Tag Archives: female directors

Nancy

Nancy is as complicated a protagonist as we’ll meet in a movie, and perhaps only an indie movie like this could pull it off. Between online forums and meeting strange men in diners, Nancy weaves a story about lost and/or current pregnancies, and it’s unclear if (and perhaps unlikely that) any of it ever happened.

After years of taking care of her mother, Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) is at odds when she dies suddenly, leaving Nancy alone in a house she hates, and shards of a life she andrea-riseborough-im-nancy-1mostly resents. One night, she hears a story on television about a little girl, Brook, who disappeared 30 years ago. An inkling is all it takes, and soon Nancy is contacting and visiting Leo (Steve Buscemi) and Ellen (J. Smith-Cameron), the little girl’s parents, believing or half-believing or half-willing herself to be the kidnapped child, now grown up.

The only person who wants it to be true more than Nancy does is Brook’s mother, Ellen. Leo is much more skeptical, and admits they’ve had false hopes before. A DNA test is quickly procured but as they await the results, Nancy movies in and cozies up and Ellen can’t help but get attached. Ellen has been a mother without a child for 30 long years; she’s got a spot underneath her wing that’s Nancy-sized, to say nothing of the hole in her heart.

The psychology of this movie is fascinating. It really explores the depths and nature of intimacy. Riseborough is fantastic. She’s got a haunted look about her; there’s a back story that’s simply implied in her downcast eyes, her uncombed hair. Smith-Cameron is also exceptional. Her shakiness and fragility are evident in every quaking breath. Her need is enormous. A talented cast really makes this story, well-crafted by writer-director Christina Choe, come alive.

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Forever My Girl

It’s the best day ever: not many people can say their wedding day coincides with their first hit single hitting the radio, but Liam is just that lucky, and Josie is his beautiful bride. Almost the whole of their small Louisiana town has shown up to see these pretty young things get married – all but one very important person: the groom. Josie is left at the altar because Liam’s star is shooting upward, and I guess marrying your high school sweetheart just doesn’t jibe with his country heartthrob image.

MV5BNTY1N2I5MjEtZDNkZS00OTgxLWFhM2MtNTM0NGY0MzBmNjRhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_Cut to: 10 years later, a mutual friend dies, and Liam, a mega star, leaves his world tour to go back to that small town, which he’s never really escaped. And wouldn’t you know it – Josie is the first person he runs into. Well, Josie and her kid.

Like all country music, lots of the sound track is incredibly on the nose. But there’s lots of it, so if obvious country music is your jam (and let’s be honest – is there any other kind?), then you might be in hog heaven. Or at least in pig purgatory.

Alex Roe is definitely a guy who can play a country singer – you know, a multi-millionaire who still wears a beat up ball cap and a pair of work boots even though the feet inside them are manicured, to manipulate you into thinking he’s a working guy with a broken heart, just like you, when really his stubble is carefully curated by half a dozen stylists and his heart doesn’t even get involved between the groupies and the blow. But his lyrics are all about pick up trucks and the love of his country. He strictly drives Mercedes of course,  and his flags are just accessories he trots out for music videos.

But Liam? Oh, Liam’s good people. I mean, yes, he abandoned the love of his life on their wedding day and then didn’t return her call for eight years, but he was young! And he wrote songs about it! Jessica Rothe plays the jilted girlfriend, and she’s as wallflowery as the character. The kid, however, is a bright spot. Precocious children usually drive me bananas, but Abby Ryder Fortson pulled it off. Too bad the grown-ups weren’t half as charming.

Dumplin’

Willowdean, aka Dumplin (Danielle Macdonald), feels like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Her aunt Lucy always had a knack for making her feel at home and helping her to navigate life greasier spots, but aunt Lucy is gone now. Thank goodness for her best friend Ellen (Odeya Rush), a fellow lover of all things Dolly Parton. Willowdean’s mother, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), is practically a celebrity in their small Texan town. She was Miss Teen Bluebonnet 1991, and is the pageant’s current director. Their house looks like Miss America barfed all over it, except in aunt Lucy’s old room, still not empty of her belongings, but that won’t be true for long, if Rosie has her way.

MV5BNTIwODk1MjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQxMzU3NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1301,1000_AL_Dumplin’ is based on a novel by Julie Murphy, and it’s kind of like a Love, Simon for fat girls (we deserve love too!). Willowdean doesn’t have the perfect figure, a fact all the more noticeable standing next to her mother, a literal beauty queen, and the town’s image of perfection. So it’s a mystery to her when Bo, the heartthrob that works with her in the local diner, seems to be interested in her. That can’t be right, can it?

Overweight women struggle to find acceptance in the world, and remain almost invisible, undepicted, in Hollywood. Weight will be the last taboo, clearly. So when Willowdean enters the pageant, it’s an act of rebellion. Her mother isn’t thrilled and the pageant institution wants to preserve its ‘sanctity’, but when Willowdean shows up, she’s like the Joan of Arc of fat girls, inspiriting several other ‘unsuitable’ girls to sign up.

