Your Highness

Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride), who smells like sheep scrotum, is his brother’s lesser in every way. Prince Fabious (James Franco) is more handsome and more accomplished, kinder and a better brother. He’s even brought home Belladonna (Zoey Deschanel), the most beautiful woman in all the land, to be his bride. But his wedding day is interrupted by a Leezar (Justin Theroux), a powerful warlock upset about his dead cyclops and stolen virgin. He comes to seek revenge and fulfill an ancient prophecy, leaving with Belladonna and thus, Fabious’s heart.

Their father, the king, orders the inept Thadeous to accompany Fabious on his quest, god knows why. And so begins an adventure. Had Fabious gone alone it no doubt MV5BMTUxNzMwODc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ4MTA4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_would have been a five minute drive up the road, wit both he and his bride making it back in time to cut the cake at their reception. Throw Thadeous into the mix and all you’ve got is a stoner period piece that’s a vehicle for Danny McBride. I mean, Your Highness looks pretty great, truth be told. It’s got a big enough budget to go through the motions. But McBride’s humour is stunted. It’s like he’s always writing for 12 year olds. And, sure, the first time you hear milady say the f-word it makes the tips of your ears blush, but you can’t build a whole movie on just out of place rude humour. Well, okay, point taken – apparently you can, and apparently Universal will pay you 50 million dollars to do it – but there isn’t a mammal on Earth who shouldn’t have seen this flop coming a mile away.

How, then, does such a movie garner such a high-profile cast? Natalie Portman has been adamant about distancing herself from it. She says she only did it because she wasn’t sure Black Swan would be green-lit by a studio and she felt she could use this paycheque to self-finance the film herself, if need be. However (and perhaps, for her, unfortunately), Black Swan got green-lit fairly easily, but the contract was already signed and she had to go through with Your Highness anyway, and stumble over great lines like “burning in my beaver.” James Franco has been less circumspect, saying the film “sucked,” which is still a kinder review than the one I’m writing, but then, if I had earned $2.5M for it, I might be a little more defensive too. As it is, I have zero sympathy for a movie that can’t have even sounded good on paper, not even on RAW, unrefined rolling papers, the kind you light on fire and allow to go up in smoke.

 

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Monogamy

A bored wedding photographer sets up a side business – ‘Gumshoot’, where he’ll surreptitiously photograph his subjects without being seen. Kind of like a private eye (hence the clever name), except he’s actually been hired specifically to do this. One day Theo (Chris Messina) arrives at a park to photograph a woman known only to him as ‘Subgirl’ and what he finds there, at 9am, is a beautiful woman touching herself. He takes her picture from behind his grassy knoll. He takes a whole bunch.

At home, he takes his time perusing them, and his fiancee Nat (Rashida Jones) can’t help but notice the close-up crotch shots. They share an intimate moment together, inspired by the wantonness of the photos. And maybe that would have been nice had Theo left it f0a9f8c6bd1adb17_monogamy-trailerthere. But does he? Oh no. He does not. He becomes obsessed, scrutinizing the photos for every tattoo, every freckle, every…clue?  And then he takes more pictures. Subgirl (Meital Dohan) leads an interesting life that seems to get more and more perverse. Would that excited you? Are you an exhibitionist like Subgirl? Or are you a voyeur like Theo? What would it be like to stalk someone with your camera? To film them in such compromising poses? To know that in a way, they are performing just for you. Sexy? Creepy? Both?

I confess I’ve always had a thing for Chris Messina. He’s dark and brooding and kind of an asshole. Why do we always fall for the assholes? To be clear, I don’t even know Chris Messina. I just lust after his character on The Mindy Project, and then fantasize about breaking all his limbs for all the terrible things he’s done to my precious MindyWhoCanDoNoWrong. My Rashida Jones crush is possibly even stronger. Does she actually emit the light of a thousand suns or have I just soaked for too long in Leslie Knope’s love for best friend extraordinaire, Ann Perkins?

