Tag Archives: Barkhad Abdi

Good Time

It’s times like this when I must truly sit and reflect on what a movie review really is. It’s an opinion. Truly, it is only an opinion. Some people’s opinions are informed by education or experience, and other people are just very good at being opinionated. Personally, I haven’t been to film school. I’m curious and fascinated by movies, which has motivated me to look into the behind-the-scenes stuff that contributes to what makes a movie great as opposed to good. But I’m also just a nerd when it comes to story-telling in general. Before I reviewed movies, I reviewed books (for Random House). And I write. Obviously. Constantly. I have an instinctive idea of what makes a story good and compelling and worthy. But when it comes to judging whether that story’s been told effectively on the screen, well, it’s all subjective.

We started Assholes Watching Movies as a group of friends who frequently went to movies together and left the movie arguing about it. It was a passion of ours to dissect a movie and find out which pieces were working and which weren’t, and which ones stuck with us, or became part of our culture. Over the months and years it has dwindled to just Sean and I, still duking it out, still good-naturedly disagreeing with each about which movie is worth our time, and yours. Since the world doesn’t necessarily need yet another review of the movie Keanu, we try to inject our reviews with a little piece of ourselves – in this case, a diatribe against cat ownership and a shameless excuse to post pictures of our far superior dogs. Actually that’s true of at least 10% of the reviews on this site.

The great thing about being part of a blogging community is that we get to read the words of others, and do so on an extremely regular basis. So while I hadn’t yet seen Good Time, I already knew it was a good time. Reviewers that I know and respect had told me so. Was I prepared to love it? Heck yes. Did I? Oh, no, no I did not.

But I don’t want to discourage anyone from checking it out, because I think little movies like this deserve to be seen, to be given a chance. And I love films that take risks, even if for me, this one didn’t pan out. It’s about a stupid criminal named Constantine (Robert Pattinson) who botches a bank robbery and lets his brother get caught by the cops. In a period of just 24 hours, he’s in a real frenzy to set his brother free. Of course his plans derail and he’s increasingly desperate and he takes us on a pretty crazy tour of society’s gritty underbelly, which is well-shot and occasionally looks breath-takingly cool. See, even as I write this, it sounds like I loved it. Except the truth is I never engaged and was really kind of bored. Sean and I started this more than a week ago and I had to ask him to pause it because I just wasn’t happy spending my time with it. I came back to it only reluctantly, and only because I can never let things go.

So yeah, this movie is not for me, but maybe it is for you. And if you’d like to hear more, here are some of the excellent, persuasive reviews I’ve read and enjoyed on the film. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

Liam says “A chilling performance from Robert Pattinson, coupled with edgy crime-drama, and we’ve got ourselves a damn good film.”

The Film Blog writes “This is genre cinema that puts a beating heart at the centre of its twisty, metropolitan plot, before repeatedly ripping it out to jaw-dropping effect. Fantastic.”

Anna says “Good Time is a delight.”

Jade writes “Promising less than its namesake, Good Time presents an unflinching portrait of crime, propelled by misguided familial love.”

Keith calls it “a thrill ride from beginning to end.”

Joel notes a “gripping atmosphere created by the well-crafted gritty thriller script.”

812 Film Reviews calls it “white arrogance on overdrive” and this may be the review you should read above all because while I hadn’t formulated the thought myself, it resonated real hard.



A Stray

Adan, a young Muslim refugee in Minneapolis, is temporarily homeless and forever between jobs. This film is cross section of his every day experience. On this particular day, he’s cut off from home, wandering around with nowhere to go: a stray. But then he crosses paths with a fellow stray, a scruffy mutt that, being Muslim, Adan can’t even bring himself to touch. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get attached…

Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman) is a little immature, and finds the outside world to be all-too tempting. He’s not equipped to care for himself, much less a dog that his religion rules unclean. But perhaps he sees a bit of himself in the mutt he calls Layla.