It’s interesting to watch Willowdean struggle, to know in her head that people’s judgement about her weight is complete bullshit, but also to have internalized it, to use that bit of self-loathing as as a defense mechanism. It takes a lot of strength to confront these stereotypes, and to have Willowdean do it as a high school student, so young and vulnerable, keeps our compassion levels high – as well as our concern. It makes us watch with a critical eye. Who is complicit? Store that sell a minimum of (small) sizes? Magazines that wrongfully equate weight with health? Movies that would have you believe that a boy who likes a fat girl is a hero? The pageant system itself, which celebrates a very narrow definition of beauty and weighs intellect and swim suit wearing equally?

There’s nothing in the rules that says “big girls need not apply” but all too often, fat girls see barriers everywhere. Sometimes they’re just barriers we just mentally put there ourselves after being conditioned by society to feel somehow inferior or unworthy. Dumplin’ is asking us not to buy into that – not of each other, and not of ourselves. A number on a scale is incapable of determining beauty, and it’s not even close to measuring a person’s worth. The film doesn’t follow the book’s exact plot, and it wisely edits a lot of the romantic drama, because this story is most of all about self-acceptance, as every story should be.

Funny Tweets

So, Twitter.

This platform has changed the way we communicate. Originally you had only 140 characters to send out your thoughts, and today we’re up to 280, which is a boone to us long-winded folks. Something in the neighbourhood of 6000 tweets are sent every second. Nearly half of all Twitter users never send a single tweet, they’re just there to read. And man is there stuff to read. Read for days!

In Twitter’s early days, it was like the wild west: anything goes. And one of the things that really proliferated was comedy. There’s a special knack to writing jokes for Twitter, there’s a special pace, a special formula.

This documentary talks to a bunch of hella funny Twitter comedians, many of whom had their careers explode because of Twitter. Breaking into the writing world used to be hard, but now you can gain attention from your dead end job in Bumfuck, Nowhere. And it’s happened over and over! How cool is that?

Twitter also puts you in touch with tonnes of strangers who share the things you’re passionate about. Some of them hate you and what you’re saying, and they let you know, often more loudly than the people who love it.

And then there’s the celebrity content! You can follow whomever you please, including Ryan Reynolds, David Lynch, Patton Oswalt, and Conan O’Brien (all recommended).  And disturbingly, the current president of the United States is also a prolific tweeter. He likes creating evidence of his lack of intellect and filter, and posting it to the internet forever and ever. Because he’s an idiot. Danny Zuker, a writer for Family Guy, interacted with Trump frequently – his slams were popular and effective, but he likens it to “dunking on a toddler.”

This is an entertaining documentary and a great crash-course on the ins and outs of Twitter. Director Laurie McGuinness covers thinks like plagiarism on social media, how women are treated differently (meaning poorly), internet outrage, and the unintended consequences of thoughtlessly posting your basest instincts. Twitter can get you hired and it can get you fired. It’s a risk, it’s a connection, it’s a new way of thinking. It can open up your world, if you let it.

p.s. my super awesome Twitter can be found at @AssholeMovies – won’t you be my follower?

Social Animals

Austin, Texas, where every hipster thinks they should be able to open and run their own business. They’re all failing of course. Zoe’s is failing. Apparently her big dream was to wax women’s pussies, but the pussies aren’t coming. Across the street from her, Paul’s video store is failing too. Only the food trucks that circle these going out of business sales seem to be proliferating, business owners that have fled their lease agreements and work on wheels instead.

Of course, business is not Zoe’s only concern. All her friends are getting married and having babies, but she’s chronically single and collecting polaroids and hopefully first names of all the men she brings home to her trailer; if it’s a-rockin, you know MV5BYTJjNjdhZWItY2U3ZC00YjVjLTlkN2ItMTE0OWEzOTA3ZWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjExODQwODM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_the rest. But her friends are getting tired of Zoe’s (Noel Wells) bullshit and she’s not much fun to be around now that her life is fully falling apart. The only person who seems to understand is Paul (Josh Radnor), the unhappily married man across the street. His wife has given him permission to have an affair, and Zoe is undeniably cute in a damaged way, but he’s still a bit shy to ask for what he wants.

Social Animals is a clever if inconsistent script. Watching Millennials attempt to “adult” is at turns entertaining and depressing. My sister was telling me recently about the very young, very new woman at her work who uses “adult” as a verb, as in “I was adulting this weekend; I made soup.” She was very proud at this stab at adulthood, but when my sister asked her what kind, she replied “Campbell’s.” Which, okay, makes sense, because I literally just heard on the radio this morning that the sale of canned tuna is way down because Millennials don’t know how to use a can opener. So perhaps successfully opening and microwaving a can of Campbell’s is something to celebrate if you’re young and dumb. Although I was once upon a time chronologically her age, I was never that young. At her age I was married, running my own household, and managing to cook impressive multi-course meals. Of course, I don’t really believe that Millennials are idiots. I believe their parents have ruined them by doing everything and teaching them nothing, and especially not independence. Millennials aren’t the problem. Their parents are.

