Tag Archives: based on a true story

Gold

If you’re going to cast Matthew McConaughey and pay his hefty salary, why then take away everything about Matthew McConaughey that is good and right in the world?

In Gold, McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a prospector who is pot-bellied, bald, and has a giant snaggle tooth that I CONSTANTLY mistook for a wayward piece of chewing gum for the entire length of the movie. He has a gray pallor, he sweats, he is often scene in soggy, saggy tightie whities: it’s unforgivable. There’s no reason that a prospector named Kenny Wells couldn’t have gold2been played by the handsome version of McConaughey, and it might have half-explained why a beauty like Bryce Dallas Howard would go out with such a loser, which is otherwise downright mind-boggling.  Gold is very, very loosely based on things that might have sort of happened, but Kenny Wells was never a real person. McConaughey’s weight gain, however, is all too real: a testament to cheeseburgers and milk shakes, apparently. He also legitimately shaved his head. But if director Stephen Gaghan really REALLY needed a bloated, past-his-prime dude for the lead role, I’m confident that he could have got one much cheaper, and at less cost to McConaughey’s health. In fact, I propose this guy.

Superficial complaints aside, the movie just plain sucked. Feel free to stop reading now. The rest will just be me riffing on this theme. McConaughey gives a pretty committed performance, whistling around that big ugly tooth, but he should have known better. I can only assume that Matty’s got some weird fixation with gold; this is, in fact, his third movie about the pursuit of gold, after Sahara and Fool’s Gold (and to be fair, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 42%, Gold is his best one yet – but please god, stop trying!).

My main complaint, and maybe the only one that really matters, is that this movie is plain old boring. Billed as a “crime adventure,” the real crime is not stolen gold but stolen time and money from the audience, and possibly also the extra plaque in McConaughey’s arteries.

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The Founder

the-founder-movie-2016-trailer-michael-keatonI suppose it was to be expected that Ray Kroc, the “founder” of McDonald’s, was an asshole. But, wow, was he ever an asshole. He died well before this movie was made but it seems he would have agreed with that assessment and been fine with it since it got him where he wanted to be – it made him rich, eventually.

But not without some struggles. You see, he didn’t “create” McDonald’s until he was 52 years old, and the reason for the quotation marks is because he didn’t actually create it. But as we know, history is written by the victors, and that’s Ray Kroc.

Michael Keaton is extremely good as Kroc. Good to the point that he makes Kroc seem like almost a decent guy even though he’d take your last McNugget whether or not he was hungry. The great Nick Offerman and the familiar John Carroll Lynch are excellent as well as Kroc’s former partners, the McDonald brothers. Other familiar faces will pop up for a scene or two, but this movie is mainly about Kroc and the McDonalds.

The Founder’s story is an interesting and engaging one from start to finish. It skips around noticably at parts and I felt a bit disconnected from the movie as a result, but the core tale remained crisp, clear, and entertaining throughout, to the point that the lawyer side of me wanted to yell at the screen as one particularly bad decision was made.

So bring your notepad and find out how an empire can be built from practically nothing on someone else’s idea, as long as you don’t mind being an asshole about it. The Founder gets a score of seven “fries with that” out of ten.

Patriots Day

patriotsday-markwahlberg-marathonbannerTerrorists are despicable. They take lives or limbs and create chaos and fear, sometimes in support of twisted ideology, sometimes just for kicks, and always demonstrate a complete lack of humanity. Sensational as their actions are, what deserves recognition are not the acts themselves, but the responses by the terrorists’ targets.

Patriots Day revisits Boston’s response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. It is a difficult watch but it has to be. We have to feel the weight of the loss in order to appreciate Bostonians’ courage in the face of a homegrown terrorist attack by two brothers who, from outward appearances, were just a couple of millenials trying to find their way (bizarrely, at least one apparently was a 9/11 truther).

Patriots Day provides a behind-the-scenes look at the events leading up to the bombings and then the hunt for these monsters who intended to strike Times Square next. They killed three people with their bombs and killed two more cops in the aftermath. Amidst the carnage, the police remain focused on bringing these suspects in alive, and it seems they might have succeeded in that endeavour but for the brothers’ lunacy.

