Kickstart My Heart

We like to think of ourselves of champions of indie films and filmmakers. We seek out lesser-known titles at our local arthouse cinema, and on the dustiest virtual shelves of Netflix, and discover new voices at film festivals around the world. But sometimes supporting independent film makers happens without leaving the house at all.

We already know her and love her: Morgana McKenzie, an 18 year old director and cinematographer, first crossed our paths a couple of years ago when we were able to contribute to a short film she was making. It has since screened at youth festivals all over the place, universally lauded and awarded. That seems like a pretty good return on investment but the truth is, it’s also just kind of nice to help a young person hone their craft and realize their dreams. Morgana is organized and visionary. Her work is stunning. But don’t take my word for it, check it out.

Should you feel so inclined, you can kick a couple of dollars her way to help with her upcoming project, a short called Wild (Indomptable), a supernatural period piece inspired by Neon Demon and Suspiria. It’s so weird you can’t help but want to see it. She’s raising her modest budget on Kickstarter and here’s the thing: if everyone who stops here today sponsored her at just $5 a pop, we could raise more than a third of her funds. And wouldn’t that be nifty? All great directors get their start somewhere – but how often do you get to be a part of it? Today, somewhere is right here.

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1 Night

Two couples, both alike in dignity. One is young, one is old. Or we’re supposed to think they’re old even though they’re only in their mid 30s.

The young woman (Isabelle Fuhrman, literally the orphan in Orphan) has just been broken up with at prom. The young man (Kyle Allen, looking a little like a young Heath Ledger) is there too, lusting after her, the girl next door who won’t give him the time of One Night, feature film set stillsday. But then a mysterious older guy gives him some advice, and a mysterious older woman gives her advice, and they spend the night together, pushing each other in pools and falling in love.

Meanwhile, the older couple appear to be falling out of love. Their current relationship is unclear though they’ve certainly been lovers at one point. But witnessing young love is messing with them, causing them to reminisce down a certain romantic path which can only be littered with truth bombs. He (Justin Chatwin, of Shameless) seems to be pushing for a reconciliation while she (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp) seems resistant.

First time writer/director Minhal Baig has a good idea here but it fails to develop. I think it’s supposed to be a treatise on what it takes to make love last but doesn’t have enough to say about it. It’s character-driven (a kind way of saying plotless) but doesn’t very clearly define said characters. It ends up feeling a little ‘millennials vs hipsters’ and I just couldn’t love it, even if it blossoms from a promising seed. Thank goodness for mercifully short runtimes.

Top 10 Actors Who Play Assholes

Kevin Spacey: Se7en, Swimming With Sharks, The Usual Suspects, Glengarry Glen Ross, American Beauty, Superman Returns for fuck’s sake. Or Nine Lives for that matter, and tenor.gifBaby Driver and Horrible Bosses. The man played Richard Nixon! No one plays mischievous evildoer as well as Spacey, but even his good guys tend to be smug bastards at best. His dialogue comes out razor-sharp, often coated with either sarcasm or condescension, and likely both.

Jeremy Piven: This guy is just insufferable. You can crown him King of Pricks based on his role in Entourage alone, but his screen credits offer further proof: Old School, Sin City, Very Bad Things. The guy even plays sleezy cartoon characters in both Cars and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. His deadpan delivery is infuriating and he has the kind of shit-eating grin that just begs to be slapped. Hard.

Christopher McDonald: I wondered if I was just holding a grudge from Thelma & Louise shooter.gif(he played the shitty husband) but no, he followed that up playing Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore, and what a fantastically smarmy role that is. He even plays the guy who wants to steal flubber from poor Robin Williams. He has the kind of arched eyebrow that makes me wonder: is he perpetually typecast as a dick, or do characters turn into dicks once played by him? Chicken or egg?

John C McGinley: If you see this guy on screen, you know you’re in trouble. He’s often thetumblr_mhfd5iDNow1qgqpr6o1_400.gif socially awkward dad who gets under everyone’s skin. You just want to snap his unironic suspenders to deflate his pomposity for just a moment. Platoon, Wall Street, Office Space: Hollywood seems to agree that this guy just oozes jerk.

