Tag Archives: Kick-ass!

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

SXSW: Small Town Crime

small-town-crime-F68309No matter how hard you try, you can’t see everything at a festival like SXSW. To prepare for these big festivals, we study the schedule like our lives depend on it, read the synopses repeatedly, and try to see as many of our favourite artists as possible.  All that prep work helps a lot, but sometimes a tight schedule makes a choice for us. That happened today with Small Town Crime and we were better off for it. Put simply, Small Town Crime is an indie gem that is one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.

Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime sparkles.  We are introduced right away to Hawkes’ suitably pathetic, yet undeniably charming, alcoholic ex-cop. He’s got a few skeletons too many in his closet, so he needs some breakfast beers in order to get underway each afternoon. But he is determined not to let that disease keep him from solving a mystery that falls right into his lap.

ian-nelms-F68309Functioning both as a whodunnit and an offbeat action-comedy, Small Town Crime is consistently good, especially when Hawkes’ character shares the screen with Forster’s concerned grandfather and Clifton Collins Jr.’s refreshingly self-aware pimp.  Writer-directors Eshom and Ian Nelms clearly recognized what they had and give those three characters a hefty share of screen time. That must have been particularly difficult here since the cast is extremely deep. Even with the focus on that trio, I was left wanting to see more of them. I’d be first in line for a sequel (or a television series) showcasing more of their adventures.

In addition to its fantastic characters, Small Town Crime also delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts). Small Town Crime is a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

If you’re at SXSW, you still have two more chances to see Small Town Crime on March 12 and 17, and otherwise, you should cross your fingers for this film to get a well-deserved wide release.

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

SXSW: Through The Repellent Fence

Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film is a documentary screening at the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival.

It’s about a trio of Indigenous artists (they create under the collective name Postcommodity) who are putting up an art installation, a wall or a fence if you will, between Mexico and the U.S. It is not meant as a separation in the way that Donald Trump intends his, rather, it’s meant as a fence that can bridge the two cultures\countries, and it will travel not along the border but a mile into each country.

It’s clear that the artists have put much thought into how this piece of land art will be perceived. MV5BZGNmM2E0MmEtMjc0YS00YzdkLWFkMTktNzIwOTdiMDY5YTU3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDE4OTc1MzE@._V1_They want something temporary, first of all, so as not to permanently alter the land. Think of sutures: something that dissolves after the healing is done. To that end, they come to a beautiful and striking solution of tethering helium-filled balloons. However, the fence is not just symbolic of connectedness, but represents an awful lot of actual collaboration between peoples and communities to make this art happen.

It’s not just about the art, though, but also of our reaction to it. The documentary allows us to talk about borders: real, shifting, fluid, imagined, and imposed. I watched it for exactly this reason: the art spoke to me, but the reasons are what compel, and are why a documentary is a great companion piece to such an important work. But it turns out the documentary, directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas, is thoughtful, intelligent, and a piece with its own inherent value. Its flavour is distinctly Indigenous, serving as a reminder that borders are a construct but life within and around them is always so much more rich and complex than we see in typical media portrayals.The documentary is also surprisingly beautiful, gorgeously lensed by cinematographer David Layton, with sweeping shots of some of the most cinematic landscapes on the planet.

Through The Repellent Fence, a worthy addition to the SXSW lineup, is screening at Rollins Theatre at The Long Center on Saturday, March 11, 4:30pm, and again at Alamo Lamar on Monday, March 13 and Friday, March 17. It’s visually intoxicating and culturally significant: you have nothing to lose.

Starting today, we’ll be in Austin taking in as much SXSW goodness as we can handle. Follow along on Twitter at @assholemovies!

 

Get Out

You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane.  She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!

The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.

They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.

Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).

And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.

A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.

Logan

loganWe reached comic book movie overload several years ago and the number of those movies has only increased since. It seems clear they are not going away anytime soon. At least there are a few I can sell to Jay as having something original to offer. It helps that she has endless patience for the things I enjoy. Based on its trailers and positive reviews, Logan was one of the easier sells in recent memory. And while I doubt it justified the superhero movie genre’s continued prominence for her, I think she may have enjoyed it. Well, once the Deadpool trailer ended – I’m pretty sure she hated that especially since it pretended to be the start of the film.

nepbctpbbkoesw_2_bLogan is an interesting take on a superhero movie. It’s based on Old Man Logan but barely. It includes X-23 and Professor X, but that’s about it for recognizable mutants. It’s not a franchise builder; it’s a coda. And that’s a refreshing change that helps the movie immensely. We’re so used to these movies going bigger and bigger that I found it immensely refreshing that Logan chose to act like a regular, standalone movie, and tell a self-contained story that entertained on its own merits.

