Pompeii

Kit Harington. Apparently he’s on some successful sitcom called Winter Is Coming and he plays the snow or something. And he has a pet dragon? And a very sexually attractive sister? I don’t know, I’ve never seen it.

But I have seen those abs, so sculpted I’m wondering if they aren’t CGI. And I’m wondering if the costume designer is Kit’s mother, because who else would ever cover them up? And yet there are curious times when he flashes more thigh than gleaming, chiseled chest.

MV5BMTgzMDkzMjg2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc1NDcxMTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_Anyway, I watched a bad movie called Pompeii. He of the sublime 6-pack plays a horse-whispering slave, used for gladiator-style fighting, and perhaps sex. But because of his goodness with animals, he curries the favour of a fair maiden, lady Cassia (Emily Browning) who is being hotly pursued\blackmailed into marriage by Senator Corvius (Kiefer Sutherland). And if that wasn’t bad enough, a volcano erupts and kills them all. Haha, classic.

Anyway, the only point of watching this movie is for the objectification of bodies, and we should refrain from that since working out for this role gave Kit Harington body dysmorphia, which is kind of gross. I think we have really overstepped the bounds when actors are spending months preparing physically for a role, and about 10 minutes learning lines, and no time at all wondering whether they’re any good. Somebody spent EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS on this movie. They built a volcano from scratch but forced a man to eat 3000 calories a day to put on 30 lbs in 5 weeks??? That’s barbaric. He then went on a very severe diet and ‘cutting’ regimen for 4 weeks to cut back to 140lbs, which man mean some intense muscle definition but cannot be healthy in the least. Not that anyone call tell how ripped you were once you’re reduced to ashes.

 

 

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Like Father

Rachel, a workaholic, gets left at the altar by stinky Owen who never deserved her anyway. But that’s only the second worst thing that happens to her that day: her estranged father, a shithead who doesn’t even have cupholders, crashes her wedding and witnesses her heartbreak and humiliation. Ouch.

Rachel (Kristen Bell) compounds the chaos by agreeing to go drinking with dad Harry (Kelsey Grammer) and in their inebriation, they somehow end up on the cruise that was meant to be her honeymoon. Drama!

Rachel and Harry make loads of friends on their weird little daddy-daughter cruise (including a dashing, divorced Canadian) but will they help their rapprochement or MV5BNzI2MTc5OTEyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjE1NjIwNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_drive them further apart? Oh who am I kidding – there’s isn’t a single inch of this movie you don’t see coming, but somehow I don’t mind the cornball cutesie comedy of it all because Grammer and Bell have such a sweet chemistry between them. There’s pretty much nothing of Bell’s that I won’t give a go, she’s so luminous and honest and I just find her enjoyable and I’m pretty sure that would be true even if she was changing a tire, or the laundry, or her mind for the 15th time as we stand outside the movie theatre in the rain.

Like Father was written and directed by the dashing Canadian’s wife, Lauren Miller Rogen, who I only know from Hilarity for Charity, a comedy event that fund-raises for her Alzheimer’s foundation, which does spectacular work. I think it’s cool that she’s testing out her talents and interests, and Netflix is a good place for a budding director (she’s only got a couple of shorts that are more than a decade old under her belt) to gain some experience. And even if she’s a noob, she’s clearly been around film making for some time, and for every generic scene there’s just a hint of something better.

Although, to be fair, as the daughter of an estranged father, there’s pretty much no amount of sequined blazers that have the power to reunite us. But even a cold, dark heart like mine can be made slightly lukewarm by the power of forgiveness and karaoke.

Kedi

My mother had a paper route when she was a little girl. For all you Millennials, that means our precious natural resource the tree was turned into pulp, and news was reported by journalists instead of Twitterers, wastefully printed onto paper that only served to smudge ink all over your peanut butter thumbs, and was delivered to your door before dawn by some sweet little kid whom you routinely stiffed and forgot to tip. My mother, in pig tails, was approaching a door when out of nowhere, a cat attacked her. Bleeding and dazed, she sobbed her way through the rest of her route and never trusted a cat again. Not once, not ever. Her fear of cats was communicated MV5BYzllZTgzMTUtMzk3OC00MWJjLWIyYjUtMmE3ZjczZGVjYmQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_to all of her daughters in the womb. While I’m not petrified of them as she is, I do not trust them, I think they’re probably evil, and we’re firmly and avowedly a dog family. This is obviously the worst kind of generalization, allowing one rogue cat to colour our opinions of an entire species even though no cat has harmed me personally. Still, no cat has won me over, either, and they seem to actively or passively do the opposite of that 9 times out of 10.

