Deke (Denzel Washington) is in L.A. from up north on some menial task, evidence transport or some such. He used to be on the force here, but no longer; his former colleagues don’t have great things to say about him, and they’re not shy about filling in the new guy, Baxter (Rami Malek) on all the ways Deke was found wanting. Mainly that he worked a case too hard, was so obsessed that he jeopardized his career, failed his marriage, and risked his health. Baxter, however, has some sympathy for Deke. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s a lot like him. He’s about to get a case that will haunt him in a very familiar way, and as Deke says – these are the ones that stay with you.
Deke has the opportunity to say this to Baxter because for some reason Deke sticks around to work the case with him. Totally unsanctioned of course – the dude has to sneakily take vacation from his real job to pursue this one totally against the rules. And Baxter lets him. Together they pursue an elusive serial killer, which leads them straight to Jared Leto. I mean, to Sparma, played by Jared Leto. And Jared Leto’s long greasy hair, distinguished gut, and totally unnecessary hitch in his giddyup – he literally walks around like he just got off an 8 hour horse ride over very rough terrain, only this is L.A. and even creeps like Sparma have a car. Anyway, Deke and Baxter agree that this guy is a Super Creep and that he’s guilty by virtue of just being so obviously a Super Creep. And honestly, Jared Leto so devotedly gives this guy every serial killer accessory he can think of that we openly despise him too, and don’t care much whether or not he’s actually guilty.
Anyway, as Deke likes to say, it’s the little things that add up, which is ironic because director John Lee Hancock, who also wrote those words, can’t even get the big things right. Hancock started writing this movie 30 years ago and it feels like any number of movies that have come out since, many of them much better, and all of them more original by default. But even if it wasn’t overly familiar, it would still lack suspense, or indeed any momentum. It’s a lot of moping around. You’ve perhaps come to see a trio of ostensibly talented Oscar-winning actors doing their thing but what you get is a solid performance by Denzel trapped in a shitty movie that has one of the most disappointing, anticlimactic third acts in cinematic history. The Little Things is available to stream, but why would you? This movie fails to satisfy in any way. You’ve got no places to go, no people to see, but you still have your dignity, and even during lockdown, time is precious.
Roman Israel is part of a two-man law firm: he does the research and the writing, while his partner makes the court appearances. But when his partner is suddenly taken out by a heart attack, it becomes clear that the firm isn’t financially solvent, and that Roman (Denzel Washington) is ill-suited to work both sides of his cases. When a large firm comes to swallow him up, headed by George (Colin Farrell), it looks bleak for Roman’s future.
But the interesting thing about Roman is that he uses the law for social justice. He’s been working on a case for years, maybe decades, that he believes could reform the system. He is well-respected by activists and has collected clients simply by treating people like human beings. George decides to keep him around, thinking it might be good for his firm to do a little pro-bono for once. This is weird timing for Roman, who has just decided that he’s tired of working for ingrates and wouldn’t mind making a little money for once. And that’s the frame of mind he’s in when he makes a terrible, unethical, life-changing decision that could ruin or cost him his life.
There is no doubt that Denzel Washington turns in a stirring performance. Roman Israel is conflicted but he asks a lot of interesting philosophical questions. However, the performance does not make the movie. Everything else is a mess. I never fully understood what the movie was telling us: is Roman autistic? Why is he so bad with people, so out of touch, so obsessive? And it turns out that this was the least confusing part of the movie, because once it branches out from character study to mild intrigue it really spirals out of control. There’s no focus. For a film that seems poised to preach about morality, my biggest concern was whether I could write a review for a movie I walked out on.
Roman is a little too quirky and the script is a lot too unbelievable. Nothing came together for me and I was not entertained or even interested. Pass.
Denzel Washington took home his first SAG award for his work in Fences, which means Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea got shut out, as well as Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, and Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. This is a rare exception in the Casey Affleck train. Do you think it’s likely to be repeated?
Viola Davis won for supporting actress for Fences over Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. She’ll be pretty unstoppable come Oscar time. I applaud her bold performance even though I radically disagree with her presence in the supporting category at all.
Lily Tomlin received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. Amid the many political speeches of the night, including digs against Donald Trump and his insane ban on Muslims, Tomlin quipped What sign should I make for the next march?
