Tag Archives: liev schreiber

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What’s better than Spider-Man? TWO Spider-Mans (or is it Spider-Men?)!  Either way, take that thinking to its conclusion, like Lego Movie co-writer Phil Lord did, and you end up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a cinematic universe to end all cinematic universes.

MV5BMjA0MTgwNTM5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyODI4NjM_._V1_SX1777_CR0_0_1777_744_AL_.0Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has hit a bit of a rough patch in middle age, as has teenager Miles Morales, who just got bitten by a radioactive spider and is going through some changes as a result on top of struggling with fitting in a his new school. Right after being bitten by that pesky spider, Miles stumbles into a science lab where another Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a dimensional portal.  During the battle, Kingpin kills that Spidey but not before the first Spider-Man, the middle-aged one, is sucked through the portal that the Kingpin’s machine created.

Confused? You should be, but the most amazing thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that this jumble of Spider-Mans (Men?) makes perfect sense on-screen. And that’s a compliment in two ways. First, because there is so much happening in this movie that it has no right to make sense, and second, because there are a whole lot of other amazing things about this movie.

Spider-Verse’s animation, particularly the art style, is stunning. A number of other superhero films have taken inspiration from the comics, whether in using captions,  multiple panels, or bright colours.  Spider-Verse takes that to a whole other glorious level, owning its comic book roots and jumping off the screen even in classic 2D.

Spider-Verse is also remarkably accessible. This is not a solo superhero film with only two or three familiar  characters to track. Spider-Verse is chock full of obscure one-offs, alternate takes that faded away, including an entire “Ultimate” comic book line that was canned by Marvel in 2015 due to lack of interest. All of that can sit comfortably in the background but no prior knowledge of anything is necessary, even of Spider-Man, to understand and enjoy this film.

 

 

 

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SXSW: Isle of Dogs

Read the title out loud and kind of quick, and it’s hardly distinguishable from “I love dogs” but the conflict in the film actually comes from not loving them enough. A city in Japan has a dog-hating mayor who selfishly spreads lies and rhetoric about the dog flu, and gets and\or manufactures enough support that he succeeds in banishing all dogs to Trash Island.

As most of you know (because my bursting heart can’t shut up about it), I’m lucky enough to share my life and home with four of the sweetest doggies in the world. I Isle of Dogs 1 via Fox Searchlight Headersometimes wonder if I prefer dogs to people, and I certainly do prefer my dogs to most people. I think dogs are so much better than we deserve. They are 100% heart. So it’s hard for me to imagine a bunch of dog owners so willing to sentence their dogs to a terrible, lonely, miserable life and death. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of dogs sent to live and die on Trash Island, only one is lucky enough to have an owner come looking for him – a 12 year old boy named Atari. When Atari becomes stranded on the island, a scruffy pack of dogs generously decides to help him find his beloved Spots. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), and even the reluctant Chief (Bryan Cranston) band together to reunite boy and dog on a journey that you  might just say belongs in a Wes Anderson movie.

And it is a Wes Anderson movie, horray! So of course it’s got some truly absorbing attention to detail, a sweet soundtrack, and a poignancy verging on nostalgia. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is beautifully rendered in stop-motion animation. Each dog puppet is a thing of beauty, with fur (made of alpaca hair, apparently) so pettable and little noses that you’re sure are moist to the touch. Their expressive eyes bore into you, and as Bob Balaban so eloquently put it during the Q&A following the film, it could have been a silent film and still been just as affecting.

As saturated as they are aesthetically, some may argue that Wes Anderson movies are ultimately style over substance. Isle of Dogs has some pretty obvious themes about mass hysteria and maybe even fake news, but for me the takeaway is simply to love better – dare I say, more like a dog, fully, and with devotion.

My Little Pony: The Movie

I was once a My Little Pony playing girl but the truth is, My Little Pony left fans like me behind a long time ago. It was rebooted in 2010 and found a surprise demographic: not just the expected little girls, but grown men as well. What the heck? These fans, who call themselves by the shudder-worthy nickname “bronies”, were brought to my attention in the 2012 documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Ponies.  It’s fascinating to watch in a train wreck kind of way and if you have to choose between it and this animated film, definitely definitely go for the documentary.

Anyway, whatever these adult fans see in the series is beyond me. And though I’ve now racked up 11 nieces and nephews between the ages of 2 and 9, there is not a single My Little Pony fan between them. To whom does this series appeal?

