Tag Archives: Josh Brolin

True Grit

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is just 14 years old when her father is murdered by the coward Tom Chaney. It should not fall to her to avenge his murder, but it does, and Mattie proves more than up to the challenge. Though not particularly skilled with guns or wilderness, she and her quick wit are nonetheless game when both are required as the search for Chaney takes her into Indian land. She hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), supposedly a man of true grit, to get the job done; Rooster is none too pleased to find a little girl as his sidekick, but the money’s too good to turn down. Mattie, however, is the one who ends up disappointed when she quickly learns that Rooster is a slothful drunk. Neither is she pleased when Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins the fray – he’s after Chaney (Josh Brolin) for his own ends, but Mattie insists that he will hang for no other crime but her own father’s murder. It’s a fine point, perhaps a moot one, but to Mattie, it’s the whole point.

3688_truegrit1825 was not a great time to be female. LaBoeuf feels entitled to both kiss and spank Mattie, a 14 year old girl mind you, at his will and against hers. Most other men just discount her completely. But this is a story of true grit, and so it must involve a woman. Joel and Ethan Cohen edge the spotlight over to Mattie, where it belongs, which is what makes this film even stronger than the original. Which is not to say that Rooster and LaBoeuf are lost. Indeed they are not. The Cohens can write like the dickens (or, perhaps, like Dickens), and they’ve found a way to sharpen up a very interesting little triangle. Hailee Steinfeld was 13 when she was cast, but she acts alongside of Damon and Bridges like a gun toting, horse riding champ, and it earned her an Oscar nomination (which she lost, of course – True Grit got 10 nominations and 0 wins, which is what the french call “not right.)

True Grit is gritty, but it’s beautifully made. I love the snappy, tongue-twisting, quotable script, I love Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, I love the actual wild of the wild west, I love the slapdash feel of the gun fights, I love the sound of beans cooking in their can, I love the gleaming buckles on Matt Damon’s hat and the way he talks after losing his tongue. It feels improbable, and maybe even impossible, that you could take a beloved American classic and actually improve upon it, but credit the Cohens – they have, and they’ve made it look effortless.

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Deadpool 2

deadpool_2_poster.0There are times when it feels like a movie has lost a sense of direction, and is relying on one-liners to fill in the gaps until it finds a way forward. Deadpool 2 never feels that way, mainly because the whole film is a series of one-liners. That is how Deadpool 2 gets Deadpool right.

Deadpool is supposed to be an immortal wisecracking antihero, and that’s exactly what Deadpool 2 delivers. In fact, movie Deadpool may be even more potent than his comic book counterpart, since we have seemingly hundreds of superhero movies to send up and most are easy targets.  Deadpool makes sure not to miss any by taking seemingly hundreds of shots at them. None are spared, with Ryan Reynolds’ past superhero movies (and Reynolds himself) being hit as much as any other (and maybe more). More than anything, that self-effacing attitude is why Deadpool works.

Deadpool 2 is stupid and it knows it.  It will do anything to make you laugh, and it will succeed. But Deadpool 2 doesn’t stop there. As you get into the film’s rhythm, you realize that in between the jokes, there’s a ton of action, a superteam origin story, the onscreen debuts of two classic X-Men characters, significant character development, and best of all, a much-needed mop-up of some major continuity issues. And with an X-Force movie on the way, Deadpool basically has birthed his own cinematic universe (I’m treating it as a separate universe than the X-Men films since aside from Colossus, there are no other A-list X-Men in sight), so for better or worse, Deadpool is sticking around for the long haul.

Overall I think Deadpool’s success is more better than worse (though Jay would surely disagree).  Deadpool 2 is an entertaining movie that can co-exist with movies like Avengers: Infinity War (and Deadpool is probably the superhero best served by being removed from the Marvel Universe, as evidenced by Fox keeping him separate from the X-universe for all intents and purposes).

The comparison between Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War brings up an interesting contrast.  Since I was frustrated with the lazy writing in Infinity War, I should have been equally frustrated with Deadpool for the same reason.  Lazy writing is lazy writing whether or not a superhero breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it, right?  Then why did I give Deadpool a pass when I held lazy writing against Avengers?  The answer, I think, is because Marvel is asking me to take seriously that half of the universe was wiped out with a magic glove, whereas Deadpool is up front about how stupid and meaningless this all is, that everything can and will be undone, and figures out a way to have fun with it.  And that is why for as long as they are making superhero movies, there will be a place for movies like Deadpool 2.

