The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.

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Missing Link

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an investigator of myths and monsters but his charismatic exploits have failed to yield any actual proof. There’s a boy’s club of pompous explorers Frost would kill to be a part of, but they won’t have him. In fact, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) would kill to keep him out – and unfortunately, he means that a little more literally than does Frost. Frost feels like his best and last chance is to go to America to find the elusive Sasquatch, and Lord Piggot-Dunceby sends Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to make sure he doesn’t.

Frost does indeed meet the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who turns out to be rather a MV5BNDFmMjlmNjEtN2RhNS00NWNhLWFjODgtN2IxYTY1NzExYWZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_pathetic figure. The last of his kind, “Mr. Link” is lonely, and hopes Frost will help him find long-lost cousins, Yeti said to live in the Himalayas. With the help of Frost’s friend Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who hikes the mother fucking Himalayas in heels, they have an adventure worthy of even the greatest explorer, facing adversity bigger than even Big Foot himself.

Laika’s last effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, is an absolutely incredible feat of animation and story-telling. It looks and feels like something truly special, almost magical. Missing Link, while quite charming, is no Kubo. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s sweet, actually, and its straight-forward plotting is kid-friendly and accessible. The animation is what we’ve come to expect from over-achieving Laika, and the voice work is first-rate. The film manages to be funny and heart-warming throughout. But it doesn’t have that edge, that sliver of darkness I’ve come to expect from Laika.

Missing Link is a nice movie, a genuinely nice movie, but it’s less sophisticated, less complex than Laika’s usual fare, so for me it fell short of the high bar set by Kubo.

The Oath

A fear-mongering, power-hungry president has decided to asked his fellow Americans to sign a loyalty oath to prove their patriotism. There are incentives to signing – tax breaks, of course – but signing will be totally optional. Americans have nearly a year – until Black Friday – to opt in or out. No pressure. But during that year, things are not as easy-peasy as first promised. ‘Patriots’ turn vitriolic. Hate crimes increase. Protests often get violent. Protestors start to mysteriously disappear. ‘Concerned’ citizens start turning each other in.

Sound disturbingly plausible?

But of course holidays must still be observed, so we join Chris and Kai as they host is family for Thanksgiving.

MV5BNDM3ODAwMTc1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTM1NDQxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Chris (Ike Barinholtz) is staunchly against signing the oath; he and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) agree on that. But while Kai just wants to survive the family and survive her in-laws, Chris is glued to the television and obsessed with minute-to-minute reports from across the country. It’s hard to blame him: these are indeed crazy times.

Chris’s mother (Nora Dunn) insists on “no politics” at the table, but Chris can’t help but clash with his right-wing, oath-signing brother Pat and Pat’s alt-right, fake news spouting girlfriend. Even Chris’s “more reasonable” sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein) can’t get a word in. The first half of the movie plays out exactly like many of our own family gatherings would under similar circumstances. Ike Barinholtz, who also writes and directs, gets right to the heart of things, satirizing and underlining America’s troubling and polarizing partisanship. He keeps things interesting by casting Chris as equally culpable. He’s on the opposite side of the spectrum, but he’s every bit the blowhard, intolerant of every opinion but his own.

And then John Cho shows up. He and Billy Magnussen play CPU agents – that’s Citizens Protection Unit to you. It seems someone has reported Chris for his unAmerican activities. Cho plays a relatively reasonable guy, but Magnussen plays exactly the kind of guy who would be attracted to the position. Never mind that this oath was supposedly voluntary, he believes Chris is the worst kind of traitor, and he’ll stop at nothing (and I do mean nothing) to serve his country in the manner he’s deemed necessary. Shit goes south FAST. The film takes a detour toward the increasingly absurd, and yet Barinholtz never loses us because it never quite feels unrealistic. And maybe that’s the scariest part.

What I’ve failed to mention is that although this is technically a political comedy, it’s also a horror movie. It’s not gory or graphic or particularly scary to watch, but it is deeply frightening to feel how close we are to this very situation.

I may have enjoyed the concept more than I enjoyed the execution of this film, but damn if it didn’t keep me 100% mentally engaged and 110% emotionally enraged.

Every single character is acting out of love of family and love of country – every single one. But they’re coming at it from such different directions it feels impossible that they should all want the same thing. This is exactly American’s biggest problem right now, and the gap between the sides widens every day. No matter which side of the problem you think you’d come down on yourself, you must admit that in 2019, the most revolutionary act we can commit is one of compassion.

The Oath is a smart, thoughtful movie that I wanted to end only because I couldn’t wait to start talking about it.

