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TIFF18: Gloria Bell

Why is Julianne Moore even still making movies? I can think of few American actors with less to prove than Moore, fewer still who have turned in as many brave and egoless performances as she has over the last three decades.

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) admires her too. In fact, he says that he chose to remake his 2013 film Gloria as his English-language debut specifically because he was such a big Julianne Moore fan that he wanted to see what she would do with the role. To anyone like me who has not seen the original, it would feel like the part of Gloria was written for her. Gloria is a 50-something divorced mother of two adult children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorious). She has a full-time job and her kids do spend some time with her but it’s not enough to keep her from getting lonely.

Luckily, Gloria loves disco and loves to dance and she never cuts loose quite like she does when she’s alone on the dance floor on Singles Night. That’s where she meets the charmingly awkward Arnold (John Turtorro). The two quickly strike up a relationship even if Arnold’s co-dependent relationship with his ex-wife and adult daughters seem to hold him back from completely commiting to Gloria.

Thinking back, there is something very sad about Gloria Bell. But that’s only in retrospect. Lelio, like Gloria, chooses not to dwell on the sadness. Instead, his film spends so much time being laugh out loud funny that and is just optimistic enough that you can almost mistake it for a mindless crowd pleaser. It’s only three or four movies later when I realized that this was the one that I was still thinking about that I realized what a fully realized character they’ve created (or recreated) together. It doesn’t hurt that those in her life, the supporting cast, all seem to have real lives of their own when they’re not onscreen and could easily have starred in films of their own. I for one would have loved to know a lot more about Arnold. But really this is Gloria’s story and Lelio and Moore do her proud in a really impressive and effective film.

 

Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

Person To Person

the Best Western

the blue collar town where I grew up

guys who want to go dutch

tap water

prison-issued eyewear

hold music

vodka soda

 

You get it, right? What are: things that are completely & utterly devoid of charm or personality. Such as this movie.

Person To Person almost killed me with boredom. How to summarize a film totally bankrupt in plot? Well, see, there’s these people. Some of them know each other, some of MV5BOTVlZGRiN2QtZTJkMi00NjcxLWIzYTItMTY1MzQzMTBhYWVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU2NTMxOTg@._V1_them don’t. And they have these lives. And they spend the day going about them, just generally moping about, doing a lot of whining and talking. The end.

Person to Person is that balding guy in your office who wears khakis and polo shirts like they’re his uniform, who eats the same sandwich and celery every day for lunch, who has nothing to talk about except the weather, and who you once caught reading the phone book.  I see that Rotten Tomatoes got drunk, brought that guy home, and gave him a pity fuck (that’s my way of saying its score of 45%, while still rotten, is also completely unjustified – an overshot of at least 43%, I’d say). This movie was so dull I had to invent an all-new category for it on Assholes Watching Movies: Boring as Hell. But unlike Person to Person, at least hell is warm and peppered with interesting characters.

 

 

 

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright, I think I love you.

And Edgar Wright loves movies. It’s clear from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Wright pours love into his film by loading it with details that’ll take you several watches to truly absorb.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young dude in a band. He’s dating a high school student 9d0uzolbut is ready to drop her the moment he meets his dream girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The catch? Catches? Well, his ex-girlfriend is in town, giving him a serious drought of self-confidence, and Ramona actually has 7 exes, er, 7 evil exes, whom Scott must fight in order to “win” her favour. The movie kind of asks: what would happen if a random guy suddenly had the ability to fight as if he were in a video game? And you know what? The results are pretty fantastic.

Edgar Wright soaks this movie in video game references. He got permission to use the 500fulltheme song from The Legend of Zelda by writing a flowery letter to Nintendo, calling it “the nursery rhyme of this generation.” The more you know video games, the more you’ll appreciate this, but even I can concede its greatness.

Moreover, Wright has a knack for casting that you can’t help but admire. He picked a whole bunch of young kids who would launch into stardom. Brie Larson went on to win an Oscar just a few years later, and Anna Kendrick a nomination.

Of course, my favourite part of the movie is how carefully Wright, an Englishman, preserves the Toronto locale. Toronto is a cheap place to make movies so it often stands in for other places, notably New York City. For once, Toronto gets to be Toronto, giphyunapologetically Toronto, with the TTC, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma, and even dirty, dirty Pizza Pizza. This movie feels like home. In a meta moment, a fake New York City backdrop is literally ripped open to reveal the glorious Toronto skyline. When Scott Pilgrim earns points, the coins that rain down upon him are loonies and twonies, Canadian style.

And Wright, who is an excellent curator of music, finds some excellent Canadian bands to do the heavy lifting for him. Broken Social Scene wrote two of the 4-second songs played by Crash and the Boys (“We hate you, please die” and “Im so sad, so very, very sad”). Metric wrote the song performed by The Clash at Demonhead. And Chris Murphy vocalist and bassist for Sloan, served as the music performance supervisor, which I think means he made sure the actors held their guitars the right way and stuff. (Non-Canadian Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb).

