam from phony seam-faced psychiatric workers. He hides out in an abandoned building and Sean shouts “The wall just moved…like a dimensional portal.” [Insert Jay looking at Sean like ‘Oh, is there such a thing? An exact way a wall can “move” to “suggest” a “portal”?] And then a portal appears and the kid steps through because why the hell not, he’s 11 years old, time to get some hair on those balls, and now he’s on some parallel universe where his dream sketches have come alive [ugh dream sketches, such a tired trope].

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Mossville: When Great Trees Fall

Mossville Louisiana was established by newly freed slaves, post-abolition. They designed it to be self-sustaining and community-minded. Many of the town’s recent residents are descendants of its founders. I saw recent rather than current because nobody lives there now.

A South African company (Sasol) came in and started buying up land. Those who didn’t get out immediately had to put up with construction, loss of basic services like electricity and sewage, and have weathered increased buy-out pressure from the company. The few remaining holdouts haven’t stopped the company from building its plants, but the residents are already decimated, poisoned by petrochemical plants and dying in droves, cancer not just visiting one or two but virtually all. Not that the company minds: when a resident dies, it’s that much easier for them to buy their land. Cheaper too.

It’s easy to want to solve this by relocating the sickly stragglers, but given their attachment to the land, the ancestral ties, their proud heritage, their unwillingness to abandon it is perhaps justified. My house was built by a stranger in a part of the country I don’t even like, but I still wouldn’t want to move. And the more someone tried to force me, the deeper I’d dig my heels. But for people like Stacey Ryan a.k.a. Mossville’s last man standing, he hardly has the strength left to put up a fight; he’s too often crippled in an emergency room to effectively advocate.

This documentary takes a cold hard look at environmental injustice and racism, and the embarrassing truth that a company with ties to apartheid has now come to the U.S. looking to do the same. Politicians are sacrificing communities belonging to the disenfranchised. They hope you won’t notice, or care. But please do.

Boo! A Madea Halloween

Brian (Tyler Perry) is called away from home on Halloween night but isn’t crazy about leaving his teenage daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) home alone when there’s a big frat party happening just down the street. And he’s right: that girl is scheming to be up to no good. But Brian’s solution is probably a questionable parenting decision. He calls over Madea and crew to babysit without seeming to actually be babysitting.

Tiffany is IMMEDIATELY on to them of course, and she’s got a plan for that too: make her house seem haunted. Madea (also Tyler Perry, natch) is scared. Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) is scared. Hattie (Patrice Lovely) is scared. Joe (Tyler Perry once more) is scared. But they don’t vacate. Nor do they fall for the old pillows under the covers trick. No matter how much you wanted to go to a frat party, NOTHING and I do mean nothing can be worth Madea and her posse rolling up on the party. You don’t know embarrassment until your very large great aunt busts out some vintage stripper moves. Anyway, revenge works both ways and the night is still young.

I don’t know if I’ve just seen a string of bad movies or what but Madea in an awful lot more palatable to me right now. I still don’t think this or any of them are great movies, but suddenly I’m not hating it. Is this nostalgia kicking in? Tyler Perry has announced his intention to retire the Madea character, and I’m not exactly mourning what I think of as a tired schtick, especially since I tend to love Perry in almost any other capacity. But in this movie…the fun he’s having is often infectious. The good news is, he has very recently opened Tyler Perry Studios, which means there will be plenty of output to replace the Madea content. Tyler Perry Studios was purchased and established in Atlanta, 330 acres of the former Fort McPherson. Not only is this one of the largest film production studios in the nation, it makes Tyler Perry the first African-American to outright own a major film production studio. Friends including Spike Lee, Oprah, and Beyonce (maybe you’ve heard of them?) came out to celebrate. And I’m guessing pretty soon, we all will.

 

 

Zombieland

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us the first rule of surviving in the United States of Zombieland is: cardio. “The first to go are the fatties.” Well, shit. I mean, not that I’ll mind much. I’ve gone on record before – I am not a survivor. I would 130% rather die than live without clean fingernails, hot soup, pillow-top mattresses, a good light to read by, air conditioning, my hot tub…well, the list is nearly endless. I am what they call “high maintenance” and I am not embarrassed. My happiness is not accidental, it is the result of favourable conditions and many comfort items. It’s basic math. More is more. Plus, I think running for your life is undignified. I won’t even walk briskly for a bus.

Columbus, a loner and a weakling, is perhaps himself an unlikely survivor, but his odds increase when he teams up with fellow traveler Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is infinitely cooler and braver and better at this zombie shit. And yet they still fall prey to a couple of young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are simply smarter. It’s when all 4 start traveling together that the fun really starts. Sure it contravenes some of Columbus’ dearly held rules, like traveling light and not being a hero, but just because you’re being chased by brain-hungry hoards doesn’t mean you’re not also horny.

It’s sort of incredible that it’s been 10 years since Zombieland came out; it was one of the first movies that Matt, Sean and I would have seen together. I would have met Sean about 2.5 months prior and he was already being the third wheel on Jay & Matt adventures. We saw Zombieland at a downtown Ottawa theatre that no longer exists – The World Exchange. I was about to say that we could walk there from our apartment but in October 2009, it was still technically only Sean’s apartment (and always would be – when I moved in with all my stuff, we moved up 2 floors to a spacious 2 bedroom). Now of course we’ve done the big suburban exodus. In 10 years we’ve bought 1 house, 3 more dogs, 4 cars, 6 weddings (5 of them ours). We’ve added 15 people to our immediate families – 9 by birth and 6 by marriage. If life can change this much in a decade for us and our cushy little existence, imagine how much things have changed for the people living the zombie apocalypse. They have no government, no infrastructure, no twinkies. When we left them at the end of Zombieland, all they had was each other. What have they been up to? How are they possibly surviving? Did they hole up in a farm? Contract the flu? Did Wichita beat Columbus to death with a studded baseball bat? We’ll find out this weekend, when the sequel finally hits theatres.