Richard Dreyfuss: He played conceited in Dillinger, self-involved in American Graffiti, self-important in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, egotistical in The Goodbye Girl, pretentious and selfish in Mr. Holland’s Opus, and arrogant in Red. Come to think of it, is he even capable of pretending to be nice? At least he’s a bit sympathetic in Whose Life Is It Anyway; yeah he’s a real jerk to pretty much everyone around him, but the dude’s paralyzed and you cut him some slack. In everything else, you just kind of hate him.

Sam Rockwell: I kind of love Sam Rockwell, but there’s something weaselly about him. tumblr_inline_n66089BWPG1sn461n.gifHe seems to get stuck playing the douchebag an awful lot, but to his credit, he has a certain charm that makes the douchebaggery slightly lovable. Except in Iron Man 2: in that one, he’s downright evil, but I think if you’re in a movie with Robert Downey, Jr who plays the lovable scoundrel card pretty hard, you have to go big or go home.

Jason Bateman: you pair that chubby, boyish face with the condescending hot garbage that comes out of his mouth, and you’ve got a goldmine of narcissistic characters on your IMDB page. He’s obnoxious in Bad Words, manipulative in Horrible Bosses, irresponsible in Juno, patronizing in This Is Where I Leave You, bullying in Central Intelligence, a swindler in Zootopia, and downright infuriating in The Ex. This guy plays to his strengths!

Bradley Cooper: He may play a rapscallion, but he’s an irresistible rapscallion. Those dimples let him get away with murder, and sometimes his characters come pretty close. tumblr_lnzkidiQ4a1qix5n3o1_500.gifHe played the lying, cheating husband in He’s Just Not That Into You, the lying, cheating fiance in Wedding Crashers, an amoral arms dealer in War Dogs, a diva in Burnt, a shit-don’t-stick-to-me arse in The Hangover, a corrupt cop in The Place Beyond the Pines, and a reckless raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy. Does his devilish grin suit him? It does. And Cooper knows it.

Billy Crudup: He didn’t have time for his dying dad in Big Fish. He didn’t have time for his band or for child prodigy journalists or devoted fans in Almost Famous. He puts the nails to a grieving widow in Jackie. He leads people astray in Alien: Covenant. He terrorizes kids in The Stanford Prison Experiment. His characters are not often likeable, even if they aren’t bad. What does it say about Crudup that he’s so good at that?

Jason Schwartzman: This is the guy we love to hate. He’s an angry bear in Listen Up tumblr_o1qjdbWn651ujfksmo1_500.gifPhilip, an insecure uppity asshole in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, a conceited actor in Funny People, and as Louis XVI (in Marie Antoinette), he was the very symbol of tyranny – and that’s without mentioning every smug arsehole he’s played in every Wes Anderson film. He embodies neuroses and self-loathing. Even when he’s playing earnest, he’s coming off overearnest and cloying. He just can’t win, which is why he always plays an asshole.

 

Who’s on your list?

 

Pirates of the Caribbean 5: The Curse of Johnny Depp Getting Divorced & Needing The Money

Officially subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales (or Salazar’s Revenge, depending where you live), this bloated paycheque party is only the fifth in the franchise though it feels more like the 25th. In truth I’ve never ventured into this franchise before, never had even a pique of interest despite Sean proclaiming some love for the first, but it’s what was playing at the drive-in this weekend, so we all but must.

Now, keeping in mind that watching a movie from the comfort of your own car does pirates-javier-bardemhave its advantages, I present to you my official synopsis of the film: Orlando Bloom has boils. His son vows revenge. Cut to: his son is now old enough to assemble a proper rescue, and it somehow involves the Johnny Depp pirate who is a drunken lout (does this feel less funny now that Johnny Depp’s an actual abusive drunk?) and Geoffrey Rush who is a greedy lout, and Javier Bardem who is a dead lout with floaty hair. Because these three old dudes demand such hefty paycheques, the production has no money left and hires two unknowns in the lead. Orlando Bloom’s son (“the traitor”) and a random curly-haired wench (“the witch”) somehow decide their fates are entwined and they both have to use Johnny Depp to get what they want. Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed, lots of boats, gruesome ghost sharks, creepy CGI young Johnny Depp, Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed, everyone lives happily ever after, except those who don’t.

