The “Rapture,” if you believe in such things, is an end-time fairy tale made up by evangelicals that basically says God is going to pull a Thanos, do a snap, and with that, all the good little boys and girls (and men and women) will vanish from earth, having ascended to heaven, and the rest of us will be left behind, shrugging at each other like “Ooops!”
The rapture has happened and young lovers Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) have indeed been left behind. The rapture is followed by several plagues, like locusts and blood rain, and the anti-christ’s reign. The anti-christ, who prefers to be called The Beast (Craig Robinson), nukes Chicago and Orlando and threatens to do more, and worse. Whatever he asks, you say yes. That’s just how it is now. Unemployment is high and what little you have can be taken at any moment by the flaming rocks falling from the sky, so to get by you’d better do as you’re asked. And just in case Jesus gets any big ideas about coming back to save humanity (again), The Beast has a really big laser for that.
Anyway, when Lindsey and Ben’s dreams of owning a sandwich cart are crushed, literally, by one of those big flaming rocks, so they have to go to work with Ben’s dad (Rob Corddry), who works for The Beast. Which is how The Beast lays eyes on Lindsey, and decides to take her for himself. This situation suits neither Lindsey nor Ben, so they hatch a plan to rid the Earth of The Beast. One little catch: you can’t kill The Beast, or he comes back as Satan. So the plan involves trapping him, subduing him, and caging him…for one thousand years. It’s a great plan. What could go wrong?
Is this a good movie? It is not. If you like any of the talent involved, you might eke out a few laughs, but you won’t be proud of yourself for it. You have to be smart to pull of satire, and this movie is very, very dumb. It’s crass where it should be incisive, crass where it should be biting, crass where it should be crafty. You get the idea. It’s stoner r-rated raunch and I’m pretty sure the world could live without it.
Growing up, Noelle and Nick new what fates awaited them: Nick would take over his father’s role as Santa Claus, and Noelle’s job would be to support her brother and spread Christmas cheer. Sure it sounds awfully patriarchal, but do you think a Christmas movie has room to unpack that?
Spoiler alert: Santa dies (not to worry, off camera, nothing traumatic) and Nick, now an adult (Bill Hader), reluctantly dons the jolly red suit. He goes deep into training for his big night, learning the fireplace trick, and getting licensed to drive reindeer. But his heart’s not in it. When he confesses his ambivalence to sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick), she suggests he take a weekend away and come back refreshed. Except Nick doesn’t come back. Facing a ruined Christmas season, Noelle and her nanny Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) follow him to Arizona to pull him away from his new life of yoga and enlightenment.
Never having left the North Pole, Noelle is a fish out of water. Not unlike Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf, there’s a lot of humour to be found in a true believer, a fully Chistmas-spirited weirdo finding her way in a world full of cynicism. The girl uses gingerbread-scented deodorant for Santa’s sake. The joy she radiates is a lot to take and though I am not a fan of Anna Kendrick, I admit she is probably perfectly cast in the role. But she doesn’t just excel at all things merry and bright, she tints it all with just a hint of oppressed anger.
Although I like the premise, I wish they’d taken it further. Maybe I wish it was a little less kid-friendly and embraced the acerbic edge it seems more suited to. I’d like to praise it for its feminist edge but it largely ignores it in order to keep the sleigh moving along with good tidings and cheer, plus I’d previously watched Santa Girl, also about a daughter of Santa’s, which tackles a concerning amount of the same material. And I’d like to praise it for avoiding the sappy romance, except it seems to go to a lot of trouble to set one up only to leave us unfulfilled in the end. Strange choices.
A Bill Hader as Santa movie should be a slam dunk. You have to take a lot of wrong turns to mess this one up, but unfortunately Noelle just isn’t my cup of cocoa.
Emily (Blake Lively) is effortlessly cool and glamourous. She works a high-profile job in the city and has a handsome husband and an air of mystery. No one is more surprised than Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), a single mom and mommy blogger, when Emily befriends her. Their boys are friendly in school and now the mums are friendly over martinis.
But just weeks after an unlikely friendship blossoms between Emily and Stephanie, Emily calls her with a request for a simple favor: a work emergency has popped up, could Stephanie pick up her son from school? Two days later, the son is still in Stephanie’s care, and no one had heard from Emily.
