Tag Archives: Netflix and chill

TIFF18: Hold The Dark

Three children have gone missing from a small, very small, very isolated community in Alaska, snatched by wolves. One of the grieving mothers, Medora (Riley Keough), hires wolf expert and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the wolf or wolves responsible.

But the wolves are not the villains of this story.

First, the Alaskan landscape. It’s frozen, much colder than what cold passes for MV5BODYwNTY5MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNDQxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1487,1000_AL_anywhere else. It’s unforgiving. It’s unknowable. It’s remote. There are only 5 hours of daylight at midday. It’s a blank canvas, a blanket of white, relentless and renewing, where even your own footprints are quickly snowed in and covered over; one wrong step can mean the difference between life or death. It’s no place for a novice like Core, but he’s got some demons of his own that keep him from making better judgments.

Second, the village. Or rather the villagers. They’re an insular tribe and don’t take kindly to outsiders. The environment is hostile in every sense of the word. They don’t cooperate with the law.

Third, the grieving parents. Grief makes a person crazy. Some people were crazy to begin with. Medora was on her own when her son went missing, her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) away at war. Injured, he gets sent home to a probably-dead kid and a mentally disturbed wife. There aren’t a lot of times when war is the preferable scenario, the kinder one, but I think this it.

I read the novel upon which this is based (by author William Giraldi) but this screenplay is adapted by the twisted mind of Macon Blair, so I know I’m in some sort of trouble. He’s beefed up the part of Vernon for Skarsgard, sure, and he also makes sure every bit of violence is as graphically gory as possible. What else do we expect from a Jeremy Saulnier movie? The man loves to taunt us with threatening, ominous images and then leave us exposed to whatever chaos may come. It’s an exceptionally tense way to watch a film, but if Saulnier isn’t throwing you into minor cardiac arrhythmia, he feels you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Saulnier is a master of making you shit your pants, and if anything, Hold The Dark is a little lighter on the anxiety-ridden dread. But while we buckle up for a movie about wolves and wilderness, it’s actually humanity who shows itself most vicious, and that’s all Saulnier. There are so many twists in the tundra it can be hard to keep them all straight, and you’re never quite sure just what kind of movie you’re watching, but it’s a bloody, vengeful rampage and it will not have a happy ending.

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TIFF18: The Land of Steady Habits

Anders is mid-life-crisis-ing, hard. He left his wife, quit his job, sleeps with strangers he meets in Bed, Bath & Beyond while shopping for knick-knacks to fill his empty shelves. BUT HE’S STILL NOT HAPPY! Can you believe that abandoning everything you spent your lifetime building is not the path to true happiness? Can you imagine that the real problem was him all along?

I mean, those thoughts haven’t occurred to Anders (Ben Mendelsohn) yet. He’s a man. He’s not that quick. In fact, he’s slow and dumb enough to get high with someone else’s son. Charlie (Charlie Tehan) barely survives an overdose but shows up at Anders’ new bachelor pad looking for…friendship? Anders should know better; his own son PrestonMV5BMWZlMjZiMGItMjBhZS00YTlhLTlkMDgtNDc3Y2NkOTc2OGViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODI4MjAzNjU@._V1_ (Thomas Mann) has been to rehab and apparently still has a problem that isn’t quite addressed. But if his own son isn’t really his problem, why should someone else’s be?

So that doesn’t go well. Nothing does. The Land of Steady Habits is drenched in suburban angst, dripping with the failure of men, both young and old. Director Nicole Holofcener has a knack for eliciting career-best performances from her actors, and Ben Mendelsohn is no exception. His little idiosyncrasies, that devilish grin, they keep the character just shy of being unforgivable. Still, Anders is not meant to be liked. He gambled on the grass being greener and it isn’t. His discontent seems to poison those around him. Ah, the listlessness of the wealthy. It makes it so easy to sit back and judge, guilt-free.

Holofcener makes some interesting choices – notably, that Anders has already shed his previous life when we meet him. And he’s already finding the new one to be hollow. And we experience his search for meaning to be quite petty and superficial. Mendelsohn subverts his usual simmering anger to suggest an inner tension as he navigates relations with his son, ex-wife (Edie Falco), and new love (Connie Britton), with bitter, sometimes humourous results.

The Land of Steady Habits is a good character study that’s a bit uneven as a dramedy. Holofcener tends to be restrained. Sometimes that’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s a little frustrating. This movie seethes with ennui, shame, and regret, and nobody gets a free pass.

SPF-18

The first half of SPF-18 is about virginity, or the loss thereof. Penny (Carson Meyer) needs a prom do-over, and when her boyfriend Johnny (Noah Centineo) house sits for Keanu, she brings her cousin Camilla (Bianca Santos) and a pack of condoms and and the deflowering is on.

The second half of SPF-18 is about surfing, and using it to somehow honour one’s dead father.