Peter Berg and Mark Walhberg have turned these real life disaster movies (tragopics?) into big business for themselves, and Patriots Day improves on their formula from Deepwater Horizon.  Both movies take an arms’ length approach and do a good job of sticking to the facts. These characters are not perfect because they don’t need to be. Some, like Mark Wahlberg’s character, are composites. That is a bit weird when we are introduced to the real people at the end of the movie and the main character is missing, but in the middle of the crisis the character feels real and that’s what matters most. This movie feels real as well and is definitely worth watching.

I suspect even if Wahlberg’s character were real, he would not have given such a perfect off-the-cuff speech at the climax, but again, it works. It works because it captures how the people of Boston responded to this terrible event: not with hate or fear, but with determination, resolve, and strength. In the immortal words of David Ortiz (who appears in the film):

 

Genius

 

A crazy man insisting he’s a genius wanders into Max’s office. He’s ranting, he’s raving, he doesn’t know that Max (Colin Firth) is already under his spell, has already been reading his manuscript, enthralled. And when Tom (Jude Law) learns that Max is on board, he can’t quite believe it – no other publisher has found his work worthwhile. Max is the first to take him seriously.

It turns out that Tom is Tom Wolfe and Max is editor to the greatest literary minds of the genius-leadtime, counting F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his authors. They’re all jealous of each other, of course, all big egos with weighty demands on Max’s time, and skill.  This movie will make you feel as though editors do not get paid nearly enough. It might also question just who is the Genius referred to in the title – is it the brilliant writer, or is the man editing his writing so that it may appear brilliant to others? Certainly Max is good at spotting talent, but also at shaping it.

Not everyone is grateful, however. Max’s wife Louise (Laura Linney) feels neglected. Tom’s wife Aline feels even worse: she feels replaced. Aline (Nicole Kidman) isn’t even properly his wife – she left her husband and her children just as they were grown to be with Tom and feel needed by him. She supported him for years as he wrote feverishly, as the rejection letters piled up around them. But now that his work has found a home, and an audience, he doesn’t need her as much, and she knows it. She is obsolete, and she warns Max that he may soon be the same.

The real meat of the story is the relationship between writer and editor, the ugly push and genius-official-trailer-14960-largepull necessary to hone a manuscript into a masterpiece. Max Perkins has an excellent track record but still prefers to hide behind an editor’s anonymity, still grapples with the fear of having “deformed” someone’s work.

 

Colin Firth never sets a foot wrong, so it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why this movie isn’t great. I suppose if I had just the one word it would be: superficial. I suppose it must be a great headache to make writing and editing, two very quiet, solitary activities, seem cinematic, and I can tell you that director Michael Grandage has not found the way to make them seem otherwise. Firth is fatherly, Law is petulant, Linney saintly though ill-serviced by the script, Kidman downright unhinged. It just never really gels. After more than 100 minutes, I was left thinking: is that it? The story is sufficiently interesting that I will look up the book upon which it is based, not because the movie left me wanting more, but because it left me needing more, which is never a good sign.

 

 

Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glen’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.

Kate Plays Christine

Christine Chubbuck was a newswoman in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. Originally hired as a repoter, she was writing and hosting her own community affairs talk show, called Suncoast Digest. She took her position seriously and sought out important local officials to discuss the community. On the morning of July 15th, Christine changed things up. As her guest waited in the wings, she sat behind the news anchor desk to read aloud a statement to her live audience. It read:

“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.”

She pulled out a revolver, placed it behind her right ear, and pulled the trigger. Her hair puffed up, as if from a gust of wind, and blood spattered everywhere. Chubbuck fell forward, hitting the desk with a resounding thud, and then slipped slowly out of sight. The show’s technical director went immediately to black, but the damage was done: anyone tuning in had just seen a suicide live on TV.

 

christine-chubbuckShe had been depressed and spoke about suicidal feelings with her family, but never mentioned specific plans. Her mother thought her personal life was “not enough” and a recently removed ovary put pressure on Christine to find a man before it was too late and the door on her fertility closed forever.

On the bloodied desk, after Christine had been removed to hospital, was a hand-written, third-person account of her suicide, which she’d written for someone to read out as a statement. The article, written long-hand by herself, listed her condition as “critical” which makes me flinch. The prepared speech that she read out referred to the suicide as an attempted suicide. The statement lists her not as dead, but as critically wounded. Was this just an elaborate call for attention that she had every intention of surviving?

