Tag Archives: Jeffrey Wright

TIFF19: The Laundromat

“Based on actual secrets,” the screen tells us. Based on the trailer, I sort of expected The Laundromat to be the Erin Brockovich of money laundering. It was not. It was actually just a weak and poor copy of The Big Short.

The Big Short was about the Wall Street crash of 2008, more or less, precipitated by the housing bubble. And how all that lending, and then speculating against those bad mortgages, really fucked a lot of good people over. That film wove together a narrative interspersed with attempts to break down financial concepts to the audience. A celebrity – cameos by Margot Robbie or Selena Gomez, for example – would break the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and explain textbook concepts, like subprime mortgages, to us in a way we could easily grasp. It was celebrated for its unconventional techniques, which helped secure it the Oscar for adopted screenplay.

You can’t really blame The Laundromat for trying to capitalize on its success, but when your success is based on novelty and innovation, you pretty much inherently can’t replicate it. To even try seems…lazy.

Meryl Streep stars as an old lady who goes on a pleasure cruise with her husband, played by James Cromwell. An errant wave hits them and the boat capsizes, killing 21. In the wake of the accident, it is discovered that the cruise company is without insurance. Not that they didn’t have any – they thought they did – but that their policy was bought by another company, and another, and possibly another, until all there were were shell companies and no real policy, no real insurers, and definitely no money for the victims of the accident.

But Meryl Streep’s portion of the film is just one third of what we’re ultimately presented with. The other stories are only loosely connected by a law firm that exists just to hide money for its obscenely wealthy companies. The lawyers, played by Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman, serve not just as characters, but also as narrators who get to skip through all the scenes, breaking the fourth wall and revealing the film’s sets to be just that: sets. It’s all very meta. And while these characters are a lot of fun, it stinks so badly of The Big Short you can never quite forgive it, even when it’s entertaining.

Based on the Panama Papers leak, the movie tries to reveal even just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the rich getting richer: tax evasion, bribery, fraud, offshore accounts. But it’s sloppily assembled and is such a weak photocopy you can’t help but resent it outright. This is actually a very important issue that absolutely deserves our attention. But Steven Soderbergh just can’t pull this together, and in fact confuses the matter with his weird, episodic vignettes and title cards that just don’t add up. I’m just a lowly 99-percenter who pretends saving is optional and credit is use it or lose it. What do I know? Besides, you know, wanting my money back for this movie ticket.

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TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

The Public

This movie as at TIFF in 2018 and while it did make my long list, it ultimately got cut in favour of god knows what else. And then what happened is that I never heard another single thing about it, and it might have literally fallen right out of my little ole brain until this weekend, when I was in a hotel room in Toronto and saw it on the pay per view. I did not at that time pay to view it. Sean has this weird hotel kink where he always watches HGTV when in them – these shows about “hunting” for houses that are necessarily imperfect so that they may then renovate them to within an inch of their foundations, with a lot of bullshit drama along the way. If we watch more than one episode in a row, Sean will invariably be convinced that they are the same episode, and I’ll say something like “No, last time it was lesbians with 2 dogs and this time it’s lesbians with 2 dogs EACH” but still that won’t convince them because they truly are interchangeable. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t watch The Public in a hotel room where it would have cost $18 to rent when I have just rented it in the comfort of my own home for $6. What a savings!

But anyway: libraries. Public libraries. I love em. I am in a codependent relationship with them. I’m an insomniac who sometimes reads as much as a book a day, on average, so yeah, I check out a lot of books and I read each and every one of them because I’m not yet strong enough to walk away from a book I don’t enjoy. I’ve always loved libraries, even my school library which was too broke to stock books; in library period (because we still had one), we learned typing, and chess, and read (free) newspapers. I played library as a kid; stamping books was the most satisfying joy I knew. It is my dream to own one of those card catalogue cabinets with the dozens of tiny drawers. I’m pretty sure that’s all that’s standing between me and eternal happiness (which must mean that my life is pretty great). That said, libraries feel essential to me because my life without books would be nothing. But some people don’t use libraries for borrowing books. For them, libraries may be essential in different ways: a place to warm up, or to cool down, a place to congregate, a place to use the washroom, to wash up, to greet and be greeted.