Anyway, I guess you can only photograph cock sucking for so long before your own relationship starts to suffer. So too does his mental health, I think.

But this movie isn’t just about a Brooklyn hipster. It’s about the fraudulent wedding industry, and the stereotypically male knee-jerk reaction to marriage (and its inherent mysogyny), and the sad sac, boo hoo, woe is me, self-pity-party of the man’s end of a breakup. On the head, as my brother-in-law would say (as in, nailed it).

Don’t Worry. He Won’t Get Far On Foot

John Callahan was a dedicated alcoholic when he had a life-changing accident that left him paralyzed.

Post-accident, the path to sobriety isn’t exactly direct. Between the struggle to accept his new limitations, learning to live in a chair, caring for his broken body, and searching for the mother who gave him up at birth, there are a lot of reasons to drink. Of course, there’s always a reason to drink. Only when he truly embraces the value of AA, with the help of group leader Donny (Jonah Hill), does he start to imagine a future for himself. And he finds a healthy way to channel his anger and his energy and his wonderment: cartoons.

MV5BMjMyMTY2MzYxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTEwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Callahan is injured enough that he cannot grasp a pen but he manages somehow to manipulate a felt-tip pen between two mangled hands and he finds inspiration in his life to create funny, and often controversial cartoons. His student paper sees fit to publish him and from there he develops a national following.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a line ripped from one of his own cartoons; the movie is adapted from Callaghan’s memoir. Director Gus Van Sant wants to say something about the healing power of art but the movie itself reads more like a tribute to support systems and the importance of forgiveness without dipping into the considerable well of inspirational cliches.

It’s a dark comedy, as you can imagine, but between Jack Black, Jonah Hill, and an orange-haired Joaquin Phoenix wielding his wheel chair like a bat on wheels, there’s some appreciated levity to all the drama. It’s an off-beat comedy about an off-beat guy. Phoenix is irrepressible.

Sean didn’t care for the movie – he felt not much had happened. I liked it well enough – I liked the unexpected performances from the likes of Beth Ditto, Carrie Brownstein, and Kim Gordon. I liked that Callaghan’s dark vein of humour is kept in tact throughout transformation, that he doesn’t become some sort of saint, merely the same caustic guy with a new lease on life. I liked that his past is never treated like an excuse – not that I’m not sympathetic to his victimhood but I like that he finds his salvation elsewhere, that he’s allowed to not solve the puzzle of his childhood before finding peace in his present. The 12 steps are not equally cinematic, but I felt Phoenix’s charismatic performance carried us through. Obviously Sean disagreed, so I guess I’d call this a mixed-bag review. It’s not for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Private Life

Rachel and Richard are a couple their niece Sadie looks up to – their tiny NYC apartment has cachet because of they live and work in the arts. When she drops out of college, it is natural for her to turn to them for support and a place to crash – much cooler than her parents’ place in the suburbs.

But as Sadie’s parents know, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) aren’t exactly living a carefree life. They are deep in the throes of a fertility struggle. They’ve tried everything, and they’re still trying multiple strategies at once, which requires MV5BMTUyNTMyODc4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk5ODg1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_careful juggling and judicious lying (the adoption people want to hear that IVF is behind you). Like any couple wanting a baby they can’t have, they’ve suffered heartbreak. As the technologies and treatments proliferate, so too does the potential for loss. These people have suffered in ways my privileged uterus hasn’t even heard of – including a catfishing scam I can only wonder at. Still, Rachel and Richard persist, even in the face of their family’s disapproval and the strain on their bank account and the stress on their marriage. But they balk when the doctor suggests an egg donor – or Rachel does, feeling cut out of the deal. But then the young woman living in their home starts to feel like an option – it’s just a delicate matter of how to ask the vulnerable, tetherless niece to do something that will affect her profoundly for the rest of her life? Is that even fair?