As the investigation into Emily’s disappearance deepens, Emily’s secrets unravel. Her husband Sean (Henry Golding) is very revealing. Turns out, Emily was a pathological liar and her past was very closely guarded. Stephanie doesn’t know what to think about her friend, but her doubts don’t exactly stop her from getting cozy with Sean…and eventually moving right in. Which seems like a bitch move from a grieving best friend, but then, the recent widower isn’t exactly objecting. Why is Sean not objecting?
Anna Kendrick is very good at being a pathetic loser, and Blake Lively is extraordinary at being a clotheshorse. This movie is exceedingly stylish. Blake Lively’s menswear-inspired wardrobe is to die for, but I swear I’m not the one who killed her. But no matter how you dress this thing up, it’s no Gone Girl, but that’s exactly what it wants you to mistake it for. Unfortunately, it can’t quite embrace any one genre. It often looks noir but goes for the easy laugh. Which one is it, truly? I admire that Kevin Feig went for a blend of both, but I don’t think he quite pulled it off. However, if you’re a fan of the Kendrick-Lively duo, they’ve never been Livelier or more Kendricky. They each know their strengths, and Feig gives them a beautiful stage on which to drip their special sauces.
I’m really struggling to write this review. I’m even struggling to tell you why I’m struggling with the writing. The thing is, I quite liked the movie, liked it a lot for a movie that is perhaps not meant to be ‘liked.’
It’s about a family that comes together awkwardly when things go bad. Matriarch Sally (Margo Martingale) falls ill – a tumor in her brain requires surgery. Her husband Don (Richard Jenkins) thought symptoms including numb extremities and partial blindness were due to her weight, and sent her to Jenny Craig. Their son Ron (Sharlto Copley) has just been fired from the family business where his dad was his boss, and is living in his parents’ basement. John (John Krasinski) leaves his job and pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) to be by his mother’s side but it’s immediately obvious why this family doesn’t come together more often. The dynamic is a little…sticky. And perhaps in the days before a serious surgery, The Hollars could use a little less hollering and a lot more making amends.
You’ll already have noticed that this movie has a super stellar cast, and everyone’s acting like their jobs depend on it (haha – movie joke). But this could easily have just felt a little light-handed and a little familiar, but between writer Jim Strouse and director Krasinski, they manage to keep it light but not superficial.
What I adored about the film is its characters – every single one flawed. And yet even Don is sympathetic, perhaps not caring for his wife as he should but absolutely terrified of life without her. These people feel real. I feel like I’ve sat in waiting rooms with them. Crises do not bring out the best in them. They still do the wrong thing and say the wrong thing and they don’t have picture-perfect moments around the old hospital bed. Real life doesn’t work like that, and neither does this movie.
So that’s what I liked about The Hollars: the connection. Somehow it opened a creaky door to my dusty heart and beamed a bittersweet chunk of real life straight in. Dysfunction doesn’t magically iron itself out just because someone has a brush with death, but in hospitals round the globe you’ll see families trying their best to muddle through, putting on brave faces, eating vending machine junk food instead of dinner, navigating the complicated familial fault lines of in-laws and exes, making good decisions and bad decisions, wiping away secret tears, hassling doctors, re-reading the same page of a magazine twice, three times. It’s what we do. It’s not particularly dignified or graceful or entertaining, and it’s not usually the stuff movies are made of. But once in a while they sneak one through, and it’s how we know we are not alone, that other people look just as bad in bathrobes, that other families have embarrassing conflicts, that other sons have survived seeing their mothers vulnerable and scared, and lived to tell the tale.
The Barden Bellas from the first 2 movies are back, but they’ve been replaced. Having finally graduated from college, a new crop of girls is singing acapella at their alma matter and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete. Shitty jobs aren’t panning out and dreams are already broken, and the old Bellas are feeling obsolete (I know! Who would have guessed that majoring in mouth music wasn’t really the best life choice?!). A last ditch effort to reunite comes in an invitation to perform for the troops in a USO show and since the Bellas have literally nothing else going on (except for one unwanted pregnancy), off they go to a warn-torn Spanish resort hotel to do their part.
Now you might think that being in a war zone is the toughest part of this new chapter, but in fact, to the Bellas, because they’re not crazy AT ALL, the worst part is competing against bands that play instruments. How dare they! I thought college was supposed to prepare you for the real world but these ladies are literally not even prepared for guitars. Yeesh. (Not to give too much credit to the new “bands”, including Evermoist, led by Ruby Rose, because after seriously mocking the Bellas for being a “cover band”, it turns out they all do covers too! A Cranberries tribute is particularly poignant with the recent death of Dolores O’Riordan.)