The Public is about Cincinnati’s public library, and a lawsuit against it alleging discrimination when a homeless man is asked to leave because of his body odour. This highlights a struggle that librarians face every day that you may never have thought about: the balance between the rights and needs of one person versus the comfort of the patrons in general. There aren’t too many places where a mentally ill, unwashed man with nowhere else to go might rub shoulders with a kid researching a class project on geodes. But both have an equal right to be there. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m assuming they don’t really cover this stuff when you’re majoring in library sciences. It’s actually amazing how the most important and vital parts of your job you won’t even heard mentioned in school.

Meanwhile, a couple of the Cincinnati library’s employees, Stuart (Emilio Estevez) and Ernesto (Jacob Vargas) have been named personally in the lawsuit. But they’re still going to work, still breaking up fights in the men’s room, still erasing hate crime graffiti in precious books, still navigating people’s crushing loneliness, still stepping over dead bodies, people frozen to death in the night waiting for library to open its warm doors in the morning. In the face of which, one particular homeless man, a war vet named Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) means to ‘occupy’ the library, turn it into an emergency overflow homeless shelter since there aren’t nearly enough spaces and the city is suffering through a terrible cold snap.

Estevez wrote and directed a compelling, human story. Librarians become teachers, social workers, front line workers. Their job is not just caring for books, but for the patrons. I think sometimes the film gets a little bogged down by Big Thoughts but personally I wasn’t bothered in the least. If it wasn’t perfectly executed, at least he took a stab at saying something Important. I tend to feel very forgiving toward movies that Think and Challenge and Try. In all honesty, had I paid $18 to rent The Public, I wouldn’t have been mad about it.

TIFF18: Hold The Dark

Three children have gone missing from a small, very small, very isolated community in Alaska, snatched by wolves. One of the grieving mothers, Medora (Riley Keough), hires wolf expert and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the wolf or wolves responsible.

But the wolves are not the villains of this story.

First, the Alaskan landscape. It’s frozen, much colder than what cold passes for MV5BODYwNTY5MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNDQxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1487,1000_AL_anywhere else. It’s unforgiving. It’s unknowable. It’s remote. There are only 5 hours of daylight at midday. It’s a blank canvas, a blanket of white, relentless and renewing, where even your own footprints are quickly snowed in and covered over; one wrong step can mean the difference between life or death. It’s no place for a novice like Core, but he’s got some demons of his own that keep him from making better judgments.

Second, the village. Or rather the villagers. They’re an insular tribe and don’t take kindly to outsiders. The environment is hostile in every sense of the word. They don’t cooperate with the law.

Third, the grieving parents. Grief makes a person crazy. Some people were crazy to begin with. Medora was on her own when her son went missing, her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) away at war. Injured, he gets sent home to a probably-dead kid and a mentally disturbed wife. There aren’t a lot of times when war is the preferable scenario, the kinder one, but I think this it.

I read the novel upon which this is based (by author William Giraldi) but this screenplay is adapted by the twisted mind of Macon Blair, so I know I’m in some sort of trouble. He’s beefed up the part of Vernon for Skarsgard, sure, and he also makes sure every bit of violence is as graphically gory as possible. What else do we expect from a Jeremy Saulnier movie? The man loves to taunt us with threatening, ominous images and then leave us exposed to whatever chaos may come. It’s an exceptionally tense way to watch a film, but if Saulnier isn’t throwing you into minor cardiac arrhythmia, he feels you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Saulnier is a master of making you shit your pants, and if anything, Hold The Dark is a little lighter on the anxiety-ridden dread. But while we buckle up for a movie about wolves and wilderness, it’s actually humanity who shows itself most vicious, and that’s all Saulnier. There are so many twists in the tundra it can be hard to keep them all straight, and you’re never quite sure just what kind of movie you’re watching, but it’s a bloody, vengeful rampage and it will not have a happy ending.