This is a movie about fertility, but even more so, it’s a movie expressing rage against the lie that women can have it all. Rachel has delayed kids for career and the price is high. Her husband is sympathetic but ultimately this is her worth as a woman being questioned and her body betraying them, even as she ravages it with attempt after attempt. Private Life is about the ebb and flow of hope and what it does, long-term, to a marriage.

 

22 July

22 July 2011. Anders Behring Breivik triggered a car bomb in the government district of Oslo that killed 8 and injured 209. Two hours later he had ferried over to the island of Utoya where a summer cap for the youth division of the Labour Party was held. You likely heard about it on the news, at the very least. Breivik was dressed in a police uniform and armed to the teeth. He opened fire on the group of teenagers and killed 69 more, injuring another 110. The kids were like sitting ducks, and Breivik shot them one by one for the political affiliations of their parents.

The film, by Paul Greengrass, is difficult to watch, especially the beginning, which recreates the attack. Later it focuses on the survivors, and on the court case that wouldMV5BM2RkYThlMDQtZDZlMi00ZGVhLThiYWYtZWJlNzQ4YmQ2M2QzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDA5NjIzMg@@._V1_ keep Norway rapt. Breivik, who orchestrated the attacks to protest immigration and other stupidly racist, extremist right-wing bullshit, claimed insanity in order to avoid prison. But he also desperately wanted to stay in control of the trial, demanding the prime minister be called as a witness, and insisting that he have the opportunity to address the court to spout more of his hate, and so after “playing a role” for court-appointed psychiatrists, he decided to retract and change his plea.

As you can imagine, with 1 in 4 Norwegians in some way affected by these attacks, the whole country was fraught. The lawyers tasked with defending him were targeted themselves. But the movie’s beating heart is one kid, a survivor shot 5 times, who finds the courage to stand up and face his worst nightmare in court. He doesn’t want to let Breivik see his vulnerability, but feels the weight of all the voices who cannot speak for themselves.

It’s a moving film, of course. I said before that the first part was particularly difficult to watch, but for me, Breivik’s cold, rational, hateful testimony in court performed by Anders Danielsen Lie was even harder. Film has more or less desensitized us to horrific violence, but nothing can prepare you for looking into the eyes of a person we know exists, who really carries this hate in his chest in the cavity where a heart usually resides. That’s the tough part: reconciling ourselves with the fact that this villain has walked among us.

Thankfully, a thoughtful and humble performance by Jonas Strand Gravli balances this out. He is not just the spokesperson for the victims; he’s a stand-in for the horrified audience as well. Director Paul Greengrass has made these sorts of films his niche lately (Captain Phillips, United 93) and it’s a god-awful corner to have painted himself into, but I must admit he’s got it well sorted, but the movie’s attempt at dividing up the story gives it a sense of imbalance. It sputters a bit in the middle when it doesn’t quite know which movie it is. But it’s worth the watch. It’s an act of remembrance.

Hotel Artemis

Picture it: Los Angeles, 2018. The city is in its third day of violent riots. The people are demanding access to clean water. The power is flickering, a curfew is in effect, rich people are sending servants to deposit “lootable” goods at the bank. Which means there’s all the more for a bank robber (Sterling K. Brown) with an entrepreneurial spirit to steal. Unfortunately he and his gang of merry men escape with both bullet wounds and an accidental $18M in diamonds that ruthless mob boss Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is definitely going to come searching for.

But first things first: with his own brother bleeding in his arms, our intrepid bank robber checks in at the Hotel Artemis, a “dark room”, or a high-security, members-only hospital for the criminal underground. I believe they’ve ripped this idea directly from the John Wick movies, but it’s a good one. There, the doctor, who is called Nurse (Jodie Foster) is guided by a very strict set of rules:

1. While on the premises, no fighting with or killing other patients.

2. No disrespectful words or actions allowed against Hotel Artemis staff.

3. No guns or any type of weapon permitted through the gates.

4. Membership must be paid for, full and in advance.

5. Prior but lapsed members will not be admitted

6. No photography or video allowed.

7. No outside food or drink.

8. Absolutely no visitors.

9. If member is found to have compromised, or led to compromise of location, membership will be revoked.

10. Hotel Artemis rules are final and non-negotiable.

Tonight, with both the police, the rioters, and the Wolf King’s men bearing down on them, the brimming with injured criminals, no-vacancy hospital will come under siege, its only protector a dedicated health care practitioner named Everest (Dave Bautista), and every one of these rules will be broken.

