Tag Archives: christoph waltz

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel has robots, cyborgs, martians, floating cities, subterranean caves, hyperviolent arena sports, space battles, and an all-seeing immortal dictator pulling the strings behind the scenes.  And somehow, it manages to make all that stuff boring.  Like a three-handed guitar player (and make no mistake, Alita includes a three handed guitar player), Alita: Battle Angel is far less than the sum of its parts.

MV5BODMzMjlmZTYtOGU2NS00NGM2LWI4ZDItNzQzYTYwNDA2ZmU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXRzdGFzaWVr._V1_CR21,0,939,528_AL_UY268_CR10,0,477,268_AL_The titular Alita (the Battle Angel, as it were) is found by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) in an Iron City garbage heap. Well, Alita’s head and shoulders are, but the rest of her body is missing. Turns out, Alita is a 300 year old cyborg from before the “Fall” and Dr. Ido really easily brings her back to “life”. Like, it’s no trouble whatsoever for him to reboot her, and you might wonder why no one else has tried for the last 300 years.  But don’t, because if you start asking questions like that about this movie, you will never be able to stop.  Trust me.

We come to learn that in Alita the “Fall”  was a war between martians and Earth’s floating cities, rather than a name for the second worst season (anyone who thinks fall is worse than winter has never lived through a real winter), or an elevator between Australia and post-Brexit London (doesn’t it seem like Boris Johnson’s plan for Brexit might be to build that stupid elevator from the worse Total Recall? But I guess that makes sense when Donald Trump seems to have already ripped off the Mars colony part from the also-not-great original).

The only floating city that didn’t fall happens to be the one directly over Iron City, and oh yeah, Alita was found in the garbage falling from that floating city, and oh yeah, somehow after 300 years she still is in great condition without her body even though if any other cyborgs in this movie lose a finger they instantly die (except where screaming would add dramatic effect). Also, the only way to get to the floating city, obviously the home of the immortal dictator guy (Edward Norton!?! I had no idea he was even in this but of course Jay spotted him right away), is to win the Motorball championship (like a White House visit, I guess), but there is infinitely more political commentary in the previous two paragraphs of this review than in the whole of Alita. That’s probably for the better, considering how brainless this James Cameron script is. This was the best he could do after working on it for TWO DECADES?

There’s more back story and then some Matrix-lite fight scenes with a lot of cyborg spines and blue goo, but at this point I hope you are realizing that it doesn’t matter because it is all really stupid and you should avoid this movie at all costs. Some of the cyborgs might be kind of cool I guess but when Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali and Edward Norton clearly can’t be bothered with this movie, why should you?

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 3

So if you’ve made it this far, you know that I’ve thanked some volunteers, watched 3 movies from female directors, and carried around a dead phone. Impressive, if I may say so myself, but it’s not enough to get TIFF Bingo.

Make a New Friend in Line

With hours spent sitting in uncomfortable theater seats punctuated by hours spent standing in line, the people you stand with and sit next to can really make or break your TIFF experience. A good conversation can make the two hours spent waiting for the perfect seat just fly by. Just as an annoying person can make the minutes drag on like hours. And if you’re thinking “Wait a second, I wonder if he’s talking about me. I am a total jackass after all and I did spend all of Euphoria with my elbow in his personal space,”, yes. I’m talking about you.

downsizing_01

Downsizing– If Downsizing isn’t my favourite movie at the festival this year, it’s definitely close. I couldn’t wait for the latest from Alexander Payne, a filmmaker whose nearly every imdb credit (Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska, and even Downsizing) has been praised by one of us at one point or another. Fans of his work may be surprised by the science fiction elements of his latest film but Payne, who introduced the film, sees this as a disappointing rehashing of the same themes. “Just a poor {‘schmuck’ I think was the word he used’] from Omaha middling his way through life trying to make some sense of it all. Just this time with some science fiction thrown in,” he joked.

Downsizing has lots of subtext to ponder and debate but it’s hard to take it all in on your first viewing because it’s all way too much fun to watch. This may be Payne’s most entertaining and laugh-out-loud funniest film so far and I’m quite sure that I’ve missed some of the best jokes because they were drowned out by the Elgin Theater crowds’ laughter.

The new friends I made while waiting to see Downsizing took TIFF just as seriously as I did. Like me, their rough drafts of their schedule looks like the wall of an insane person trying to solve a murder. The thing is, once the line starts moving, you lose each other in the crowd . So if you’re reading this and you bought seven 10-packs to share with all your friends and you think you may have stood in line with me, leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you thought of the movie. And I hope that Karen has finally paid you back.

