Tag Archives: dead dog alert

The Jane Austen Book Club

I didn’t think I needed The Jane Austen Book Club in my life. Hollywood has taught me that movies based on book clubs just don’t really feel cinematic. But I saw that it was early (2007) Emily Blunt and I was tired of searching for something better, so I settled.

Lesson #1: trust your instincts.

Jocelyn (Maria Bello) has just lost her best friend and life partner, who happened to be a dog. Some may think the funeral is a little over the top, but Jocelyn’s grief is real, and her friends have gathered round to help her through a difficult time – only Sylvia’s husband MV5BMjMzNDc0MTI4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNTAxMzc3._V1_Daniel (Jimmy Smits) can’t seem to keep the snide comments to himself. Turns out, that’s not the only thing he can’t keep to himself as he soon confessed to Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), devoted wife of a quarter century, mother of his children, that he’s seeing another woman and that leaving the other woman is non-negotiable. So. Jocelyn sets aside her own grief to take care of her flailing friend. Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace) moves back in so she’s not alone and pal Bernadette (Kathy Baker) has the genius idea to establish a Jane Austen book club to provide a distraction. Since there are 6 novels to discuss, they’re in need of 2 more members. Bernadette brings aboard Prudie (Emily Blunt), an unfulfilled French teacher yearning for more than this provincial life, and Jocelyn recruits a young man and virtual stranger, Grigg (Hugh Dancy), as perhaps bait to liven up Sylvia’s gloomy divorce.

You can already tell that the book club is mostly an excuse to bitch about men (and women), and then we occasionally follow the women home to watch them make their various mistakes in real time, which is charming. Hint: that was sarcasm. The ensemble work between the women is actually pretty good but it’s an otherwise formulaic, sentimental, maudlin piece of crap pushed by Big Kleenex to turn women into weepies. Plus, it can’t help but be compared unfavourably to the Austen works discussed in the film. And that they should have seen coming.

Advertisements

Top 10 Disney Dogs

You’ve likely heard about our trip to Disney World by now, and you may have even seen me in one of several Disney dresses. One dress that I did not buy was the Disney dog dress (praise be – yes, there IS such a thing!) and Sean was very disappointed in its exclusion. The dress featured so many of our favourite canine characters that I decided to dedicate a list to our furry friends – especially mine, who have been left home for the duration of our travels. Miss you love you see you soon!

tenor10. Lady, Lady and the Tramp. This is a pure romantical addition to the list. Not only are she and her beau #couplesgoals, she inspires pure #hairenvy too. And she’s a dog! But dogs are better than people, and I’ve never had a date half as romantic as slurping noodles for two (though I likely have nosed a meatball onto my partner’s plate – don’t ask).

