Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

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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Living Proof

When I was a little girl, my school had an annual “read-a-thon” to raise money for MS. Finally, a “thon” that little unathletic Jay could win! And boy did I: hundreds of books read, and hundreds of dollars raised.

Film maker Matt Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was only 19 years old. A debilitating, incurable disease, both Matt and his family were devastated by it. His father, Ashton Embry, was frustrated at the paltry support offered by their doctors and with the lack of long-term results offered by any of the medication available. So he did his own research, and thanks in part to Judy Graham’s book about living with MS MV5BMjZhYmVmNTctNTlhZC00YmQ5LWJkZTUtM2ExN2RiMTc3ZWEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc4MTI1OTQ@._V1_naturally, he developed a diet for his son to follow. Matt eats unprocessed food – no gluten, no dairy – mostly fruit, veg, and lean meats. And since MS occurs more often in northern countries, like Canada, he takes a big ole dose of Vitamin D, like sunshine in a bottle. Yes, it’s a strict diet and requires constant preparation and vigilance. But if you’ve known someone cut down by MS, their bodies just literally abandoning them, you’d probably find such a possibility to be suitably motivating. And thanks to this lifestyle, Matt is still symptom-free, TWENTY YEARS after diagnosis. He has never taken any medication, but he has had a procedure called CCSVI – many people with MS have significant blockages in their jugular vein, which means not enough blood flows through to the brain.

Staving off MS without expensive drugs is reason enough for a documentary. Though it’s likely not the answer for everyone, it seems harmless enough to try, so Matt and his family have been devoted to disseminating the information, free of charge. But MS patients must happen upon it themselves, because none of the official avenues will so much as suggest it as an alternative. People my age are confined to wheel chairs and nursing homes because big pharma is only interested in medical alternatives that will make life-long paying customers out of patients. Diet and exercise are not profitable.

But you and I expect no less of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s unconscionable.  What really got my goat was the complicity of the MS Society of Canada, and its many chapters around the world. They raise millions of dollars, give a fraction to research, and literally suppress invaluable information from the people who suffer from MS and depend on them for resources. They accept donations from pharmaceutical companies, they endorse their drugs, and they funnel the money back toward research for medicine that will not cure MS. I am enraged to know that I ever gave\raised money for the MS Society. I was even more enraged to see them using the donations of well-meaning, hard-working people to sue the likes of Matt Embry. No wonder there have never been any significant advancements in MS research. It’s enough to make you sick.

Blame

A trio of high school girls. Already it sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

Bad girl Melissa (Nadia Alexander) arrives to disrupt the cozy duo of Ellie and Sophie. Melissa’s influence is immediate on Sophie – well, on both, since Ellie is quick to distance herself from Melissa’s cruelty. A fourth student’s arrival makes an even bigger stir. After a 6 month absence (psych ward stay, it’s rumoured), Abigail (Quinn Shephard) walks the halls, eyes downcast. Melissa senses prey, and the bullying is brutal and relentless. Slut or psycho, there’s no consensus, so both slurs are hurled her way on a regular basis.

Their drama class is studying The Crucible thanks to a new substitute teacher, Mr. Woods (Chris Messina). The parallels between the play and the plot of the film are hard to miss MV5BZjZiMjdiZGEtNTA5NS00NDBhLTlkZGEtMWY4ZGQ0NzEyNDNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTYyMDk1MjU@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_with the ostracizing and vilification of Abigail. Mr. Woods sees a lot of quiet talent in Abigail, and his singling her out for praise and attention only drives Melissa to more cruelty. But it’s ice to see Abigail being appreciated by someone, even if it’s her teacher. Until it’s her teacher’s, um, lips doing the appreciating, and that becomes problematic. Mostly for Melissa, oddly, who is insane with jealousy. To be clear, Melissa has every guy in school running after her, and she doesn’t want Mr. Woods. She just doesn’t want Abigail to have anything except Melissa-inflicted misery. And maybe she can’t stand to have anyone choose someone besides her. You’d have to invent a word above self-involved for the likes of Melissa.

Nadia Alexander is all kinds of hateful in this part. Melissa is perhaps not without her motivations, but Alexander is unwavering in her snarl and sadism. Quinn Shephard is also very confident and comfortable in Abigail’s skin, as she should be as she directs herself in a role she co-wrote.