Pronounce “Saoirse” Correctly

 

The Current War– Saoirse Ronan wasn’t in The Current War but I did talk about her in line to see it. “Who’s in Lady Bird again? Is it Saoirse Ronan or Elle Fanning?” I asked the nice couple in line ahead of me. I pronounced Saoirse correctly. Everyone seemed really impressed. What’s ironic, I realize now, is that I got her last name wrong. I always say “Rowan”. But TIFF Bingo said nothing about “Ronan” so it still counts.

I wish I’d seen Lady Bird instead of The Current War. It’s not like The Current War is a bad movie, it’s just more forgettable than it should be. The second feature from Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) dramatizes the rivalry between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) as they race to heat and light the entire country with electricity. So it’s got potential. Cumberbatch and Shannon are pretty much the Pacino and DeNiro of leading men born in the mid-70s who specialize in playing eccentrics so the thought of seeing them go head to head put this at the top of my list. I passed on Suburbicon for The Current War!

There is some really good writing in this script but for every scene that captivates there are two more that look and sound like they were filmed for a Made for the Edison Museum movie. Both actors are good but are usually even better and they share disappointingly little screen time.

There’s a good movie in here somewhere. The Current War’s best scenes concern the lead-up to the first execution by electric chair and, for a movie that suffers from lack of focus, this subplot may have worked even better as the main plot.

 

Downsizing

downsizingThe world is overpopulated and in the very near future it will become untenably crowded: fact. We don’t have enough space to comfortably house all these people, we don’t have the ecosystem to support them, or enough resources to fund the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. The rate at which these 7 + billion people consume means we are making waste and pollution like there’s no tomorrow – and if we continue doing so, there won’t be.

Luckily for fictional Matt Damon, a Norwegian scientist will come up with a revolutionary bit of science that’s going to sound nutty at first, but hear me out. He calls it downsizing. A medical procedure will taking a willing human being and shrink him down, to about 5 inches. These small people will live in small towns – dollhouses, practically, taking up little space, generating little waste. A typical person might liquidate all his assets, pay off all his debts, and find that the $150 000 he’s left with is equivalent to about $12 million in the small world. Live like a millionaire by becoming a fraction of your former self!

Occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are the kind of people to whom this kind of deal appeals. They work but never seem to get ahead. Sure this downsizing is billed as a way to save the earth, but it’s also a way to personally wipe the slate clean, and live the life you could only dream of as a normally-sized person.

As you can imagine, being only 5 inches tall comes with perks, but also some drawbacks. As writer-director Alexander Payne imagines it, there are social and economic impacts to all these people retiring from “normal” society. Illegal immigration and terrorism are facilitated. Downsizing can be used as punishment, against someone’s will. And even if you’re one of those people living in luxury, you’re suddenly vulnerable to insects, birds, even high winds.

Downsizing is a well-timed satire, science-fiction that manages not to feel too fictiony. Credit Payne’s wit for packing as much detail as he does, and if sci-fi feels a little outside the wheelhouse of the guy who did Sideways and Nebraska, he actually manages it with a lot of humour and humanity. Though the film is at times unabashedly absurdist, it stays away from easy sight gags. This is a thinking film that abounds with ideas – you’ll need to digest afterward. It’s an indictment of the American dream, people so disenfranchised that they’re willing to undergo a risky procedure just to find fulfillment. But miniaturization isn’t really the answer it’s cracked up to be, with people’s problems seeming shrinking down to follow them.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a nice guy who’s just a bit of a loser. But for Sean, it was Christoph Waltz as his playboy neighbour who really stole the show. He plays a Serbian sleazeball who figures that what the small community needs is a small black market, and he’s there to profit. I, on the other hand, was blown away by Hong Chau as his cleaner, Gong Jiang, a one-legged Vietnamese dissident who shows Paul there’s more to life than just keeping up with the Jason Sudeikises (he’s the classmate at his high school reunion who inspired Paul to go for the Big Shrink). When Oscar season starts heating up, I hope her name is mentioned.

Downsizing is a unique film with a lot of style. Despite being the opening night film here at the Venice Film Festival, it likely won’t be a best-picture contender for me, but it’s a film full of ideas that I found immensely enjoyable.

The Legend of Tarzan

Say what?

I’ve seen dozens of Tarzan iterations over the years, but I was still confused trying to follow this one. What I think happens is that we start out meeting Tarzan as a gentleman in England, living as Lord Greystoke, the jungle far behind him. But then his government asks him to go back to the Congo to act as some sort of diplomat, and his beloved wife Jane follows him. Then we start with the flashbacks – to his infancy when his parents are lost and he becomes an adopted beast of the jungle, and also to his first wild meetings with Jane.

