Tag Archives: Canadian content

Freaks

This is the kind of movie that throws you into a world and a situation we know nothing about, and writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein aren’t in a hurry to tell us.

Dad (Emile Hirsch) has sequestered himself and his 7 year old daughter Chloe (Lexy Kolker) in their home. The drapes are duct-taped closed, the door is quadruple-locked, and no one is allowed in or out. They are preparing for or hiding from some ominous event, and the blood dripping from Dad’s eyes make me think it’s not just all in his head, no matter how paranoid and controlling this all seems.

Still, Chloe is a 7 year old girl. She wants to make a friend, to play in the park, to eat an ice cream cone. So when Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) repeatedly parks directly in front of their home, Chloe can’t resist, and all she has to do is wait for Dad to fall into one of his sleeps to make her escape.

But on the outside, it turns out not everything Dad told her is a lie. There ARE bad people – it’s just harder than she thought to identify them. In fact, Freaks is almost the flip side to The Incredibles. I know, I know, that sounds like weird comparison, but you may recall that as we meet the Incredible family, we learn that super heroes have basically been outlawed and this family has been relocated and have to hide their powers to fit in. Chloe’s family also have powers of some kind, and public fear has meant that all the special people are either hiding or relocated or dead, and the government prefers the latter to the former.

The story keeps us firmly within Chloe’s understanding of her own powers and the circumstances in which she lives. She’s understandably frustrated with her confinement and she makes impetuous, chocolate-driven decisions. The directors have crafted a horror-sci-fi hybrid that keeps us guessing, unfolding at Chloe’s pace, not mine or yours or theirs.

Freaks is perhaps a little inconsistent, but it’s boldly directed and surprisingly well-acted. There’s more character development than a dozen other horror films combined and its message is as strong as it is relevant.

The Captive

Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) is a loving husband and father who struggles to pay the bills since his business failed. He’s the one to pick 9 year old daughter Cass up from figure skating practice while wife Tina (Mireille Enos) cleans hotel rooms in Niagara Falls. One evening, he pops into the pie store off the highway for just a moment, but in the time it takes to pay for a cherry rhubarb, his daughter has disappeared from the backseat of his truck.

You and I have the privilege and the horror of knowing that she’s been snatched by sexual predator Mika (Kevin Durand), whom you’ll immediately be able to identify by his pedo mustache. But the police, including Jeffrey Cornwall (Scott Speedman), a detective newly appointed to the Child Exploitation Unit, and his boss Nicole Dunlop (Rosario Dawson), suspect Matthew to be involved. Though they never have evidence to arrest him, over the next 8 years, the strain and taint of suspicion eventually crumbles Matthew and Tina’s marriage.

Matthew resolves to find Cass on his own, which mostly involves driving slowly by every single teenage girl he comes across, while Tina is still in touch with the Child Exploitation Unit, who’ve been coming the dark web obsessively, Jeffrey posing as a fellow pedophile and trying to ease his way into a sex trafficking ring. After 8 years, he’s found an image that he suspects might be Cass, and indeed we know that even as a 17 year old no longer of any interest to pedophiles, she’s still be held and used as a friendly face to lure other unsuspecting children into the vans of predators. But since no one knows where Cass is being held, including Cass herself, a rescue mission is impossible. And as the days tick by, both Matthew and Jeffrey are losing touch with reality.

Director Atom Egoyan crafts a film that is deeply unpleasant to watch, while Reynolds’ performance adds up to heartbreak. However, the film remains difficult for other reasons, Egoyan’s murky jumps in time seemingly purposely obfuscating reality. Egoyan often plays around with time and memory, but the result is usually haunting rather than confusing. The twists and turns feel cheap and tricky and even though the outcome to root for seems painfully obvious, it also feels undeserved. Each frame taken individually is ridiculously and meticulously perfect in its composition but their combined effort is unconvincing and unsatisfying. As Dunlop says herself: “there are no happy endings in my line of work.”

