Tag Archives: Kick-ass!

The highest honour we can bestow on a film. Anyrhing in this category is a must-see.

TIFF18: If Beale Street Could Talk

If this movie review could talk it would say: wow. And also: thank you.

How is it possible that Barry Jenkins is making GOAT movies right out of the gate? Is he for real?

If Beale Street Could Talk is about a love story, interrupted. Tish (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo (Stephan James) are young lovers and the world is theirs as they fall in love inside their bubble. He’s respectful, she’s adorable, they’re so in sync their clothes begin to match, the colours mirroring each other as they walk hand in hand in a highly-saturated stroll through the park, the perfect date that just happens to end at prison, where she drops him off. Alonzo is going away for rape – a crime he didn’t commit, not that the justice system particularly cares. Beale Street is both love story and tragedy at the same time.

The most powerful thing about this film, and indeed about James Baldwin’s original work, is how little shock we see from either family – and both families, and their community, rallies around them. And of course they’re upset, they’re devastated, and they should be angry and incredulous, but no one seems all that astonished that such a MV5BMjMxMWQ5MjctN2MwMC00ZGY1LWJkNWUtNmUwOWFmYzAyNWJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE4NTE0NjU@._V1_thing could happen, because of course they’ve seen it happen before. So they swing into action, because they know the drill. Though they have little money, they will fund-raise and do whatever it takes to work the case themselves because they know whatever lawyer’s appointed to them will be inadequate (though he’s actually not painted as a bad guy, interestingly), and that the system is rigged is against them. They aren’t wrong.

I said earlier that this was a love story, interrupted. Thanks to director Barry Jenkins’ genius, that’s true on more than one count. First, the literal one, where the two lovers are separated just as she’s discovering they’re pregnant and would have made a home together. Through flash backs we see their love story, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity, in its sweetness, but every scene is tainted by our knowledge of where it ends up. Jenkins obviously has a respect for the poetry of Baldwin’s prose. He uses it as a bridge between scenes, uniting flashbacks which almost seem dream-like with the harsh realities and razor-precision detail of their present day (1970s). The interruption is an opportunity for Jenkins to show how lyrically he can manipulate time as well as genre. Because for every pause he takes to explore a character and make note of some sweet detail, this story is also infused with a greater cry for social justice. This Beale Street could be any Beale Street. Alonzo could be any black man. And the system of oppression, which is not limited to crime and punishment, applies just as much today as it did then. This is a cry meant to be heard across generations.

James Laxton’s stunning cinematography helps establish not just breathtaking film, but black culture itself, the streets coming alive and vibrant under his lens. The way Jenkins plays with colour astonishes me, the virginal whites, the lust-drenched reds; somehow this movie is everything a movie can be. It’s everything. And this is only Jenkins’ third feature. The costumes are perfection. The set design is perfection. The way the camera talks to us, showing us where to linger, communicating hunger, or desperation, or separation. The emphasis is masterful but never gets in the way of itself.

Beale Street’s ensemble cast is the beating heart of this film, with James and Layne both claiming rights to future stardom. Their fathers (Colman Domingo and Michael Beach) are terrific as well, but for me Tish’s mom Sharon (Regina King) was the real standout. She is fierce and unwavering. The scene in which she confronts Alonzo’s accuser is deeply affecting, and it’s because of King, of the layers of emotion playing out on her face. I couldn’t look away. Notably, I also thought the mother in The Hate U Give (played by Regina Hall) was the best part of the movie, so I’m not sure if black moms are having a moment, or if it’s Reginas specifically, but watch out, they’re coming. Jenkins puts together a cast that becomes the fabric of his film. There is no detail too small to have escaped his love and attention. This is one of the better adaptations I’ve ever seen on film, and possibly the best. It works on so many levels at once you don’t even see the train coming until it hits you. It’s hard to outdo yourself when your last film won Best Picture, but Barry Jenkins is a director not to be fucked with.

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TIFF18: Homecoming

Has TV been more exciting than movies lately? People have been saying so for some time and, given that we aren’t Assholes Watching Television, the idea sometimes makes me a little defensive. I have to admit though that the first four episodes of Homecoming were the most challenging and exhilarating two hours that I spent at TIFF this year.

The current legitimacy of episodic television is hard to deny when Julia Roberts, one of the biggest movie stars in my lifetime, starts turning to tv for interesting roles. In the new series directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, Roberts plays a counselor in a facility whose mandate is ostensibly to help American soldiers returning from their deployments to adapt to life back home. It’s clear from her first phone call with her superior (Bobby Cannavale, as awesome as ever) that there’s something more nefarious or at least more secretive going on at this facility. What is less clear is exactly what that is. Things start to reall get interesting when Julia’s favourite patient (If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, who will almost definitely be a huge star this time next year) starts to suspect something is amiss.