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers infinity warAssholes Assemble!

Matt, Jay and I all took in Avengers: Infinity War last night and I expect you can guess how that went.  I loved it, Jay hated it, and Matt liked it but would have preferred to be at a DC movie instead.  Of course, it is clear that Matt backed the wrong horse in the DC/Marvel race, as Marvel continues its streak of good movies.  Marvel’s so hot they even managed to resurrect the Spider-Man franchise for Sony along the way and might soon get the rights to use the X-Men and other characters currently being held hostage by Fox.

Whether adding more characters to this already bloated roster is a good thing is something we can (and will) argue about, but for a Marvel fan like me, the best thing about an Avengers movie is seeing all my favourite characters team up to save the world just like they’ve done in the comics a hundred times previously.  It’s particularly sweet now that Spider-Man is helping Iron Man and Co. on a regular basis (and fantastic that Spidey gets about as much screen time as anyone in Infinity War).

Even better, in Thanos, Marvel has found a threat big enough to require these countless heroes to team up to fight.  Finally, we have an Avengers movie that doesn’t have to use internal conflict as a plot point.  Past grudges are quickly put aside as we jump right into the fight, where literally half the lives in the universe are at stake.  Though the film is two and a half hours long, it didn’t feel like there was ever a lull in the action, not even for a second.

But.

But.

But.

I don’t ever expect Jay to like the superhero movies I drag her to, but she hated this movie much more strongly than I had anticipated.  In hindsight I should have seen this coming and prepared her for it.  Anyone who has read the Infinity Gauntlet crossover event will not be surprised by how the movie plays out, and anyone who has read comics in general knows that rule #1 is no one ever stays dead.  But when anyone can (and almost everyone does) come back to life in the comics, and in this movie, it makes death feel cheap.  Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, let’s just say there is at least one on-screen death that feels like it is going to be undone in the next Avengers movie (and when I say at least one, I really mean every single one).  That resurrection expectation takes away from this movie significantly because it doesn’t mean anything if everything gets reset.

The writers should have found a better way for this film to play out, one that didn’t feel like any hero’s death was just a temporary setback, particularly because the MCU can afford to lose several dozen characters – if it did then we might actually have enough screen time for heroes like Ant-Man and Hawkeye!

I could overlook the inevitable resurrection issue because that’s my expectation of comic books, but it is not going to be so easy for most to deal with.  And really, whether you can get past it is almost secondary, because it would undeniably have been so much better for the MCU to have risen above that trite comic book convention and given our heroes a loss that felt irreversible, instead of one that we feel certain is going to be undone within a year.   Avengers: Infinity War is still an enjoyable, fan-pleasing blockbuster even with this problem, but due to the perceived lack of permanent consequences, Infinity War is missing the dramatic heft that should have followed naturally from a battle over the fate of the universe.

The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

It’s hard to imagine a movie more out of touch with the greater culture right now. In the era of #neveragain, this movie puts an assault rifle in the hands of a gleeful, stupid 12 year old, and expects it to be funny.

Buck Ferguson (Josh Brolin, 40 lbs heavier, with an inexcusable mustache) is an asshat hunter who makes his living making juvenile hunting videos caught on film by his faithful manservant\camera man, Don (Danny McBride). Now, I don’t care for (white) featured_legacy_whitetail_deer_hunter10hunters any day of the week. Unless you’re preserving a (native) way of life, food can be purchased in a civilized manner at the super market, and anything else is just fulfilling a latent desire for murder. So I already despise Buck and his way of life, but now he’s bring along his son Jaden (Montana Jordan), ostensibly to “reconnect” after divorcing his mother, but actually because he hopes it’ll be ratings gold.

If arming a preteen doesn’t nominate Buck for worst father of the year already, he’s also just checked out and uninterested. His son has plenty of other hobbies, but Buck either ignores them or flat-out forbids them (or tosses them in the river, because he’s an intolerant bastard). The only acceptable form of bonding is hunting, and the only acceptable form of hunting is to stalk a beautiful animal and then watch the life leave its frightened eyes as it bleeds out all over your boots.