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is ultra-stylized and brilliant to watch. It’s incredibly fast-paced and feels hyper real. It’s almost unbearably quotable, fresh, and inventive. The script can’t always keep up with the film’s flash and charm but darn if it doesn’t try. I’ve been in love with this movie for 7 years or so, and a recent re-watch confirmed that I’m still crushing hard.

 

What movies do you love to re-watch?

 

SXSW: Lemon

At some point we started to wonder if South By SouthWest wasn’t a little incestuous. Yesterday I wrote about a movie called Win It All, which was directed by Joe Swanberg, who has a bit of a creative flirtation going with Jake Johnson. Joe Swanberg also happens to write for the Netflix series Easy. Meanwhile, the writers and director of Lemon also make appearances on another Netflix series, Love. Is Netflix the meeting ground for mumblecore indie spirits?

Anyway. Lemon was written by husband-wife team Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman. Gelman has the unenviable task of starring in a film that was called Lemon because Isaac, the lead character, is a complete dud. If he was a car, you’d return him directly to the lot and tear your hair out while screaming at the manager. If you’re his girlfriend of a decade, well, you start creating distance, and then you cut and run. That’s what Ramona (Judy Greer) does; she’s only stayed as long as she has because she’s blind, and while her sight hasn’t improved, her self respect has.

The film feels like it has chapters to it. In the first chapter, we see Isaac at work.  He’s a theatre lemon-movie-sundanceteacher, where he over-praises one student, Alex,(Michael Cera) while simultaneously ripping apart another (Gillian Jacobs). Whether he identifies with Alex or is simply jealous of him I can’t divine, but we know that Isaac’s own acting career is in the toilet, almost literally (just about the only thing he’s up for is an incontinence ad). But bonus: Michael Cera, inexplicably bad hair and all, does earn some serious laughs as a super pretentious thespian who’s always “doing some animal work” or some other crazy-obnoxious thing.

The second chapter shows him among his immediate family, which is rife with drama. He’s practically the normal one there, navigating rough waters between his siblings (Martin Starr is his brother) and half-heartedly joining in when his mother (Rhea Perlman) decides it’s sing-along time (a rousing chorus of “A Million Matzoh Balls” is as memorable as it is ridiculous). This is the weirdest family dinner I’ve ever witnessed and was uncomfortably effective at making me feel vicariously bad about myself.

The third chapter focuses more on his post-break-up love life. Despite being a complete loser, he seems to have attracted the attention (or at least the pity) of the beautiful Cleo (Nia Long), whose family is nothing like his. The film makers admitted that the two families represent their own in-law struggles, though I can’t imagine having the courage to put that kind of dirty laundry up on a big screen.

Do you delight in the suffering of others? Isaac is not a redeeming character. He’s thoroughly unlikeable. But the movie itself is almost aggressively odd, from the very first shot. What kind of enjoyment can you derive from schadenfreude? And are you in the mood for something obsessively quirky, something unapologetically, erm, esoteric? These are the questions you must ask yourself before settling in to Lemon.

 

Sausage Party

This movie is surprisingly well-reviewed for something based on a pun gone wrong, and is poised to usurp Suicide Squad’s tenuous hold on the box office’s top spot.  But it’s probably the summer’s biggest disappointment for me.

It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that Sausage Party is peppered with f-bombs and exploding with offensive material. The surprise is that I didn’t buy into it. I’m generally a cusser extraordinaire and have a tongue so salty it makes sailors blush and mumble “aw shucks.” But swearing should be unselfconscious whereas Sausage Party just feels so darn deliberate. Like it’s a 19 million dollar excuse to pack in every bad word Seth Rogen knows, and a few he just made up.

sausage party cabageThe basic premise is: what if your food had feelings? Like, every night when the grocery store closes, the food comes alive in almost exactly the same way the toys do in Toy Story. But in Toy Story, the worst thing we do is neglect our old toys. Worst case play with them too roughly. But we flipping eat food! And before we eat it, we torture it: we cut it, mash it, boil it up, set it on fire. At first the food is blissfully unaware of its weird relationship with us, but when they eventually find out it’s supermarket anarchy.

There are mostly two types of jokes in this movie:

  1. Racial stereotypes. Kosher food, halal food, ethnic food. The Canadian beer that apologizes constantly. The bagel and the lavash are sworn enemies. A little homophobia on the side just to keep things fresh.
  2. Graphic sex. As graphic as a juice box can get, anyway. I mean, the whole plot revolves around a bun (Kristen Wiig) and a sausage (Seth Rogen) who can’t wait to couple. There’s a character who is literally a douche (Nick Kroll). Did you ever want to see a sausage penetrate 3 types of bread products at once? I mean, this is the kind of thing that only comes around once, maybe twice in your life. So get it while it’s hot.

The problem with rude comedy is that if it’s all rude all the time, then rude is the new normal and it all becomes dull pretty quick. I prefer my food orgies to be me at an all you can eat buffet in Vegas, with unlimited mimosas, is what I’m saying.