9. Pluto, various. Mickey Mouse has a pal named Goofy, who is an anthropomorphic dog. He wears clothes and walks upright and has fingers and speaks. Mickey also has a pet dog, and his name is Pluto. Pluto does none of the above. He’s all dog, mouse’s best friend. He’s adventurous and friendly, though prone to panic when encountering something unknown. Since he doesn’t talk, he relies on physical comedy, and those beloved bits have ensured him a place among the sensational six (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto) though Pluto rarely if EVER has a starring role. He proves yet again how well Disney does sidekicks.
8. Percy, Pocahontas. Percy the pug is the pampered sidekick to the evil Governor Radcliffe. Though the other sailors slop around below-decks, Percy lives a life of percy_bannerluxury, taking bubble baths and eating dog bones off a carousel. If only I lived so well! But once they land in America, Percy switches allegiances, befriending not just Pocahontas, but her animal friends as well – notably, a scampy raccoon named Meeko who is the real reason I’ve included Percy. Meeko is not a dog, but he may as well be. I think these are a beautiful inclusion because they do something their humans are unable to do: they put their differences aside and build a friendship. Dogs really are better than people.
7. Bolt, Bolt. Bolt is a white German shepherd and the star of a TV series about a canine super hero. But this work has led Bolt to believe that he is in fact a super hero though he is actually just an actor. However, that theory’s going to be put the test when he becomes separated from his owner and has to prove his mettle on his own and find his way home.  It’s a very sweet story about self-discovery and self-worth, and the star is an adorable cartoon dog that you can’t help but love.
6. Sparky, Frankenweenie. Victor and his dog Sparky are incredibly close. When tumblr_naagudxrk11t3ly41o5_500Sparky dies, Jay cries. That’s just how it is. We’ve only spent a few opening scenes with 11 year old Victor and his pal Sparky, but Sparky’s end is tragic, and we feel it deep in our bones. But Victor is a cunning, smart kid – and very interested in science. So he manages to resurrect his dog. Sparky lives again, even if he is a little worse for wear, a little Frankenstein’s monstery. I live with 4 dogs who are my little floofy loves, and it would destroy me should they pass before me. So this movie speaks to me. Loudly. And it’s just a great film.
5. Sultan (Footstool), Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast is a beautifully animated fairy tale with a problematic plot. If you’re worried about it on account of the whole kidnap-victim-stolkholm-syndrome-bestiality bit, you’re not wrong. But let me tell you about what also bothers me: an old lady visits a castle on a stormy night and begs to stay the night. When the prince refuses, she turns him into a beast and he has until the age of 21 to make someone fall in love with him in his hideous state. This old witch doesn’t just punish the guilty party though – she somehow feels justified in turning the entire service staff into household objects even though 243542bac940896166a1a4fdc1dccda0they’ve done nothing wrong, and leaves them that way – “ten long years we’ve been rusting” sings a chandelier. Record scratch. 10 years? That’s right. The prince was only 10 years old, home alone, a latchkey kid when a stranger knocked on his door one night. Probably his parents warned him to never, ever let a stranger into the house when they weren’t there just like mine and yours did. And for that sin he receives this cruel punishment? He spends his formative years completely isolated and disfigured and yet still has enough humanity, enough sensitivity to impress a haughty young bookworm named Belle? Astounding. Also noteworthy: his staff has also managed to remain in good humour. Especially the castle’s pet dog Sultan, who gets turned into a footstool. I love seeing that footstool bounce around in the snow. He relishes being “pet” but then rushes to provide foot support to his guests as well. He’s loyal and sweet, proving that the dog’s spirit is just as much alive as ever in the footstool – which is actually kind of a harrowing realization for everyone else, but let’s not dwell.
flat,550x550,075,f.u24. Dante, Coco. Dante is a skinny Xoloitzxuintle, a street dog when Miguel adopts him, and forever obsessed with food, which often gets him (and Miguel!) into embarrassing situations. But their bond means Dante will forever be loyal to Miguel and his clan; he even follows him into the land of the dead and becomes the world’s most adorably neon spirit guide. Though Dante appears to be a simple-minded goofball, he actually imperceptibly guides Miguel toward where he needs to be – “Who’s a good spirit guide? You are!”

3. Slinky, Toy Story. Slinky dog is a friend to all toys, but seems especially loyal to Woody, and sometimes acts like his pet, which I suppose is fitting. He was voiced byslinky-dog-dash_full_32389 Jim Varney, who died of lung cancer shortly after Toy Story 2’s release; he has since been voiced by Varney’s friend, Blake Clark. In tribute, Slink’s catchphrase is “Golly bob-howdy” just like Ernest. Disney World has just opened up a new section of Hollywood Studios dedicated to Toy Story and one of its most popular attractions is the Slinky Dog Dash – which is a misleading way to describe a roller-coaster, if you ask me. Will I be too chicken to ride it? All signs point to yes.

2. Stitch, Lilo & Stitch. Technically, Stitch is an illegal alien science experiment (#626) dagg4hrgone wrong, not a dog. But when he’s exiled to Earth, he winds up in a dog pound, and adopts a more dog-like shape when he’s adopted by Lilo and her sister Noni. His nature is to destroy everything he touches, but when he becomes part of Lilo’s family, a valued and beloved pet, he changes in some essential ways. This movie is all about family, and a good reminder of a pet’s precious place in a family home.
1. Dug, Up. Dug is a chubby golden retriever, loyal and silly and lovable. And easily giphydistracted by squirrels! He likes people instantly, he bonds fiercely, and best of all, he talks! Rather, he wears a collar that decodes his thoughts into understandable English. And wouldn’t you just die to have that for your own pet at home? Dug is my favourite dog in my favourite movie, and everyone agrees: he was awarded the Palm Dog Award by the British film critics as the best canine performances at Cannes, beating out the fox from Antichrist, and the black poodle from Inglorious Basterds. I’ve already met Dug once, on a previous pilgrimage to Disney, and you bet I’m going to stand in line to do it again!