So yeah, you caught me. I spent a lot of time on my phone during this movie, just trying to quell the boredom. This was not a great entry point into the series. Actual Buzzfeed Pirates-of-The-Caribbean-Dead-Men-Tell-No-Tales-Official-Trailer-2-3articles I deemed more worthy of my time than this film: Literally Just A Bunch of Queer Tweets That Will Make You Proud AF, 17 Photos of Weddings So Disastrous They’ll Make You Laugh Until You Cry (I did neither), 19 Hilarious ‘Worst Summer Job’ Tweets That Will Make You Cringe and Laugh (I did neither), Here’s Why I Could Never Be A ServerThis Family Threw A Quinceañera For Their Cat, And It’s Everything (it’s not, but it’s pretty good and I don’t even like cats), This Guy’s Genius McDonald’s Hack Has People Shook (I felt relatively unshaken myself, but I guess I just have a pretty high threshold for creating my own secret menu items).

Which is not to say that you won’t enjoy the movie. If you’re a swashbuckler, I think you can manage to be entertained. Sure it’s hollow and derivative, but it’s the best damn 5th installment of a franchise based on a mildly popular amusement park ride that I’ve ever seen. The CGI looks expensive as hell and that dead shark sequence would have been really cool had it not been entirely spoiled in the trailers. Plus there’s a needless cameo by Paul McCartney and some blatant sexism and transphobia. What’s not to love?

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright, I think I love you.

And Edgar Wright loves movies. It’s clear from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Wright pours love into his film by loading it with details that’ll take you several watches to truly absorb.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young dude in a band. He’s dating a high school student 9d0uzolbut is ready to drop her the moment he meets his dream girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The catch? Catches? Well, his ex-girlfriend is in town, giving him a serious drought of self-confidence, and Romona actually has 7 exes, er, 7 evil exes, whom Scott must fight in order to “win” her favour. The movie kind of asks: what would happen if a random guy suddenly had the ability to fight as if he were in a video game? And you know what? The results are pretty fantastic.

Edgar Wright soaks this movie in video game references. He got permission to use the 500fulltheme song from The Legend of Zelda by writing a flowery letter to Nintendo, calling it “the nursery rhyme of this generation.” The more you know video games, the more you’ll appreciate this, but even I can concede its greatness.

Moreover, Wright has a knack for casting that you can’t help but admire. He picked a whole bunch of young kids who would launch into stardom. Brie Larson went on to win an Oscar just a few years later, and Anna Kendrick a nomination.

Of course, my favourite part of the movie is how carefully Wright, an Englishman, preserves the Toronto locale. Toronto is a cheap place to make movies so it often stands in for other places, notably New York City. For once, Toronto gets to be Toronto, giphyunapologetically Toronto, with the TTC, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma, and even dirty, dirty Pizza Pizza. This movie feels like home. In a meta moment, a fake New York City backdrop is literally ripped open to reveal the glorious Toronto skyline. When Scott Pilgrim earns points, the coins that rain down upon him are loonies and twonies, Canadian style.

And Wright, who is an excellent curator of music, finds some excellent Canadian bands to do the heavy lifting for him. Broken Social Scene wrote two of the 4-second songs played by Crash and the Boys (“We hate you, please die” and “Im so sad, so very, very sad”). Metric wrote the song performed by The Clash at Demonhead. And Chris Murphy vocalist and bassist for Sloan, served as the music performance supervisor, which I think means he made sure the actors held their guitars the right way and stuff. (Non-Canadian Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb).

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is ultra-stylized and brilliant to watch. It’s incredibly fast-paced and feels hyper real. It’s almost unbearably quotable, fresh, and inventive. The script can’t always keep up with the film’s flash and charm but darn if it doesn’t try. I’ve been in love with this movie for 7 years or so, and a recent re-watch confirmed that I’m still crushing hard.

 

What movies do you love to re-watch?

 

Crossing The Line

Danny Lee Harris, 1984: a American track and field athlete who ran the 400-meter hurdles and won silver medals at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He was the guy who always finished behind Edwin Moses, a track and field phenom, known as the guy who never loses – and he never did; he had a decade-long winning streak of over 100 races, and never lost until 1987 in Madrid, where he was unseated by Harris.

Danny Lee Harris, 2004: arrested in Santa Monica, he’s charged with the kidnap and robbery of a 75 year old woman. He faced life in prison.

Crossing The Line covers the ground between these two formative events, and what led from one to the other. Hint: cocaine.

