Tag Archives: Kristen Wiig

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

With two feature films and countless Netflix series under their belts, the creative team behind the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is very comfortable. They are content to spend as much time as they need on their story, resulting in what may be the world’s first dragon-centric rom-com.

Toothless, the black dragon from the first two films, is back and gets his own story thread, as he meets a lovely white dragon and is instantly smitten. She’s not so sure about him at first, and his courtship attempts are more than a little awkward, but we all know he’s going to win her over eventually. The outcome of that romance is also obvious to his best human friend, Hiccup, the leader of the dragon-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-headerriding Vikings that live in the island village of Berk, and that’s where things get interesting.

In addition to figuring out how to deal with his dragon’s dating, Hiccup and his Vikings have their own problems. They’re being pursued by the drsgon hunter Grimmel and his massive fleet. Against some resistance, Hiccup decides that the Vikings’ best chance to survive is to find the hidden dragon world located beyond the edge of the world.

Hiccup and Toothless have both grown up a lot over the course of the trilogy, and they grapple with some fairly complex relationship-related issues in this third instalment. The result is an emotional third act as life pulls Hiccup and Toothless in very different directions and they have some hard choices to make.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World shows that we are still in the midst of a golden age for animation. The Hidden World is full of beautifully animated scenes, with particularly amazing lighting effects, but more importantly, it’s a story that my 40-something self could relate to, engage with, and be moved by. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a very enjoyable series.

 

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Knocked Up

A little later than most, we’ve been watching Dirty John on Netflix. It’s apparently based on a true story, about a woman who gets stuck in an abusive relationship with a pathological liar, thief, and drug addict – John, played by Eric Bana. To cleanse our palettes I suggested we find a movie featuring Eric Bana in a  nicer light but perusing his filmography on IMDB, we discovered that Bana’s good movies are fewer and further between than we’d imagined. Troy? King Arthur? Lone Survivor? No thanks. I had this foggy memory of a movie where the characters discuss Eric Bana, and how his role in Munich would get them all laid that night. So, logically, instead of watching Munich, we watched Knocked Up, which doesn’t have Eric Bana at all, but does have the above mentioned scene. It seemed easier to digest.

26JPMAUDE1-jumboIn it, a straight-laced TV producer, Alison (Katherine Heigl), gets drunk and has sex with an improbable mate, stoner Ben (Seth Rogen), and though that encounter is destined to be a one-night stand, she gets pregnant and it forces them together way beyond what’s reasonable for a couple of opposites.

Actually, I accidentally just referenced this movie the other day. Seth Rogen has another movie coming out, another romantic comedy (or as romantic as a guy like Rogen can tolerate) and in my mind, I thought it was Katherine Heigl again. It isn’t. It’s actually Charlize Theron. Sean suggested my mistake meant that somewhere in the world, Charlize was feeling vaguely insulted without knowing why. Sorry Charlize.

Anyway, Knocked Up is sort of funny. Actually, it’s definitely funny, thanks in no part to Katherine Heigl, but thanks in large part to its very talented extended cast – including early inclusions of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who both maximize small roles. And VF_OSCAR_2019_JB_190224_CARD_03_0324Harold Ramis as Rogen’s father, who is a delight for every single moment he’s on screen. Leslie Mann plays Alison’s sister, married with kids, who were played by her real-life kids with writer-director Judd Apatow, Maude and Iris Apatow. Which is crazy because the kids are teeny tiny in this movie, but in 2019, Maude Apatow just went to the Vanity Fair Oscars party with her parents, looking very grown up. And we saw her last year at SXSW at the premiere of her mother’s movie, Blockers. She’s a lady now. Katherine Heigl is washed up. And Oscar winner Charlize Theron is signed on for the next Seth Rogen movie. What a crazy world in which we live.

Anyway, this is a better movie than you’d think. It kind of has some smart and sad stuff to say about marriage – it’s weirdly wise for a movie that makes fart jokes, and more raw and explicit about the realities of birth than any drama has dared to be. It may not have Eric Bana in it, but it did restore our faith in humanity, so job done, DVD we found in our garage.

Extract

Chances are, every pantry has a little bottle of pricey vanilla extract on its shelves. It’s practically ubiquitous in baking. Just try to make a cookie without it. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? No. And neither have I. But that’s not going to stop Jason Bateman from trying to tell us.

Joel (Bateman) is one of those classically sad, back-boneless middle aged men who aren’t particularly effective at home or at work. He owns the extract company, but it’s barely profitable and the employees bully him. At home, his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) dons her sweatpants in a nightly ritual to thwart his bedtime advances. They’re going through a dry spell. So when Cindy (Mila Kunis), an alluring young woman, comes looking for a job at the factory, can we blame Joel for wanting to give her something else? I mean, yes. We absolutely can. And even Joel is a bit wishy-washy on the whole thing, so it takes the bad influence of his best friend (Ben extract-02.jpgAffleck) to come up with this convoluted plan: they’ll hire a teenage gigolo to seduce Suzie, leaving Joel free to have an affair guilt-free. That’s a legit loophole in the vows, right?