#Cats_The_Mewvie

The Internet is: a) is a cat archive b) a world-wide phenomenon for cat enthusiasts c) a cat content generating machine, for cats, by cats d) now with 35% more cats. Even if you’re a dog person, sure there are cute puppy videos, but let’s face it: the internet is all about cats. Well, 96% about cats. Also 1% random ranting, 1% recipes and 2% butt stuff. At one point, when we were fools, we thought the Internet would be a treasure trove of accessible information and a geography-busting connection between humans. We were wrong. It’s all cats.

Not to be confused with Don’t Fuck With Cats, a true crime documentary on Netflix about hunting our own homegrown Internet killer, or Cats, a cinematic travesty that limped quickly out of theatres, tail between its legs, #Cats_The_Mewvie is a documentary that explores the whys and the hows of the feline domination of the world wide web.

Because I am on Twitter, I constantly hear people talk about how negative and soul-sucking and bleak the Internet is. And I often wonder: are we using the same Internet? Because I do not ever feel that way. Of course, I also don’t seek out disagreements, or start flame wars, or engage people who do. When I’m feeling sleepy, I pull up my favourite song. When I need cheering up, I watch puppies doing puppyish things. The worst thing that’s happened to me on the Internet this month is a comment I received on Youtube where Sean and I were referred to as “Handsome man and beautiful hairy lady.” I’m choosing to believe it was a problem of translation…maybe they meant beautiful haired? I’d buy that. In fact, I already have! Why thank you. Thumbs up. 👍🏿👍🏿👍🏿👍🏿👍🏿.

The Internet is filled with cats and people like to look at them so much that some cats are famous. Some cats have agents. Some cat owners have made millions of dollars. Of course, like any show biz parent, you have to be willing to harass your ‘asset’ and turn them into a product to continually be exploited. The rest of us are just taking occasional, amateur, jittery videos of our pets doing stupid or silly things. Those are the ones we post. Most of the time our pets stubbornly refuse to do anything insta-worthy the minute you have your camera out and ready.

Truly, the world is a beautiful place, the Internet is bursting at the seams with quality cats, and Netflix is a black hole filled with documentaries such as this.

The End.

Kuessipan

In northeastern Québec lies an impossibly small village, an Innu community where many band members still live off the land and almost no English is spoken. Two young girls grow up inseperable; Mikuan (Sharon Ishpatao Fontaine) has a close and loving family, while Shaniss (Yamie Grégoire), like too many First Nation peoples, is picking up the pieces of a fractured family and broken childhood. And while their girlhood games of midnight fishing may not feel familiar, their little girl giggles are universal. Best friends forever, they vow to always stick together.

But just a few years later, when the girls are nearly 17, life is driving them apart. Shaniss has an abusive partner and a baby to care for while Mikuan is learning to express herself and pay tribute to her community through poetry. She falls in love with a white boy (Étienne Galloy) and dreams of leaving the small reserve to go to school. Shaniss, already grieving the loss of her friend, starts to feel abandoned.

Kuessipan, which means “your turn” in Innu, is adapted from a novel by the same name written by a young woman from this same reserve, Naomi Fontaine, who helped directed Myriam Verreault write it for the screen. Shot in and around the Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utena reserve, the film uses band members rather than professional actors, which lends an authentic but not amateur feel.

The film, wise beyond the 21 years of its young author, is about finding one’s voice and one’s path, and having the courage to do so even when it means leaving people, and the comfort of familiarity, behind. With beautiful Indigenous imagery and stark cinematography, it’s also a look at contemporary life on a First Nations reserve, an infrequent subject in film or in literature. With a history of oppression and colonization, many First Nations people in Canada are still living impoverished, wounded lives. And yet their culture survives and thrives in many small communities across the land, their stories told through art that moves and inspires not just their own people, but Canadians across the country and people beyond its borders as well. Kuessipan tells the story of not one but two young women succeeding in their own way, leading lives that will pave the way for generations to come.