Mary Magdalene

In bible times, everyone named their girl babies Mary, which has led to a lot of confusion over the years. Mary Magdalene is often confused for the Mary who was a whore – you know, the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’s feet. In fact, Mary Magdalene, which is to say the Mary who came from the fishing village Magdala, was not a prostitute; she left her village to follow Jesus. She was the 13th apostle, never so named because of course she was a woman, but the truth is, the bible mentions her by name more times than it does any of the actual apostles. So Mary Magdalene was important. She witnesses Jesus’s crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection. The catholic church now owns her as a saint in her own right.

This movie is a feminist take on a story that has always been told from the male perspective. When Sean asked me how I liked it, I said something like “Well, it’s the role Joaquin Phoenix has been dying to play.” To which Sean thoughtfully responded “Mary Magdalene?!?!?!” and I had to say “No, dummy, Jesus” to which Sean should have gone quiet but instead admitted “Oh yeah, I forgot who else was in that story.” So yeah. This is Mary Magdalene’s story of her time spent with that weird dude named Jesus.

In the movie, Mary M. (Rooney Mara) is a more independent woman than most. She does MV5BMTBjNDI1MTQtNDFlOS00MGE0LWI3OGYtYTIzMjBiY2NmMDQyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk2NDA3MTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_not want to get married. So her father and brother obviously assume she is possessed by demons and try to drown them out of her, which mostly consists of drowning her. She barely survives their ‘help.’ Then they have the balls to act all shocked when she runs away from home to join the circus. I mean Jesus. She joins up with the Jesus train, which is not all that different from a circus when it rolls into town.

Jesus (Phoenix) is charismatic and he draws a big crowd. Mary M. isn’t the only one desperate to hear about this wonderful kingdom, free of oppression. But she realizes that women in particular might like to hear more about the end of tyranny, so she schools Jesus on how to talk and minister to them directly. Oh, the other apostles are shocked and appalled. Of course they are. Who is this woman who is automatically Jesus’s new teacher’s pet? Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is particularly jealous and mistrustful. Of course, if you know anything about the bible, you know they’re all in for more difficult times thant these. The official film synopsis calls it a “dramatic turn of events” which is hard to say about the most-repeated story for the past 2000 years. It’s not exactly an M. Night Shyamalan twist. Spoiler alert: Jesus dies! AND he is risen! Lord have mercy.

Director Garth Evans takes a winding and melancholy route to death and resurrection, but it’s beautiful, and the cast is really strong. Mostly I just loved hearing this overly familiar story from a female perspective for once. It broke down the world’s most pervasive myth and made you think about it from outside the box – not a lot, just a little. It pushed the boundaries. But just accepting that the boundaries are flexible to begin with is a huge deal, and I found myself looking at the thing from all kinds of new and interesting angles.

Opens April 12 just in time for Easter for a special one-week engagement at Toronto’s Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP, Mississauga’s Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas, Vancouver’s International Village, Calgary’s Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market Cinemas, Edmonton’ Cineplex Odeon South Edmonton Cinemas, and Montreal’s Cinéma Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin.

Holmes & Watson

How old am I? I laughed at Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly all the way through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in 2006. And then I did it again 2 years later for Step Brothers. They were such a charming duo in their way. But here we are in 2019 and I can’t find one spare giggle for their reunion in Holmes & Watson. How old have I gotten that I don’t find these two funny anymore? Or perhaps the better question is: why are they still making the same movie when they’re both now in their 50s?

In fact, upon closer inspection, Holmes & Watson is NOT the same movie. The first two are birthed at the hands of Ferrell and Adam McKay, with just a magical sprinkling from Reilly. Holmes & Watson is written and directed by Etan Cohen, who is also responsible for Idiocracy, a movie which I find vile and deeply unfunny, so perhaps it’s no wonder at all that this one isn’t for me either.

The world is saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories and we didn’t need another, but I believe we would have made room for it if the movie warranted it. Benedict Cumberbatch has already staked an icon take on the role, and the writers on the show go MV5BM2Q0Y2UyNDEtODE1NC00ZTUyLTgzY2EtNjliM2VjNDk3NTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMyMjYwNTA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_to great lengths to honour his brilliant mind and the world’s most esteemed detective. Will Ferrell’s Sherlock is also supposed to be brilliant, but Cohen can’t find a way to express that while still being funny. The result is a rim shot – you know, when the basketball can’t decide whether to score or not, so it just sort of hobbles around in midair, keeping everyone in suspense? Only the movie’s tone is the basketball, and it circles the rim for so long that you’d rather just walk away in disgust than find it whether it eventually lands.