Things go badly for Lord Greystoke during his comeback tour. Evil Christoph Waltz is embroiled in slavery and blood diamonds, determined to make his 01-tarzan_w529_h352monarch extremely wealthy. To get to Tarzan, he of course kidnaps Jane. Christoph Waltz has played versions of the same character over and over since he won the Oscar for it in Inglorious Basterds. It doesn’t work here and hasn’t worked in a while, but he’ll keep getting typecast, and we’ll keep suffering. But there’s a trade-off: Samuel L. Jackson is our comic relief, and he’s almost too good at it, stealing scenes from Tarzan himself.

It seems like this Tarzan movie wants to modernize somewhat, with a social conscience, which is good, or at least would have been had Tarzan not been inevitably cast as the great white saviour, swinging from the trees.

It also wants to be a superhero movie with proper villains and ultimate fight sequences – but with Tarzan’s superpower and only weapon being his amazing 8-pack abs. People love to talk about those abs. Poor Alexander Skarsgard worked out 6-7 days a week for months while consuming 7000 calories a day, and then UPPED the workouts to  fourteen times a week while drastically cutting his caloric intake. Sounds brutal. I would be having veritable taco tarzan_1.jpghallucinations. But that’s 6 months or more perfecting his physique (and what was wrong with it to begin with, I wonder? He wasn’t exactly known for being a slouch), and maybe 10 days of memorizing his lines, and that’s “acting.” To be fair, Skarsgard isn’t really the problem here, but he’s also not much of a help. He’s surrounded by 2 Oscar winners and 2 more nominees. If Tarzan is the weak link in your Tarzan movie, your Tarzan movie’s got a problem. And as pretty as he looks, I did wonder how it was that Lord Greystoke, so long removed from the jungle, still had that amazing King of the Jungle body. Jane’s cooking must really suck. Were there even gyms in 1880s England?

I never stopped being frustrated by the hazy flashbacks – why does this feel like a sequel to a movie that was never made? And Skarsgard never found his footing. And Robbie remains a damsel, even though script writers covered their asses by pretending she was a little more feminist, the reality is that she spends most of the movie tied up. It’s too bad it’s not a better movie, but there’s never been a really good Tarzan movie, so why start now?

 

A SPECTRE Review For the Rest of Us

Has enough time gone by yet that I can write this without being burned at the cross for heresy?

I didn’t like it. Worse still: I was completely bored by it.

I probably wasn’t ever going to be blown away by it, I was mostly along for the ride, because I sort of naturally abhor “franchises” – I just can’t watch thDaniel%20Craig%20steps%20out%20of%20DB10-largee same thing happen to the same person over and over and be entertained by it. At work I might call such a person pathological, or emotionally stunted, or incapable. At the movies, we call him Bond. James Bond.

007 and I parted ways long ago, but I’ve at least felt the past few movies were diverting, or at least they passed the time. This one actually slowed the clock down. And as soon as the creepy guy in the paisley shirt and twirly mustache sitting next to Matt stopped taking pictures of himself with the VIP waitress, andStephanie-Sigman-2_3482079b himself with his chicken wings, and himself watching a movie, I got bored.

The day of the dead parade was actually promising. Really promising. Wasn’t it beautiful? The colours and the energy and the tension in the long take? But then that opening helicopter scene. Shit. They obviously ran out of money. That thing looked horrendous: completely fake. I’m pretty sure I could spectre-featurette-01-600x350rig up something more convincing with my Samsung Galaxy and a bucket of plastic army guys. It was laughable – and the script is so lazy they use the helicopter stunt twice. You know, because it worked so well the first time.

And then the train. Seriously? I know they don’t make trains like they used to, but if you want people to take your set seriously, and to believe that it’s not just spit and cardboard, then don’t make it crumple every time Bond sneezes. Every time he threw an elbow the whole thing wobbled. I know Daniel Craig is soooo tough and everything, but I’m pretty sure some walls can withstand him some of the time.

And speaking of travel. James Bond is a spy, no? I always had this notion that a spy would travel light. But this spy has a goddamned different suede jacket for every occasion! And he changes sunglasses more often than he changes underpants (presumably).