MV5BZjVhMmFmYTQtYTMwNC00Y2JiLTg1MDAtOGM3ZGM3Y2I0YWMyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ3MjE4NTU@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_There’s a very thin line between these two halves where SPF-18 could have crossed over with The Meg, and had these vapid teenagers been devoured by a megalodon, I might have hated this a little less. As it was, just thinking of them as shark poop helped get me through.

In reality, a Christian country artist wannabe named Ash (Jackson White) baptizes himself in the nude in front of the girls, thus cementing himself in their hearts. And even though her virginity is still freshly smeared all over Keanu’s sheets, Penny’s heart goes the way of her hymen – torn.

And then Johnny’s dead dad’s surfing protegee resurfaces, guilt-ridden about his drug usage which may or may not have contributed to his mentor’s untimely death. This story really doesn’t need to be here, but the film is already a scant 75 minutes, so I guess it added some flesh to the bare bones. The rest is just redistributing the lovers. Ash has a soulful voice but Johnny has abs worth praying about.

You should be able to deduce that the script is bad but that really doesn’t do it justice. IT’S HORRENDOUS. The dialogue is embarrassing and cringe-worthy, but it’s not the worst part. The worst part are the disparate ideas strung together to make a movie. They’re so random I don’t even know how they decided which order to put them in (Evil studio executives! The benefits of pilates! Illegal doping scandals! Greek mythology! Animated meditation! High school superlatives! Unnecessary narrators! Intellectual property law! Unexplained lip lesions!). Can you hodge podge these together to make a film? No you can’t, you definitely can’t, but that’s not stopping anyone.

I don’t know anything about director Alex Israel, but I can guess that he’s an 80s kid. He certainly reveres the decade. Why else would you give a millennial rom-com a power ballad-filled soundtrack? And how else to explain small roles for Pamela Anderson, Goldie Hawn, and Molly Ringwald? This movie was painful for me, and not just because SPF-18 may as well be bacon grease (I like a nice hard 50 myself) for all the good it does. It feels like this may have been made and edited in the drunk tank by people with double vision and shaky hands and very, very poor judgment. I literally cannot believe this is a movie and I definitely cannot warn you away vehemently enough.

Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate

Bianca Del Rio is the drag name and alter ego of Roy Haylock, who won the 6th season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Acerbically funny, Bianca went on to star in her own movie where her razor-sharp barbs cut up a classroom. If you missed my review of Hurricane Bianca, high school teacher Richard (Haylock) is fired in small-town Texas for being gay. Richard returns to the school as Bianca, and becomes teacher of the year. But Principal Deborah (Rachel Dratch) is suspicious, and with grudges against both Richard AND Bianca, she sets out to destroy either one. Of course, with some skeletons in her own closet, she probably shouldn’t go poking at the wigs and padding in someone else’s. Let’s just say the movie ends with Deborah being sent to jail.

Cut to: Hurricane Bianca the sequel. Deborah’s out of jail and mad as hell. Richard has MV5BODE0YmU3ODctOThjMC00ODJkLWIwNTEtNzFkNTM3ODQ2MDA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTUwNDQ4NQ@@._V1_retired Bianca but is still teaching in Texas. He should probably be a lot more suspicious when he gets a letter in the mail saying he won a contest he never entered – a contest whose cash prize only Bianca can pick up. In Russia. Deborah of course has heard it’s illegal to be gay in Russia and figures the Russians will just do the dirty work for her, and she’s probably not wrong.

Hurricane Bianca: From Russian With Hate is peppered with cameos from faces you’ll recognize and drag queens you’ll love (including D.J. “Shangela” Pierce, back again, and actually quite a natural). And Bianca gets a new sidekick named Rex (Doug Plaut, a scene-stealing weirdo).

If you liked the first, this one’s as deliciously snarky. When jokes land, they land like death drops. This is dark comedy realness, a Russian whore extravaganza eleganza, and if you don’t love it I don’t know how in the hell you’re gonna love yourself.

 

Before I Fall

It’s cupid day. High school student Sam, goes to school with her friends, where they all receive some mystery roses, plan for Sam to lose her virginity to boyfriend Rob later that night, and hit up a party where they drink, predictably taunt an unpopular girl. Then they get in a car and drive home. Only they don’t make it. There’s an accident, and when Sam wakes up…it’s the morning of the same day again. Cupid day is getting the Groundhog Day treatment.

MV5BNGI2ZjQ0MGUtZTQyYS00ZjNkLTg4NjctY2U1Yjg1Y2Y3MzBiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU4MjYzMjk@._V1_By the third day she’s trying to live differently, to do things “right.” But even when she manages to avoid the accident, she still wakes up on the same morning and lives the same day. Sam (Zoey Deutch) is half right. Her ‘perfect’ life is a mystery that needs unraveling, and she’ll have to start questioning everyone and everything in it before she can begin to make adjustments. Sounds predictable, doesn’t it? I didn’t think much more highly of the book, so I wasn’t exactly in a rush to see this movie.