I also found it fascinating that this movie is set in a quasi-apocalyptic America, circa 2029, where all the Americans wanted to escape to Canada, and it was an entirely believable situation. ikea-mexico-border-wall-spoof_dezeen_heroThanks to the election of Donald Trump, the collapse of the U.S. in the next 12 years feels like a realistic scenario. So you best be nice to us or we will build our own border wall at your expense. Yeah, it sounds just as stupid when I say it as when Trump does.

Anyway, in conclusion, Logan is awesome and you should go see it. It’s a really good movie that happens to star everyone’s favourite X-Man, a few times over. Farewell, Hugh Jackman. I am comforted somewhat by the fact your Wolverine will continue to exist in the hundred alternate timelines created throughout the course of the past nine X-Men movies. So let’s not say goodbye, let’s just say, “Hugh! Come back!”

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, 2017

Borrowed Time: a sheriff returns to the site of a crash, the source of his guilt, the symbol BORROWED-TIME-2.gifof his grief. The animation is twelve steps above incredible, from the flecks of gray in his beard to his slightly crooked teeth and the just-noticeable ripple of his mustache in a gentle breeze, the animators clearly know what they’re doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj tell the story precisely and economically, every frame adding a tragic detail. Builds to an impressive emotional valve in just under 7 minutes.

Pearl: told from a hatchback car that has traveled the country with a dream and a song, 3060252-inline-1g-dont-be-surprised-if-googles-animated-short-pearl-wins-an-oscar-this-yearPearl is the story of a girl, her father, and their music, clearly a family gift. We got to see this short in the Oscar package at the fabulous Bytowne theatre, which means we saw it on the big screen, which is actually not how it was intended to be shown. Pearl is the first virtual reality movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Director Patrick Osborne chooses a blocky animation style paired with endearing music that makes me wish that I too had enjoyed the VR experience, because it’s a whirlwind of pride, sacrifice, and in virtual reality, you’re the one with camera: every viewing would literally be a slightly different movie.

Piper: this is the one most of you will already be familiar with, having screened in advance of Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory. It’s about a baby sandpiper being taught to forage for her tumblr_og1b37dVCN1qd79gyo5_540.gifown food. The beach is not always as serene as it looks and an unexpected wave leads to some PTSD for one cute little birdie. But she learns confidence and resilience, and the joy of helping others, all in less than 6 minutes. The animation is stunning. The ocean’s foam impressed me, the movement of each individual grain of sand. In great Pixar tradition, writer-director Alan Barillaro offers us something truly beautiful.

Blind Vaysha: pictograph-style animation (Sean called it “deliberately ugly”, I would blind-vayshadescribe it more like wood-cuttings, if I was feeling generous) tells a parable of a little girl born effectively blind – her left eye seeing only the past, her right only the future, which means the present is one big blind spot. And guess what? There isn’t any happiness in the past or in the future, it’s all happening right now and if you can’t see that, you can’t really see anything. Director Theodore Ushev has a great theme and plays on it with swirling visuals, challenging the audience to experimentation.

Pear Cider & Cigarettes: after several warnings to remove children from the audience, this “graphic” offering by writer-director Robert Valley is narrated in the first-person about pearcider_a.gifRob’s charismatic but troubled friend, Techno. Techno’s near god-like status comes crashing down as he slowly poisons himself to death with alcohol. It’s definitely the only animated short with full-frontal nudity. It was originally a graphic novel, or novels, comprising several volumes, which is why this short film clocks in at a hefty 35 minutes, every single frame of which is hand-drawn by Valley himself, over the course of half a decade or so.

The verdict: Piper’s going to win. Borrowed Time is probably its only real competition, and I feel they’re both deserving. I’m not sure how many Academy voters will have seen Pearl in VR but even the theatrical cut is immersive and interesting. Can the animation team from Google really win an Oscar? While Blind Vaysha certainly has an eye-catching style, the story didn’t draw me in, and it ended too abruptly and without much resolution. Pear Cider and Cigarettes down right turned me off. If you’re going to bother animating a 30 minute sequence, you should also go to the trouble of writing, then editing your story- the narrative style just didn’t work for me. I feel unpatriotic down-voting both Canadian efforts, but them’s the breaks; Pixar’s still at the top of the heap. Take aim, animators.