I would like to believe this kind of insensitive fatherhood and unfathomable personhood is a dying way of life, but whether or not I’m right, it’s definitely no joke. I’m pretty sure I didn’t crack a smile this whole entire movie because as long as a trigger is twitching near fingers that aren’t even finished growing yet, I could not take my eye off the gun(s). It made me angry. As tens of thousands of kids walked out of class to protest their continued slaughter at the hands of fellow students, armed to the teeth, the world just doesn’t have room for this kind of “entertainment”, or for the kind of people who would be entertained by it. Shame on Netflix for picking this one up.

Hail, Coen Brothers!

Joel and Ethan Coen are at it again – the two wacky guys who brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men have a new insta-classic to add to the list and it’s called Hail, Caesar!

The Coens are brilliant. I have no qualms about using that word, and I think their resume speaks for itself. Their names are already on this year’s Oscar ballot for having written the stirring screenplay for Bridge of Spies, an underrated but totally worthy movie that feels nothing like a Coen Brothers film, and isn’t one. They wrote it, and can write anything, but when they’re sitting in the director’s seat, they seem to prefer larger than life stories they can have a little fun with.

The Coens don’t chase box office success, but they do make the kind of movie that film buffs love to obsess over. I’m already obsessing over this one, which has been deemed by lesser souls to be of “limited appeal,” but dollars to donuts (yes I’m using that wrong and no I don’t know what it means) it’s the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre in a good long while. This was at the expense of my fellow movie goers since I’m perennially sick and every fit of giggles dissolved into a fit of coughing. Coughing is the new clapping. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There was lots of coughing. I mean lots of laughing!

The plot: Edward Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a honcho at the Capitol Pictures movie studio. He’s a fixer. He doesn’t own the place, but he does make it run. We follow him for about 27 hours, a day in the life as it were, and there are no less than 4 movies being shot on the studio back lot: the first, their blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a Roman soldier who encounters Jesus Christ; the second, a movie musical currently shooting its aquatic spectacle with its newly and scandalously pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson); the third, a drama period piece set to star a spaghetti western crossover, Hobie Doyle (Alden Hail-Caesar-(2016)-posterEhrenreich) much to the consternation of finicky director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes); and the fourth, a comedy starring sprightly song and dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). Poor Eddie has a lot to contend with – fixing stars up on dates, rescuing starlets from French postcard situations, making good on his promise to his wife to quit smoking, and fending off twin sisters and rival gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton – and that’s before he realizes that his biggest star, Baird Whitlock, has been kidnapped!

There is much (too much) to say about this film. First off, the cast was excellent. Of course it was excellent. The Coens have been in the biz an awfully long time and they’ve got a george-clooney-gets-kidnappedlaundry list of Hollywood A-listers who beg to be in their films. George Clooney, for example, has worked with them three times before – Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading – all movies that I like, though I confess a particular burning love for Intolerable Cruelty especially. The Coens have great faith in Clooney’s comedic timing and treat us to a whole reel of his best reaction shots. It’s down right gluttonous – almost as sinful as that Roman costume they’ve got him strutting around in, showing off leg like you’ve never seen from him before. And my they’re nice legs. In fact, is there a human being on this planet who’s not a little in love with George Clooney?

Josh Brolin continues to ride this incredible surge in his career and proves a worthy choice. This is Brolin’s third Coen movie (after No Country for Old Men and True Grit) and he pulls this one together so tightly, so adroitly, you know he’ll be around for more. New comer Alden Ehrenreich impressed me immensely. IMDB assures me I’ve seen him before (in hail-caesar-featurette-the-cowbo-810x456Blue Jasmin) but this is the first that I’ve noticed him – and he almost stole the show! Tilda Swinton, who is great in everything, is great again here, only doubly so since she’s handling twin duties and it’s uproarious. Heather Goldenhersh, as Mannix’s hard-working secretary, is pivotal and delightful, and I must say, this woman deserves to be fucking famous already. But even small roles are peppered with famous faces – the study group alone, from Fisher Stevens to my beloved David Krumholtz, is worthy of its own spin-off. And no Coen Brothers movie would be complete without at least a brief appearance by my spirit animal, the fabulous Frances McDormand. The reigning Coen Queen, this is her 8th film of theirs, although it’s not exactly a fair fight as she’s married to Joel (not that her oodles of talent require any nepotism). Her role is brief but watch for it, it’s a scene stealer.

