Tag Archives: popular culture

SXSW: Colossal

colossal-F71894Other than a major difference in size, Godzilla and a drunk have a lot in common.  They both stumble around erratically, they both have a temper, and they both wreck a lot of stuff.  Though Colossal does not feature Godzilla, presumably due to licencing issues, it does feature a giant monster terrorizing an Asian city (though this time it’s Seoul, Korea instead of Tokyo, Japan).  As you’d expect, the monster’s appearance is big news, so even Gloria (Anne Hathaway) hears about it eventually.  It takes a while for her though because of how drunk she got the night before.

Gloria’s got a lot of problems.  She’s just been kicked out by her longtime boyfriend for drinking too much and she’s been unemployed for way too long.  She’s got no direction and no prospects, so after losing her relationship and place to stay, she heads to her hometown and meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  Since Oscar owns a bar, Gloria stays there all night drinking, and a giant monster appears in Seoul about the time she’s stumbling home the next morning.

Colossal is different than I expected, which is not a bad thing.  Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has created something unique, something much different than any kaiju movie I’ve ever seen.  Colossal is slow paced and focuses largely on people, not monsters, and the characters’ personal growth (/lack thereof) is a very important part of the story.  I don’t want to say more about what Colossal is or isn’t, as I think trying to figure out this movie is part of the fun.  There are definitely some surprises along the way, and those were high points for me.  It’s always interesting when a movie takes an unexpected turn and Colossal offers a few of them.

In support of the unique story, Hathaway and Sudeikis both deliver excellent performances, and the quality of those performances is why this movie works so well.  Seeing Gloria and Oscar reconnect after all these years, discovering each other as adults, is something we can all relate to but we soon learn that the stakes are a little higher here, because Seoul is in peril every morning.

Colossal is set to be released in North America on April 7, 2017.  If you’re interested in seeing a different kind of kaiju movie, one that is more character study than city-destroying rampage, then Colossal is worth watching.

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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!

The Founder

the-founder-movie-2016-trailer-michael-keatonI suppose it was to be expected that Ray Kroc, the “founder” of McDonald’s, was an asshole. But, wow, was he ever an asshole. He died well before this movie was made but it seems he would have agreed with that assessment and been fine with it since it got him where he wanted to be – it made him rich, eventually.

But not without some struggles. You see, he didn’t “create” McDonald’s until he was 52 years old, and the reason for the quotation marks is because he didn’t actually create it. But as we know, history is written by the victors, and that’s Ray Kroc.

Michael Keaton is extremely good as Kroc. Good to the point that he makes Kroc seem like almost a decent guy even though he’d take your last McNugget whether or not he was hungry. The great Nick Offerman and the familiar John Carroll Lynch are excellent as well as Kroc’s former partners, the McDonald brothers. Other familiar faces will pop up for a scene or two, but this movie is mainly about Kroc and the McDonalds.

The Founder’s story is an interesting and engaging one from start to finish. It skips around noticably at parts and I felt a bit disconnected from the movie as a result, but the core tale remained crisp, clear, and entertaining throughout, to the point that the lawyer side of me wanted to yell at the screen as one particularly bad decision was made.

So bring your notepad and find out how an empire can be built from practically nothing on someone else’s idea, as long as you don’t mind being an asshole about it. The Founder gets a score of seven “fries with that” out of ten.

Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!

Bringing Movies to Life in a Whole New Way

vrAs you will have seen on Twitter (@assholemovies), I got a PlayStation Pro and Virtual Reality headset for Christmas.  Jay picked it up after I said it sounded neat but I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a helmet to play games.  As usual, she made the right choice.  It is the greatest thing ever!  Being able to look around inside the game is amazingly immersive and I can’t get enough of it.

Currently, my gaming options include a couple of movie-themed options, namely Batman: Arkham VR and Star Wars Battlefront’s Rogue One: X-Wing VR mission.  As well, I have a few unofficial options that feel like movies you’ve already seen, like London Heist (reminiscent of every Bbatman-arkham-vrritish gangster movie) and Ocean Descent (reminiscent of every shark attack movie), both of which are included on the PlayStation VR Worlds disc.

So far, Batman: Arkham VR is the one that sucked me in the most, to the point that I punched the ceiling trying to fire my grappling hook at the Batwing.  It felt like I was right in the middle of everything, and I am amazed at how well everything links together, so that when I move, the game responds accordingly.  The motion controllers make a huge difference in that regard, as then my hand movements are displayed right in the game.  Bonus points for letting me put on Batman’s mask myself and then look in a mirror.  That was amazing, and the overall VR experience was so fun that even the inclusion of Batman’s alley origin felt fresh.xwing-vr2

There’s no shame in placing second to a game that lets you step into Batman’s shoes, and flying an X-Wing was a ton of fun.  It was especially great to be able to look left and right and see the laser cannons right there on the wings, and then to move them into attack position with the press of a button so I could take out a few cannons on a nearby Star Destroyer.