David Tryhorn’s documentary explores the highs of sports achievements, and the lows, especially comparatively, that come after it. There’s not much that competes with winning a medal for your country, but I suppose cocaine is close. An athlete almost has to have an addictive personality in order to keep that single-minded discipline required for elite training. But what happens when that career is over and the sport just doesn’t consume you the way it used to? There’s a void. Tryhorn uses interviews with Harris’s track and field colleagues and with addictions counselors to give a fuller picture of that post-race deflation effect.

For Harris, the more cocaine he did, the more raced he need to run and to win in order to fund his habit. But running meant exposing himself to drug tests. Eventually he was caught and banned for 4 years, effectively ending his career (at the time, steroid use, an actual performance enhancer, would have only gotten him 2 years). Harris’ downward spiral feels almost inevitable, but Tryhorn is careful to paint a wider picture in which he is only one of many athletes to trace that trajectory. Crossing The Line is a well-made film that shows the flip side to sporting fame and glory.

 

 

 

 

 

Shimmer Lake

Shimmer Lake is a murder mystery told backwards. The story reverses day by day through a week as a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist gone wrong and the three local criminals he suspects. Innovative? Sure, maybe a little. Confusing? Maybe a lot. It’s just a lot of story to keep track of.  And often the first time we meet a new character, he or she is a dead body. Ten or fifteen minutes later for us is usually a day earlier for them, so the corpse reanimates and is suddenly a major player.

Now, telling the story backwards is a gimmick, and one that in my opinion, doesn’t really MV5BZGQ0OWFhNTgtYTJiOS00MDU1LTg2MTgtZTU5NzQ4Yjg0YzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_pay off. I suppose the story was too generic to get greenlit when played forward, but for future purposes, I’d appreciate it if Netflix could release movies in their natural order, and I’ll use my rewind button if I feel a particular need to bedevil my brains. Without proper introductions, I couldn’t even keep the character names straight. One of the film’s running jokes has its punchline right at the beginning but then we have to watch it get set up one morning at a time. It’s the kind of movie that might require some note-taking but it’s not good enough for me to be motivated to go rummage around in the drunk drawer for a pen.

With credits like Rainn Wilson Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins, I expected them to put the comedy into black comedy. They don’t. Shimmer Lake seems to have some over-the-top elements but it never really embraces them. The script is safe and scrubbed of laughs. Oren Uziel, one of 5 writers credited for 22 Jump Street, writes and directs this one all by his lonesome. And while I appreciate that Netflix is trying to take some risks, this one doesn’t pay off. Or, it does, but only in the last seconds, which means you’ll spend the vast majority of this film not enjoying it very much at all. The ends do not justify the means.

 

Megan Leavey

megan leaveyWar is hell, but returning from war is really rough too.  As we’ve realized the devastating effects of PTSD and how severely it has affected an entire generation of American soldiers, war movies have more frequently shown us the human effects of conflict.  In my view, that is a welcome and long overdue change.  I was somewhat apprehensive going into Megan Leavey, because I feared that it would try to glorify or justify the invasion of Iraq.  That’s a non-starter for me because there was no legal basis for the invasion or occupation, and no glory to be had over there.  You will never convince me that it was a good idea for the U.S.A. (and not just them) to send hundreds of thousands of troops to a no-win situation in the Middle East.  Many of those troops didn’t come back and those that did were never the same.

Megan Leavey (the movie) is the story of one of those troops.  Megan Leavey (the person) is a former marine who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  Leavey’s experience in Iraq must have been the most stressful tour of duty imaginable, because Leavey toured Iraq with a partner: a bomb-sniffing dog named Rex.  Leavey and Rex went “in front of the front lines” to sweep for bombs and weapons intended to kill the troops supporting the new Iraqi government.

real megan leavey

The real Megan Leavey and Rex.

The Iraq we see in Megan Leavey feels authentic.  Much of Iraq was (and still is) a war zone, an awful place for a soldier to be, and a worse place for civilians to be.  Whatever their reason for joining the armed forces (and for Leavey her reason is to escape upstate New York), the American soldiers deployed there were largely good people with good intentions.  We can judge their leaders for numerous bad decisions and questionable motivations, but the fact remains that the soldiers on the ground were doing their best while in harm’s way and on edge because the threats they faced were not obvious.  It was not just buried bombs, though that was the prime threat to Leavey and Rex.  Most of Iraq’s residents did not (and do not) support terrorism, insurgency, or Saddam Hussein.  But a few of them did, and they weren’t wearing name tags, so for an American soldier, every single person not wearing the same uniform as you might be planning to kill you.