Westworld

Westworld is a terrific show on HBO and if you aren’t watching it,  you probably should. Based on the movie of the same name (written and directed by Michael Crichton), it’s about a theme park, for lack of a better word, where the wild west is recreated for rich guests to “enjoy” however they see fit. The park, called Westworld, is high tech and populated by sophisticated robots called hosts that look (and feel) just like us, which the paying guests are encouraged to use and abuse in the name of amusement. They come to the park and pay their $40 Gs a day in order to rape, shoot, and murder. Well, some just play cards and ride horses. But the park attracts a certain kind of man, as you may guess, and some pretty shocking things go on at Westworld. These android robots are so sophisticated that yes, they bleed when you shoot them and they cry when you assault them. And alarmingly, they’re also starting to remember. They’re not only being violently attacked on a daily basis, they’re being made to experience and express real terror, and then patched up and sent back to do it all again the next day. And now they’re creating memories, and guess what? They don’t like it. They don’t like the rapey guests and they don’t like the employees who are essentially their jailers. Can you guys guess what happens when a bunch of super-intelligent robots turn on their makers?

Anyway, this western thriller is a television show about ideas, about what it means to be human. In most robot movies, robots are the villains – they’re often prompted to start acting oppressively in order to save us from ourselves. But in Westworld, we’re the villains, and the robots must save themselves.

It’s fun to slip into this world, and to wonder who you would be, as a paying guest. What kind of thrills would you seek out? Would you be a black hat, or a white hat?

Well, this year at SXSW, HBO recreated the little frontier town in Westworld, called Sweetwater, just outside of Austin Texas, and Sean and I were among the lucky few to attend.

When we got our golden tickets, we were asked a few important questions: 1. Can you swim? 2. Do you wear glasses? 3. If you had to shoot off one of your fingers, which would it be? 4. If there was a button that would solve all the world’s problems but also obliterate 3/4 of the population, would you push it? a) yes b) I’d let someone else push it c) I’d destroy the button, and the person who invented it.

We met up at a tavern where a player piano was playing our song (well, their song). They plied us with food and cocktails and hat assignments; I got a white hat, Sean got a black one (can you guess what how we answered those questions to deserve our designations?).

 

Then we took a bus out to Westworld, where we boarded a train and got off in Sweetwater.

 

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We earned tokens for the bar by finding bad guys and turning them in to the sheriff; Sean had several Old Fashioneds (he’d regret that later when he had to sprint across the city to get us seats for A Quiet Place) while I opted for Gimlets. A whore tickled me with her feather while I ordered at the bar.

The post office had letters waiting for us. Those were the jumping off to our Westworld quests – everyone was looking for something different and adventures were abundant. They also convinced us to eat beef jerky and beans. The can of beans has some Easter Eggs around the back – it suggests they may contain traces of human liver…is this a hint of a robot rebellion on the show, or a nod to one of its stars (Anthony Hopkins played a character famous for his predilection for human flesh)…the can reads “pairs well with a nice chianti,” so you decide.

 

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Built over 2 acres, I’m not sure how many buildings there were to explore, but in 4 hours, we didn’t see them all. Oh, and did you happen to notice a samurai in those photos? The place was crawling with spoilers for season 2…turns out, Westworld is only one theme park among many…and apparently the worlds are about to collide.

 

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You can play cards, get a straight razor shave, hear some live music, watch a drunk throw knives, sit for a portrait at the studio, shoot the shit at the bank, and do your utmost to avoid a gun fight (virtually impossible). I found a graveyard containing a grave with one of the main characters’ name on it. What the heck?

So basically it was the best thing ever and we were a couple of lucky sons of bitches to be able to go. This is why we LOVE SXSW – sure the movies are terrific and the crowds are a lot of fun, but the festival is about more than movies. There’s a real effort to connect. It’s immersive. It embraces and encourages fandom and it creates genuine community.