It’s not bad, it’s just not meant for me. This is a story intended for young adult audiences, and I guess that makes me an old adult. I’ve seen the real Groundhog Day. I remember how it counterbalances its existential angst with dark humour. This one takes itself very seriously, so it dips into melodrama, the familiar milieu of so many high school soaps. And you know, forgive me for this massively unfair comparison, but Zoey Deutch is no Bill Murray. It’s hard to make repetition feel cinematic. Feel anything but boring. But for Murray, even a twitch of the eyebrow can make a scene feel transformative. In the case of Before I Fall, Deutch doesn’t even feel well-cast as a high school student (she’s 24, but seems older than her same-age castmates). And the voice over is really just a big stick with which to beat us over the head with the message, which the director apparently does not trust to absorb otherwise. It’s actually not that deep. I think we would have managed, but now we’ll never know, unless tomorrow she wakes up and has to make this movie over again and again until she gets it right. Let’s just hope I’m not stuck in my own time loop, having to watch them.

Father of the Year

Of course it’s bad.

If you know that this is the new David Spade movie on Netflix this week, then you know it’s bad and you don’t need my review to tell you that.

But perhaps, like me, you watched it anyway.

The movie just throws you into the “action” (generous description), to the point that I wondered if we’d accidentally fast-forwarded the first 10 minutes or so.

Ben has apparently just finished college, and was even the “valatetorian.” He’s spending his summer with his pathetic excuse for a father  (Spade) before going to NYC to claim his dream job because he’s smart and capable and his life is going in the right direction. MV5BNTQ5MDQxMDg3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjA1MzY3NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_His best friend Larry’s life is not, but they’re goddamn 22 years old, and I can’t even imagine being that young and worrying that my life wasn’t totally together yet. And anyway, when you’re measuring yourself against the fathers available for comparison, you win every time. Ben’s dad, David Spade, is a Boston red neck with no money, no plan, no prospects. Larry’s dad (Nat Faxon) is so spineless he can’t even stand up to his 8 year old son, let alone his wife.

Is it inevitable that Ben’s dad and Larry’s dad will fight, because their sons have an ongoing bet as to which father would kick the other’s ass? I mean, yeah, I guess it is, since that’s really the whole point and plot of the movie. They wonder whose dad would win in a fight, and then we find out.

This movie is 100% dumb and you don’t feel good about laughing at the few jokes that land, but you do, because you’re desperate to be even just slightly rewarded for putting in a solid 94 minutes when you knew damn well this movie was shite. Why do we do it then? Because Adam Sandler (he produces) has never asked much of us. He goes on, brain goes off, and we get the miserable experience we deserve.

 

Duck Duck Goose

Peng is the self-proclaimed best flyer in his gaggle. He’s a loose canon, an inveterate bachelor – the kind of gander who’d rather stick to himself and fly solo (other than that attractive goose, JingJing, but her dad’s a real pill). When he accidentally plows through a whole flock of ducks, he’s labelled as “not family friendly” and is asked to leave the park. This is ironic because a) Peng is voiced by Jim Gaffigan, often styled the “family friendly” comedian because of his clean humour (and his 5 children), and b) Peng’s about to act as a “mother” to a couple of ducklings, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), who happen to imprint upon him.

Peng is not exactly in this arrangement for selfless reasons, but he agrees to help the ducks migrate south. He’s injured and can’t fly, they’re small and helpless, and he figures MV5BYmYzODQ4YjktYTI0OC00OGI2LTkyN2YtYTYwZTkzOTRkYzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_if he can’t take to the sky to dodge predators, at least he can outrun two fluffy baby ducks. Not exactly honourable motivation.

In addition to Jim Gaffigan, who is a favourite of mine, the voice cast comprises several other stand-up comics, like Greg Proops, and Natasha Leggero, and all-around funny folk such as Carl Reiner, and Stephen Fry. This movie is a Netflix original, and newly released, and couldn’t come at a better time, comedy wise, since Just For Laughs is just starting up down the street from us in Montreal, where we’ll be seeing other favourites of ours like Will Forte, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro.

Anyway, given even this very vague set up, I bet you know how the movie unfolds. It feels like an 80s sitcom in a lot of ways: unlikely dad is in over his head with hilarious parenting issues, has as much to learn from the kids as they do from him. Sound familiar?

For the most part this movie is a throw-away. It’s not garbage but there’s nothing new about it, and nothing particularly good. It’s adequate animation, a predictable, bare-bones script, some charming characters, a couple of laughs. Kids may find it acceptable, although it’s not as flashy or frantic as most other cartoons. It’s generic and safe and it stays just on the other side of bad thanks to a heartwarming ending.