Whatever your political views on the war, it should be obvious how bad a situation it was to be an American soldier in Iraq, and in fact politics often get in the way by dehumanizing the situation.  With the knowledge we have today, you can (and should) be against the invasion and occupation of Iraq while also sympathizing with the troops who suffered through that insanity.   Megan Leavey chooses to remain neutral on the political side and focus not just on the war but also on the aftermath, in service of Leavey’s (and Rex’s) story.  The result is a compelling tale that is broader than Iraq, and Kate Mara’s performance really conveys the anguish that returning soldiers suffer through, whether they’re humans or dogs.  It’s a very focused movie and more of a tribute to the bond that forms between us and our dogs than a true war movie.  I really enjoyed it.

 

Catfight

Sandrah Oh and Anne Heche play old college frenemies.

Veronica (Oh) is the wife of a wealthy businessman. She drinks too much and spouts dream-crushing advice to her teenage son. The marriage is unhappy. Ashley (Heche) is 1200an artist who can’t sell her stuff because it’s bleak and full of rage. The two meet up years and years later, as Ashley is passing hors d’oeuvres for her caterer wife (Alicia Silverstone) at a fancy event Veronica attends with her husband. They are immediately hostile. Things escalate to the point of – you guessed it – a catfight. It’s pretty fucking brutal and it has some life-changing consequences.

One of these women is entitled and superficial while the other is entirely self-obsessed. There will be no chance of sympathy for either. They’re awful people. And it’s hard to enjoy a fight when you’re not really rooting for one person over the other. I took an instant dislike to the film because the characters felt so unrealistic to me and I hate to see women portrayed so unfairly.

This is supposed to be a black comedy and it IS black (and blue) but not very funny. It mostly felt degrading. I even object to the title, which is a sexist piece of shit term that I do not condone. And a bright spot provided by Titus Burgess as a physical therapist isn’t near enough to make this thing bearable (nor does he approach the fabulous heights he achieves regularly on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). There is no character arc to redeem them. The only real takeaway from this film is that perhaps misogynist director Onur Tukel should be sent into therapy for a very long time. He sets their fight to circus music, making the women a sideshow, their pain a farce.

 

Tunnel

On his way to his young daughter’s birthday party, a man becomes trapped in his car as a tunnel collapses around him. There’s no telling when or if help with arrive, and all he’s got are 2 bottles of water and a birthday cake to see him through. His wife finds out in the worst way imaginable and the Korean news is pretty ruthless in reporting the failure of a newly-built piece of infrastructure. The damage is so encompassing that the rescue will be a long-term affair and there’s no guarantee that a little water and cake will be enough to keep him alive until help arrives. Of course, that’s not even considering whether the panic and isolation might get him first – or if the poorly and hastily constructed tunnel might further deteriorate.

Jung-soo (Jung-woo Ha) is the man in the tunnel so of course this movie is his. As blunders delay the rescue and the national media loses interest, this poor guy is as alone fullsizephoto731941on this earth as anyone will ever be. He isn’t just going through a physical hardship, but a psychological one as well. Occasional glimpses of the rescue effort reminds us just how bleak his situation really is. Dae-kyoung (Dal-su Oh) is the only member of the rescue team truly dedicated to Jung-soo’s survival. Politicans are turning their backs and resources are drying up – are being redirected, in fact, to the construction of yet another tunnel. Meanwhile, Jung-soo’s wife, Se-hyun (Doona Bae) treads the fine line between hope and realism. This trio of actors give very fine performances. Tunnel ends up being more character-driven than action movie, and that’s a good thing. When the script demands it, the visual effects are there, but it’s Jung-woo Ha and co-stars who drive the story forward. It’s a story we’ve seen and heard before but writer-director Kim Seong-hun injects this with satirical elements that bring renewed interest to the genre.

Tunnel is perhaps overlong and could have benefited from some fat-trimming but I still really enjoyed it. It’s got some juicily angry scenes (Kim Seong-hun obviously has something to say about bureaucracy in general and his nation’s government in particular) and some surprisingly dark humour. You might not expect to chuckle through a disaster flick, but this one’s got a little bit of everything.