Polar

Duncan is two weeks away from a cushy retirement. He can’t wait. But his former employer is thinking better of letting him escape to Florida, or whatever it is that ex-assassins do when they’re all used up. So they pit him against an elite army of young killers and hope nature will take its course.

I kind of love how director Jonas Åkerlund introduces his team; the film’s opening scene makes me shockingly optimistic that I may actually enjoy this film. Duncan (Mads Mikkelsen) is very much the classic, gritty assassin, but many of other characters seem to belong to some heightened reality. Åkerlund isn’t afraid to establish Polar as a little mv5bzdcyn2iyywutmzy0ny00mza5lwfhmgutmgy5ndqwmdbiotizxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntcwmti4mtc@._v1_sx1777_cr0,0,1777,875_al_outside the normal bounds of action thrillers, and I admire that, though I quickly lost my patience with his clumsy stabs at auteurism. And I don’t mean to imply that he shouldn’t have the opportunity to put his flashy  mark on things, only that you have to have 110% of the talent and style to pull off such a ballsy attempt.

The movie is overstuffed with cartoonish deaths and gruesome flashbacks, including a crucifixion that Jesus Christ himself would find cruel and unusual. It’s so busy being cool and shocking and weird that it mostly forgets to be a movie that makes sense or is watchable. If you think that kind of thing is overrated, then hey, Netflix is catering to your dark and closeted fantasies. I wanted to celebrate Polar’s oddball tendencies, but it does as much to alienate even the most open-minded audiences as it does to stoke our need for something we haven’t seen before.

Despite my misgivings, I must admit that Mads Mikkelsen exudes mustachioed magnificence. If you don’t mind wading through the hot mess, or if you have an appetite , not to mention a high tolerance for, the strange and unusual, this role is truly something special for him.

TIFF18: Life Itself

If you watch Dan Fogelman’s This is Us, then you know what to expect from the writer-director: a love story to make you swoon, a family saga to make your heart swell, emotional manipulation to milk your tearducts dry. Life Itself is This Is Us on steroids, and with swearing.

Will (Oscar Isaac) and Abby (Olivia Wilde) have the kind of love story only found in movies and imaginations. She’s wounded in a sexy way, he’s wildly devoted to her, they’re both unbearably attractive, he talks about his feelings, which are grandiose and pointed solely toward her, she doesn’t complain when he kisses her with stubble.

But – record scratch – this isn’t some ordinary rom-com, this is Life Itself! We can’t stop MV5BOTAwMjU4NjA5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgyOTY4NTM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_there. No, Dan Fogelman grows the concept to include generations that cross continents. The ensemble cast includes  Antonio Banderas, Annette Bening, Olivia Cooke, Sergio Peris- Mencheta, Laia Costa, Alex Monner, Mandy Patinkin, and Jean Smart. Like his hit television show, Life Itself is not so much about the destination but the journey. Fogelman plays around with the chronology, as he does, and with an unreliable narrator and its delicious implications.

I love the casting. I loved seeing Jean Smart. Oscar Isaac was a stand-out for me. He’s playing Prince Charming, only sexy, and he sells it. Coming from almost anyone else on Earth I’m sure I would have been rolling my eyes but for Oscar I was nodding and tilting my head, and wanting desperately to touch him lightly on the forearm. Alex Monner was also really solid. His part isn’t huge, but he leaves quite an impact. And I loved that his story line shot in Spain was done in Spanish and subtitled in English. I think there’s been a trend in films lately to see more characters speaking in their native tongue, and I’m all for it. It worked really well here and I hope to see this trend continue.

But before you start thinking this is to good to be true, to be honest, I had some problems with the film. Specifically with the direction taken by some of the characters that just didn’t feel right to me. I admit those choices fit the narrative; Fogelman knew where he was going and he got us there. Does that excuse it? Ugh. I’m struggling because the movie gave me emotional release, I had such a satisfying, cathartic ugly-cry that I sort of want to excuse it anything. But the truth is that no, you shouldn’t shit on your characters. If you’re going to ask me to buy some pretty extreme things, you shouldn’t spend so much time letting me get to know them first, know them well enough to call bullshit when they suddenly start acting out of character.