Writer-director Musa Syeed shows us a side of Minneapolis rarely seen – the mosques, alleys, businesses, and social services accessed by its influx of Somalian refugees (the largest population outside of Africa). The film is mv5bzmrlnzzlmjutnge5ys00ytnhltk4odqtngzmztm5mdi3ztk3xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntqxnjm5ndc__v1_sy1000_sx1000_al_meandering but not as aimless as it first seems. Adan has a lot of room for self-actualization and self-improvement, but Syeed doesn’t insult us with a quick fix. Instead, the dog is a catalyst for Adan’s adopting a gentler perspective to the unknown. The result is a realistic testament to the immigrant experience. Both Adan and the stray dog are unwanted but the film resists a too on-the-nose metaphor. Instead it chooses to see possibility and understanding, which is a beautiful thing to see in theatres, especially at this particular time when the question of refugees is so urgent, and some people’s response so full of hate and ignorance.

Barkhad Abdirahman gives a strong performance, thankfully since he’s the anchor in this minimalist story. He and Ayla (yes, the dog gets second billing!) have excellent chemistry, and his care for her pulls our heart strings gently in the right direction.


Tiffing Like Crazy

I hardly know how to begin summing up our crazy time at the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re actually only about halfway through our experience, but if I don’t start putting down some thoughts now, I’m going to run out of usable memory space.

Day 1

Demolition: Our first film of the festival is still probably my favourite. Music-obsessed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) calls this the “most rock-n-roll movie I’ve ever made” and while that’s not the descriptor that immediately came to my mind, I do get where he’s coming from. I would call this movie vigorous. It’s very alive, ironically, since it’s about a man (2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Demolition" Press ConferenceDavis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s been numb for the past dozen years or so. It takes the sudden death of his wife for him to realize that he probably didn’t love her. And once that realization is made, his whole life starts to tilt to the left. He becomes obsessed with understanding and improving small, safe things: the leak in his fridge, the squeak in a door, the defective hospital vending machine. A surprisingly confessional letter about the latter connects him to a lonely customer service lady (Naomi Watts) and they stumble together toward truth, just two lost souls helping each other without even meaning to. Gyllenhaal is nothing short of amazing. We see him removed from grief, literally doing whatever he can just to feel – manual labour, loud music, the embracing of pain. Gylllenhaal does disconnection eerily well. But he also has some bracing bonding scenes with a young co-star, the two careening from frank discussions about homosexuality in Home Depot, to the point-blank testing of bullet proof vests. The mourning in this movie is off-kilter to say the least, and jumpcuts and flashbacks keep the loopy momentum going – sometimes quite elegantly, as the editing and cinematography are both superb. Davis busies himself with demolition – he likes taking things apart, methodically, to see how it looks inside, but he can’t quite put it all back together. The physical demolition of his house, of the things surrounding him, serves as an apt metaphor for his sorrow, for his life up until now. It is brutal and quirky and offbeat. Gyllenhaal has been turning in solid performance after solid performance, but this one might be The One. It’s an unconventional movie but also deeply spiritual in its way. Jean-Marc Vallée, when asked after the movie about this theme, responded: “Have you ever smashed the shit out of something? It feels great!”

The Lobster: I realize now, having used words like quirky and offbeat to describe Demolition, that there aren’t words to describe this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is a sick man. He has imagined a world not so unlike ours, he thinks, where single people are so ostracized that it’s 40th TIFF- 'The Lobster' - Premierebeen made illegal to be without a spouse. When alone, they’re forced into this hotel where they either find a mate, or get turned into an animal. Many fail. Exotic animals abound.This is how we meet Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly as they desperately attempt to be lucky in love. It’s got the deadpan feel of a Wes Anderson movie, only instead of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia, there’s bleak and panicky hopelessness. This movie won’t appeal to most, or even many, but if you can stomach the brutality, this movie is not without some major laughs. And believe me, you earn them. Sean was having a little post-traumatic shock as he lef the theatre, but a few days a lots of reflection later, he found the movie to be undeniably growing on him. The movie is absurdist and bizarre and unique. It is occasionally shovel-to-the-face brutal. Lanthimos understatedly calls it a movie “about relationships”, and his leading lady, Rachel Weisz called it his most “romantic” yet.