Earth

Just for example, around 2 billion years ago, igneous and metamorphic rocks formed a gorge, and then around 70 to 30 million years ago, through the action of plate tectonics, the whole region was uplifted, resulting in a high and relatively flat plateau. Five or six million years ago, a river began to carve its way downward (during heavy flooding, the water takes boulders along with it, which act as chisels along the bottom). Further erosion by tributary streams led to the canyon’s widening. In another couple million years, it might be a little deeper still, but mostly it will have continued to widen. That’s how the Earth naturally made a very big hole in the ground, 446 km long, up to 29 km wide and more than 1,800 meters deep. We call it the Grand Canyon. Earth is a fine architect given millions of years, but we humans are moving 156 million tonnes of rock and soil per day. People are moving mountains. They’re changing the shape of the Earth.

This documentary takes a look at the people doing it. Labourers who tunnel through the Earth from above and below provide some interesting insights from a personal perspective – “If all else fails, there’s always dynamite. We always win.” And though many profess to “feeling bad” about obliterating landscapes, it is short-term profit who is driving all that brutal machinery, not long-term critical thinking or morality or common sense.

Earth is an interesting movie with an uninspired title. It would benefit from better editing, both in terms of smooth transitions and tightening up some scenes that are unnecessarily long. I know some 5 year olds who are insatiable when it come to trucks and diggers, and every time I pass a construction site I see a number old old men watching the machinery do its work, but for me this movie ran overlong. Still, it’s a neat little package of stuff we don’t see nearly enough, certainly not all collected together. It makes for thoughtful viewing.

Addams Family Values

The Addams family home is all shook up: the kids are playing Marie Antoinette with a real, working guillotine with their new mustachioed baby brother Pubert, and Gomez and Morticia have brought in a new nanny named Debbie to sort them all out. Uncle Fester of course falls madly in love with her.

There’s just one problem. Well, clearly there’s more than one. But the big one, aside from Wednesday and Pugsley trying to kill their baby brother, is that Debbie (Joan Cusack) is a black widow. She has a nasty habit of marrying wealthy men and murdering them on their wedding night. And Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is indeed a wealthy man. Well, he’s wealthy anyway. And he’s smitten.

The rest of the Addams family, not so much. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) try to wish him well, even when he cuts them out of his life, but little Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), though somewhat neutered by summer camp, are naturally more suspicious. But now that he’s estranged, can anyone possibly reach him before it’s too late?

Addams Family Values is a rare sequel that seems to have gained in momentum from the first. It introduces new characters that add new dimensionality to the family. Fester really comes into his own in this film, and Joan Cusack is an absolute dish. It’s also exceedingly fun to watch the Addams siblings do a sleepaway camp. Never have two people belonged anywhere less. And the way in which they ruin a historically inaccurate play is the absolute most fun. I could watch this as a spin-off all day long. I should also note that Granny gets replaced in the sequel; Carol Kane replaces her. And Carol Kane is god. She’s also younger than Huston, who plays her daughter, but watcha gonna do? Huston gamely gets back into character, and I love the way they’re lighting her face, with just a beam of light across her eyes. It’s so strikingly different from everyone else in the room. And I know I said this last time, but I’ll say it again: Christina Ricci is a child actor tough to outdo. She really nails Wednesday and makes sure the kids aren’t just placeholders in these films.

All told, Addams Family Values good fun. It’s not great, but it’s like training wheels for future horror fanatics and the freaks and creeps in all of us.

Fractured

Ray Monroe and his family were driving home from Thanksgiving, just like Sean and I were tonight. We had bellies full of pie and a camera full of pictures of kids making silly faces. Ray has a wife who’s spoiling for a fight and a daughter who’s whining about batteries and has to pee. Sean and I were listening to a murder podcast and luckily had emptied our bladders before leaving.

I say luckily because when Ray (Sam Worthington) stops at a sketchy highway rest stop, his daughter’s favouritie toy gets misplaced and his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) has to go search a grungy bathroom while Ray digs through a messy backseat. His daughter, told to stay nearby, of course wanders off, and breaks her arm in a fall. Ray and Joanne rush her to the hospital and the doctor treating her (Stephen Tobolowsky) thinks a C.A.T. scan is in order, just in case. And that’s it. Ray never sees either of them again. Not because they’re dead; they’ve simply vanished. And it’s not a simple case of missing persons because the entire hospital suddenly denies their existence. So Ray has to struggle to find out what happened when everyone else either believes him to be crazy or is in on the conspiracy. Is there a conspiracy? Ray’s drinking problem and some past tragedies suddenly cast doubt on his story. But everything about this hospital, and in fact this little town – they just seem shady. Something here isn’t right.

Director Brad Anderson makes us feel off-balance right from the get-go. Even The Monroes’ post-turkey drive home feels somewhat ominous. Ray’s in-laws, though unseen, have provided more than enough tension to get this thing off to an uncomfortable start. I have a weird tolerance for movies about people who are doubting their own reality, and while I was engaged in this one and enjoyed using my bloodhound nose to hunt for clues, this movie also reminded me constantly of ones just like it, only better. Still, as an original offering from Netflix, and with only Gemini Man in real theatres as an alternative, you can and have done worse. Fractured isn’t bringing home any awards, but it’s just good enough for that awkward time between overeating and food coma.