But even critics, who found Suicide Squad so joyless, are on board for this profanity-filled49033034.cached sausage fest. And of course I cracked a few laughs. I absolutely did. But mostly I didn’t enjoy myself much. I feel too guilty to laugh at something so obvious and offensive as a bottle of “fire water” with a Native American accent (provided by white guy Bill Hader). And while that might be the most culturally inappropriate, it’s not the hardest to watch. Not with a used condom sloppily lamenting its fate, or toilet paper experiencing PTSD.

This should have been a movie right up my bum. Er, alley. Right up my alley. But I guess I’m just too much of an old prude to appreciate it. For me it’s a rare miss from Seth Rogen but I guess my tolerance for glutinous cunnilingus just isn’t what it used to be.

A Very Murray Christmas

AVeryMurrayChristmas_posterLet’s get one thing straight: this isn’t Scrooged, the redux. It’s a plotless variety show without a lot of variety, but it’s got Bill Goddamned Fucking Murray, so what else do you want?

It’s Christmas Eve and Murray is contractually obligated to put on a Christmas special live from the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. He’s in no position to be doing such a thing and the show is doomed to hell, but so what? His piano accompanist is Paul Shaffer, for crying out loud. How bad could it be?

Well, as Amy Poehler and Julie White come bustling into his room to assuage his pre-show jitters\brow-beat him into meeting his obligations, it would seem that they are worried too. There’s a blizzard blanketing NYC, and none of the celebrity guests have shown up. No guests at all, actually, except for Michael Cera, playing a slimy talent agent desperate to sign Murray (who is famous in real life from being unrepresented).

Murray starts off singing dejectedly but can’t even finish his first song. NEN1NCNECeZIRU_1_bThe special’s a disaster! But wait! Who’s that sight for sore eyes revolving through the door? Why it’s none other than Chris Rock, here mistakenly, but here nonetheless, and despite his vehement refusals, he gets emotionally manipulating into joining the live broadcast. Singing ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ as a duet, Murray and Rock are one of the highlights of the show. In a special that’s not even an hour long, Chris Rock proves he may not be a singer but he is indeed an actor; the reluctance to join in spackled across his slowly turns into Christmas cheer as the joy of the song spreads to his heart…until the power goes out, and he takes the opportunity to make his escape.

“Force Majeure!” cry his cheeky producers. The contract taken care of by an act of god, White and Poehler hoof it out of there too, leaving Murray to mope around a nearly-deserted hotel where he comes across a sobbing bride (Rashida Jones) and her wobbly wedding cake. Dream wedding ruined, no guests in sight, no preacher to marry them, and a 90bunch of lobsters going bad, she and her groom (Jason Schwartzman) have fought.

Never fear: when not hosting Christmas specials, Bill Murray also proffers marital counselling, and so in he goes to save the day, and spark up some more “impromptu” holiday tunes. Jenny Lewis playing a waitress is on hand to do the lady part of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, everyone’s favourite date-rape carol, and the band Phoenix is conveniently on hand pretending to be kitchen staff to back up several more ditties, so that Jason Schwartzman can prove there is a worse singer in this thing than Chris Rock.

And then Maya Rudolph shows up playing a washed up lounge singer, and holy hell, she just puts them all to shame. She belts out a ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ so good that even Darlene Love would approve (she sang that song on Letterman every Christmas since 1986 except for the writer’s strike in 2007 – this will be her first year without, since Dave is retired). It’s not surprising that Rudolph is amazing: she is, after all, daughter to soul singer Minnie Riperton and composer-songwriter Richard Rudolph. Oh, and granddaughter of Teena Marie. She’s got chops, plus extra credentials for often impersonating Beyonce on SNL, and for playing in a Prince cover band called Princess. And I’ve got a huge crush on her.

Then the action mysteriously leaves the Carlyle Hotel for a decked-out maxresdefaultsoundstage in New Jersey, where two new guest stars join the festivities: Miley Cyrus, cheating on her own cameo in The Night Before, and George Clooney to mix the martinis. An unlikely pair? If you say so!

I wish I could find something to be grumpy about with Miley’s performance, but the truth is, she sounds good. Perched atop Shaffer’s bill-murray-miley-cyrus-george-clooney-netflix-christmas-specialpiano, Silent Night is rendered faithfully, although there’s probably a little too much leg for the holy parts. The real surprise, and delight, is when Clooney pipes up during ‘Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin.’ Is the world ready for this side of George Clooney? Unfortunately he flashes a lot less leg, but he does look awfully dapper in his suit.

Anyway, director Sofia Coppola did quite a job of rounding up a slew of stars and dipping them in Christmas coating. You can play a real game of celebrity bingo, as you’ll see in the comments. There’s no plot, no story, no moral: just a lot of the ever-charming Bill Murray. It’s available on Netflix and it’s the kind of thing you can easily just put on in the background while you do some holiday baking or cleaning or wrapping, or better yet – some imbibing.

Cheers.