Blame uses familiar high school movie tropes to construct a larger framework. Shephard uses the imagery and inspiration from The Crucible to build Blame to a heightened emotional intensity. We may not always know what it is, but it’s clear that danger lurks ahead. Abigail begins to identify more and more with her fictional counterpart, and it’s fascinating to watch her wardrobe transform as a result, her clothes reflecting both the puritanical and the temptress, and then to see the other girls’ outfits start to compete, heels getting higher, hemlines getting shorter. Only Ellie serves as a link to the audience and our growing discomfort. Chris Messina does an exceptional job with a tricky character. Mr. Woods clearly makes some bad decisions but Messina doesn’t brand him a predator. His girlfriend thinks he’s a loser so of course he puffs up under Abigail’s admiration and devotion. It makes him weak. And the girls, they perform, and I don’t just mean the Arthur Miller. I mean their sexuality is performative. Largely inexperienced, they project sophistication beyond their means, competing with one another for things they don’t fully understand yet, and may not even want. Placing The Crucible within hallowed high school halls makes it clear it belonged there all along.

Extract

Chances are, every pantry has a little bottle of pricey vanilla extract on its shelves. It’s practically ubiquitous in baking. Just try to make a cookie without it. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? No. And neither have I. But that’s not going to stop Jason Bateman from trying to tell us.

Joel (Bateman) is one of those classically sad, back-boneless middle aged men who aren’t particularly effective at home or at work. He owns the extract company, but it’s barely profitable and the employees bully him. At home, his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) dons her sweatpants in a nightly ritual to thwart his bedtime advances. They’re going through a dry spell. So when Cindy (Mila Kunis), an alluring young woman, comes looking for a job at the factory, can we blame Joel for wanting to give her something else? I mean, yes. We absolutely can. And even Joel is a bit wishy-washy on the whole thing, so it takes the bad influence of his best friend (Ben extract-02.jpgAffleck) to come up with this convoluted plan: they’ll hire a teenage gigolo to seduce Suzie, leaving Joel free to have an affair guilt-free. That’s a legit loophole in the vows, right?

Anyway, turns out Cindy’s a conwoman who’s trying to influence a former employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Joel for the loss of his testicle. So who, exactly is going to get a happily ever after?

From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge, I expected a lot better from Extract, and I probably shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s funny. And there are a lot of great cast members really selling their parts (David Koechner is a scene-stealer in a part that will infuriate you). None of these things add up to anything significant, but if you can live with some ridiculous, and often ridiculously funny, bits and pieces, you might be able to make this work for you. It’s no Office Space; like the extract itself, a little goes a long way, but if you’ve got a hankering for some ethical flavouring, Extract has the essence.

Zoe

Got your fill of rom-coms? How about a sci-fi romance for a change?. Ewan McGregor plays Cole, an artificial intelligence engineer who creates a beautiful and highly realistic synthetic “woman” named Zoe (Lea Seydoux). Cole’s lab isn’t just making convincing companions, it’s also revolutionizing love. “The Machine” is a highly complex algorithm that can predict whether a relationship will ultimately work out. It has also synthesized a drug that can mimic the feeling of falling in love. But all of these things together don’t exactly mean a world full of meaningful relationships: humans will always exploit emotions. And Cole is lonelier than most.

MV5BZDZjOTUyNTctM2E0Zi00MGIwLWEyZmYtYTIzNDg2MmZiN2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk3NjQ1MTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Zoe doesn’t understand that she’s synthetic at first, and it’s a little heartbreaking when Cole has to tell her. Then she questions everything. Like these unrequited feelings she has for him – was she programmed to have them? She was not. But as the two grow closer, and become a couple, she senses things are still unequal. Knowing who she is, what she is, has him holding something back.

Zoe is a movie about the complexities of love, and what happens when technology disrupts it. Men are eager to visit synthetic brothels (Christina Aguilera plays a robot hooker, for some reason) but will they ever trust synthetics to have real feelings? Of course, in a world where those feelings can be manufactured and manipulated with a pill, I wonder if they haven’t been sufficiently devalued that synthetic or not, it shouldn’t really matter anymore.

At any rate, there are some really interesting ideas here, they just aren’t executed all that well. The movie opens up this delicious Pandora’s box but then offers almost no social commentary, and its protagonist’s navel-gazing is immature and insensitive. There are no glaring problems with any of the movie’s moving parts, it’s just that they don’t add up to anything all that gripping or compelling (except for the soundtrack, which was the only notable standout). With themes of authenticity of both personhood and emotion, Zoe pales in comparison to Ex Machina and even Her, and you can’t quite forgive its shortcomings. I suppose movies are a little like robots in that, if you can’t make it better, why bother making it at all?

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.

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.