Istanbul, then, would be hell on earth for my mother, and this documentary is therefore akin to torture for the poor woman (and I’m honestly not trying to give anyone ideas).

Istanbul is overrun with cats, who are very much a part of the culture. They don’t belong to anyone, they go where they please and forage whatever food they desire. Most (human) subjects interviewed for the film confess to occasionally being quite annoyed by them, but the cats aren’t giving anyone a choice.

The cats are fickle, too. As the film makers follow a couple in particular, we see that they hang around several different people, each of whom believe they are special, singled out. Lots of these people have even named the cat, not knowing that the cat is slutting it up with others who have also named her. Still, it’s kind of nice to see a whole community coming together to care for cats they don’t personally own. This shared responsibility must have an effect on the people, a unifying obligation\resentment\relationship that’s starting to sound a lot like family to me. And indeed, when you hear the people describe them variously as “a vicious housewife,” “jealous,” and “my first child” it would seem that this relationship is as fraught and complicated as any extended family.

Cats have existed on this island not just for centuries but for empires. However, times are a-changing and modern city architecture may not have a place for these creatures.

This documentary didn’t quite win me over. It was filled to bursting with cats! But if you’re more open-minded than I am, this might be just the thing for you. In fact, I already know some of you are crazy cat people, so check this out and let me know what you think.

p.s. My mom’s also afraid of buttons.

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

In the early 90s, a group called ACT UP Paris is putting pressure on the government and the pharmaceutical companies to do more, to do something to combat the AIDS epidemic.

I’ve seen lots of great documentaries about AIDS advocacy in the 80s and 90s and am forever in awe of how the gay community basically saved themselves. They had to. Of course the world was immediately scared of AIDS, but this was at a time that they were still afraid of homosexuality as well. HIV as not exactly a sympathy magnet. People thought it would basically kill off a bunch of deviants and sinners, and lots were okay with that. So the gay community rallied for itself. Even as they were being decimated by a unforgiving disease, they had to organize and go to bat for basic things like treatment and education and access and understanding and when all else failed, for the right to have their partners hold their hands while dying.

1238247So the truth of a film like BPM (aka Beats Per Minute aka 120 battements par minute) hurts. It hurts to see such a strong group of people fighting to save their own lives, but watching the group, watching their friends and colleagues, go missing one by one. They send postcards with the faces of their dead comrades to the Prime Minister knowing one day that face might be theirs. They act as guinea pigs for drug companies that withhold information, and go to jail for demanding it. And they continue to fight even after it proves not to “just” be a “gay disease” but one that would spread to lots of vulnerable populations. Their hard work is what saved us all.

Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a newcomer to the group, can’t help but be enchanted by Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), an HIV-positive member who is using the last bit of his strength to fight the good fight. Even though this is inevitably a very sad movie, there is also hope, and the struggle to find positivity even when things look bleak. It’s about fellowship and caring and justice. BPM doesn’t resort to melodramatic shenanigans. It has confidence in its story. It tells it straight, and it’s actually more affecting this way. 

Kasane – Beauty & Fate

Kasane is a young, talented woman prevented from pursuing the “family business” – she, like her mother, is a fabulous actress, but she’s held back by a prominent scar on her face. But when her mother dies, she leaves Kasane a magical tube of lipstick – one that, when conveyed through a kiss, allows her to swap faces with the kiss recipient for 12 hours. So you can bet your Mac and Sephora that Kasane finds herself an attractive but middling actress named Nina and literally kisses her face off.

I had some problems with this movie, namely, the blatantly sexist stuff. Like, there’s no reason that this magic has to be transmitted via kiss except the director clearly likes to linger over whatever lesbian\girl-on-girl situations he’s orchestrated.

I think the premise has potential, but right off the bat I bet you can recognize some challenges and when the script runs into them,  it’s like running into a brick wall. I wish MV5BOTdhOGY1MmQtNzQwZC00NTBiLWI2ZjEtNTdkZjIyZTM1ZjhjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,707,1000_AL_some script writer would have made even a half-assed attempt at circumventing the obvious pitfalls, but no, Kasane runs into them face first, and the camera caresses her smudged lipstick. I mean, you can understand what Kasane (Kyoko Yoshine) gets out of the equation – but Nina (Tao Tsuchiya)? What can she possible stand to benefit?