In the end, fans of This Is Us are extremely likely to like this movie if they aren’t too shocked by Dan’s potty mouth. I liked it myself. I can’t help it! This movie hits you right in the feels and there’s no use trying to logic it away.

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards

Seven stories. Self-contained, based on short stories from Robert Boswell’s collection. They have some commonalities, I suppose: toeing the line between fantasy and reality, or the gray area between memory and what really happened. Inventing shit when we’re young and have no experience. Blurring reality when we’re old and looking back. Life is bittersweet. We’re all bastards sometimes. It just depends on the day.

Conrad (James Franco) identifies his father’s dead body and is comforted by his death, comforted by the fact that he wasn’t the only one his father wanted to kill.

Paul (Jim Parrack) goes home to visit his father, whom he barely recognizes. Dementia has taken him further and further away from the man he used to be. All that seems to be left is his meanness, and even knowing it’s the product of disease doesn’t quite mitigate it. It cuts particularly close to home when it involves Paul’s ex wife (Natalie Portman) and the kid who looks disturbingly just like him.

Monica (Kristen Wiig) is a single mother who works as a maid. She gets through the day by fantasizing about using her wealthy clients’ lives as inspiration for the writing that will make her rich and famous one day.

A huge cast, including Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Thomas Mann, Matthew Modine, Rico Rodriguez, Tony Cox, Jimmy Kimmel, and Keir Gilchrist assembles to pull this thing together, along with more than 7 writers and more than 7 directors. The stories are not uniformly good, or uniformly  memorable, and though I enjoyed some, I don’t think they really mean much as a whole.

 

 

SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

Wonder

Auggie is a very special little boy. Born with a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, Auggie’s facial deformities are the least threatening of the complications but they’re what make him look so different. He’s most comfortable when he’s wearing an astronaut helmet that keep prying eyes and hurtful comments at bay. For the first ten years of his life he’s had countless surgeries and has been schooled at home, but he’s about to start middle school for real, and a classroom of students is more daunting to him (and his mom) than any operating room.

Wonder is based on the wonderful YA novel by R.J. Palacio, which you should, should, should definitely, definitely read. But happily, this is a rare case where the movie does MV5BMTIwOTUwNTEtYzMwNS00N2YxLTg0ZWYtNzM0YzVjOWYwZWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg5NDY3Mw@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_the book justice. And even happilier, the movie doesn’t suck, period, which was a major concern of mine. It seemed far too easy to just let it coast on its sentimentality. But while director Stephen Chbosky doesn’t have a lengthy track record to ease my worrisome nature, he does have one credit under his belt that’s all I really needed to hear: he adapted and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which he’d also penned.

Wonder is a much different beast, however. First, it necessarily involves casting the perfect but very young star. A bad child actor in a lead role will ruin the whole thing, and in this case you have to find someone who can convey a whole range of complicated emotions from underneath a mask of scars. Chbosky went with Jacob Tremblay who’s already proven his chops with the most trying and powerful of roles in Room; Chbosky calls him “a once-in-a-generation talent” and I think he may be right. But we can’t discount the fact that Chbosky surrounds Tremblay with talent.

The secret to Wonder’s success, both in novel and in film, is that yes, it tells the story from the perspective of a sweet and brave 10 year old boy who’s been through hell and is still going through it. BUT it also shares the stories of the people around him. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has had to pause life itself in order to become his warrior. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) copes with humour and cries by himself. His big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels like a mere planet revolving around Auggie, the sun. A disease like Auggie’s is a family affair, energy-stealing, all-encompassing, leaving no one unaffected. And no one likes to complain about that because it seems petty in the face of something life-threatening, but it’s true and Palacio’s book as well as Chbosky’s film really add legitimacy to a family suffering as a unit. Even Auggie’s only friend is untouched – being his friend is a social sacrifice most 10 year olds won’t be strong enough to make. Another formidable young actor, Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe, lands and aces this role.

Wonder is not about the suffering though; that would be too easy. It’s about overcoming that suffering, in ways that are clunky and ungraceful and sometimes accidental. That’s why Auggie’s family seems so real, and why so many real families with sick kids can relate to the material. It’s emotionally raw stuff and you may find that it touches a nerve. But it’s got a takeaway message of positivity that’s irresistible, and will help justify the numerous soggy kleenexes in your lap.