Allison (Aubrey Plaza) is a filmmaker who’s treating her writer’s block to a remote lake house retreat. There she finds a young, pregnant couple who have perhaps been living in isolation a little too long. Gabe (Christopher Abbott), a musician, and Blair (Sarah Gadon), a former dancer, seem to actively loathe each other; it’s an awkward situation I would never choose to take part in but Allison doesn’t just stay, she picks at the scabs. She even gets in a few fresh jabs herself. These frustrated artists release on each other with pretentious arguments. It’s awful for Gabe and Blair’s relationship but apparently that’s a sacrifice Allison’s willing to make, baby on the way or no.
That’s where Allison’s little game of muse-inducing desire and jealousy takes a turn for the decidedly meta. Blurring the line between autobiography and invention, the film divides itself between two chapters – perhaps both the inspiration and its result. Clearly the bears in the woods have dark companions.
Watching this film is like getting to peek behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz manipulating all his levers and pulleys. It basically deconstructs itself right in front of us and we get to decide how much of it is fact or fiction, and where exactly it turns into a work of imagination. It is certainly an act of ringing art out of pain, telling the story in a brain-teasing sort of way. Writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine enjoys playing with us, and I admit, the game is addictive.
Props to Aubrey Plaza, who has transformed herself from prime time cable sitcom star to veritable art house indie queen. She has sought out many brilliant, risky, offbeat roles over the years, but this is one suits her and stretches her in new and fascinating ways. Her dark and caustic seems tailor-made for the part, which is actually at least two parts, subtly defined, and maybe more. Black Bear is a bit of a mind-bender, definitely not straight-forward story-telling, perhaps not to the taste of all, but a near-perfect morsel for true cinema lovers.
Available in select Canadian theatres as well as On Demand and Digital on Friday December 4th, 2020.
Canadian theatre openings on Dec 4th: Kingston, ON – The Screening Room Sudbury, ON – Sudbury Indie Cinemas Ottawa, ON – Mayfair Theatre Calgary, AB – Canyon Meadows Cinemas Leduc, AB – Leduc Cinemas Wetaskiwin, AB – Wetaskiwin Cinemas
Someone literally accused it of being the hap-happiest season of all, but that’s not always the case, is it? Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year specifically for Andy Williams to have something original to sing on the holiday episodes of his show. The song boasts hosting parties, spontaneous visits from friends, universal social gaiety, spending time with loved ones, sledding for children, and roasting marshmallows as prime causation of holiday happiness, but not only do these things not guarantee joy, rarely does a Christmas song mention the other side of Christmas reality. The dry turkey, the overspending, the cranky kids, the ubiquitous pine needles, the dangerous driving conditions, the kids table, the inevitable disappointment. While the happiest seasons are happy in the way described by Pola and Wyle, the worst seasons are distinctly terrible in their own ways. Happiest Season tells us about Abby’s.
Abby (Kristen Stewart) isn’t that into Christmas, but girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is, so Abby makes the effort, pawning off her holiday pet-sitting duties to pal John (Daniel Levy), and spontaneously joining Harper on her trip home for the holidays. Abby’s never met Harper’s family, so this is a pretty big deal. Big enough that Abby plans to propose to Harper over Christmas dinner since the season means so much to her, making it the first of many happy holidays together. Except.
Except it turns out that Harper isn’t out to her family, and she’s been lying to Abby about it. Frantically confessed at the last possible moment, she implores Abby to keep her secret, and to lie about her own sexuality as well, because dad Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor in Homophobe, USA, and we wouldn’t want to hurt his campaign. Actually, it seems Harper’s sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland) also govern their lives in order to best impress their parents. Ted and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) make no bones about expecting perfection, playing favourites, and rewarding success with affection. When Harper arrives, mom Tipper literally says “You get more and more beautiful every time I see you. Did you bring concealer?” And Harper’s the favourite! It’s not a great situation to be walking into, but Abby reluctantly agrees with the fateful line “It’s 5 days – how bad can it be?”