And, okay, let’s address the scar – a significant one covering half her face. I won’t pretend it’s easy to be so marked, but I can’t forgive this movie for constantly reinforcing that scar = ugly. In fact, the older I get, the less I see ugliness, period. And I can’t really fathom why we’d ever need to use that word. But this girl, though clearly paranoid about her scarring, is not ugly. But if you’ll allow me for just one moment to pull back the curtain a little, let’s say for the sake of argument that she is ugly. Isn’t the lipstick a little cruel? Wouldn’t things have worked out better if it was a magical tube of cover up? A nice thick foundation with a side of pancake pressed powder? Julia Roberts has at least four tattoos that we know about, but have you ever seen them? No. Because makeup. Makeup IS magic. I have a tube of Christian Louboutin red lip stick that cost a car payment, but it’s worth it because it makes me feel like TWO car payments. But you know what? Makeup is fun because colour is necessary but changing yourself is not. Scars are just a reminder that you survived. And it feels awful to be complicit in this movie’s messaging, because scars don’t make you ugly, but being shallow and superficial does. Which is not to say it would be easy for a young woman to confront our looks-obsessed world with a scar that looks so angry and cruel, but there has to be some middle ground between total isolation and stealing someone’s face.

This movie claims to challenge our notions of beauty and superficiality but I felt it did the opposite. It’s adapted from a popular manga but I’m unfamiliar with its source material and I wonder if I would feel differently if I knew it. For me, parts of this movie felt uncomfortably fetishistic, and though I tried to take it light-heartedly, and just enjoy the twisted nature of the film, I couldn’t quite buy into it, nor did I want to.

 

Searching

Searching Pie

1999. It was the summer that I graduated high school, started preparing for CEGEP, and took my first trip across the country without the parental units. If ever there was a summer that felt like I had my whole life ahead of me, that was the one and- even though it was that same summer that I saw The Goddamn Matrix for the first time, the movie that really brings me back to that feeling- the movie that I saw four times- was American Pie.

Looking back on that scene where three teens repeatedly scream “MILF” at a picture of Stiffler’s Mom, I’d call it misogynist. But 19 years ago, that didn’t stop my friends and I from laughing our asses off. And to this day (and I’m sure this would make him so happy) I can’t look at John Cho without thinking of “MILF’ Guy #2. (Wait, who was “MILF” Guy #1 then?).

It’s almost depressing to think about how long ago that was. Times have changed and a lot of those changes are good. Jason Biggs doesn’t have to watch scrambled porn anymore and Cho can find work without having to lick a framed photo of Jennifer Coolidge. And I’m proud that my sense of humour has gotten a little more sophisticated and hopefully a lot less sexist. Still, I don’t know many people who love thinking about how many years have passed since high school while they weren’t looking and in his new movie John Cho is back to remind me of just how old I’ve gotten by playing the father of a 16 year-old girl.

Searching 1

That Cho is now old and mature enough to carry a tense thriller about a father’s desperate search for his missing teenage daughter isn’t even the most obvious way that Searching reminds us of what a strange and different world we’re now living in. First-time director Aneesh Chaganty shot the entire movie from the point of view of a mock computer screen. So as Cho’s David Kim talks to his daughter’s friends and searches for clues on her laptop, the whole story is told through Google searches, text history, Facebook posts, Skype, and YouTube videos.

Searching 2

My first response to Chaganty’s experimental approach during the first few minutes of Searching was “Alright. I’m impressed so far and am on board for now but can easily see how this can get old pretty quickly”. It’s a testament to Chaganty’s storytelling that the novelty never wears off and is rarely distracting. It’s not a perfect film. I’m not sure all of the laughs it got at my Fantasia screening were entirely intentional and as a thriller one or two of the twists may be a little too far-fetched.

Not all of the changes since 1999 are great and Searching is at its best as an exploration of what a double-edged sword the internet can be. It shows how it can make it easier both to reach out and to retreat into our. How easy it is both to reveal and conceal our true selves. And, most importantly, how useful a tool the internet is for concerned parents and stalkers alike.

Despite its flaws, Searching is a much more gripping and emotionally satisfying experience than you’re probably imagining and Cho nails what I can only imagine must have been a challenging role. I highly recommend it.

This Beautiful Fantastic

Bella Brown is an odd duck. Abandoned as a baby and raised without parents, or a proper home, she relies on order and predictability to manage her days and nights. She works in a library and dreams of being a children’s author – if only she could think of a story.

The only aspect of her life that isn’t obsessively orderly is her back garden, due to a deep and abiding fear of…plants. I think. But anyway, the yard is neglected enough that her landlord threatens her with homelessness if she doesn’t straighten it up in a month’s time. During that month, Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) will meet three men: a) the rude and grumpy old widow next door, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) b) Alfie’s hard-working, hero_This-Beautiful-Fantastic-2017unappreciated cook, also a widower, named Vernon (Andrew Scott), and c) Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a head-in-the-clouds inventor who haunts the library looking for inspiration.