So: the Coens know how to write. And they sure as hell know how to cast. And bringing back cinematographer Roger Deakins and convincing him to shoot in film again (as img5opposed to his preferred medium, digital) was exactly the right thing for this ode to old Hollywood. Even though your eyes see Channing Tatum in a sailor suit, your mind is steeped in 1950s glamour (which is actually much grimier than the usual coating of nostalgic veneer would have us remember). As usual with the Coens, what you see is only half of what you get. There’s a lot of layers to this seemingly lighter fare, from God and Commies, to pop culture and hydrogen bombs. I was charmed and tickled from start to finish and I’m going to find it awfully hard to buy tickets to Deadpool when what I’d really like to do is see this one again. And again. And probably again.

 

Tiffing Like Crazy

I hardly know how to begin summing up our crazy time at the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re actually only about halfway through our experience, but if I don’t start putting down some thoughts now, I’m going to run out of usable memory space.

Day 1

Demolition: Our first film of the festival is still probably my favourite. Music-obsessed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) calls this the “most rock-n-roll movie I’ve ever made” and while that’s not the descriptor that immediately came to my mind, I do get where he’s coming from. I would call this movie vigorous. It’s very alive, ironically, since it’s about a man (2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Demolition" Press ConferenceDavis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s been numb for the past dozen years or so. It takes the sudden death of his wife for him to realize that he probably didn’t love her. And once that realization is made, his whole life starts to tilt to the left. He becomes obsessed with understanding and improving small, safe things: the leak in his fridge, the squeak in a door, the defective hospital vending machine. A surprisingly confessional letter about the latter connects him to a lonely customer service lady (Naomi Watts) and they stumble together toward truth, just two lost souls helping each other without even meaning to. Gyllenhaal is nothing short of amazing. We see him removed from grief, literally doing whatever he can just to feel – manual labour, loud music, the embracing of pain. Gylllenhaal does disconnection eerily well. But he also has some bracing bonding scenes with a young co-star, the two careening from frank discussions about homosexuality in Home Depot, to the point-blank testing of bullet proof vests. The mourning in this movie is off-kilter to say the least, and jumpcuts and flashbacks keep the loopy momentum going – sometimes quite elegantly, as the editing and cinematography are both superb. Davis busies himself with demolition – he likes taking things apart, methodically, to see how it looks inside, but he can’t quite put it all back together. The physical demolition of his house, of the things surrounding him, serves as an apt metaphor for his sorrow, for his life up until now. It is brutal and quirky and offbeat. Gyllenhaal has been turning in solid performance after solid performance, but this one might be The One. It’s an unconventional movie but also deeply spiritual in its way. Jean-Marc Vallée, when asked after the movie about this theme, responded: “Have you ever smashed the shit out of something? It feels great!”

The Lobster: I realize now, having used words like quirky and offbeat to describe Demolition, that there aren’t words to describe this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is a sick man. He has imagined a world not so unlike ours, he thinks, where single people are so ostracized that it’s 40th TIFF- 'The Lobster' - Premierebeen made illegal to be without a spouse. When alone, they’re forced into this hotel where they either find a mate, or get turned into an animal. Many fail. Exotic animals abound.This is how we meet Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly as they desperately attempt to be lucky in love. It’s got the deadpan feel of a Wes Anderson movie, only instead of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia, there’s bleak and panicky hopelessness. This movie won’t appeal to most, or even many, but if you can stomach the brutality, this movie is not without some major laughs. And believe me, you earn them. Sean was having a little post-traumatic shock as he lef the theatre, but a few days a lots of reflection later, he found the movie to be undeniably growing on him. The movie is absurdist and bizarre and unique. It is occasionally shovel-to-the-face brutal. Lanthimos understatedly calls it a movie “about relationships”, and his leading lady, Rachel Weisz called it his most “romantic” yet.

