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Well, I’ve never seen anything like it before, that’s for sure.
I’m not even sure what to call it – documentary seems inaccurate and also somehow inadequate. “An enchanting nonfiction portrait of canine companionship” is what the Planet In Focus film festival has settled upon, and I’m game enough to go along with it. Set in a Chilean skate park, the film somehow makes 2 stray dogs its focus.
Chola is a sweet, proud girl who finds joy in chasing cyclists and is endlessly fascinated by dropping her beloved tennis ball town the skate park’s many ramps. Futbol, on the other hand, is more sedate, more stoic perhaps, but is rarely seen without some ‘toy’ to chew on, though that toy is most often garbage and if all else fails, a rock.
Besides the dogs, the skate park is often full of skaters, mostly teenage boys, slight no-goodniks, young rebels who are just learning to navigate an adult world they aren’t quite ready for. But there are no human faces in this film, just occasional body parts, the merest hint of human, as if the dogs don’t quite care to pay them full attention. More likely to be on screen: patches of sky, blades of grass, close-ups of bugs – whatever might be considered a dog’s eye view. The film is laconic. There is a lot of laying about in the sun, or obsessively sniffing a suspicious mound of earth. Perhaps mimicking the mind of a dog, there’s a lot of open space in the film, room to contemplate individual things but rarely a larger whole.
The film fest posits that Los Reyes will “delight dog- and doc-lovers alike” and while that may be the case for some, I’d guess that it won’t be for everyone. Largely silent, the film only occasionally picks up snippets of conversation from the nearby youth who seem to always have a domestic situation or a drug deal going down. The dogs remain uninterested. Two years into filming, the dogs are also surprisingly comfortable with the cameras, allowing for extremely up close and personal explorations of their bodies and the other inhabitants of their fur. It is not always pleasant viewing, especially because the lives of stray street dogs are probably not exceptionally long. I love dogs, but I love them to have homes and be cared for, and for me, this movie never shed its inherent melancholy.
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tells us the first rule of surviving in the United States of Zombieland is: cardio. “The first to go are the fatties.” Well, shit. I mean, not that I’ll mind much. I’ve gone on record before – I am not a survivor. I would 130% rather die than live without clean fingernails, hot soup, pillow-top mattresses, a good light to read by, air conditioning, my hot tub…well, the list is nearly endless. I am what they call “high maintenance” and I am not embarrassed. My happiness is not accidental, it is the result of favourable conditions and many comfort items. It’s basic math. More is more. Plus, I think running for your life is undignified. I won’t even walk briskly for a bus.
Columbus, a loner and a weakling, is perhaps himself an unlikely survivor, but his odds increase when he teams up with fellow traveler Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is infinitely cooler and braver and better at this zombie shit. And yet they still fall prey to a couple of young sisters, Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), who are simply smarter. It’s when all 4 start traveling together that the fun really starts. Sure it contravenes some of Columbus’ dearly held rules, like traveling light and not being a hero, but just because you’re being chased by brain-hungry hoards doesn’t mean you’re not also horny.
It’s sort of incredible that it’s been 10 years since Zombieland came out; it was one of the first movies that Matt, Sean and I would have seen together. I would have met Sean about 2.5 months prior and he was already being the third wheel on Jay & Matt adventures. We saw Zombieland at a downtown Ottawa theatre that no longer exists – The World Exchange. I was about to say that we could walk there from our apartment but in October 2009, it was still technically only Sean’s apartment (and always would be – when I moved in with all my stuff, we moved up 2 floors to a spacious 2 bedroom). Now of course we’ve done the big suburban exodus. In 10 years we’ve bought 1 house, 3 more dogs, 4 cars, 6 weddings (5 of them ours). We’ve added 15 people to our immediate families – 9 by birth and 6 by marriage. If life can change this much in a decade for us and our cushy little existence, imagine how much things have changed for the people living the zombie apocalypse. They have no government, no infrastructure, no twinkies. When we left them at the end of Zombieland, all they had was each other. What have they been up to? How are they possibly surviving? Did they hole up in a farm? Contract the flu? Did Wichita beat Columbus to death with a studded baseball bat? We’ll find out this weekend, when the sequel finally hits theatres.
Matt (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) have a marriage like any other, which is to say, to them it’s a truly unique love story that’s had highs and lows, good times and challenges. The ultimate challenge is, of course, Nicole’s terminal cancer. It’s the kind of challenge that makes you set aside the other troubles, all comparatively minor now, and concentrate on “a good death”, whatever that means, especially with two young daughters to be left behind.
Of course, life doesn’t pause for the dying. Laundry piles up, sandwiches need to be sliced diagonally, and so on.
Enter everyone’s mutual best friend Dane (Jason Segel), who keeps the house running as the matriarch lays dying. You would call Dane a lifesaver, except she dies in the end. She definitely dies in the end.
Dane quits his job and leaves his girlfriend in order to perform this rescue mission. What kind of man would do such a thing? You’ll enjoy finding out. There are a million films about dying mothers (we saw another just 18 hours later; dying mothers are a trope, nearly a life certainty, and a definite tear-jerker. But friends who will drop everything to truly be there in someone’s time of need – that’s a story.
The Friend is based on a true story, a grateful widower’s tribute to the man who held his life together even as it broke apart. The most interesting part of this story, to me, is that Dane is not himself removed from the grief. Doctors, nurses, palliative care workers – they’re all paid professionals. Which is not to say those people are not also sometimes angels, just that sometimes heroes don’t wear capes, and it’s nice to see a film about them for a change. It’s wonderful to explore Dane’ motivations and mourning, and Segel has proven himself just as adept at drama as he is at comedy.
Donna has just been convicted of impaired driving and is sentenced to hours of community service. She lives alone in a serviceable apartment, her only company empty bottles of wine, and regret. Her grown daughter wants nothing to do with her.
Serving her time at an animal shelter, Donna gets the grubby, grotty tasks, which she performs uncomplainingly. She moves through her day, from mopping up shit, to alcohol counseling, back home to her wine, with little fuss, and little connection. It’s not until a mangy scruffball named Charlie is scheduled to be put down that we see Donna’s softer side. She begs her boss to allow Charlie to come home with her instead; Charlie is old, and sick, but she vows to take good care of him for his remaining days.
Her relief is obvious. Estranged from her daughter, isolated in her little apartment, Charlie is the first sign of affection we’ve seen from Donna. They bond. Are they maybe kinda sorta two of a kind? Both rejects? At any rate, the arrangement is so satisfying that Donna doesn’t stop at just one. Pretty soon she’s popping puppies like Pringles (no, she doesn’t eat them), her small apartment brimming with pets and still she can’t stop bringing them home.
Shan MacDonald is wonderful as Donna. She doesn’t try to pretty her up, or make her more likable. Donna is tough, and MacDonald rises to the occasion. I don’t imagine it’s an easy role to play, but there’s a universality in the loneliness that really resonates.
Murmur was a little slow to engage me as Donna’s life is bleak, and has so little personal interaction. But the dogs open her up in a lovely, tragic, humane way. It becomes easy to guess at the many ways in which Donna may relate to the dogs, may see herself in them. She certainly seems to find companionship easier with animals that with humans, and you know she’s not the first or the last to do that. Her social isolation is heart-breaking, and the film really manages to say something meaningful about addictions – empathetic without letting anyone off the hook.
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.
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?
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 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.
10. 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).
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 by 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.
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 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.
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 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.