So, what do you think? Best dressed? Biggest upset? How did it stack up to your expectations and how will it affect your Oscar pool?
Denzel Washington says more in the first 5 minutes of Fences than Casey Affleck does in the entire 137 minutes of Manchester By The Sea. Fences was adapted from August Wilson’s brilliant play of the same name, a 2010 Broadway revival of which garnered Tony awards for both Washington and Viola Davis. Both reprise their roles for the movie, alongside Broadway costars Mykelti Williamson (as Gabe), Russell Hornsby (as Lyons) and Stephen Henderson (as Bono) also rejoining the cast. The performances are thus flawless: believe the hype. But as for the movie, I was less convinced.
The adaptation is a little too literal. A play will necessarily take place in the same few locations, but a movie doesn’t have such limitations. This one sticks closely to its confines, however, and as director, Denzel Washington uses a series of tight shots to further the exposition. The characters, and Washington’s in particular, are talky, prone to excessively lengthy essays that explore 1950s racial tensions in relation to their lives.
After an arduous life, Troy Maxson has just been promoted and will be the first African-American garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh (despite not holding a license). But good news is never so simple in the neighbourhood where he lives, and frankly, neither is Troy. The most compelling thing about this movie is that Washington and Davis give such thorough, riveting performances. Their characters are complicated, interesting, complex. It’s an excellently crafted play, but its transfer to film was a little too minimal for my taste. I needed a little energy between the marathon monologues. Powerful as the sermons may be, too many in a row meant that I was dozing off, sometimes barely able to keep up with the rapid-fire speechifying. And the monotony of the locations and the lack of movement from the cameras made me very aware that Fences was and is a great play but that as it is, it is not a great movie. It’s a true testament to some of the greatest living actors today that they master the language and the rhythms of the dialogue, overcoming the verbosity if sometimes overreaching.
Fences is a bit bloated; at 138 minutes there was plenty of opportunity to lose some fat. Washington is not a strong director, and some of his choices flat-out confounded me, though he mostly is reverential of the work, which is a complaint rather than a compliment. To me this movie is dead in the water as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, but both Denzel and Viola will be in strong contention as far as their roles go. Viola Davis, however, has engaged in some category fraud in order to better her odds: she’s campaigning as a supporting actress when as a matter of fact she constantly steals thunder from Denzel. It’s still early to predict how Oscar will go, but Fences is an electrifying vehicle for some incendiary performances, even if it never reaches true cinematic scope.
This is a western where the good guys wear black. Where you cheer for the outlaws, where a woman shoots better than most of the men, and where a black man can be the unquestioned leader of the posse. It is a more multicultural west than we are used to seeing, and it feels natural, like this is how it always should have been.
And why not? If you have Denzel Washington in your western, then he should be in charge. He’s the lead. He takes command here and it’s clear right from the start that what Denzel says goes. All the outlaws he recruits fall into line and work with him and for him, to save a little town that a gold baron has taken
Chris Pratt is the first to sign up and it’s great to have him along for the ride. His brand of comedy is welcome and he also manages a convincing quick draw.
The other five join up quickly thereafter, from Ethan Hawke’s shellshocked southern sniper, to Byung-hun Lee’s soft-spoken knife expert, to Vincent D’Onofrio’s nigh-unstoppable hick
who’s been in the sun too long. Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s Mexican outlaw and Martin Sensmeyer’s kick-ass Comanche warrior sing up as well. I would have liked to see more opportunities for the last two to contribute, as the movie was at its strongest when the entire crew was riffing off one another while preparing for the final showdown against Peter Saarsgard’s gold baron and hundreds of his henchmen. That’s an indication of the strength of the cast, from top to bottom.
We seem to be in the middle of a western revival over the last few years, illustrated by the fact this was not my first western this month. The Magnificent Seven is not an instant classic like Hell or High Water, but Antoine Fuqua delivers an enjoyable popcorn movie that earnestly serves up a high noon showdown. Feeling like a throwback already, catch it as a matinee for extra authenticity.
Naturally, the Magnificent Seven gets a score of seven rootin’ tootin’ gunslingers out of ten.
The Toronto International Film Festival kicked of last night, September 8, with the premiere of Magnificent 7. The party started the minute Chris Pratt stepped off the plane and strutted through Pearson airport. He manages to look pretty happy about being swarmed though, doesn’t he?