Passengers

If you were looking for a review of Passengers (2016) about a dick named Chris Pratt who pulls the grossest act of total bullshit and gets away with it, click here. Otherwise, Passengers (2008):

Captain Raymond Holt, who of course only plays Capt. Holt on Brooklyn 99 (Andre Braugher), calls in a highly educated but personally rutted psychologist, Dr. Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway) to support a small handful of passengers who have just survived a plane crash. She holds group sessions for grief counseling and quickly finds that the 5 passengers disagree on what happened. Some remember a flash or an explosion that the airline aggressively disavows.

Despite several degrees that should tell her otherwise, Claire becomes personally involved, not only in untangling the mystery, but romantically with the most secretive of the passengers, Eric (Patrick Wilson). Eric’s reaction is strange in a different way. He’s almost elated, feels better than ever. But this little group of survivors has all kinds of inconsistencies to it, and Dr. Summers is practically tripping over herself to break all the ethical and professional boundaries that exist for a reason. Of course, when the members of her group begin disappearing one by one, it seems not even professional boundaries would keep them safe.

Passengers feels like someone conceived of a “twist ending” and then reverse-engineered the movie around it. It spends almost no time justifying or earning its end; instead it builds smoke screens around it, protecting an ending that then comes out of the blue because no one was clever enough to drop those juicy little hints that make your mind tingle and a surprise ending feel oh so tantalizing. An unearned ending feels more like a relief than a delight or a shock. It creates frustration instead of alleviating it. Because that’s the thing about thrillers: they’re supposed to build on themselves, creating suspense while leaving behind a subtle trail of clues. The mystery is an itch and it’s a flood of relief when finally everything comes together to scratch it.

Passengers is a bit of a mess in terms of logic and plot. The story is emotionally manipulative. Anne Hathaway is a bland leading lady. Are those things that might bother you? Or are you the kind of person for whom everything about the movie is incidental to the mere watching of it. In which case, Passengers is definitely a movie you can watch on Netflix. It begins, it plays for a while, and it ends. Thankfully.

The Christmas Calendar

When Emily’s grandmother passes away, she quits her job as a lawyer and returns home to run her fledgling bakery. Emily (Laura Bell Bundy) quickly learns that keeping the bakery going is likely to be an uphill battle, especially when esteemed French pastry chef Gerard (Brendon Zub) opens a competing bakery across the street (this town isn’t big enough for the both of us!).

Not to worry though: Emily’s got a pretty decent distraction going on. Some anonymous suitor dropped off a Christmas calendar to her bakery, and each day she’s drumming up business by opening up a little door to find a hand-written love note inside. The town’s women are swooning over them, the town’s men are laying bets, the town newspaper is following the story, but nobody knows who sent it. And don’t go assuming you know either, just because the secret admirer and the sexy French baker arrived in town on the same day. Purely coincidence. And the townspeople agree because every time they discuss potential admirers, a whole bunch of walk-on characters are mentioned but Gerard is constantly, conveniently left off the list. And Emily’s not going to jump the gun and find out too soon – this little mystery is good for business.

The leads are not charmless but you’ll notice that ‘Brendon Zub’ is not exactly French sounding and, well, neither is his accent – but it does manage to come off as unintentionally sinister. For a movie about competing bakers, there is a curious absence of food porn. None of the bakers ever bake. They do, however, handle the food barehanded and sell stuff that’s fallen on the floor. But perhaps it’s the editing that is most baffling. One moment the two bakers are feuding, the next they’re feeding each other truffles. Even considering the typical phony will they-won’t they of a Hallmark Christmas movie, this film feels like it’s missing a very important 15 minutes from the middle. Or maybe it’s the script, which sounds like it was written by someone raised in a locked closet. But no, let’s be real: the worst part is definitely that accent.

 

 

To cleanse your Christmas palate, here is my niece Ella, a 4 year old in pre-kindergarten, and her cousin Jack, 5 (nearly 6, he would want me to tell you), a kindergartener, both in the same class at school, singing you a little song – in French 😉

As you can see, Ella wisely abandons the deadly choreography while Jack makes it his own (pretty sure he ad-libbed the dabbing). Both are pestered by older brothers.

Phil

Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?

If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?

I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?

Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?

Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.