Anyway, turns out Cindy’s a conwoman who’s trying to influence a former employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Joel for the loss of his testicle. So who, exactly is going to get a happily ever after?

From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge, I expected a lot better from Extract, and I probably shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s funny. And there are a lot of great cast members really selling their parts (David Koechner is a scene-stealer in a part that will infuriate you). None of these things add up to anything significant, but if you can live with some ridiculous, and often ridiculously funny, bits and pieces, you might be able to make this work for you. It’s no Office Space; like the extract itself, a little goes a long way, but if you’ve got a hankering for some ethical flavouring, Extract has the essence.

The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards

Seven stories. Self-contained, based on short stories from Robert Boswell’s collection. They have some commonalities, I suppose: toeing the line between fantasy and reality, or the gray area between memory and what really happened. Inventing shit when we’re young and have no experience. Blurring reality when we’re old and looking back. Life is bittersweet. We’re all bastards sometimes. It just depends on the day.

Conrad (James Franco) identifies his father’s dead body and is comforted by his death, comforted by the fact that he wasn’t the only one his father wanted to kill.

Paul (Jim Parrack) goes home to visit his father, whom he barely recognizes. Dementia has taken him further and further away from the man he used to be. All that seems to be left is his meanness, and even knowing it’s the product of disease doesn’t quite mitigate it. It cuts particularly close to home when it involves Paul’s ex wife (Natalie Portman) and the kid who looks disturbingly just like him.

Monica (Kristen Wiig) is a single mother who works as a maid. She gets through the day by fantasizing about using her wealthy clients’ lives as inspiration for the writing that will make her rich and famous one day.

A huge cast, including Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Thomas Mann, Matthew Modine, Rico Rodriguez, Tony Cox, Jimmy Kimmel, and Keir Gilchrist assembles to pull this thing together, along with more than 7 writers and more than 7 directors. The stories are not uniformly good, or uniformly  memorable, and though I enjoyed some, I don’t think they really mean much as a whole.

 

 

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 3

So if you’ve made it this far, you know that I’ve thanked some volunteers, watched 3 movies from female directors, and carried around a dead phone. Impressive, if I may say so myself, but it’s not enough to get TIFF Bingo.

Make a New Friend in Line

With hours spent sitting in uncomfortable theater seats punctuated by hours spent standing in line, the people you stand with and sit next to can really make or break your TIFF experience. A good conversation can make the two hours spent waiting for the perfect seat just fly by. Just as an annoying person can make the minutes drag on like hours. And if you’re thinking “Wait a second, I wonder if he’s talking about me. I am a total jackass after all and I did spend all of Euphoria with my elbow in his personal space,”, yes. I’m talking about you.

downsizing_01

Downsizing– If Downsizing isn’t my favourite movie at the festival this year, it’s definitely close. I couldn’t wait for the latest from Alexander Payne, a filmmaker whose nearly every imdb credit (Election, Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska, and even Downsizing) has been praised by one of us at one point or another. Fans of his work may be surprised by the science fiction elements of his latest film but Payne, who introduced the film, sees this as a disappointing rehashing of the same themes. “Just a poor {‘schmuck’ I think was the word he used’] from Omaha middling his way through life trying to make some sense of it all. Just this time with some science fiction thrown in,” he joked.

Downsizing has lots of subtext to ponder and debate but it’s hard to take it all in on your first viewing because it’s all way too much fun to watch. This may be Payne’s most entertaining and laugh-out-loud funniest film so far and I’m quite sure that I’ve missed some of the best jokes because they were drowned out by the Elgin Theater crowds’ laughter.

The new friends I made while waiting to see Downsizing took TIFF just as seriously as I did. Like me, their rough drafts of their schedule looks like the wall of an insane person trying to solve a murder. The thing is, once the line starts moving, you lose each other in the crowd . So if you’re reading this and you bought seven 10-packs to share with all your friends and you think you may have stood in line with me, leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you thought of the movie. And I hope that Karen has finally paid you back.

Pronounce “Saoirse” Correctly

 

The Current War– Saoirse Ronan wasn’t in The Current War but I did talk about her in line to see it. “Who’s in Lady Bird again? Is it Saoirse Ronan or Elle Fanning?” I asked the nice couple in line ahead of me. I pronounced Saoirse correctly. Everyone seemed really impressed. What’s ironic, I realize now, is that I got her last name wrong. I always say “Rowan”. But TIFF Bingo said nothing about “Ronan” so it still counts.