Of course, Zoe’s parents are dead, so I probably shouldn’t speak ill of them. But even cold and in the ground she moans about getting a raw deal from them. Even the bank seems to imply that the reason her business is failing is because her parents aren’t giving her cash injections (so now we know why the American economy tanked). But I kind of enjoyed this movie about young people groping around, trying to figure shit out, and dramatically burning polaroids under a bridge. It didn’t make me feel superior, but it did make me feel secure. I may not always love getting older but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be that young again. Sometimes Sean and I still feel like a couple of kids, but we have non-Ikea furniture, and RRSPs, and a fairly casual relationship with avocados. We’ve got our shit together. And even when making roasted red pepper soup from scratch, I never use “adult” as a verb. I just am.

 

Pick of the Litter

This documentary follows five puppies from birth as they train to become guide dogs to the blind. We literally do get to see Potomac, Patriot, Primrose, Poppet, and…Phil be born, all shiny and new and a little slimy to the world, and by the age of two months they’re already being placed in homes where raisers will abide by strict rules to bring up ideal candidates for the guide dog training program. As Pick of the Litter constantly reminds us, not everyone will make it. In fact, of 800 puppies born to the centre every year, only about 300 turn out to be suitable. The standards are exacting because the job is important. Matched with a visually impaired companion, these dogs will be the seeing eyes for their loved one, keeping them safe, but also giving them a sense of freedom that a cane just can’t mimic. Still, I find it a little heartless to keep throwing the “only the best of the best” tag line in our faces, like it’s a dog’s fault for not being the “ideal candidate.” Not all humans are cut out to be dog trainers, but the rest of us aren’t pieces of shit, we just have other things we’re good at. Can’t we maybe think the same for dogs?

The film is far-reaching, documenting and interviewing everyone involved in the process – the vets, the families, the future recipients. When a dog is deemed unsuitable for the program, there are a lot of broken hearts. “Career changed” is the euphemism employed, though I’m not sure the dogs care or notice as much as we may think. There are many MV5BN2EyMDA1NGMtZmMxNC00YTZjLTkyZDktYTBlMTVmYjkwODlhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNjYxMjQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_dedicated volunteers who invest a lot of time into these dogs, and getting cut from the program can seem like a failure; indeed, there are far more applicants for guide dogs than can be handled in any given year. But these are all smart dogs who work hard and do their best. I have four dogs at home: at least 3 of them are geniuses, but none of them would be guide dog material, not even if they’d been bred and trained for the job since birth. They’re hyper and they love to interact. We really do ask a lot of guide dogs, but I know that some dogs really love having a job to do, it makes them feel fulfilled, and I can’t think of a more important job or a more beautiful connection between dog and owner.

It is a testament to the filmmakers (to directors Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman) that I myself felt rather emotionally invested in the process. A lot of love and effort is poured into these dogs before they ever meet their partners. It’s interesting to see the ins and outs of the process, particularly as many of us have noticed little dogs in training vests out and about with their handlers during training. This documentary lets us into the family – right into the dog’s crate, in fact, over a period of two years. It’s uplifting, it’s adorable, it’s sometimes bittersweet. It’s got everything but the wet nose.

Elliot The Littlest Reindeer

In fact – spoiler alert – Elliot is not  reindeer at all. He’s a miniature horse who lives on a petting zoo. His best friend is a tin can-eating goat named Corkie. But Elliot dreams big. The petting zoo is attached to a reindeer training centre, a ‘farm team’ from which Santa drafts his 8 reindeer each year. Elliot does his best to train along with them, though the other reindeer laugh and call him names (will reindeer never learn?).

Luckily, Blitzen announces his retirement 3 days for Christmas, and Santa decides to hold elliot-the-littlest-reindeeropen try-outs for all the aspiring reindeer stars. Elliot and Corkie have to do some fast-talking and some fairly amateur cosplay to even get him in the gates. But Elliot is fast and surprisingly agile. Is he actually a contender? And even if he wins, is it possible for a miniature horse to be accepted onto Santa’s team?

This is a cute little movie that’s sure to please young children. You can tell it’s a Canadian production because it likens the reindeer team to a hockey team – the two great pursuits of the north. The voice cast includes Morena Baccarin, Josh Hutcherson, John Cleese, Martin Short, Jeff Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Packed with cuteness and with a protagonist the whole family can get behind, why not add Elliot The Littlest Reindeer to your family’s holiday rotation this year? It’s got a one-day only cinema engagement in the following cities December 2nd, and will be available on VOD as of December 4.

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