Anyway. There was absolutely no call to make a third movie here, and the script strains so hard to justify itself you’ll want to buy it a squatty potty. If you absolutely must watch it, you’ll want to wait until it’s available at home, where you can fast-forward to all the Sia bits and avoid the inane “plot” (though you’ll want to hear John Lithgow sing with an Australian accent at least once, just to say you did). It’s pretty clear that this franchise needs to learn the same lesson the Bellas do: moving on is good.
I sort of wonder if this is an oddball comedy or just a comedy filled with oddballs. It IS filled with oddballs, that’s the premise. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the ex-maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Having recently been broken up with the bride’s brother\best man, she knows she shouldn’t be there but to prove a point she RSVPs yes, and as a reward for her bravery, she gets seated at dreaded table 19 with all the other losers and rejects who should have known better.
The table 19 crew: Bina & Jerry Kemp (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) who are diner owners who don’t know the bride or groom personally, and barely know each other anymore; Renzo (Tony Revolori), a young kid who’s mother told him he stood a better chance of picking up at this wedding than at his junior prom; cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), newly out of prison for having embezzled from the bride’s father; and Nanny Jo (June Squibb) who was basically a retaliation invite.
They’re a gang of misfits and the wedding is doomed for them. The critics have doomed Table 19 entirely, but I thought it had its charms. There’s certainly a lot of sympathy for the odd ducks of the world, and the performances are pretty winning (Squibb and Merchant being favourites). Some of the gags are tired but it’s kind of nice to see the weirdos normally relegated to the background have a moment in the spotlight. A Mumblecore film more concerned with characters and dialogue than plot, this movie isn’t going to light the world on fire. But like any wedding, it can be made tolerable with an open bar.
And Edgar Wright loves movies. It’s clear from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Wright pours love into his film by loading it with details that’ll take you several watches to truly absorb.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young dude in a band. He’s dating a high school student but is ready to drop her the moment he meets his dream girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The catch? Catches? Well, his ex-girlfriend is in town, giving him a serious drought of self-confidence, and Ramona actually has 7 exes, er, 7 evil exes, whom Scott must fight in order to “win” her favour. The movie kind of asks: what would happen if a random guy suddenly had the ability to fight as if he were in a video game? And you know what? The results are pretty fantastic.
Edgar Wright soaks this movie in video game references. He got permission to use the theme song from The Legend of Zelda by writing a flowery letter to Nintendo, calling it “the nursery rhyme of this generation.” The more you know video games, the more you’ll appreciate this, but even I can concede its greatness.
Moreover, Wright has a knack for casting that you can’t help but admire. He picked a whole bunch of young kids who would launch into stardom. Brie Larson went on to win an Oscar just a few years later, and Anna Kendrick a nomination.
Of course, my favourite part of the movie is how carefully Wright, an Englishman, preserves the Toronto locale. Toronto is a cheap place to make movies so it often stands in for other places, notably New York City. For once, Toronto gets to be Toronto, unapologetically Toronto, with the TTC, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma, and even dirty, dirty Pizza Pizza. This movie feels like home. In a meta moment, a fake New York City backdrop is literally ripped open to reveal the glorious Toronto skyline. When Scott Pilgrim earns points, the coins that rain down upon him are loonies and twonies, Canadian style.
And Wright, who is an excellent curator of music, finds some excellent Canadian bands to do the heavy lifting for him. Broken Social Scene wrote two of the 4-second songs played by Crash and the Boys (“We hate you, please die” and “Im so sad, so very, very sad”). Metric wrote the song performed by The Clash at Demonhead. And Chris Murphy vocalist and bassist for Sloan, served as the music performance supervisor, which I think means he made sure the actors held their guitars the right way and stuff. (Non-Canadian Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb).
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is ultra-stylized and brilliant to watch. It’s incredibly fast-paced and feels hyper real. It’s almost unbearably quotable, fresh, and inventive. The script can’t always keep up with the film’s flash and charm but darn if it doesn’t try. I’ve been in love with this movie for 7 years or so, and a recent re-watch confirmed that I’m still crushing hard.
I had heard she had some sort of music career fallback, but I didn’t really understand that I’d been hearing her on the radio consistently for quite some time. Hailee Steinfeld: you may know her as the little girl from True Grit, or else the young woman in The Edge of Seventeen, but a whole lot of young folk know her as a top 40 pop artist. She “broke out” after appearing in Pitch Perfect 2 and just like that she had a record deal and a music video.