Actually, technically the party started the night before, at the traditional benefit gala. This year Michael Fassbender was the guest of honour, where he confessed that his super power was his ability to nap anywhere, anytime, and that his biggest challenge was learning lines (a real obstacle to taking on the Steve Jobs role, a wordy Aaron Sorkin script). Fassbender has a somewhat limp movie in theatres right now, The Light Between Oceans, but he’s also got one screening at TIFF: Trespass Against Us, where he plays Brendan Gleeson’s son who is trying to escape his crime family’s fate. Fassbender’s no stranger to TIFF, having been part of the 2013 People’s Choice winner, 12 Years a Slave. In fact, he mentioned that when he and director Steve McQueen first met, McQueen hated him, and called him arrogant. Was it nerves? Fassbender’s not sure, but the two went on to collaborate very successfully three times.
Michael Fassbender wasn’t the only star on hand Wednesday night: Canadian stars Pamela Anderson and Martin Short were part of the pre-show at the AMBI gala. Short was dressed in his Jiminy Glick and interviewed the Baywatch babe (who was actually looking pretty good in a stunning gown) and elicited her top-secret beauty regime – “donuts and sex.” Honourary co-chair James Franco and his creepy little mustache were in the audience, and weirder still, so were Mike Tyson and Billy Baldwin, among others. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, Earth, Wind & Fire performed.
Thursday night was all about Magnificent 7. It’s a remake of the 1960 classic with an obvious twist: Antoine Fuqua deliberately chose a diverse cast, and then just as deliberately chose not to have race mentioned much in the movie. He cast friend and frequent collaborator Denzel Washington in the lead role; Denzel, having earned an Oscar under Fuqua’s direction in Training Day, jumped at the chance to work with him again. Fuqua, meanwhile, maintains “I just wanted to see Denzel Washington on a horse!” Don’t we all.
Magnificent Seven is meaner and edgier than its predecessors, and funnier too. Chris Pratt, as you can imagine, has a lot to do with that. He even had reporters in stitches in the press conference, declaring that the whole ‘remake’ question was moot: “Eventually you just run out of names. If I have a son named Chad, is he a remake of somebody else named Chad? No! And I’m not going to give him another name like Schnarkle. This [The Magnificent Seven] has reach. It gets people engaged. But it’s probably a lot more The Wild Bunch than it is The Magnificent Seven. We used the title. We used the story. There are seven guys and we’re all fucking magnificent. But let that movie [the 1960 version] be that movie. This is a different movie.” For now we have to take his word for it, but Magnificent 7 will be out in theatres September 23rd, and you can judge for yourself. Last night, significantly more than just the 7 magnificent bastards walked the red carpet, including Peter Sarsgaard, who was easily mistaken for a homeless person. Both Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke struck a lot of goofy poses as they were quickly ushered along the press line (they were running 30 minutes late!) but it was Denzel Washington who created the biggest crush, and he still had a smile for everyone.
Late, late on Thursday night, there was another premiere at the kickoff of TIFF’s Midnight Madness programming. The midnight movies are not always horror, but they’re scary or violent or grotesque. Last year Matt saw Hardcore Henry at Midnight Madness; this year he’ll be taking in Headshot. Some of the Midnight screenings are surprisingly commercial, with the new Blair Witch set to make its debut, and Emile Hirsch bringing his new film, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and last night’s screening bringing out some big stars indeed: Brie Larson and Armie Hammer for the new Ben Wheatley movie, Free Fire, a genre homage to vintage action movies.
Check out the comments section for more photos, and be sure to be following along on Twitter where we’ll be posting all the action, as it happens: @AssholeMovies
Thursday Movie Picks, sponsored as ever by Wandering Through the Shelves, is brought to us this week by the letter W – for movies set in the workplace.
Office gossip can be addictive. Most people wind up spending most of their time talking about work when they spend time with their colleagues outside the office. Actually, three of the Assholes work in the same place and- when we’re not arguing about movies we’re often reminiscing (or ranting) about work. Even people who claim to hate their job tend to find the comedy and drama of any workday pretty interesting. All you need to do is capture that environment in a relatable way and you’ve got a pretty good movie.