And I still had less of a problem with Craig’s wardrobe than Christoph Waltz’s. Here is a free piece of advice to any and all of you Hollywood typeJames-Bond-Spectre-trailers, feel free to write it down: nobody looks threatening in sockless loafers. Nobody looks good in them either, but that’s besides the point. The loafers aren’t even the biggest problem with bad guy accessories. Let’s talk that octopus ring. Bond gets it from Sciarra but when Q scans it for DNA, all 3 previous bad guys have also spilled their DNA on the thing. So what, there’s a big mutual bad guy jewelry box, and when all the baddies are getting ready to go out to the club, Le Chiffre is like, “No you wear it tonight, Raoul. It looks so darling with your evil polka-dot pocket square.”

Not that I’m ready to let Blofeld off the hook yet. Because first, why the artifice when heO8AlDuLX-600x399‘s first introduced? His face is literally in the shadows when in fact, Waltz’s name was in the opening credits. There’s no surprise here. Waltz was announced as the villain months ago and the internet has already talked it to death. But now we’re all going to pretend we don’t know? Surprise! It’s Christoph Stupid Waltz! Playing my least favourite Bond villain maybe ever. I mean, spectre-still03how weird is it that he somehow raced back to the empty ruins of MI6 in order to set up a “James Bond, this is your life”  funhouse display (is there some sort of Evil Pinterest I don’t know about)? And then he reveals himself behind bullet proof glass, a move we all know he stole from Ethan Hunt. I’m beginning to think that Quentin

Mandarin collars: all the rage in evil pret-a-porter this season

Mandarin collars: all the rage in evil pret-a-porter this season

Tarantino fooled me into momentarily liking Christoph Waltz. Have I liked him in anything since? I definitely abhorred him in Big Eyes. He was less cartoonish here, but that doesn’t mean he was good. Aren’t villains supposed to seem…evil? Ruthless? Blood thirsty? This guy just came off like someone’s jaunty if letchy, grabby uncle (and p.s., “Cuckoo” is the lamest villain catch phrase EVER).

And speaking of letchy! Confidential to James Bond: it’s fucking 2015, dude. You don’t get to act this way anymore. I was so excited to learn that Monica Bellucci was in this – I love her. Loved her. I’m sorry, but after watching that super weird “makeout session” (?) in front of the mirror, I can’t even look at her the same way. I don’t know if they do it different in Italy, but usually kissing involves…the touching of lips. Not just open-mouthed hoveringSPECTRE-summ-image-xlarge. It felt…well, almost non-consensual. Like, when on earth did she decide this was going down? That it was okay? Because I totally missed that part. And was totally grossed out by the, um, foreplay. And boy did he drop her like she was hot. Literally the script forgot she ever existed as soon as he left her boudoir – her only raison d’être was to look fleetingly luscious in European lingerie (which she apparently put on after sex, as people do – since her back was BARE when Bond unzipped her dress), and she’s goddamned Monica Bellucci! If you’re lucky enough to have her, you use her! But no, by all means bring in a younger version to offer NEKNYq3qRGnHOQ_1_bromance, a doctor so we know she’s not just going to stand around looking cute in her nightie (although, come to think of it, we did get a look at her in her nightie…which she was not wearing when James put her to bed, and yet…WAIT A MINUTE! Is James Bond’s kink to dress women in their lingerie? And is he possibly also wearing women’s lingerie under his relentless supply of suede desert jackets?).

And is it just me, or did things take a turn for the Michael Bay toward the end? When Blofeld declares that the thing about brothers is they always know “which buttons to press” – he then actually presses a button. It’s the kind of cheese I expect from Michael Bay but that line made me cringe for real. Is this really what it’s come to? And now this film has left us with a bad taste in our mouths. James Bond is outed as the exact opposite of the badass superspy we’ve built him up to be – apparently he’s just been a hqdefaultpawn manipulated by Blofeld this whole time. When we thought he was digging up villains in the previous films, it was actually Blofeld cleverly orchestrating the whole thing. In fact: James Bond is terrible at his job. Not only did these villains want to be found, THEY were coming for HIM. A monkey could have done his job, and would have probably worn less suede jackets.

 

Sean thinks he can outBond me? I don’t think so! I’m recruiting more members to #TeamJay – let’s let him know what we think! I’m calling out yet another Jay, and Ben, Kenny, Ruth …maybe even Peggy?

 

 

SPECTRE

SPECTRE is, without a doubt, the dullest, most phoned-in Bond movie since Daniel Craig took over the part in 2006’s Casino Royale.

How bad SPECTRE, the 24th in the series, really is is a matter of personal taste. Personally, I will SPECTRE 3always prefer the tone of the Craig films – even the worst (Quantum of Solace, SPECTRE) of them – to even the best of the campy Roger Moore pictures or the silly Pierce Brosnan outings. Given my admitted preference for a rougher and angrier 007, I am still submitting SPECTRE as one of the better (well, Top 10) entries in the franchise.

