Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

Blood Ties

I’m flipping through what Amazon Prime has deemed “top movies,” most of which I’ve seen before, many of which I’d disagree are “top” (some vehemently!), some I’d even disagree are “movies” but there are a couple I haven’t seen, so I take a gamble and click And Did They Listen? The truth is: I myself could not quite bring myself to listen. It’s a documentary that, in THEIR words mind you, is about “history’s only scientifically verified encounter with alien life.” Although the world alien may be misleading – although they appear to have visited in one of those tin-can UFOs that little boys in the 1950s might have dreamed up, they are actually human beings simply from another star universe. And for some reason, though they are touted as highly intelligent beings, they’ve decided to make sole contact with earth through a little boy, who grows up to be quite a crackpot with lots of vague predictions, some of which can’t help but come true. The documentary was so shoddily made and contained so much horseshit I gave up within minutes (and you know what kind of crap I’ll sit through in the name of a review!) – I think you might be better served just looking him up on Wikipedia and calling it a day.

So my second choice was Blood Ties, a 2013 film featuring the likes of Clive Owen, MV5BMjExNzk2OTUxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMyNzA4MDE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saladana, Billy Crudup, and James Caan, that I’d somehow never seen. In it, Chris (Owen) is newly released from prison, and goes to live with his brother Frank (Crudup), a cop in 1970s Brooklyn. They did not live happily ever after. Instead, they draw lines, one on each side of the law, and they pull whomever they can down with them. But the whole family thing is just too hard to shake, and like it or not, their fates are pretty much intertwined. Which is a nice way of saying they’re fucked.

Ultimately, Blood Ties is good because it boasts a strong cast. But it flails almost everywhere else. The downward spiral is predicable, and while a movie like this should be about the descent, and not the outcome, the descent is hard to keep track of because there are a few too many subplots to keep score of, and not enough help with our scorecards. In other words: it becomes a chore. And like most chores, it keeps going until well past the point you’d want it to. But it was still preferable to the crazy man who invented a religion based on the spaceships he made out of trash can lids. So there’s that.

 

 

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Laggies

Megan panics when her boyfriend of 10 years proposes to her at a friend’s wedding, but really it’s what she’s been waiting for – not so much for the ring, but for someone to just decide for her. With her post-graduate studies complete, she’s still without a job, still waffling on her daddy’s couch when convenient. She’s lost. Which doesn’t excuse the following: when she flees her brand new fiance and her dear friend’s wedding reception to “get some air” she winds up at a grocery store, buying beer for some teenagers.

And then she ends up following one of them home. Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) is pretty interesting for a 16 year old, but the home she shares with her single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) is appealingly simple and cozy to Megan (Keira Knightley) and her quarter life crisis. Of course, the addition of Megan instantly complicates things for everyone and life is never simple. Megan should bloody well know that.

This film is apparently known as Say When in some countries, and I sort of think it MV5BNDhhM2FiMWUtYTBhNi00M2Q5LWI3ZTMtNWVmODcwMGU3ZTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_should be in mine as well. Laggies? An expression I was unfamiliar with, but could kind of understand with context. Urban Dictionary, bless its lack of soul, provides several helpful definitions, including 1. dragging along (which I believe Megan is doing) 2. someone who is stalkerish (which Megan borderline is) 3. a combination of both large + saggy, referring to boobs, as in “she’s got a nice rack, but she’s laggy” (which Megan most assuredly is NOT) 4. “the laggies” is a disease (well, a pretend one) caused by chronic masturbation (I’ll let you watch the movie to find out which characters may suffer from it).

Keira Knightly is not entirely convincing in her part or in her accent, but director Lynn Shelton is working really hard to throw a little sympathy her way, which is hard to do when an overeducated, overprivileged white girl is whining about her own indecision. Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, though, are pretty fantastic additions to the cast. They bookend Megan’s 20-something ennui, and give it some perspective. I also appreciated pop-ups from Ellie Kemper and Jeff Garlin; Shelton has a knack for comedy that I can only wish was more present in the script by Andrea Seigel. This film puts a little too much faith in Knightley’s charm. She tries her best to be our plucky heroine but she’s not half as enchanting as she thinks she is, and she’s easily upstaged by her teenage counterpart. Possibly Megan should have locked that shit down while she still could. Instead she’s stuck in that crack between childhood and adulthood, and the only enticement of this film is the viewer’s desire to be the one to give her shove she needs to get the fuck out.