You’ll have to tune in to Hulu on November 25, 2020 to find out just how bad it can be – and then be thrilled, surprised and titillated when it gets even worse.
Happiest Season is a comedy but as a rare LGBTQ holiday romance, it also tells a stark reality: that Christmas (and other obligatory family time) can be really hard on queer people whose families aren’t accepting. Kristen Stewart literally gets shoved back into a closet in this movie, which isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence. Gay members of the family may be forced to suppress foundational facets of themselves, to deny lovers and celebrate separately from partners. And that’s the “lucky” ones who haven’t been outright rejected and ostracized. It isn’t a happy time for everyone, and it gets increasingly unhappy for Abby.
John is the unsung hero of Happiest Season, the friend Abby can call when things get emotionally turbulent, the friend who will always champion her happiness, the friend who will show up for her when things get tough. Daniel Levy, recently named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive (and how!), is great in this, as he’s great in everything. But truly, this is an ensemble comedy and it succeeds on the backs of many fine performances. Mary Steenburgen plays Icy Snob to utter perfection, Mary Holland is lovably awkward and hopelessly clueless, Aubrey Plaza has a small but sweet part – even your favourite drag queens, Ben DeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon have a campy cameo. But most of all: Kristen Stewart. I do believe even Stewart’s harshest critics (and they are harsh) would have to admit she’s natural and lovely and relaxed in this role, but she’s also able to communicate with subtle signals that she’s going through more than she says. As a supportive girlfriend, she understands this is difficult for Harper, but as a woman with self-respect, she’s uncomfortable quashing her authentic self. While Harper and her competitive sisters are clashing in the kitchen, and at the mall, and right into the Christmas tree, Abby’s conflict is internal. And Harper’s dilemma might feel painfully familiar to some – whether to choose Abby, or her family – and the accompanying fear that in trying to have both she might lose both.
Director Clea DuVall wrote the script along with Mary Holland but they aren’t delivering some gay powder puff Hallmark movie. They haven’t shied away from the tough truths of queer Christmas, but they do manage to pull it all together into something that is as entertaining as it is festive.
I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!
For now: Playing It Cool.
We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.
But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?
This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.
Lulu is a waitress in a coffee shop when she is unceremoniously fired by her manager, Shane Danger, who is also her husband. Home all day, she notices that their house could use some upgrades, starting with a bigger, better TV, but Shane says this isn’t a good time for spending since they’re down to a single income. Lulu mocks her husband for having so little in the way of savings. Even her brother Adjay has more. Cut to: Shane, an idiot, robbing Adjay of his savings. Only Adjay doesn’t take it too kindly; he hires Colin to retrieve the money and shoot Shane in the kneecaps.
Of course, what actually happens is: Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) absconds with Colin (Jemaine Clement) and the money. They hide out in a nameless hotel that’s been advertising a magical Evening With Beverly Luff Linn. Beverly (Craig Robinson) and his platonic (?) partner Rodney have been cooling their heels in this hotel for days, postponing their show, and Lulu is determined to hook up with Beverly, whom she seems to have known in the past. Lulu is obsessed with Beverly, Colin is obsessed with Lulu, and Shane (Emile Hirsch) isn’t really obsessed with anything, but he’s always in the way.
I watched this movie on the strength of its cast, which was already a mixed bag. It has pretensions. I think maybe it wants to be Wes Anderson-ish or even John Waters-ish; the dialogue is heavily stylized, although it often mistakes style for screaming, and sorrier still, Robinson’s character for some reason only grunts\growls which gets SO old SO fast. The costumes are outlandish but unexplained.
I was ready to turn this movie off so many times and only my cheapness (rental fee: $5.74) kept me in the game. You can tell director Jim Hosking is going for an out-of-the-box experience, but nothing works, and I’m pretty much the prime audience for quirky material. When a movie like this works, we call it absurd, and we giggle delightedly. But An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn isn’t absurd, it’s only stupid, and instead of laughing, I played sudoku on my phone to pass the time. I want to love a movie that takes risks and tells its story in an off-kilter way, but this one didn’t feel fun to me. It was an exercise in patience and it tested my nerves. Regrettably, this is a hard no for me.