My expectations going in were high. First of all, I had been dying to order a 007 martini at Cineplex’s VIP Experience ever since it opened earlier this year and had been saving it for this movie. “Oh, that’s the perfect drink for this movie,” my waitress informed me, as if my ordering it had been a coincidence. More importantly though, my eager anticipation of SPECTRE reached new heights once its title had been released.

SPECTRE had always been my favourite part of the old Sean Connery classics and I couldn’t wait to see what the 21st century reboot would look like. Back in the 60s, the organization known as SPECTRE would always be trying to trick two superpowers into going to war with each other. And MI-6, Bond included, would always fall for it for the first half of the movie until the inevitable revelation that would invariably lead to what I consider to be one of the most iconic 007 lines “Of course. SHHHPECTA”.

SPECTRE 2Because SPECTRE reimagines Bond’s first dust-up with the nefarious organization, I probably should have known that I would not be hearing my favourite line. Which isn’t to say that the latest 21st century Bond film isn’t without its share of silliness. With the success of Casino Royale and Skyfall, the creative team seem more confident than ever and allow themselves licnese to have some fun with the material that Craig’s earlier and darker installments would have never allowed. SPECTRE is a return to Bond’s glory days, featuring exploding watches, secret societies, elaborate torture devices, and unkillable villains.

It’s mostly fun to watch. Craig’s performance, continuing to redefine Bond’s signature charm as SPECTREa brave face against deep psychological scars, balances the less restrained elements nicely, making it easier to just sit back and enjoy the insanity without rolling our eyes as much. Bond’s close-quarters fight with the indestructable Hinx (played as the strong silent type by David Badista) aboard a train is particularly reminiscent of the best Bond brawls from the Connery and Moore days and was a definite highlight for me.

Unfortunately, director Sam Mendes and company have also taken Skyfall’s success as license to rest on their laurels a bit. The chases too often feel uninspired and familiar, even from – as Jay pointed out – earlier in the movie. Other scenes resort too often to a kind of melodrama that Craig’s earlier films were mostly successful at avoiding.

Still, SPECTRE looks great and is well-cast (although Christoph Waltz isn’t nearly compelling as a Bond villain as Mads Mikkelsen or Javier Bardem were) so is only disappointing when compared with Bond’s best missions.

And the martini was worth the wait.

Big Eyes

This movie failed me on many levels. I want to tell you that it’s still a movie worth watching, it’s not horrendous, and it’s a fascinating story. I want to tell you that, and I suppose I have, but I also can’t help but tell you the rest.big_eyes_movie_poster_2

First: Christoph Waltz. So miscast. He runs through the movie like a bull in a china shop. It’s like he decided to approach this role as a Jim-Carrey-in-The-Mask impersonation, with a peekaboo German accent, and maybe whiffs of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, just for kicks. When he was on screen, and he almost always was, I could barely suppress my urge to yell “Cut!” Where was director Tim Burton in all of this? Has Burton spent too long in kooky, make believe worlds that he can’t even tell what’s real anymore? It certainly felt to me like he was out of his depth. Waltz’s portrayal of Walter Keane was artless and unrestrained. Yes, he plays a schmoozy con man who takes credit for his wife’s art for years, but this was also a real man and Waltz does not convey for one second that he has a single genuine, authentic bone in his entire body.

Amy Adams as the quashed artist Margaret Keane didn’t quite satisfy either. I kept hearing in the script Margaret fighting back a little with bitterness and sarcasm, but Adams couldn’t carry them off. She’s too mousey and breathy.

My biggest problem, though, is this. The movie is about a woman who is passively (and then maybe not so passively) abused for years. Her husband steals from her, takes away the thing of which she is most proud, and intimidates her into silence, forcing her to live in secret, isolation, and near-sweatshop conditions. And the era in which she lives doesn’t provide a whole lot of viable alternatives. But the movie itself is another act of subjugation. She’s not really the star of her own story. It’s Christoph Waltz who dominates the screen. He’s allowed to steal the scenes. Amy Adams can never inject her character with enough backbone to compete. He walks all over her. This turns out to not be the story of her stolen art, but about his swindle.  You  need only look at the movie poster for proof.

So that’s how you ruin a mediocre movie. You take a powerful story and you tell it from the entirely wrong perspective. It’s as if the movie itself hasn’t learned its own lesson, and in 2015, that’s a heartbreak.