I, Daniel Blake

This movie is a surprise. Daniel Blake is an older gentleman who cared for his sick wife until her death, who has now fallen on hard times himself after a heart attack leaves him unable to work. Well, unable to work according to his doctor and his surgeon and his physio team. Totally fit to work according to the government who would otherwise owe him some sort of compensation.

Blake (Dave Johns) was receiving benefits for disability until a “health professional” (read: NOT a doctor, NOT a nurse) deems him fit and yanks his benefits. He must now apply for unemployment benefits, while combing the streets for a job, which actual doctors have i__daniel_blake_-_still_5cautioned him not to take, on account of his bum heart and it possibly killing him. The bureaucracy gives him the runaround, of course, as he must learn to navigate computers and the internet and smart phones and this whole world of job searching that he’s never had use for in his entire life. The whole experience is degrading, dehumanizing. And yet the film never feels that way. The movie is filled with humanity – not just compassion but admiration. Dignity, even. It’s a much more heartening experience than you might deduce.

Of course Daniel isn’t alone in his plight. At one office or another he meets a single mother (Hayley Squires), struggling to support her two kids. With them we see Daniel’s tender side, his need to give what little he has to others. It’s enough to make you cry (which means it made me cry, good honest tears that the film earned without manipulation).

The characters are quite strongly drawn. Their ordeal feels all too real. It’s sad though. So sad. It’s just further reminder that the system is letting down too many people who truly need it. Though this film is British, it feels universal. The righteous anger is restrained just enough not to be alienating, but to bring everyone into the fold, to make us all feel the iniquity and yearn for justice. A must-see.

 

The Lego Batman Movie

batcaveIt’s hard to believe it was about three years ago that The Lego Movie amazed me with its ability to entertain adults and children alike with the same silly jokes.   Time goes by so quickly!  The Lego Batman Movie is The Lego Movie’s sequel in spirit but is not tied to the first in any way, except that both feature Will Arnett’s Lego Batman, the ridiculous beat-boxing self-absorbed antihero who always succeeds on the “first try”.  Only this time, Batman has to take Michael Cera’s earnest, optimistic Robin along with him on his adventures.robin

The Lego Batman Movie is every bit as good as the Lego Movie, and that’s high praise.  Surprisingly, it is also a remarkably faithful  continuation of, and homage to, the whole Batman cinematic universe, including the silly 1966 Batman Movie starring Adam West.  If you are a Batman fan you need to see this film.  One of my favourite elements was the inclusion of so many forgotten members of Batman’s rogues gallery.  This movie has so many ridiculous villains that you will think many must have been made up, but as far as I can tell, every single silly one has been Batman’s enemy over the last 80 years, and I googled as many as I coulbatman-villainsd remember just as Zach Galifianakis’ Joker suggested.

In addition to the inclusion of so many laughable villains, there are so many other references and in-jokes that it is impossible to catch them all on a single viewing.   One that stood out for me was the inclusion of the Wonder Twins, if only because they are my most hated “superheroes” of all time, and yet I still thought it was awesome they were given a little place in this movie. I can only guess what I missed, though, and want to watch this one again sometime soon (if I can ever find the time!).

The Lego Batman Movie is another sparkling example of a movie that everyone can enjoy, and another that organically incorporates a positive message within its zaniness.   We are in the midst of a golden age for animated films and the Lego Batman Movie is a classic that I will be watching with my nieces and nephews for years to come.  It gets a score of nine cans of Shark-Repellent Bat-spray out of ten.

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The Red Turtle

It’s haunting and beautiful and tragic and oddly seductive. The Red Turtle is the prettiest girl in your class who also happens to pull down straight As: fecking brilliant. I wasn’t sure if it would even earn girl next door status with me – an animated film with no dialogue?

While The Red Turtle has no speech, no words at all, it is far from silent. It has lovely but 1027992-theredturtle-05retiring music throughout, but manages to speak directly to your heart. That’s sort of the catch with this film, you have to let go of the normal film-going experience, and just feel your way through this one.

A man is lost at sea and washes ashore on a deserted island. He makes several escape attempts but his rafts keep getting destroyed. The culprit turns out to be a red turtle, a turtle who just happens to have the power to die and come back a woman, which is a pretty cool power. Imagine how stoked the dude is – doomed to a solitary life but then magically accorded a mate?