Are You Here

Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) is a bipolar man-child who dabbles in the consumption and dissemination of weed. His friend, Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), a moderately successful local weather reporter, is outwardly more put together but his womanizing makes for a pretty superficial life. It’s hard to say why these two are still friends, but their shared childhood has clearly bonded them, and when Ben learns his estranged father has died, Steve makes the trip home with him.

There are two problems with waiting for Ben at home: 1. his ambitious, uptight sister Terri (Amy Poehler) and 2. his hippie “step-mom” Angela (Laura Ramsey) who’s the same age they are. Terri and Angela don’t get along and Ben hasn’t seen either of them in quite some time. So yeah, it’s a bit of a problem when the will is read and almost everything, including the family business, is left to him, a known loser and eternal fuck up.

MV5BMTY0OTE2ODg2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjUxMDI0MjE@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_First off, I sort of hate this title. Actually, I definitely hate this title. It’s too vague and it doesn’t mean anything, and without a question mark, it’s a question that doesn’t even ask itself let alone demand an answer.

I don’t know what this movie was really about, and I am confident that writer-director Matthew Weiner doesn’t either. I’m not 100% sure this movie wasn’t accidentally made from 2 or more disparate scripts. It kind of feels like a few rough-draft ideas were quilted into a half-baked script that never should have seen the light of day. And though there are a few good moments, mostly thanks to a talented cast, Are You Here is a forgettable mess. So I guess in that way, the title is actually quite representative of the film – and it should have been enough to warn me the hell away.

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

Last Flag Flying

Doc shows up in his old pal Sal’s bar, unannounced. They haven’t seen each other since they served together in Vietnam. The trio isn’t complete until they pick up Mueller, now a reverend, and only then does Doc confess the true nature of their journey. Doc’s son has just died in Iraq, and they’re on a mission to bring his flag-draped body home.

The kid’s getting a hero’s burial but Doc learns that the circumstances of his son’s death were a little less than heroic – nothing against his kid, just the same tragic junk that the government would prefer to mislabel  – and it’s tearing him apart. So instead of leaving his son’s body in government hands, he resolves to hijack the coffin and he and his buds travel across the country to bring him home.

324633-last-flag-flying-la-derniere-tournee-gagnez-vos-places-2But you may recall that these old guys (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) were also marines, and they have their own tragic story that they tiptoe around and unravel slowly. And butting these two wars together, it’s rough; it may be 30 years later, but the senselessness feels eerily similar.

Richard Linklater puts together a really tough movie. It kind of flew under the radar when released so I didn’t have great expectations for Last Flag Flying, but in fact it does a pretty good job handling conflicting themes between grief, friendship, patriotism, service, and sacrifice. While it may suffer somewhat from the shifts in tone from levity to the more somber, it has a really incredible cast that brings warmth and real humanity to what is an otherwise fairly standard script.

Steve Carell: wow. We’ve seen him be extraordinary before, between Foxcatcher and Freeheld and Battle of the Sexes and more besides, there’ more to Carell than just a funny guy. He maneuvers between similar chords and discordant ones like this is some kind of masterclass in acting and fucking Laurence Fishburne has front row seats. And that’s no kind of knock against Carell’s costars, who really make this a tight little dramedy.  Bonding happens during acts of bravery, but also, apparently, in unheroic moments. Men make war, and war makes men. It’s dark, could stand to be darker, but that’s the stuff that works the best, and is deeply moving to watch.

Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck tells two parallel stories, set 50 years apart. In one, a little girl named Rose travels to New York City to track down her mother, a famous silent film star, circa 1927. New York City is no place for a kid traveling alone but Rose, who is deaf, is brave and smart. Meanwhile, in 1977, Ben is another runaway on the loose after his mother dies and an accident leaves him newly deaf. Determined to find the father he never knew, he too heads for New York City. And since you’ve surely seen a movie before, you can probably guess that at some point these stories will somehow intersect.

Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life, had no prior acting experience before being 20Wonderstruck-web1-superJumbocast, but she wowed both director Todd Haynes and Julianne Moore with her audition. On set she communicated primarily through an American Sign Language interpreter, while Haynes sent many cast members on a walk through NYC wearing noise-cancelling headphones to get a sense of the city’s quiet side. Rose’s portions of the film are shot in black and white, and Simmonds has a terrific face for it – curious and expressive, her eyes lighting the way.

Oakes Fegley plays Ben, a kid who feels orphaned and is further isolated when he loses his hearing. Unlike Rose, his deafness feels more like an obstacle – he  hasn’t yet learned to navigate the world without hearing. And neither have we, but Haynes occasionally immerses us is quiet, the sort of quiet that feels pregnant with possibility.

Todd Haynes is the king of period pieces, and Wonderstruck affords him the opportunity to hit the jackpot: double periods! Nobody could embrace it any better. And he certainly has a knack for delighting us visually, bringing art to life, and cities to life, and museums to life, and inner life to life. What he stumbles with are the required shifts in tone. We flip back and forth between the two children’s stories and Haynes has tried to make each story line look and feel distinct. But those shifts can feel abrupt. Haynes drenches us in visual poetry but there’s an emotional disconnect that kept me from being truly wonderstruck. The sets are great, the costumes are great, the score is really something, but the parts somehow add up to just an okay whole. It lacks in whimsy but there is still joy to be found in discovering something new.

 

 

***And since we’re all here and you’re every so kindly reading, can we just take a minute to consider this: first-run movies are rarely accessible to deaf people. They often have to attend special screenings, or use special equipment, and if those aren’t available, they’re waiting for a DVD. There’s an easy fix. Why not make movies more accessible by simply captioning them?

Landline

This movie is deliciously familiar.

Manhattan, 1995: a time when people still smoked inside, while sitting on their plush, wall-to-wall carpeting. Personal phone calls were made on the street corner, on a dirty pay phone, and it cost a quarter. And in the Jacobs home, a forgotten floppy disk leads teenager Ali to discover her father’s affair (and embarrassing erotic poetry). Ali (Abby Quinn) recruits older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) into her investigation. The pair are bonding for the first time, perhaps even bonding over the secrets and lies, while also coming to terms with their own sex and love lives.

It’s really fun to watch Quinn and Slate together on screen. It’s obvious the sisters have some history but ultimately they care about each other, and about their parents, who are seeming more and more human all the time. Do you remember the first time you saw your parents as fallible, flawed people? This is their discover. Their father (John landline-5931Turturro) may be stepping out on their mom, but he’s also the geeky guy who still takes them to Benihana for special occasions even though they’re far too old. Their mother (Edie Falco) has never struck them as a sexual being before, but it turns out that she too has wants and needs, and that maybe not all her tears and concerns are for them. This is a really great script that unfolds over just a couple of days, but pivotal days that will completely reconstruct the family.

Director Gillian Robespierre clearly has some love for the 90s and at times coasts on those references, which are admittedly a bit indulgent, but fun to savour. Landline doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of theme or content but it’s a commentary on cheating by cheaters, and the implosion of a nuclear family just as it was about to expire anyway. There’s some nostalgia here, not just for the time period, but for that period of time before the kids grow wiser than the parents. The family’s shifting dynamics exhibit growing pains that are universal. And the great work by a talented ensemble means this family is fun to watch even as their ship is going down.