Of course you may know that Pitch Perfect alum Anna Kendrick also landed on the Billboards with her annoying song, Cups. The music video, which I’ve neglected to see before today, is a bit aggravating since she’s play some working class baker in a horrid little diner that apparently refuses to sell drinks. Anyone else start bleeding from the eyeballs when this comes on? Anna Kendrick’s gotten singy in a whole bunch of her movies, including Trolls and Into the Woods, so it seems unlikely that her vocal stylings are going anywhere soon (god help us all).
Kendrick’s not the only co-star of Hailee Steinfeld’s to have music on the radio. Her True Grit co-star Jeff Bridges is super musical too. Of course you were likely blown away by his performance in Crazy Heart, but that’s not a one-off. He studied piano as a kid but now he’s usually seen with one of several guitars in hand, on set and everywhere else. In 1980, while filming Heaven’s Gate, he’d often jam with his co-star, singer\songwriter Kris Kristofferson, between takes. Kristofferson helped inspire Bridges’ Crazy Heart character, Bad Blake, who is described as being the fictional 5th Highwayman, alongside Willie Nelson, Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.
A bunch of actors tour with bands in their down time. Steve Martin’s bluegrass sound isn’t surprising to anyone who’ll recognize his banjo from his stand-up comic days. He’s put some real time and effort into his second career as a musician, and he’s picked up some Grammy awards to show for it. Billy Bob Thornton has released music with The Boxmasters and Tres Hombres. Michael Cera plays bass in Mister Heavenly. Kevin Costner’s band, Kevin Costner and Modern West, tours the NASCAR circuit. Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar reportedly gave Weezer their first touring gig opening for them in the early 90s. Kevin Bacon makes music with his brother in (you guessed it) The Bacon Brothers. Russell Crowe started out with 30 Odd Foot of Grunts before he was super successful over here, and then graduated to Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God once he did. And perhaps most famously (or at least most successfully), Jared Leto formed alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars the minute he was done with My So-Called Life and has always gone back to it between film projects, ensuring the stability of the black eyeliner industry.
Jamie Foxx revealed his musical talent in the movie Ray, and then followed it up with a convincing Ray Charles impression in Kanye West’s song, Gold Digger. Foxx has also been feature on a Drake track (another actor turned musician; Canadians will never let him forget that he got his start on the Degrassi reboot). Solo, he’s released 4 R&B albums since Ray. His most commercially successful single, the heavily auto-tuned Blame It, has a music video that weirdly “stars” Jake Gyllenhaal, Ron Howard, Forest Whitaker, and Samuel L. Jackson. Never mind the Grey Goose sponsorship deal. Feel free to check it out and let me know what gives.
One of my favourie actor crossovers is Zooey Deschanel, who has a good thing going with M. Ward called She & Him. She’s pretty legit – she plays keyboards, percussion, banjo, and ukulele – and M. Ward lends a lot of blues\folk credibility. We know she can sing from her duet with Will Ferrell in the movie Elf, but she’s also appeared on a Coconut Records album, a band by fellow indie actor Jason Schwartzman. In this She & Him video, she’s helped out by her 500 Days of Summer co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In case you doubted that Ryan Gosling was singing (he was a Mousketeer alongside Justin Timberlake you know!) and playing the piano long before La La Land ever existed, here’s a pretty raw video of him and his band Dead Man’s Bones. The sound’s not great because it was recorded live, but you’ll get the gist.
There are many more besides who tried to sing and probably shouldn’t have, and I’m not even sure if William Shatner belongs on that list. He’s released so many albums at this point that I have to take him at least semi-seriously, or as seriously as the Shatner spoken-word singing can be taken. Which is still better than Cory Feldman sing-ranting about the pitfalls of being a former child actor. And I can only begin to imagine the highs and lows contained on an album by Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, or David Hasselhoff, and apparently there are 18 of those in existence! Can you even believe it? Well believe it:
I spent time this Christmas with three of my nephews, ages 2, 3, and 5. The gifts that Santa left them underneath the Christmas tree looked awfully familiar: there were Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Popples, and Transformers. One toy that I never could have predicted a resurgence for though, were trolls. Trolls were ugly little dolls that were pushed as collectibles for kids but were mostly popular with the blue-haired Bingo ladies, who would stroke their hair for luck before daubing the shit out of their cards. But for some reason Dreamworks thought it appropriate to give these guys another crack at glory (they’ve popped up in almost every decade since they were created in 1959) and they spent six years putting out this mediocre movie.