The film opens up with The Go-Go’s We Got the Beat playing – or is it? In fact, the lyrics giphy (1)have been tampered with. What I thought might be an appeal to our inner 80s kid turns out to be just an extended pony play on words. The song plays as Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship (the horse community has a stunningly high proportion of royalty vs subjects), is preparing Equestria for a festival of friendship when the party’s invaded by a dark force, led by Tempest Shadow and The Storm King, who encase the upper pony echelons in rock and prepare to do some evil, conquery thing to the happy go lucky ponies.

So the “Mane 6” (Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity) go on a journey that I suppose the creators have sold as “exciting” and “unforgettable” but in actual fact, My Little Pony: The Movie has no discernible difference in quality between its theatrical release and whatever passes for acceptable on early-morning kids programming. It feels like an extended episode of something really shitty, with bland, cornball songs thrown in for good measure, spouting predictable lyrics about working together and how anyone can do anything if only the put their mind to it (actual song titles: We Got This, I’m the Friend You Need, Time to Be Awesome). The main characters are all voiced by the same no-names who do the morning cartoons but new characters developed strictly for the film are voiced by the likes of Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, Sia, Taye Diggs, Liev Schreiber, Uzo Aduba, and Michael Pena, which in no way makes the film even remotely more watchable, and in fact, Emily Blunt isn’t even doing her own natural accent, so she’s easy to miss.

The ponies pay lip service to the sharing and caring type shenanigans you’d expect but when the chips are down, some pretty entitled bullshit really drives the plot. The good news is, you’re only likely to be subjected to this if you’re a parent, and there’s truly no other reason to watch it except under duress. And any road trip longer than an hour with kids under 10 counts as duress. The hard part is, I know that in lots of houses with young kids, certain movies get stuck on repeat. At my sister’s house, it’s currently “Woody” (Toy Story) and “Choo Choo” (The Polar Express), which aren’t too bad all things considered. But even Oscar winning fare gets tedious after its eleventh straight viewing. If you’re currently living through a similar My Little Pony scenario, may Pegasus help you.

 

TIFF: The Bleeder vs. Bleed for This

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now time for the main event of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, coming to you live from the beautiful, historic Elgin Theatre.  

Introducing first, in the red corner, standing six feet five inches and weighing 223 pounds, with a professional record of 35 wins, including 17 by knockout, 14 losses and 2 draws, the former New Jersey State heavyweight champion, from Bayonne, New Jersey, please welcome from the Bleeder, Chuck “The Real Rocky” Wepner!!  

His opponent, in the blue corner, standing five feet eight inches and weighing in at 170 pounds,  with a professional record of 50 wins, 30 by knockout, against 10 losses, fighting out of Providence, Rhode Island, a former world champion in the lightweight, light middleweight, and super middleweight divisions, from Bleed for This, please welcome Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza!!

Jay was gracious enough to agree to include not one, but two boxing biopics in our TIFF schedule: The Bleeder, starring Liev Schrieber, and Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller.  In an all-out battle to capture my vote, who came out on top?  Let’s go ringside and find out!

bleeder

The Bleeder:

The Bleeder opens perfectly, introducing us to a guy we know even though we don’t know it.  That guy is Chuck Wepner, a human punching bag who took a punch so well he could go 15 rounds with anyone, even the Greatest.  Yes, the man himself, Muhammad Ali.  Wepner got the fight because he was the only white guy in the top ten, and during the fight he acquitted himself so well that he inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky.

Along with taking a punch, Wepner’s other notable trait is the ability to consistently make the worst possible decision.  To the credit of Wepner and the Bleeder, the movie does not pull any punches with Wepner’s character.  He is a flawed person but the kind of flawed person who you can’t help but be charmed by.  Liev Schrieber is almost unrecognizable as Wepner and does a fantastic job of showcasing the charm while also making us feel for Chuck as he suffers some severe consequences, including losing his family and going to prison.

In the end, the Bleeder does justice to the Real Rocky’s story and gives us a true underdog who makes good in a real way, in his own way.  Somehow, the Real Rocky turns out to be the furthest thing from a cliche, and yet still manages to come out on top in the end.

 

Note: this movie has been renamed ‘Chuck’ and will hit theatres May 5.

bleed-for-this

Bleed for This:

While the Bleeder features the Real Rocky, Bleed for This features a comeback story too unbelievable to be used as a plotline in the Rocky franchise.  And that’s saying something considering Rocky has come back from: (a) Mickey being shoved to death by Mr. T; (b) Apollo being beaten to death by Drago; and (c) Adrien being written to death by Stallone as a convenient reason to make yet another goddamn Rocky movie.