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With such a potent premise and an A-list cast, Sean was curious as to why he was only hearing about this now. Usually, there’s only one answer: it’s no good. But actually, it’s not bad. Maybe not good, but it depends what you’re looking for. At times it reminded of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise with all these people stuck in a building that’s starting to resemble hell. But Hotel Artemis has more modest ambitions, and if you start to get an inkling of an allegory, well, it’ll be dashed soon enough so don’t expend too much brain power on it. Sit back and enjoy the villainous Jeff Goldblum (which is THE BEST Jeff Goldblum, isn’t it?) and the kick-ass Sofia Boutella and Jodie Foster in an actual role, an actual meaty, outside-the-box role (her first since Elysium!). Of course, the downside to a cast like this is that we don’t spend oodles of time with any of them (the movie has a trim 94 minute run-time) but when Bautista calmly unclips his hospital badge from its prominent breast-pocket display and pockets it, oh hell, you know you’re in for some fireworks and it doesn’t matter if we’ve gotten to know all the players because they’re about to become hunks of meat only suitable for stewing.

So maybe it’s disposable. Fuck it. You’re not watching for the depth of the satire, are you? No, you’re watching it because someone’s about to get PAPER-JAMMED TO DEATH (wait for it) and goddamn if you can’t look away from that.

All About Nina

Nina is an acerbic stand-up comedian who boasts on stage about not dating because it sounds a lot better than admitting the affair with the married cop who hits her (Chase Crawford). She barfs after every set. So it seems like the perfect time to flee New York and purse her dream in L.A. of landing  a role on Comedy Prime (an SNL stand-in).

Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has some professional success there, but her personal life suffers – and we know it didn’t have far to fall from. For the first time in her life, she lets a good guy (Common) get close to her but she’s flailing. Her new roommates (Kate del Castillo, Clea DuVall) model a new and healthy way of living but Nina can’t reconcile it MV5BZTE4ZjUxODEtNmNmZS00ZWU5LWIzODgtNTU1MjNhNzM1MzNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTY4NjI3Mzg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_with her own life, and I’m not sure she believes she deserves that level of happiness anyway. In fact, the closer she gets to good things, the more she sabotages them. Ultimately she’ll have a bit of a meltdown on stage that results in a viral video of some powerful truth-telling that her audience may not be ready for. Just about the only thing that video doesn’t threaten is her strength.

Director Eva Vives pulls together a terrific female-forward ensemble (Angelique Cabral, Camryn Manheim, Mindy Sterling),  to achieve this thoughtful look at what it means to live an authentic existence, especially for a woman in 2018. As her new boss Lorne Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges) tells her, the audience only thinks it wants truth – in reality they need it to be heavily curated.

[This reminds me of the very best stand-up comedy I’ve seen this year – Hannah Gadbsy, who has a special called Nanette. It’s on Netflix. It’s spectacularly funny but also very raw and angry and honest, which makes it a breath-taking, astonishing piece of art. Seriously. You should watch.]

Nina’s passion is motivated by pain. We are certain that her anger is covering for something, but she allows so few cracks that we don’t easily find a way in. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a long cinematic history of being wonderful and this performance in particular is a brave kind of perfection. It’s like watching a pot boil, with its own internal tension despite knowing what’s coming. Vives sets up these emotionally intense scenes and allows Winstead to smash them out of the park. All About Nina will live to its name. It distills all the frustrations and rage we have as women, every struggle we have between delicacy and strength, independence and cooperation, self-interest and support. It’s a messy road, but beautifully walked.