This Beautiful Fantastic is sweet, and whether you find that a complimentary thing in a movie is up to you. It styles itself as a modern-day fairy tale, though I think that’s a bit of a reach. The story is a bit thin for that, though the characters are all fitting enough. But it IS a very pleasant way to tend to a blossoming if unlikely friendship between a reclusive young woman, and her nemesis – the cranky old guy next door. Set variously in a beautiful garden and a library. So very genteel.

The garden metaphor is painfully obvious of course. Get it? GET IT? Of course we do. Now back off with the lazy writing that still still somehow congratulates itself. But with some fine actors, it manages to be quite charming and a little offbeat. If your gag reflex for the saccharine is running sensitive these days, stay away. But if you want something kind of cute to do your taxes to, you could do worse.

 

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

 

The Vanished

When director Chang-hee Lee saw Oriol Paulo’s 2012 film, The Body, he enjoyed it, but he also saw how he would make it differently, and perhaps more importantly, how he could inject it with some Korean spice. Chang-hee Lee introduces the film to us at Fantasial Film Festival, and appears overwhelmed to have traveled all this way for his first feature film, awed at the reception, abashed at the applause. After greeting us in French (garnering immediate rock star status), he reassures us that this is not so much a horror film as a thriller, and so of course the opening scene causes me to pee just a teeny, tiny, barely perceptible bit. It was hella scary.

OF COURSE it’s scary: a night security guard goes down to the basement DURING A BLACKOUT on a rainy night BY HIMSELF armed with only a flashlight TO A MORGUE where he sees – what? a woman? a body? a ghost? We don’t know, because someone (or something) shadowy gives him a crack on the head, and when the police arrive it’s night really the security guard who grabs their attention, but the empty drawer in the morgue.

Yoon Seol Hee, newly dead, formerly a young, successful CEO, has gone missing. Well, her corpse has. Bad-boy detective Woo Joong Shik is on the case, and he’s cynical as hell and casts an accusatory eye at her “trophy husband”, Park Jin Han, although he’s more concerned with murder than mere body snatching. Of course, since Park and Yoon run MV5BOTk0ZDAzOTMtMTg3NS00Y2Y3LWI4ZDYtNjE2MGU3NTRkNTc4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_with an elite crowd, the higher ups are cautioning Detective Woo to back off – but he’s much too much a loose canon to respect authority, isn’t he? You know he is. Meanwhile, if Park is looking inadequately grief stricken, he’s overly concerned about his wife’s missing body. And pretty soon he’s frantically claiming that she’s responsible for her own disappearance, and is somehow still alive.

The cool thing about this movie is that it takes place over the course of just one night, which gives it a real sense of urgency. Movie detectives are often of this variety, the old “renegade cop” trope, the guy who plays by his own rules. He’s tough, a bit of a cowboy, a definite anti-hero, often with a side of alcoholism or anger (mis)management. But there’s something about seeing this Detective among his much more restrained, polite, effacing, perhaps more stereotypically Korean colleagues that’s intriguing and fresh. No one quite knows what to make of him, and he definitely shakes up the investigation.

Even if you’ve seen the original Spanish version, you’ll still get a kick out of The Vanished; the Korean setting of course makes for quite a change, but circumstances and even outcomes have been rearranged as well, for your viewing pleasure. And to be honest, it was quite a pleasure. I can’t believe this is a first feature for the director. It looks slick and cool and there are lots of visual details to admire, we get a sense of his style and aesthetic and the whole thing just glows. The cinematography is beautiful. As I mentioned, this film takes place over the course of a night, so DP Lee Jong-youl coats it in a cold blue wash that lends just a touch of creepiness to an already creepy scenario. But in flashbacks he floods us with warm, natural lighting, which is a bit cruel actually – it gives us a false sense of comfort when really we should never let our guard down.

The thing about The Vanished is, it’s a very compelling puzzle. And even if you’re very clever and you  manage to slot all the moving pieces into just the right places, you’ll find it’s one of those trick puzzles that only look complete – actually it just unlocks like 3 more puzzles to solve! The veteran cast (Kang-woo Kim, Hee-ae Kim, and Sang-Kyung Kim as the rumpled Detective) close ranks and draw us in with their institutional politeness – but something stinks in this morgue, and it’s certainly not the dead body. Because, you know, it’s missing. And maybe not even dead.

Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.