Miles Teller makes a good showing as Vinny Pazienza, a champion boxer whose neck was broken in a car crash.  Told by doctors that he may never walk again, Paz somehow was able to return to the ring just 13 months after his accident and went on to fight boxing legends like Roberto Duran and Roy Jones Jr.  Teller looks like Paz and looks like he belongs in the ring, but in the transition to the screen the real-life magic that Paz possessed is lost and Bleed for This ends up feeling like just another boxing movie.  And that’s a shame, because overcoming this level of adversity should truly feel triumphant.

The Judges’ Decision:

The match goes the distance as both the Bleeder and Bleed for This are enjoyable films with charismatic turns by their stars.  There can only be one champion though, and by unanimous decision The Bleeder takes the belt.  The Bleeder is far more memorable because it’s not your typical happy ending, and it’s less about boxing and more about the trappings of fame.

The bottom line is that if you like boxing, you’ll enjoy both of these.   The difference maker is that even if you don’t like boxing, I am still confident in recommending that you watch the Bleeder.  It’s a fascinating story that captures the essence of the most interesting loser imaginable, a story so powerful that it inspired an entire movie genre.  It’s a credit to Paz and his tenacity that things were even this close, as in the end Rocky always wins.

Pawn Sacrifice

Neither the cold war nor the game of chess are inherently cinematic. Put them together and what do you get? Yawn Sacrifice, that’s what.

Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fischer, an American chess player so cocksure and full of demands you’d think he’d mistaken chess for rock n roll. Actually, it’s just his mental illness talking. As his nt_15_pawn-sacrifice-1handlers (Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) try to reign in the crazy, he’s busy representing America The Great against the powerhouse (of chess) that is the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war (his biggest foe is played by Liev Schreiber). Winning is his patriotic duty.

Tobey Maguire gives a big, showy, emoty performance that I wasn’t totally convinced by. I think I’m just kind of over Tobey Maguire, to be honest. I much preferred Liev Schreiber for his restraint (an underrated talent, in my opinion), and Sarsgaard for his composure. To be fair though, it’s hard to really show Fischer’s particular brand of madness. Some insanity makes for great movie making, because the acting out is fun (think Silver Linings Playbook, or Girl, Interrupted). But a lot of mental illness is much more quiet, more sitting in a dark hotel room taking apart telephones while muttering to oneself. Realistic, sure, but not exactly entertaining.

But the biggest question you have to ask yourself is this: would you pay to go see a chess Pawn01match? Did you know that chess is a spectator sport? I couldn’t have imagined it since I think chess is a real bore. I knew how to play, briefly, when forced to learn during library period in a Catholic elementary school that couldn’t afford actual books. I understand it’s about strategy, out-thinking your opponent, and analyzing the board for its near-infinite possibilities (you can imagine how this kind of constant processing could push anyone to the brink of madness). But I just don’t get how that’s fun. I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want to watch others do it, and bottom line: I don’t want to watch Tobey Maguire pretend to do it. Director Edward Zwick tries to play this like it’s a true sports film, and it’s just not. The drama’s not there. This film didn’t work for me.

Peter-Sarsgaard-og-Tobey-Maguire-i-Pawn-Sacrifice1Whether you’ll like it depends on whether you respond to watching someone’s sanity be sacrified for a board game, all in the name of patriotic duty. And – spoiler alert! – (okay, it’s not that spoilery since this is history) America wins the match AND the cold war (supposedly), but then casts poor Bobby aside, revoking his passport and citizenship, even. Because that’s the kind of stand-up country they are. They’ll use up the last of your sanity, and then leave you to die alone, a sickly recluse and fugitive – and then fight your relatives for your estate when you die. You’re a class act, America.

 

 

Against the Crowd

bannerfans_16176859Wendell at Dell On Movies has proposed this inspired idea for a blogathon: Against the Crowd. Basically, you name one movie that you love even though everyone else hates it, and one movie that everyone loves but you actually hate. I’m already licking my lips in anticipation! Thanks, Wendell, for letting us play!

 

Sean’s picks:

46a639ecd69330827bc6a3212bab82a0One I love that everyone else hates: Night at the Roxbury (11% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) – Honestly, if you hate this movie, I don’t want to know you. It’s wonderful. It’s so funny and kind of sweet and somehow all came together out of a one-note SNL skit. It’s pure genius, like seriously, the wedding scene is the best possible way to break up your brother’s wedding to Molly Shannon. And casting Richard Greico as himself, and then having him give life advice to Dan Hedaya? Simply amazing.