The Apartment (1960)- This has been one of my most significant Blind Spots until this week and it was worth the wait. Jack Lemmon plays an accountant at a big firm who’s just trying to get noticed. Once his superiors find out that he has a modest but nice apartment conveniently located on the Upper West Side, he becomes their go-to guy as they start borrowing his key so they can discreetly cheat on their wives. Director Billy Wilder has a lot to say about the compromises people make in the name of ambition and manages to make a movie that is still funny after all these years while he’s saying it. Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are as charming as can be too.
Office Space (1999)- Turning an animated short into a live action feature-length film could have been a disaster but Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge turned any old boring day into the office into one of the funniest comedies of the 90s. Re-watching it this week, I laughed loudest when Gary Cole’s Bill Lumbergh- in an effort to pacify the troops- announces that Friday will be Hawaiian Shirt Day. Around our office, they charge us two dollars to wear jeans on Friday. I couldn’t help feeling bad for poor old Milton though.
Margin Call (2011)- Yet another movie that I’m thankful to Wanderer for giving me an excuse to finally check out this week. Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, and Kevin Spacey (making my list two weeks in a row) play investment bankers who see the writing on the wall leading up to the 2008 Financial crisis and sit around wondering what to do about it. Director J. C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year) knows how to set the mood and the performances are all stellar.
Up In The Air – Poor Ryan Bingham is so afraid of real life that he’s made sure his job keeps him in constant motion. His office may be at a cruising altitude of 32 000 feet but he spends a lot of time visiting other people’s workplaces to tell them they’re no longer employed. This is such a tough job that cash-strapped businesses are still willing to pay big bucks during a recession for him to do it in their place. He sees offices at their very worst, smells the fear and senses the instability, and is the receptacle for sometimes 20 years’ worth of pain and frustration. Our identities can be so wrapped up in our work, and in many ways, Ryan (George Clooney) is the prime example of this. Director Jason Reitman bravely tackles those creeping workplace notions of downsizing and obsolescence and asks some tough questions of the aging American workforce.
The Social Network – I love how you see the growth of the company here, the “offices” originally in a Harvard dorm room, and then graduating quite quickly to the impressive work space that was eventually needed. The movie recounts a very modern invention (hello, Facebook) but its workplace themes are as old as the first profession – loyalty, jealousy, theft, power, the complicated ownership of ideas. Whether friends or enemies, friended or unfriended, colleagues or competition, this project is always work, and everybody wants to get paid.
Brokeback Mountain – The classic office romance. They meet by the photocopier, lock eyes over the on, thwater cooler, exchange business cards in the elevator…or, you know, not. Don’t you wish your office looked like this? The scenery is breathtaking but make no mistake: these two cowboys meet at work, doing a job that’s not altogether welcoming to “their kind.” When their boss gets an inkling of what’s going on, the work dries up and the two spend the rest of their lives stealing secret moments and steeling themselves with memories of the best job they ever had.
Bonus pick: Monsters, Inc. Sully and Mike are about as close as two colleagues can be. Mike is the more ambitious of the two, but it’s Sully’s talent and skill that make them so successful. The workplace is originally competitive, and tinged with the fear of contamination (they do bio-hazardous work with children). It may be a cartoon about fuzzy monsters, but any joke about paperwork in triplicate is likely to land huge with adult audiences.
Since Matt took Office Space and Jay took Up in the Air, I am sticking to familiar territory and making my section an all-lawyer-movie workplace bonanza!
Philadelphia – a great movie about a lawyer getting kicked out of his workplace, and then going to his other workplace, the court, to try to make things right. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington absolutely own this movie. I actually did not see this until last year and I should have seen it way sooner, because it’s excellent.
A Few Good Men – I saw this in theatres, I owned it on VHS, I own it on DVD, and one of my roommates in university recited the “You can’t handle the truth!” speech every time he had more than three drinks. And I could watch it again tomorrow. There are so many good lines and so many good characters in here that it remains enjoyable to this day. And again there are a few workplaces in here, namely the courts and the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
The Firm – Tom Cruise is probably the best lawyer ever, at least if you go by his on-screen performances. He almost got Dawson and Downey freed and in the Firm he somehow outmaneuvers a whole team of crooked lawyers and the mob while still adhering to his strict ethical code. Plus he does a lot of really fast running in the Firm which is always the best part of any Tom Cruise performance. This movie feels really long, because it is, but it’s still a good watch.
Anyone had an office love? Office hook up? Office BFFs?