What if nuns and priests were foul-mouthed and raunchy? Writer-director Jeff Baena apparently has these kinds of thoughts all the time, and he decided to write a whole movie about it, a 30-second punch line stretched to an agonizing 90 minutes.
Three young nuns are having an unhappy time in a convent in the middle ages. Alessandra (Alison Brie) was placed there by her father (Paul Reiser), because it’s cheaper than paying her dowry, but no amount of needle point can replace the touch of a man. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) is secretly a witch who thinks a nunnery is a great place to recruit vulnerable young women into the coven she shares with her lover (Jemima Kirk). Ginevra (Kate Micucci) is generally pretty oblivious but when a sexy deaf-mute (Dave Franco) is brought into the enclave by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), it shakes things up quite a bit.
Despite a pretty talented cast, I think my review could have ended after the first paragraph. There’s just not enough here for a whole movie. I didn’t laugh once. You have to do more than cuss anachronistically to earn my praise. It seems to think that the genre is joke enough in itself but the farce has no target and the film has no point.
The first question you’ll ask yourself is: Is “West” a euphemism for the psych ward? It is not, but it is Ingrid’s first stop. Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is social media-obsessed. She has no friends except the strangers she stalks on Instagram who becomes her besties in her mind. They’re a little less thrilled when she repeatedly interrupts their lives with her stupified, selfie-riddled presence, and eventually they haul her off for a medicated time-out.
Ingrid is hard to like. She doesn’t quite live in reality, and because we haven’t yet classified social media overconsumption as a mental illness, we feel she brings it on herself. But the truth is, her mother has recently died and she really doesn’t have anyone else in her life. So there’s maybe a little sympathy there, or there should be. But it also means that her $60K inheritance will fund a trip to L.A. where her latest obsession lives. Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) is an “Instagram star.” She lives and makes her living online, creating picture-perfect moments for her followers to drool over while being sponsored by trendy businesses to do so. So she’s kind of the perfect match for Ingrid. They both eat this shit up. It’s just that a) Taylor doesn’t know they didn’t simply “bump into each other” and b) Ingrid’s a little unhinged and every damn thing is about to unravel.
Aubrey Plaza is great in this. Elizabeth Olsen is pretty great too, though it seems like not a compliment to say someone was believably vain, superficial, and self-obsessed. And I really loved O’Shea Jackson Jr (from Straight Outta Compton) who plays Ingrid’s landlord and is a much better friend to her than she deserves.
The humour is topical and dark. Plaza’s performance is so disarming it’s hard to know how to come at this film – sometimes it’s quite breezy, and other times the claws come out and someone’s face is about to get scratched the eff up. And she’s not afraid to go full lunatic. She knows it’s an unflattering role and she commits to it like avocado toast to a Millennial’s Instagram account.
Joshy has planned a fun bachelor-party weekend away in Ojai, just him and his buddies celebrating his upcoming marriage with as much booze and drugs and strippers as time and space allows. Except Joshy’s fiancee commits suicide, and the weekend’s now been downgraded to just a “hangout” among friends.
Only a few brave friends arrive, besides Joshy (Thomas Middleditch): stable Ari (Adam Pally), determined to keep things light, neurotic Adam (Alex Ross Perry) whose default mode is wet blanket, and Eric (Nick Kroll), the friend with coke and bad ideas. They pick up some hangers-on (Jenny Slate among them) and proceed to have a very weird weekend.
How do men mourn and commiserate with their grieving friend? They mostly don’t. They mostly tamp down their feelings in favour of whatever self-destruction’s close by. The film is largely improvised, making use of all the comedic chops, so the chemistry is crackling even if it feels like the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It’s really about the presumption of our perceptions, and maybe the unknowability of people. The characters disclose things to each other, and expose themselves to us, but we don’t come away really understanding them any better for it.