This movie is not a documentary, or at least not a straight-up one (docudrama, anyone?) and it’s the second of two films about this event that hit film festivals this year. The first, simply titled Christine, stars Rebecca Hall as Christine and Michael C. Hall as George Peter Ryan, a colleague of hers that she may have had an unrequited crush on but who was already in a relationship with Christine closest work colleague, the station’s sports reporter. This film, however, is not a straight-forward narrative. Instead, it’s more about actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to play the role of Christine.

Kate seems fairly genuine in her intention to portray Christine with empathy, and to not “fetishize the crazy woman” as she puts it.

The footage of Christine’s suicide has never been seen again. Lots of theories exist on where exactly this footage ended up, but it seems that the station owner Robert Nelson kept it, but removed it from the station. It seems now that his widow has passed it along to a law firm for safekeeping. No word on why it has never been destroyed. In preparing 000068-19843-16580_kateplayschristine_still1_katelynsheil_byseanpricewilliams_-_h_2016for the role, Kate finds it nearly impossible to access any footage at all, even of the many hours in which Christine was just the normal host of a daytime talk show on local television. Christine Chubbuck has vanished. Until these movies put her into the public’s consciousness again, her death (and life) was all but forgotten.

Early on in the film, Kate muses as to whether acting is compulsive, whether the impulse to act is perhaps unhealthy for her. As the film progresses and she interviews subjects increasingly on the periphery of events, she does seem obsessive in her pursuit. But for me, it feels like this movie never becomes any one thing. It blurs all the lines but never really takes a stand. It’s a deliberately frustrating experience for the audience. When we do see random snippets from this questionable movie that they’re supposedly making, they seem disjointed and random. Were they ever really making a movie? Those parts are the least convincing in a not-very-convincing film. But watching Kate get spray-tanned and shop for thrift-store stuffed animals that Christine might have had in her own bedroom…it’s just not very edifying. I think there’s supposed to be something in here about the nature of truth, but it’s not sitting right with me. Maybe it’s because that in some disturbing way, the director is making me complicit in the society of “gawkers” which the film claims to be skewering.

Anyway, there’s a lot of navel-gazing here, so much so that this feels like a self-indulgent performance piece more than an actual movie, and the more I watch, the more I question the motives of the people making it.

 

 

 

The Late Bloomer

A sex addiction therapist endures a severe kick in the nuts that leads to a hospital visit, that leads to the discovery of a brain tumor. That’s the good news. The brain tumor is benign, and has been leaning heavily on his pituitary gland this whole time, which means 30 year old Peter (Johnny Simmons) has NEVER gone through puberty. Buckle up, folks: he’s about to!

And he’s pleased as punch. He’ll finally get to have sex! Finally know the joys of erections and masturbation and third base! The opening title card warns us we’re in for “some ridiculously fucked up shit” and they’re not wrong. They took a “true story”, made it unbelievable and yet generically raunchy, and stripped it of any humour. The situation is bursting with potential but director Kevin Pollack decided nah, let’s just be basic and boring about it. And be sure to completely waste the supporting cast while we’re at it.

It feels like the stuff that Judd Apatow left on the cutting room floor after editing The 40 untitled.pngYear Old Virgin, and the fact that Jane Lynch is in both is just a painful reminder that this subject actually CAN be funny, should be funny, and in fact probably took a lot of effort to screw up this badly. How much effort, you ask? Well, by my count: there are 2 credited with “story by” and FIVE credited with screenwriting. Five! All dudes, naturally. Dudes who like visual jokes about morning wood and sneaky semen. And that doesn’t even count the guy who wrote the book, you know, the REAL guy that this actually happened to.

His name is Ken Baker. The real dude spent one season as pro hockey’s “oldest rookie” and is a “journalist” who has worked for People magazine and the E! network. He is not and never has been a sex therapist, which is an unnecessary layer added by lazy writers who thought it would be funny and in fact is just plain stupid. How someone smart enough to earn a PhD would refuse to see a doctor about his condition but deem it a good idea to give advice to people about an act of intimacy he’s never done himself and is in fact biologically incapable of completing is just unacceptable. Do not insult me with such stupidity.