Eye In the Sky: Helen  Mirren and Barkhad Abdi  joined director Gavin Hood in introducing this wonderful film to us – just icing on the cake as the film itself would have been more than enough. Helen Mirren, as you might expect, is completely compelling as a Colonel who’s been tracking radicalized British citizens for 6 years. Just as she’s found them she encounters bureaucratic hell trying to get permission to do her job – that is, to eliminate the threat. What I didn’t realize going in to this movie is that it would not solely be a vehicle for Mirren but a really heleneyestrong ensemble cast who all pull their weight to give this film so many interesting layers. Drone warfare is obviously a pretty timely discussion, but this movie is also an entertaining nail-biter, successfully blending ethical dilemmas with on-the-street action thanks to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) who ratchets up the tension. The crux: there’s a house full of terrorists. They’re literally arming themselves for an imminent suicide attack. Capturing them is not an option – they must be killed before they kill dozens, or hundreds. But just outside this house is a little girl, selling bread. So government officials debate her fate. Mirren the military tour de force is adamant that the terrorists must be stopped at any cost. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), the guy with the finger on the trigger, is not so sure. You can see the weight of this decision in his eyes, knowing it’s not his to make, yet doing everything in his power to stall. If he’s the heart and Mirren is the head of this operation, there are dozens of politicians muddling up the chain of command in between. The movie is asking us what is acceptable – the sacrifice of one bright little girl to save potentially dozens? The politicians waffle. The girl herself is not the problem, rather it’s the way it would look to the electoral public. How can they spin this? Who will win the propaganda war? Hood does a great job of subtly reminding us that no matter what, not everyone in the kill zone deserves to die. But at the same time, he lets us feel the urgency, lets us count the potential dead bodies if the suicide attack is allowed to continue. And who would be responsible for that? This movie never stops being tense, even when it draws uncomfortable laughter: Alan Rickman, at the head of the table of the dithering politicians, rolls his eyes for all of us as everyone passes the buck. This movie never flinches and it doesn’t take sides. There is an emotional heft to it and I felt it on a visceral level when this sweet little girl is callously referred to as but “one collateral damage issue.” Oof.

'Sicario'+Stars+Stunned+by+Ovation+Sicario: Matt was ultimately disappointed with the film but was still lucky enough to be at the premiere where Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro were both on hand to answer questions along with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

We Monsters: A German film by Sebastian Ko about a mother and father who follow their most primal instinct to protect their teenaged daughter even as she commits an unspeakable crime. It’s weirdly relatable and abhorrent at the same time, and keeps asking us what we would do even as it pushes the envelope to deeper and darker places. Many shots are obstructed, Ulrike-C-Tscharre-Sebastian-Ko-175x197keeping shady characters exactly that, a little out of focus, a little blurred, a little on the sly. The cinematographer cultivates a sense of dread expertly, boxing those characters in, keeping the shots almost claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of panic, of increasing alarm and desperation, and it’s not easy to watch. But it is kind of fascinating. Afterward, Ko was on hand to answer questions, and when someone asked him about the recurrent shots of a butterfly eventually emerging from its cocoon, he confessed that at first it was just meant as a metaphor for adolescence, but in the end he was struck that what emerged was a “pretty ugly creature” and made for a pretty fitting parallel.




TIFF 2015: Eye in the Sky

eye in the skyI was disappointed that Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman were not at this morning’s encore screening of Eye in the Sky. Maybe they celebrated too hard after last night’s premiere.

That was the one and only disappointment of the whole experience. Eye in the Sky may in fact have exceeded my expectations. Director Gavin Hood had already addressed the subject of the moral sacrifices in preventing terror attacks in 2006’s Rendition but not nearly as effectively as he does here. When a drone strike targeting several known terrorists in Somalia – who can disperse any minute making it impossible to track all of them – becomes much more complicated when a little girl enters the kill zone. Commanding officers, drone pilots, and politicians from three countries must weigh the pros, cons, ends, and means as they desperately try and force someone else to make the tough decision. Risk killing one child to save 80 children? It’s tense as hell, beautifully shot, and funny. I would be interested in hearing from Jay and Sean, who were at last night’s premiere, whether their audience reacted so enthusiastically to the humour in the middle act as the desperate passing of the buck starts to resemble farce.

I should mention that, despite the absence of some of the film’s bigger stars, Barkhad Abdi (Oscar-nominated for his fantastic supporting work in Captain Philips) got up early to join Hood onstage for a thought-provoking and lively question period. I am not sure when Eye in the Sky is due for wide release but I hope a lot of people go see it.