Joshy has a really ephemeral quality to it, a sense that nothing can last, good or otherwise, and things will inevitably be left unsettled. This may be a comment on closure and its real-life attainability, and that’s exactly when the movie feels the most honest.
This was a humbly entertaining watch for me because I like these guys, but it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering goodness. It’s kind of a cross between a raunchy comedy and mumblecore, so take that admonition with the grain of salt it deserves.
The Mystery Team was a trio of childhood friends who biked around their neighbourhood to find mysteries to solve – a missing diary, a marble down a drain, a windowsill pie tampering. They communicated via walkie talkie and charged their clients just a dime. The Mystery Team is in fact still the same trio, only now they’re high school seniors and if they have no idea how creepy and childish and inappropriate their behaviour has become, everyone else certainly does.
They manage to still get clients though, usually referred by Jamie (Ellie Kemper) but a new family on the block leads to their first ‘adult’ case – a double homicide with a side of stolen jewels. Again, everyone else knows that Jason (Donald Glover) aka The Master of Disguise, Duncan (D.C. Pierson) aka The Boy Genius, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) aka The Strongest Kid in the Neighbourhood are in way over their heads, but they’re gung-ho – especially Jason, who might feel his first ‘adult’ stirrings for the new girl next door (Aubrey Plaza).
Is this a good movie? Bottom line: no. There’s definitely humour in just how pathetic these guys are, how clueless, and in some ways, how sweet. But it’s really the only fish in the barrel, so they stretch it out of necessity, and it inevitably wears quite thin. They bumble around foolishly, stumbling upon clues apparently faster than the cops due. Suspicious? About as suspicious as a stripper’s cesarean scar, and yes, that will come up.
I suppose if you have some sort of Scooby Doo fetish, this might be up your alley (sorry, no dog). I enjoy Donald Glover (no relation to Danny) so I tolerated this. I’m not sure that everyone will be able to say the same, and I wouldn’t blame them for a second if they couldn’t.
Robert De Niro clearly relishes his role in Dirty Grandpa as, you guessed it, the dirty grandpa. He cusses lots and spikes drinks with Zanex and flirts with Aubrey Plaza and takes his shirt off a lot and clearly is having a ton of fun all the way through. Zac Efron also takes his shirt off a lot but throughout this movie he looks as uncomfortable as the middle aged, flip-phone owning couple sitting directly in front of us at last night’s screening. Maybe, as Jay observed, Efron is coming to the sobering realization that being shirtless is his thing and the best he can hope for is to be brought back as the shirtless grandpa if this movie is the start of a Rocky-like franchise.
My money’s on there being no sequel. Dirty Grandpa has a lot of laughs and an abundance of dick jokes, but it also seemed unnecessarily long and unnecessarily concerned with plot. I didn’t need to see everyone learn a lesson. I certainly did not need three generations of lessons being taught to De Niro, Efron, and Dermot Mulroney. And we see stereotypes of hippies, lacrosse jocks, and gang members learn something too. The only ones exempt from this rule seem to be the very funny Jason Mantzoukas (a.k.a. Rafi from the League!) as a Daytona Beach drug dealer, and Adam Pally as Efron’s cousin. At least the writers had the good sense to allow those two to do their crazy guy routines the whole way through Dirty Grandpa. I wish they had given everyone such free reign. I was just there to laugh and didn’t need everything to be wrapped up perfectly, or at all.
I thought all the lessons really took away from Dirty Grandpa’s momentum, mainly by taking the focus off dirty De Niro. That hurt this movie a lot because De Niro as the dirty old guy is by far the best part. He’s really, really funny, but all too often he’s jolted out of that role when sad Efron calls him the worst grandpa ever (which happens every ten minutes or so). Take out all the grandpa-grandson make-up sessions and Dirty Grandpa would have been far more enjoyable.
Dirty Grandpa is a decent comedy, much better than I expected, but since the story seriously impedes these characters’ escapades, it seems like an opportunity missed. I give it a score of seven horny octogenarians out of ten.