As far as I can tell, most of the humour is derived from Holmes and Watson supposedly accidentally inventing things far before their time, like a selfie with the Queen (it’s Queen Victoria in the movie, even though at the time of Titanic’s sail, which is when the film is set, King George would have reined), and a telegraphed dick pic

Holmes & Watson is a blemish to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory, and a bruise for modern cinema, which it really didn’t need. It’s not just an unfunny comedy, it’s also a shockingly bad movie. When Sony realized it had a real stinker on its hands, it tried to just sell it off quietly to Netflix, and Netflix said: no thanks. So if you’re still wondering How bad can it be?, remember that you’ll have to pay a $5 rental fee to find out, and after reading this review, if you pay it, it’s not so much a rental feel as an idiot tax, and maybe you deserve to pay it after all.

Shazam!

In Shazam, 14 year old Billy Batson is given magical powers by an old wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Suddenly, by saying “SHAZAM!”, he turns into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) with super strength, super speed, and a whole lot of other powers. Billy is given these powers so that he can prevent the seven deadly sins from destroying the world. Naturally, teenager Billy has slightly different priorities, such as using his new powers and appearance to earn money, make killer YouTube videos, and buy beer.

SHAZAM_feb22_0125.dngAlso on Billy’s to-do list: picking a great superhero name. Billy and his best friend try out a lot of options for Billy’s superhero throughout the film, like Captain Sparklefingers, Power Boy, the Red Cyclone, Mister Philadelphia, Maximum Voltage, and on and on. None stick. Captain Marvel is noticeably absent from the list, and the name problem is a nice nod to the real world legal issues that Shazam has faced since the 1940s, as the character has been enjoined, traded, discarded, renamed and reimagined numerous times since. As a bonus, Billy even says “Holy Moly” a couple of times in the film, which was comic Billy’s go-to but which no one else has said since about 1962.

Billy’s behaviour is schlocky and charming and works wonderfully for a superhero who has also been called The Big Red Cheese. But interspersed with the corny stuff is a really terrifying villain (Mark Strong), who has a glowing rock for an eye, calls upon demons to decapitate, dismember and destroy a whole boardroom of corporate suits, and watches with a smirk as a rival turns to ash. These tonal shifts are not just uneven, they are jarring, and more than that, the dark aspects of this film make me hesitant to recommend this film to my brother even though my seven year old nephew insists on being notified whenever the Shazam trailer comes on TV.

Still, DC has delivered its second good film since trying (and then aborting) its shared universe project (Wonder Woman is still the best by far and will be hard to beat). The problem for DC is that having now said that each movie is its own entity and there’s no bigger narrative, meaning there is no need for regular movie goers to seek them all out. So when a good one comes along, people will go see it, but when the next one’s mediocre, the masses can skip it without worrying that they’ll miss something. In my view, a big part of Marvel’s success is that each chapter might add something important, so I’d better see it even if I’m superheroed out that month. DC has now walked away from that which only increases the pressure for their movies to measure up, and that’s a questionable choice when DC has more misses than hits to this point.

 

Bumblebee

Let’s get this out there first: Jay would never have a favourite Transformer, because they are all beneath her and far too nerdy. But if, IF, she liked Transformers then Bumblebee would definitely be her favourite, because he’s a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Jay has owned three Beetles, blue, white and red, and she would have owned more if only Volkswagen hadn’t stopped production. So last time we got her a car we picked a yellow Mustang which probably would have been a yellow Beetle instead if Volkswagen was better at business.

Just like Jay had to start fresh with a Mustang, Bumblebee is a fresh start for the Transformers franchise after a good start turned into a string of horrible sequels. We are taken back to the 1980s as the Autobots flee their home planet of Cybertron, which has been taken over by the evil Decepticons. Bumblebee is one of the fleeing Autobots and he ends up on Earth with instructions to scout out the place and wait for his friends to arrive. But of course, the Decepticons track him down first and the little yellow Transformer needs the help of his new human friends to save the world.

I was expecting Bumblebee to be as terrible as the last Transformers movies, or possibly worse. It’s not. It’s smaller, more focused, and succeeds in getting the franchise back to its roots by telling a story about humans working together with good robots to stop bad robots. I feel certain that in doing so, Bumblebee also sets an unbreakable record for most 80s references crammed into a single film, by including ALL OF THEM except Hands Across America which Jordan Peele must have reserved in advance for Us.

Despite its efforts, Bumblebee is still not actually a good movie, and I’m sure Jay hated every last minute (except possibly the parts where the Beetle was driving along the California coast). But it’s a fun diversion, it’s by far the best Transformers movie since the first one, and maybe there’s hope for the future of this franchise as long as Michael Bay can keep away from the director’s chair.