If you surf by this one on Netflix, don’t be fooled by the recognizable cast. It is not worthy of your time. It will fail to incite a single laugh. It should be flushed down the toilet like a used condom.

Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-2016-andrew-garfieldThere are two main takeaways from Hacksaw Ridge: (1) even American acting jobs are now going overseas, as aside from Vince Vaughn every American soldier in this movie seems to be played by an Australian (included in that tally is Andrew Garfield, who I have since learned is British, not Australian, but still…); and (2) if the Japanese had just prayed harder they might have won the Second World War.

The Australian angle is natural since this movie is brought to you by “the director of Braveheart”. A similar thing is happening right now to Ben Affleck, now known as the artist who formerly directed Argo and the Town. Is this going to be a thing? Because I find it annoying that their actual names aren’t mentioned in the promotion of these movies at all. If the reference to their past movies means anything to you then you know who’s being referred to, so let’s say their name already and move on! Conversely, if the reference to the movie doesn’t mean anything to you then it’s unlikely to be a selling point. Either way, it’s wasted trailer time that could be better spent on spoiling more of the plot.

hacksaw_ridgeIncidentally, if the intent behind not putting Mel Gibson’s name up front in the marketing was to create some separation from those all-too-frequent racist comments in Mel’s past, it might also have been a good idea to cast at least one non-white guy. Just saying.

The prayer angle refers to Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh Day Adventist who was the first American conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Doss doesn’t want to kill anyone or even hold a gun, but he still enlists during WWII to serve his country as a medic. In typically American fashion, his refusal to carry a gun while training to march into a hail of bullets is viewed as a sign of cowardice rather than bravery (or insanity, or a mix of both). His objection is based on religious grounds as well as a bad childhood, and due to his objection every soldier he comes across in basic training looks down on him and tries to force him out. Fortunately for them,hacksaw-ridge-2016-ryan-corr-vince-vaughn he doesn’t hold a grudge, and hauls 75 of them off the Okinawa battlefield even after they made his life so rough.

Doss’ story is an incredible one and Mel Gibson’s direction does it justice. It’s a bit over the top at times, and you may get tired of the battleground shots being blurred or showing just the barrel of a firing gun or being in slow motion complete with matching audio. Despite that, the movie shines at the important moments, naturally displaying Doss winning over his detractors and putting the audience at Doss’ side as he sneaks through enemy territory looking for one more wounded soldier to save. Though the characters are largely one-dimensional, the cast led by Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington deliver quite a few memorable moments, including some well-timed humour amongst the horrors of war.

Hacksaw Ridge is cheesy and over-the-top in a mostly good way, and the sum of its parts is enough to overcome some significant flaws. Its unusual perspective and celebration of a dogged outlier makes it a worthy addition to the bloated catalogue of WWII movies.  Hacksaw Ridge earns a score of eight cringe-inducing battle wounds out of ten.

Command and Control

We Assholes were in the lovely town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire over the weekend for a film festival, but little did we know we’d be joined by a 4th on Saturday – the king of the assholes himself, Donald Trump. Don’t worry, we managed not to catch fleas or throw pies, and we did see plenty of great movies.

Command and Control was one of them, a super scary documentary about that one time in 1980 when American almost launched a nuclear weapon ON ITSELF. Well, scratch that: no “almost” about it – the bomb was in fact compromised, and it just luckily failed to obliterate humanity. This whole thing happened before I was born, when my mother was just a pixie-haired 19 year old – roughly the same age, incidentally, as the men charged with preventing the doom of civilization

Even the best-case scenario, which the military obviously deems adequate, sounds terrifying: the Titan II, a big-ass missile carrying the biggest warhead on the books, was bunkered in an underground silo manned by teenagers not skilled or disciplined enough to get a better posting. And why are we surprised that shit went down?