 

 

One I hate that everyone else loves: Life of Pi (87% on the Tomatometer) – After reading the life-of-pi-01-1920x1080book, the movie was such a let-down, and somehow it still got a best picture nod? You know, I’m not much of a reader but this book is one for the ages and the movie simply does not do it justice, and butchers the end reveal which absolutely defines the book and makes you want to immediately read it again.

 

Jay’s picks:

One I love that everyone else hates: Mixed Nuts (7% on the Tomatometer) – This movie is not well-known, so let me paint you a picture: a small group of counsellors are running a crisis line on Christmas Eve while facing down joblessness (hello, funding cuts!), clients with no boundaries (but a transgendered Liev Schrieber does a mean tango), and of course, loads of their own personal shit. The counsellors include Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, and the esteemed Madeline Kahn. So when a certain counsellor (namely, myself) goes to work at her own crisis line on Christmas Eve, the blow is made that much softer by watching this movie that makes me feel just a little less alone, and a little more merry. The jokes are as cornball as they come, but once a year I want to see Adam Sandler play his ukulele, Jon Stewart get road rage on rollerblades, Garry Shandling dress as a Christmas tree, Anthony LaPaglia get high on tranquilizers meant for dogs. Is that so weird?

One I hate that everyone else loves: Can I possibly pick just one? Sean suggested “any thing comic book” which is almost but not quite true (maybe more “anything super hero” but even that’s not fair, because a couple have transcended the genre but otherwise, yes, I’m tired, and they’re clichéd and over-reliant on CGI), and then “anything franchise” which again is almost but not quite true – and I don’t think it’s fair for me to pick Lord of the Rings or Star Wars Or Hunger Games because the truth is, I haven’t seen them. I just hate them on principle. So I’m left with two movies that will assuredly get me into hot water: The Hurt Locker (98% on the Tomatometer), and 12 Years A Slave (96%). I hate them both for basically the same reason: while I wouldn’t say either is bad, I’d say both are derivative and listless. I’ve seen better, more memorable movies in both their respective genres. However, I suspect these particular movies garnered their excessive attention from the Academy for reasons other than strictly merit. And that’s really frustrating. I saw The Hurt Locker almost immediately upon release and was like: “meh.” I don’t like Jeremy Renner. I’m pretty sure this movie was supposed to be suspenseful but when you spend the whole time thinking, “God, why won’t he just die already”, it sort of cooks the goose. And I know it’s a proud American tradition to demonize one’s enemies, but the situation in Iraq was so much more complex than this movie knows how to give it credit for. It has no point of view. Yes, dismantling a bomb is a gruelling job. But where are these bombs coming from? Who is making them – and why? This movie wants to be important but congratulates itself for being “apolitical” when political context is exactly what’s needed. 12 Years A Slave I watched before the Oscars of course, but late enough after its release that I’d heard all the hype and went in believing it. There is one scene, one particular scene, where he is left hanging from a tree, with his toes just barely brushing the ground, left there for hours, constantly on the verge of death, and worse still (for me, the viewer anyway), all the other slaves witnessing this scene yet completely helpless to do anything about it – fuck. That scene went on WAY too long, which was exactly the right amount of way too long because it makes us the right amount of crazy uncomfortable. That scene was the only redeeming moment in the whole 12 years. The rest was torture porn, every bit as exploitative of Django Unchained was accused of being, only without Tarantino’s style. Chiwetel Ejiofor is sublime, communicating so much with his eyes – but he has to. The script sure isn’t giving him much more than the same trite lines that have already been recited. In fact, it almost feels like this movie belongs to the villains – Fassbender has the juiciest bits, that’s for sure. McQueen is intent on making us flinch, making this film feel like a slavery-themed edition of the Saw series. The Academy awarded what should have been a movie of hard truths, but in reality it was just hard to watch. (Dear white people: hating this movie doesn’t make you racist!) The gruesome images served to shock people into forgetting there was no emotional complexity here. And even if there was, it would come to a screeching halt with the Brad Pitt stunt-casting. How is it even possible to over-dramatize a movie about slavery? McQueen finds a way. I’ve read Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years a Slave and you know what? The material deserved a better treatment.

What about your picks? Half as juicy as mine?

p.s. Matt – you’re it!