At first I thought it was as harmless as Sing, a movie that doesn’t exactly break new ground, but has lots of catchy songs and cute, cuddly characters. Trolls is the same, until it isn’t. They live in a magical forest where they sing and dance and hug all day. Sure they have enemies who’d like to eat them, but they escaped the mean Bergen long ago, and what’s the use of dwelling on the past, right? Well, just ask the Bergen, who can only feel happiness by eating a troll. They’re pretty motivated to find those little freaky-haired fuckers and throw a feast to end all feasts. Finger licking genocide!
A particularly raucous, glitter-fueled party alerts the Bergen to the trolls’ location and the head Bergen chef makes off with a fanny pack full of trolls. Their princess, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), feels responsible (because she is) and embarks on a rescue mission with only Branch (Justin Timberlake), the grumpy troll with a dark back story, for help. But when they scale the walls of Bergentown, the movie suddenly turns on its head.
Trolls rescue mission movie basically aborted. Now we’re talking Cinderella, except in our case it’s a Bergen scullery maid named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who is in love with King Gristle Jr (Christopher Mintz Plasse). Was Poppy supposed to save her friends from being eaten? Sure, “technically.” What, is that some sort of emergency? Some sort of priority? Can’t Poppy take a break to attend a roller disco if she wants? Jeez guys, you can’t expect her to be a slave for her loyal friends and subjects, whose lives she endangered.
Anyway, I lost track of the plot right around then, but they sang and danced their way toward a happy ending, rest assured. The biggest takeaway from this film was of course Justin Timberlake’s irrepressibly happy song, Can’t Stop The Feeling! My 5 year old nephew claims this as his jam so when it played in the movie he couldn’t help but dance in the aisle.
Which is the only reason I really need to like this movie. Luckily, they have several 5 minute music videos that accomplish as much without all the glittery poop. This song is up for a Golden Globe tonight, up against this song from Moana, which is so infectiously singable, I can’t imagine which will win.
Unless it’s this one (by Stevie Wonder!) from Sing, or the Gold one by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse that I’ve never heard…
Or, you know, City of Stars, from the La La Land soundtrack, which is just a bit of audible magic. What’s got your vote?
What if Batman was a bean counter? Okay, that’s not exactly what The Accountant is trying to do, but it’s close, closer probably than it intended.
Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff (not his real name: alter ego), a mild-mannered, socially awkward accountant. And when he whips his glasses off, he becomes a vigilante crime fighter. Sort of. Okay, what actually happens is he keeps his glasses on in order to “uncook” the books for various crime syndicates. Like, for the worst and dirtiest people. But if they break his moral code, he either calls in the commissioner – excuse me – treasury agent (played by JK Simmons, who will indeed play Commissioner Gordon in Affleck’s upcoming The Batman) or goes ballistic on their ass. But not crazy ballistic: he remains very cold and very calm in order to diligently murder everyone in his path. So autism becomes a super power and The Accountant is just Batman without a cowl. Although admittedly when I saw Ben Affleck marking up a window, I immediately though of the role as a little more Good Will Hunting meets Jason Bourne – Matt Damon’s territory, in other words.
In order to play autistic, Ben goes affectless and Affleckless. He turns off the charm and the smirk and the simmering rage but doesn’t quite know what he’s left with. It doesn’t help that The Accountant suffers from its own identity crisis, sometimes darting into the phone booth as an action flick complete with stalky sniper Jon Bernthal (from Daredevil, just not THAT Daredevil) as the villain, only to emerge as a drama or worse yet, a quirkie indie romance with Anna Kendrick as the Mary Jane, I mean, the damsel in distress\love interest. And if this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry, there’s a portion in the middle that’s perfect for taking a 20 minute nap and waking up feeling like you’ve missed nothing at all.
But for all that, I enjoyed The Accountant. It’s not going to make my top 10 this year, and maybe not even my top 10 this week (that’s not a hard knock, I’m just on my way to a film festival), but it was entertaining and fun, even if Gavin O’Connor’s direction is a bit uninspired. Plus, it’s kind of great to see autism as an asset rather than a setback. Affleck manages not to overplay his cards although the story does require us to equate a neurodevelopmental disorder with superior morality – superior even to the law, which has Viola Davis’s voice ringing in my ears – what if the next Superman is an accountant?