Director Michael Dudok de Wit had only a few short films to his name when he got a call from animation superstar Studio Ghibli asking if they could distribute his 2000 short Father And Daughter in Japan, and oh, p.s., would you make a feature film for us? He was floored. Ghibli has never done a non-Japanese film before, but they were clearly entranced with Dudok de Wit’s style and talent. The result, La tortue rouge, is pure visual narrative. It’s extremely simple story-telling, but effective. It laps at you like waves on a sandy beach. Cumulatively, it can knock you off your feet. This may be Dudok de Wit’s first attempt, but he nonetheless has an Oscar nomination to show for it.What do I have? I have a teeny tiny shadow on my heart – a shadow in the shape of a red turtle sliding back into the ocean.

OJ: Made In America

First, understand that OJ Simpson, to me, is the murderer. I was a kid when he killed his ex-wife and her friend, so I hadn’t known him as a football player or movie star or celebrity before then. The first I ever knew of him was when his white Bronco interrupted my Saved By The Bell marathoning.

This documentary doesn’t just seek to illustrate the life and times of one Orenthal James Simpson; rather it places his career and his crime within the context of L.A.’s race wars in the 1980s and 1990s. While the things you thought you knew about his sensational murder oj-made-america-show-400x400trial aren’t wrong, they’re explored with new understanding, through a lens of his being a black man, sort of, but not really.

What on earth do I mean by that? OJ grew up in the projects, as he is fond of saying when it’s convenient. He dreamed not of glory or achievement or wealth, but of fame, of being known. Certainly his football career granted him that. He was a big deal in college football circa 1968, kept his nose clean, stayed out of politics, and earned himself the Heisman trophy. He was drafted to the NFL where he suffered a bit of a slump but had a rebirth by 1973 when he set a record rushing for 2000 yards in one season. I walk my dog further than that nearly every day, but apparently that’s some sort of accomplishment in football.

OJ became a star athlete and celebrity whose fame transcended his race. White American embraced him, and OJ played his part. He courted white culture and did his best to never remind anyone that he was still technically a black man. He was the first national black spokesperson, for Hertz rental cars, and that meant he’d arrived. When he retired from football, he traded in his black wife for a white one and transitioned to Hollywood.

Yeah sure he beat his wife on the reg, but with a wink and an autograph the cops would be slapping him on the back, making no reports, casting no aspersions. Life was good until Nicole up and left him and his jealousy surged. The one night Nicole was found dead, nearly decapitated in fact, in a small ocean’s worth of her blood. A friend who had had the misfortune of stopping by at the wrong time, Ronald Goldman, was also killed. And this time the cops couldn’t deny that the crime had OJ’s name all over it.

We all know that OJ was acquitted, but this documentary shows his acquittal as an act of vengeance. The jury was stacked largely with poor black people who had seen members of lead_960the LAPD be acquitted in he Rodney King beating. Here was a chance to right that wrong and make the system work for a black man for once. Everyone conveniently forgot that OJ had spent his entire adult life distancing himself from the black community and they made him a civil rights hero. His lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, played the race card and he played it hard “dealt it from the bottom of the deck” it’s said. And he got off. But instead of relishing his incredible good luck, OJ’s life continued to derail until he found himself in court once again, this time found guilty and sentenced to some 33 years in prison, whether or not his crimes truly warranted it. This, again, was retaliation rather than justice.

At 467 minutes, this documentary achieves a depth we haven’t seen before and earns itself an Academy Award nomination – but is this fair? It had a qualifying run in theatres (though who would pay to sit for nearly 8 hours is a mystery to me) but it was produced and aired on television, in 5 parts on ESPN. Every other documentary had to play by different rules, hovering around that 90 minute mark that makes a film viable and marketable. This is the longest film to ever receive a best documentary nomination, and I can’t help but wonder if this will change things moving forward.

I can’t ignore that this film is very effective, juxtaposing the American dream with American reality, pinning OJ’s circumstances in a time and place that were far from ideal. It is balanced and cheese almighty is it ever thorough, complete with Marcia Clark in a redemptive hairdo. Glory be! It doesn’t waste any of its 467 minutes, nor are any redundant. There is much ground to cover and the film makes clear that OJ is not just a man of his own making, but an idol that a whole culture had a hand in creating (and destroying). There are so many insights here that I sent constant missives to Sean, just venting my hurt and frustration. I’ve come away with a breadth of understanding that his filled a gulch I didn’t even know existed in my awareness of this epic and polarizing event. There are discoveries to be made here, if you’re willing to follow director Ezra Edelman’s trail of breadcrumbs for the requisite 7 hours and change.