Homecoming may not be quite the best thing I saw at TIFF this year. That honour probably goes to Widows. But it’s definitely the most original. Just like in Mr. Robot, Esmail’s strange choice of camera angles and Maggie Phillips’ score which often doesn’t seem to match the tone of what we think we’re seeing all contribute to the feeling that there’s so much more going on here then we realize. I can’t wait for the show to finally air in November so I can watch the rest and find out what that is.

Somehow, Homecoming is an adaptation of creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg’s podcast which I’ve never listened to nor do I understand what it could possibly be. Together with Esmail, they have assembled an impressive cast that also includes Sissy Spacek, Alex Karpovsky, Shea Whigham, and Dermot Mulroney. Together they have made one of many compelling examples of how television can be just as creative and satisfying as an Oscar season feature film.

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 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 got 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 read “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. The second season debuted April 22nd, so get caught up and give it a look!

 

Westworld stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton…and for one brief afternoon, a couple of Assholes.

Collateral

It’s probably never a good day to be a cab driver, but Max is having an exceptionally bad day: he’s just trying to put in his time until he can get his own limo business going, minding his own business, when by a stroke of bad luck, Vincent climbs into his backseat.

Vincent (Tom Cruise) turns out to be a contract killer. We know this because he intends to use Max (Jamie Foxx) as the getaway driver in a series of murders across L.A. The first collateralunlucky victim takes Max by surprise when he crashes through his windshield. That fearsome windshield crack will be a thorn in Max’s side, but it’s just a small obstacle in a rather wild ride. Max is a hostage but under surveillance by the cops he looks rather like an accomplice. Good thing Detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) is on the case! He’ll save him!

But not before Max realizes he’s the only one who can save Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), an attractive lawyer who coincidentally gave him her number earlier that day. Turns out she’s working the wrong case, and her name is on Vincent’s hit list. Yikes.

Director Michael Mann once drove cabs; so did his father before him, and his grandfather owned a taxi company.

600px-CollateralUSP-45-3Considered to play the role of Vincent: Russel Crowe, Edward Norton, John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, Colin Farrell

Considered to play the role of Max: Adam Sandler, Cuba Gooding Jr, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp

I’m glad we got the Cruise-Foxx combo because they made such a great pair. It’s refreshing to see Cruise as the villain and he channels sinister very well. I’m sure Foxx felt it, particularly in those tense scenes in which Cruise is sitting right behind him, leaving Max vulnerable and twitchy. Collateral may be a but formulaic but it’s a highly polished thriller with some great performances. Michael Mann stylishly serves up heaps of tensions, and the performances are great, never overcooked.

SXSW: A Critically Endangered Species

a-critically-endangered-species-F64922Once in a while I wish I had a more literary mind.  When I write, it’s pretty direct and while I used to attempt subtext I’ve pretty much given up on it at this point – too much effort for too little payoff.  But that’s for my writing, where no marks are given for artistry.  All that matters is the end result.

Whereas for Maya (Lena Olin), the protagonist in A Critically Endangered Species, artistry is all that matters.  She’s a very successful writer, possibly too successful in that she has decided her best work is behind her and she will kill herself rather than crank out any more mediocre books.  Her last project is to select a young male writer to inherit everything and safeguard her work after her death.

She holds tryouts that inevitably include detailed examinations of the applicants’ work, and with one notable exception end in sex.  The field is quickly narrowed to two finalists, a showdown between intellectual and sexual appeal.  For Maya’s part, she takes pleasure in sex but she obviously does not get pleasure or happiness from anything else, and sees no value in her life aside from her work.  The beautiful but muted shots of northern California are a good match for Maya’s melancholy state of being.

Which candidate wins is incidental.  The process is what matters.  Just as incidental is the fact of Maya’s imminent suicide.  Refreshingly, this is not a moral examination of Maya’s choice.  The focus of the movie is the competition between two very different suitors and the discussions between them about some very interesting writing.  The movie is extremely well-written and writers Zachary Cotler and Magdelena Zyzak deserve particular praise for producing so many stylistically different pieces of poetry for the applicants to read and defend against Maya’s criticism.  The acting is spot-on as well, giving us main characters that are both well-written and well-executed.

A Critically Endangered Species is heavily intellectual and took less than five minutes to go over my head as far as literary analysis goes.  Even so, it was extremely interesting to take in the poetry and the discussions that followed each piece.  This is a different sort of movie than I’m used to, and while I would have found the difference refreshing on its own, the quiet excellence of this film is what really made a lasting impression.   Added to that, if you have more than a passing interest in literature (which for me basically starts and ends with comic books), then A Critically Endangered Species is not only a good movie, it’s an intricate discussion piece that should rub you in a few different ways at once.  Which may be what Maya was searching for all along.