 

 

Teacher of The Year

Amazon tempted me into this one with the promise of some pretty funny dudes: Keegan-Michael Key, and the Sklar Brothers, who I didn’t even know acted. Turns out, they don’t. But they do do their stand-up act in front of a camera in “character” as a couple of funny brothers. Actually they play high school counselors – their job is to help kids get into college and they are spectacularly bad at it. Keegan-Michael Key teacher-of-the-year-movieplays the principal and he’s pretty darn at that too. But Matt Letscher plays the titular “Teacher of the Year” and though his character has the bonafide ribbon, you kind of have to take their word for it that he’s good at his job. Although we see quite a lot of him in the classroom, he rarely seems to be more than competent, and sometimes quite a bit less. Even so, this Teacher of the Year is being lured out of teacher. And if this is the best they have, they cannot afford to lose him. The rest of the school seems to be populated by teachers who are either oblivious or crazy with jealousy. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Anyway, as I should have guessed from a movie that’s hired stand-up comedians rather than actors, it’s hella-funny in some very small, contained parts, and mostly not at all funny in all the others. It’s sort of a mockumentary and sort of just a failed movie.

Paul

There’s just something right to me about a Nick Frost – Simon Pegg pairing. And this movie celebrates their inherent dweebitude. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are just a couple of nerds visiting the U.S. for comic con and then an alien-themed road trip, you know, Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, all those popular conspiracy theorist tourist traps. Only this road trip just happens to bring them a real alien, and his name is Paul (voiced\motion captured by Seth Rogen).

MV5BMTQxODA4NDc2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQzMDQ2NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpgPaul crash-landed here decades ago and has put up amiably with interrogation and testing, but he’s making his escape now that the only thing left is to slice and dice him. Is the government simply going to let him get away? Of course not. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio are all hot on his tail (he doesn’t have a tail). Graeme and Clive have an RV and a religious one-eyed woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and that’s about it: not ideal fleeing-the-government provisions, but it’ll have to do.

Paul is a love letter to science fiction fans. Pegg and Frost made the film’s pilgrimage in real life, and based the script on some of their odd encounters. The idea first came to them on a rainy night on the set of Shaun of the Dead, where they quickly sketched the character. Cameos and references to pop (science) fiction abound – how many can you spot? Paul is a real tribute to the genre but also just genuinely funny, even for those of us without an intrinsic love of extraterrestrials. This isn’t an excellent movie, but it’s a good enough movie, and frankly, it’s funnier than anything presently in theatres.

Seed

AngelHack, pioneer of global hackathons, is a female-owned, female-majority company that’s the world’s biggest, most diverse collective of hackers and developers. They’re driving innovation and tech products faster than you can blink an eye. This documentary follows their Silicon Valley Week, in which they invite the top 1% of hackers with an entrepreneurial spirit to come prepare their pitch and get launch-ready before Annual Global Demo Day.

E28A3520Seed follows three teams in particular: one, a couple of high school kids with a bright idea involving sneakers; another, a group from Nairobi who’ve developed a garbage-reporting ap; and the third a couple of guys from Palestine who are using the uber model to provide a parcel delivery service for small businesses.

It’s really cool to see industry leaders take time out to mentor these aspiring entrepreneurs. Their pitches are honed, designs streamlined, products tested. And how cool to peek behind the mysterious Silicon Valley curtain and see everything a young company goes through before those big breakthroughs, or more likely, first failures. Start-ups don’t come from nowhere: Seed shows us where the ideas germinate, and how they’re nurtured. And AngelHack is where it’s at: by “creating code and making change” they’ve actually supported over 150 start-ups. Their clients include IBM, BlackBerry, Hasbro, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which helped fund the film.

E28A6097I love documentaries because they let me understand a slice of the world that was previously closed to me. And when I tell you that I literally had to Google how to get a tab in Chrome to pop out into a new window while watching this movie, you’ll understand how removed I am from this world of hackers who live mysteriously inside my phone (do they?).

Director Andrew Wonder (ironically, given the material, using rare film lenses from the 1930s to capture a unique cinematic feel) gives us a good sense of the urgency, the stress, the nail biting, and the hopefulness of this event. It’s a pressure cooker. And as the documentary exposes, though only one ap will win, there’s more than one way to make winners AND losers of the competitors.

Seed is streaming on Amazon Prime.