It was end of shift when two little words heard over the radio would change everything -“Uh oh!” – not words you want to hear when a weapon of mass untitled.pngdestruction is at stake. Some kid used a ratchet rather than a wrench, and an 8 pound socket was dropped. Picture, for a moment, what this giant missile really looked like: from the bottom, you couldn’t even see the warhead, which was at the top, 8 stories up. The boys, working somewhere in the middle, dropped a big hunk of metal which made 1 bad bounce, tearing a chunk into the side of the missile which immediately began spurting oil. Nobody really wanted to own up to this possibly extinction-level fuck-up, so a half hour went by before anyone with any authority knew what was going on. And this being a government operation, a further 8-10 hours went by before anything was done about it. So the bottom fuel compartment was emptying quickly, which meant the top part was about to collapse in on itself at any moment, likely causing a huge-ass explosion even not counting the fact that a MOTHER FUCKING WMD WAS SITTING ON TOP!

Since I’m writing this and you’re reading this, we didn’t get wiped off the face of the earth, but the thing that saved us was dumb luck. The bile will rise in your throat watching this, knowing how close we came. The lady behind me uttered “Oh Jesus” 17 times before I lost count. But Command and Control, based on Eric Shlosser’s book of the same name, tells about that ONE time in 1980 when everything almost went black. That one time. This documentary lets us know that in fact, there have been hundreds, maybe thousands of accidents involving nuclear missiles. Every single day that some dopey American doesn’t accidentally kill us all is a miracle, and that reliance on constant miracles doesn’t exactly sit well with me. People with an awful lot of medals on their uniforms refer to the nuclear program as a “seat of the pants operation”; then-secretary of defense Harold Brown says about safety “we probably didn’t worry about it enough.” Gulp.

Today, in 2016, the U.S. still has 7000 nuclear weapons just waiting for an accident to happen. And to make matters worse, they’re threatening to elect a buffoon named Donald to hover his dumb little fingers over the big red button. So here’s the thing: accidents happen all the time. Most are covered up. American nuclear weapons have taken American life. But the bigger the accident, the more loss of life. And if there’s a big accident, there’s a mushroom cloud and ten million dead instantly. Who’s going to tell Donald to stand down, that this is “friendly fire” and not a button-pushing incident? No one. That guy will be dead. His superiors will be dead. It’ll just be Donald and his excellent decision making between us and all-out global war. Oh sweet Jesus – if this film isn’t another in a long list of compelling reasons not to vote for this guy, I don’t know what is.

 

Masterminds

Not everyone loved Napoleon Dynamite, but you can’t deny that it was an unprecedented success. Its director, first-timer Jared Hess, hit it out of the park, the movie absorbed into popular culture. He’s been unwilling to accept that he may be a one-hit wonder (same goes for Napoleon star Jon Heder) – the two keep making films at a dwindling rate, each more lavishly terrible than the last.

Jared Hess’s latest failure is called Masterminds, and he convinced a long list of famous names to go down in flames along with him: Zach Galifianakis as la-et-mn-ca-sneaks-masterminds-kate-mckinnon-20150426.jpgthe witless driver of an armoured money truck whose terrible relationship with fiancée Kate McKinnon makes it all too easy for him to fall for coworker Kristen Wiig who manipulates him into working with her confederate, Owen Wilson, who thinks a heist is in order. Galifianakis will do all of the work under the guise of love but will receive little to no reward if Wilson has anything to do with it – he’s got contract killer Jason Sudeikis after him and only the law (Leslie Jones) has any chance of intervening.

It’s “based on a true story” which means that someone once stole money somewhere and that’s excuse enough for this atrocity. With 3\4 of the Ghostbusters assembled, there’s no denying that this is a powerhouse cast, but the trouble is they’ve been given a crumpled up tissue of a story and no one knows in which direction to sneeze. I truthfully confessed to Sean that I zachonly laughed once the entire movie – and it was post-credits, in the blooper reel, not even at a joke that got edited out, but at Zach Galifianakis accidentally hitting his head on a swing set (I console myself that it made Kate McKinnon laugh too, before she checked that he was okay). Only babies laugh at people getting bonked on the head, but I had been in a comedy desert for the past hour and a half and I was parched for laughter.

It’s just shameless and lowbrow and it almost makes you feel bad for the dumb criminals it’s styled after. I have a low tolerance for stupid slapstick and this movie didn’t have a single other trick up its sleeve. Some of the scenes literally feel like an SNL sketch gone on too long, and those are the good ones. I have zero forgiveness in my heart for a movie this bad, and I’ll be expecting some dark chocolate truffles and a bottle of Dom with a heartfelt card signed by all the cast by way of apology soon. But not soon enough.