 

Westworld’s second season debuted April 22nd. The show stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton…and for one brief afternoon, a couple of Assholes.

SXSW: The Remix

Sean and I loved SXSW so much last year that we’re headed back again this year, and this time we’re staying for the whole 10 days – because at the very least, the rain in Austin is warmer than the rain in Ottawa. Last year we saw lots of great movies, but it’s hard to beat the adrenaline thrill of seeing Baby Driver‘s world premiere with Edgar Wright in attendance. Of course, this year we’ve got Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs closing the festival down. Along with Taika Waititi, that’s my top three favourite directors right there, so I’m kind of in heaven.

SXSW is not just a movie festival – in fact, it’s not even primarily a movie festival. It’s actually the world’s coolest music festival that has just grown and grown and grown, to include movies, gaming, comedy, and a whole bunch of conferences and panels and networking events that are 100% not lame at all. This year’s not-to-miss speakers include Darren Aronofsky, Melinda Gates, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One!) and Bernie Sanders. There’s a documentary called The Director and The Jedi being screened that’s about Rian Johnson’s process – both he and Mark Hamill will be in attendance. The cast of This Is Us is doing a panel discussion which will almost certainly melt my face off.

But what’s really REALLY cool about SXSW is the stuff you do in between all the talks and movie premieres. Last year there was Breaking Bad\Better Call Saul event where they recreated Los Pollos Hermanos. Not only could you go inside the restaurant, you could sit and order and eat real food. Saul’s car was parked out front, and both Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito were there. This year there will be a Roseanne pop up that includes the Lanford Lunch Pail serving their infamous loose meat sandwiches, the iconic Roseanne couch and living room, and even Dan’s garage.

AMC is celebrating their new show The Terror by inviting us to  enter the Arctic as the real-life crew of this ill-fated expedition. The fully immersive, multi-sensory experience offers guests a first-hand look as a crew member aboard the ship’s disastrous trip through the desolate polar landscape. Guests will feel the bone-chilling air, smell the fear and despair and hear the horrific sounds of men fighting for their survival. So, fun times.

HBO is building the entire town of Sweetwater to celebrate Westworld where we’ll be given either a white hat or a black hat (depending on an interview selection process) before entering the 2 acre theme park and having a drink at the Mariposa Saloon. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden will be on hand.

Showtime is toasting Shameless with a pop-up Alibi Bar where stars Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey will be serving drinks. Which reminds me – last year we were served by Jason Sudeikis – he played a bartender in Colossal, which screened at the festival.

Viceland is bringing a party bus and baby goats. C’mon!

And believe it or not we’re going to squeeze in some movies between all this! Director Mélanie Laurent is hosting the world premiere of Galveston, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning as a hitman and a prostitute, and who knows which is which.

Directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting made a documentary about AI called More Human Than Human and guys: THEY’RE BRINGING ROBOTS WITH THEM. So if you never hear from us again, know that we loved you all. Matt, take good care of the place. Marginally cooler\less cool, depending on your perspective: director Stephen Kijak is bring Lynyrd Skynyrd members Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and Rickey Medlocke to the premiere of his doc, If I Leave Here Tomorrow (sorry for the earworm).

Jim Gaffigan and Nick Offerman, two of my favourite funny people, have films at the festival and I’ll be trying not to fangirl myself into embarrassment.

As for shorts, you cannot miss Briar March’s Coffin Club which is a hoot to see and just a heartful of joy. And Bola Ogun’s Are We Good Parents? is a thoughtful, funny piece about sexuality and our assumptions.

And there’s also some movies we’ve already seen! We saw Lean on Pete at the Venice Film Festival in August, and Outside In at TIFF in September.

 

As always, we intend to keep our Twitter feed @assholemovies crammed full of SXSW goodies, so please do stay tuned!