I wish I’d seen Lady Bird instead of The Current War. It’s not like The Current War is a bad movie, it’s just more forgettable than it should be. The second feature from Alfonzo Gomez-Rejon (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) dramatizes the rivalry between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) as they race to heat and light the entire country with electricity. So it’s got potential. Cumberbatch and Shannon are pretty much the Pacino and DeNiro of leading men born in the mid-70s who specialize in playing eccentrics so the thought of seeing them go head to head put this at the top of my list. I passed on Suburbicon for The Current War!

There is some really good writing in this script but for every scene that captivates there are two more that look and sound like they were filmed for a Made for the Edison Museum movie. Both actors are good but are usually even better and they share disappointingly little screen time.

There’s a good movie in here somewhere. The Current War’s best scenes concern the lead-up to the first execution by electric chair and, for a movie that suffers from lack of focus, this subplot may have worked even better as the main plot.

 

Mother!

Some stories do not need to be told. Mother! falls squarely within that category. I walked out of the theatre at the end of the movie asking, what was the point? Why did I suffer through two hours of claustrophobic misery to get back where I started?  And actually, further behind than where I started because at least then I tmp_oLHXPW_d785c743c5338b61_Momwas curious about Darren Aronofsky’s latest project. Afterward, I was just tired and dreading this review.

Mother! is not an awful film, I don’t think. It has a stellar cast and is visually captivating (though it’s too harsh and dour to ever be beautiful). Maybe some will even appreciate the crazy downward spiral that is this film, as it goes to soul-devouring depths that most wouldn’t dare to approach. Me? Not one bit. Not even a little. It made me uncomfortable right from the start, and not in a challenging way, and not in a way that offered me anything.

This film is the same as Javier Bardem’s nameless poet: selfish, desiring my affection, and oblivious to anything else. It is art that takes from the audience rather than giving, which also echoes the plot of the movie itself. Is that intentional? If so, that would make Aronofsky our version of the poet, and I would suggest that you not give him your energy in service of his creation. I already gave enough for both of us.

 

 

 

Downsizing

downsizingThe world is overpopulated and in the very near future it will become untenably crowded: fact. We don’t have enough space to comfortably house all these people, we don’t have the ecosystem to support them, or enough resources to fund the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. The rate at which these 7 + billion people consume means we are making waste and pollution like there’s no tomorrow – and if we continue doing so, there won’t be.

Luckily for fictional Matt Damon, a Norwegian scientist will come up with a revolutionary bit of science that’s going to sound nutty at first, but hear me out. He calls it downsizing. A medical procedure will taking a willing human being and shrink him down, to about 5 inches. These small people will live in small towns – dollhouses, practically, taking up little space, generating little waste. A typical person might liquidate all his assets, pay off all his debts, and find that the $150 000 he’s left with is equivalent to about $12 million in the small world. Live like a millionaire by becoming a fraction of your former self!

Occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are the kind of people to whom this kind of deal appeals. They work but never seem to get ahead. Sure this downsizing is billed as a way to save the earth, but it’s also a way to personally wipe the slate clean, and live the life you could only dream of as a normally-sized person.

As you can imagine, being only 5 inches tall comes with perks, but also some drawbacks. As writer-director Alexander Payne imagines it, there are social and economic impacts to all these people retiring from “normal” society. Illegal immigration and terrorism are facilitated. Downsizing can be used as punishment, against someone’s will. And even if you’re one of those people living in luxury, you’re suddenly vulnerable to insects, birds, even high winds.

Downsizing is a well-timed satire, science-fiction that manages not to feel too fictiony. Credit Payne’s wit for packing as much detail as he does, and if sci-fi feels a little outside the wheelhouse of the guy who did Sideways and Nebraska, he actually manages it with a lot of humour and humanity. Though the film is at times unabashedly absurdist, it stays away from easy sight gags. This is a thinking film that abounds with ideas – you’ll need to digest afterward. It’s an indictment of the American dream, people so disenfranchised that they’re willing to undergo a risky procedure just to find fulfillment. But miniaturization isn’t really the answer it’s cracked up to be, with people’s problems seeming shrinking down to follow them.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a nice guy who’s just a bit of a loser. But for Sean, it was Christoph Waltz as his playboy neighbour who really stole the show. He plays a Serbian sleazeball who figures that what the small community needs is a small black market, and he’s there to profit. I, on the other hand, was blown away by Hong Chau as his cleaner, Gong Jiang, a one-legged Vietnamese dissident who shows Paul there’s more to life than just keeping up with the Jason Sudeikises (he’s the classmate at his high school reunion who inspired Paul to go for the Big Shrink). When Oscar season starts heating up, I hope her name is mentioned.

Downsizing is a unique film with a lot of style. Despite being the opening night film here at the Venice Film Festival, it likely won’t be a best-picture contender for me, but it’s a film full of ideas that I found immensely enjoyable.