Eye In the Sky: Helen  Mirren and Barkhad Abdi  joined director Gavin Hood in introducing this wonderful film to us – just icing on the cake as the film itself would have been more than enough. Helen Mirren, as you might expect, is completely compelling as a Colonel who’s been tracking radicalized British citizens for 6 years. Just as she’s found them she encounters bureaucratic hell trying to get permission to do her job – that is, to eliminate the threat. What I didn’t realize going in to this movie is that it would not solely be a vehicle for Mirren but a really heleneyestrong ensemble cast who all pull their weight to give this film so many interesting layers. Drone warfare is obviously a pretty timely discussion, but this movie is also an entertaining nail-biter, successfully blending ethical dilemmas with on-the-street action thanks to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) who ratchets up the tension. The crux: there’s a house full of terrorists. They’re literally arming themselves for an imminent suicide attack. Capturing them is not an option – they must be killed before they kill dozens, or hundreds. But just outside this house is a little girl, selling bread. So government officials debate her fate. Mirren the military tour de force is adamant that the terrorists must be stopped at any cost. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), the guy with the finger on the trigger, is not so sure. You can see the weight of this decision in his eyes, knowing it’s not his to make, yet doing everything in his power to stall. If he’s the heart and Mirren is the head of this operation, there are dozens of politicians muddling up the chain of command in between. The movie is asking us what is acceptable – the sacrifice of one bright little girl to save potentially dozens? The politicians waffle. The girl herself is not the problem, rather it’s the way it would look to the electoral public. How can they spin this? Who will win the propaganda war? Hood does a great job of subtly reminding us that no matter what, not everyone in the kill zone deserves to die. But at the same time, he lets us feel the urgency, lets us count the potential dead bodies if the suicide attack is allowed to continue. And who would be responsible for that? This movie never stops being tense, even when it draws uncomfortable laughter: Alan Rickman, at the head of the table of the dithering politicians, rolls his eyes for all of us as everyone passes the buck. This movie never flinches and it doesn’t take sides. There is an emotional heft to it and I felt it on a visceral level when this sweet little girl is callously referred to as but “one collateral damage issue.” Oof.

'Sicario'+Stars+Stunned+by+Ovation+Sicario: Matt was ultimately disappointed with the film but was still lucky enough to be at the premiere where Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro were both on hand to answer questions along with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

We Monsters: A German film by Sebastian Ko about a mother and father who follow their most primal instinct to protect their teenaged daughter even as she commits an unspeakable crime. It’s weirdly relatable and abhorrent at the same time, and keeps asking us what we would do even as it pushes the envelope to deeper and darker places. Many shots are obstructed, Ulrike-C-Tscharre-Sebastian-Ko-175x197keeping shady characters exactly that, a little out of focus, a little blurred, a little on the sly. The cinematographer cultivates a sense of dread expertly, boxing those characters in, keeping the shots almost claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of panic, of increasing alarm and desperation, and it’s not easy to watch. But it is kind of fascinating. Afterward, Ko was on hand to answer questions, and when someone asked him about the recurrent shots of a butterfly eventually emerging from its cocoon, he confessed that at first it was just meant as a metaphor for adolescence, but in the end he was struck that what emerged was a “pretty ugly creature” and made for a pretty fitting parallel.

 

 

 

TIFF 2015: Sicario

SicarioI discovered two things immediately prior to the North American premiere of Sicario, the latest from the always interesting Denis Villeneuve. One, I had been mispronouncing the film’s title this whole time  (there’s a hard “c” apparently). And two, I was not even close to dressed properly. I shivered for forty-five minutes in line as it poured on me.  TIFF- as well as being the unofficial start of awards season – may be the unofficial end of summer.

The dreary weather suits a screening of any Villeneuve film just fine and Sicario is no exception. We walked by a TV reporter that morning who was declaring this to be the most gruesome thing you’re likely to see at the festival. During the question period after last night’s screening, the director attempted to explain to an audience member why he was so fascinated with such dark themes. “Well, I’m a spoiled Quebecer whose biggest problem is winter,” he joked.

I had high hopes for Sicario, being a fan of some of his most recent work (Incendies and Prisoners). His films tend to be dark, even to a jaded Asshole like myself, with deliberate pacing and an excellent tone  He demonstrates these qualities here but didn’t quite manage to get under my skin in the same way, despite an impressively unnerving score.

Sicario is an action movie of sorts (Villeneuve joked in his introduction that he’d always dreamt of making one) about the war on drugs across the US-Mexico border, raising the usual questions about how far is too far when battling evildoers. The shootouts – as well as the sometimes unbearable suspense that lead up to them – are shot and edited expertly. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, both present to answer our questions last night, play elusive characters whose motives we’re never sure of and are always interesting to watch. Emily Blunt, as the idealistic FBI agent who believes strongly in the rule of law, plays against type with mixed results. Blunt even feigned taking offense to one audience members question to Villeneuve about why he decided to cast her.

Sicario is a tight and brutal film and I was thrilled to be at the North American premiere, even if it meant standing out in the rain. I don’t think it works as well as Incendies or Prisoners though, mostly because the questions it raises on the subject of right or wrong in the war on drugs aren’t quite new enough, even among Benicio Del Toro movies.