 

SXSW: The Disaster Artist

Before we talk about this movie, we have to talk about another: The Room. Not Room, the Brie Larson kidnap drama, but The Room, the worst movie ever made. Even better: the BEST bad tumblr_megxu99K4x1ry10fwo1_500movie ever made, the Citizen Kane of bad movies, a movie so bad it’s achieved cult status. Tommy Wiseau was obsessed with movies and had enough cash to get one made, so he did. And he did it with such earnestness and such a complete lack of talent that people love to watch it. Ottawa’s own Mayfair Theatre, one of Canada’s oldest surviving independent movie houses, an official heritage building in our fair city, champion of 35mm film, screener of indies and classics, has been showing it for 92 consecutive months now. Each midnight screening is a riot; this cult film draws fans that know the drill. Matt wrote a great review of it a while back, almost nothing about the movie itself, which defies reviewing, but about the experience of seeing, the rituals that go along with it, the things you yell at the screen, hell, the things you chuck at the screen, it’s all a wild ball of fun.

Greg Sestero, co-star in The Room and Tommy Wiseau BFF wrote a book about making this weird movie with its even weirder director. It’s called The Disaster Artist. Ever a sucker for a great Hollywood story, James Franco read this book one day and immediately got a boner. He brought the script to Seth Rogen on the set of their ill-fated movie The Interview, and the rest is history. Well, future history. I saw the one and only screening of The Disaster Artist at SXSW where it was still billed as a “work in progress.” Tommy Wiseau was in the house, and also seeing it for the first time. Big gulp.

Two things struck me about The Disaster Artist: 1. This film was made with love. It could easily mock The Room, as many have, but it doesn’t. This is a loving ode to The Room, and to the friendship that gave birth to it. 2. This film is fucking hilarious.

Even having never seen The Room, The Disaster Artist is still accessible and relevant. Tommy Wiseau is a goddamned character and James Franco is just the man to play him (although Wiseau pushed for Johnny Depp). Franco got into the part so deeply that he directed while in character too. He was in deep enough to fool Seth Rogen’s grandmother when she visited the set, and in more than deep enough to constantly annoy his little brother “Davey” who co-stars MV5BMjA4ZDZkNjEtNTFkZi00YjhjLWFjZTctNDZlOWVmYzZmZjhhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2Mzg4MA@@._V1_with him.  James and Seth debuted Sausage Party at SXSW last year, and for me it was a disappointment. The Disaster Artist, however, gave me continuous giggles. They’ve amassed an impressive cast, some with just bitty walk-on parts, which only proves the love Hollywood has for underdog Tommy Wiseau. Or perhaps for James “I’ll try anything once” Franco. Or maybe James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. In any case, I laughed until I cried, and then I slammed some Diet Pepsi just so I could cry-laugh some more. And I did! This movie will make you rabid for The Room but it stands on its own, a complete movie that probably benefits from NOT being written by Franco or Rogen. It’s an affectionate behind the scenes look at Hollywood gone wrong, but it’s also a kind of heart-warming tale about outsiders who can’t break in so they plow their own field, and even if it’s bad, at least they have potatoes. Know what I’m saying? Oh, hi Mark.

 

 

 

p.s. Check out the comments section for a delightful Q&A with James, Dave & Seth.

SXSW: The Hero

Writer-director Brett Haley made a great little film called I’ll See You In My Dreams. It starred Blythe Danner as a woman coming to terms with widowhood and a new chapter in her still full life. It was a surprisingly mature film from a young film maker, and it has spawned another one. In I’ll See You In My Dreams, Haley cast Sam Elliott as a love interest for Danner, but it was Haley who fell in love. He so enjoyed the experience of working with Sam and his enchanting mustache that he wrote a movie just for him. That movie is called The Hero.

Sam Elliott plays an actor, a guy who used to be a big western star, back when westerns MV5BNjA3OTI2NDc3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU4NDE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1776,1000_AL_were big. Nowadays he’s lucky to get work schilling BBQ sauce. Bad news about his health forces him to put his life into perspective. So does receiving a ‘lifetime achievement’ award at a time when his lifetime is feeling quite finite. He has a tangled relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter) and a complicated, budding relationship with a woman roughly his daughter’s age (Laura Prepon). Just about the only person he can talk to is a former costar\current drug dealer (Nick Offerman) who has a pretty relaxed attitude about everything.

The Hero has a languid pace, reminiscent of Sam Elliott himself. The film is introspective, beautifully shot, contemplative, fulsome. This was a must-watch for me because of a playful, giggly Nick Offerman, and he doesn’t disappoint, but he’s a secondary character, as everyone is, to macho Lee Hayden, cowboy in his golden years, not quite ready to ride off into that sunset.

The good news is this is not just another weepy cancer drama. Despite some flaws and heavy-handedness, if you keep your focus on where the film intends, that is, on Sam himself, you won’t be disappointed. This role is Elliott adulation. It gives him the time and space to savour the spotlight all by himself, to feel its warmth, to get applause. His performance earns it and warrants it all the way. Lee Hayden is not a hero, he only played one in the movies. In his personal life he’s a bit of a failure, but he does get one hero thing right: it’s never too late.