Even smoking a virtual cigar in a seedy pub was a memorable experience, especially because the game seems to know when you’re exhaling.  VR is finally here and it’s wonderful.  I’m super excited for Star Trek: Bridge Crew and can’t wait to see what other movie scenes I’ll get to experience from a first-person view in 2017 .

What movies would you like to be able to play through virtually?

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming Trailer

Arriving back from my birthday present (Hawaii trip), I received another gift in the form of a fantastic Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer.  The latest feature of Spider-Man’s costume (the webbing under his arms) is yet another throwback to the classic comics, much like the shape and movement of Spidey’s “eyes” that we saw in Captain America: Civil War.  I wished at the time that Civil War had been a Spider-Man movie and now I look to be getting exactly the movie I wished for.

It’s a welcome sign that Spider-Man is firmly established to be in high school by the movie’s title and trailer.  That gives another nod to the classic comics, the ones that firmly established Spider-Man’s defining characteristics, the ones that made him my favourite superhero of all time.  Like the facts that Peter is a bit of a loser at school, that he makes nervous quips to bad guys while making them look silly, and that he’s having problems with the cops right from the start.

Even better, it’s clear that this movie exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only from the bank robbers’ Avengers masks (to which Spidey’s response is perfect) but also from Tony Stark’s appearance in his two favourite suits (iron and wool).  Tony and Peter’s big brother-little brother relationship continues to fit the characters perfectly and I’m excited to see more of that dynamic (and see Peter teach Tony a thing or two, as when you get right down to it, Peter always finds a way to do the right thing, which is something Tony struggles with).

There are two other big Marvel releases in 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (April 25) and Thor: Ragnarok (October 25).  After this trailer, Spider-Man: Homecoming is by far my most anticipated of the three, and I never thought that would be the case considering how much I loved the first Guardians of the Galaxy and that Taika Waititi, Thor 3’s director, is one of the most talented and underrated people in the movie business.  All in all, it seems 2017 will be a very good movie year for Sean (and a very bad one for Jay), and I’m expecting Spider-Man: Homecoming will be the source of a lot of that goodness.

Doctor Strange

strangeMarvel did it again.  They took another obscure supporting character, built a movie around him, and made me eager to see his next appearance in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This time, that obscure character was Doctor Strange, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

Anyone who’s read Marvel comics even sporadically knows who Doctor Strange is, because every so often he’d randomly pop up in your favourite hero’s comic to provide assistance or a few words of wisdom or encouragement.  As you may already know, my favourite hero was (and is) Spider-Man, and every ten issues or so I could count on Doctor Strange appearing through a portal, sticking around for 10-12 panels to move the story along, and then exiting as quickly as he entered.

strange-2But in this movie, because Doctor Strange is the star, we get to follow him through those portals and see what happens next from his perspective.  And it’s a hell of a ride.  Naturally, I could have done without the origin story but fortunately it’s injected with a welcome dose of humour that makes it speed by.  It helps that the opening scene features a battle that will leave the viewer wanting more and provides purpose and urgency to Strange’s magical training.

The special effects are spectacular and the visuals are glorious in IMAX 3D, just as last month’s sneak peek led me to believe.  It’s probably also tolerable in regular 3D or god forbid, stupid boring flat 2D, but I’ll never know, at least not until the movie comes to Netflix and I half-watch it while folding laundry.

The icing on the cake is that Marvel has assembled some first rate on-screen talent to supplement those trippy visuals, led by the Doctor himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, who is perfectly cast and does his usual baritone voice/good acting thing featuring a solid American accent.  If only I could do a British accent half as well (preferably cockney but I’m really not picky). Taking in a few more episodes of Sherlock can only help, right?

Add some Canadian flavour in Rachel McAdams, doing her regular accent as far as I know (honestly, if we don’t say “about” can you even tell we’re not American?), and a few more Brits in Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton (also both doing American accents even though their characters are worldly people currently living in Nepal), and by my count you’ve got one Oscar winner and three other Oscar nominees, whose talents really help sell silly comic words like Agamotto and Dormammu.  We’ve come a long way since the Stallone-Schneider superteam in Judge Dredd!

Doctor Strange is pure comic book joy.  It’s a welcome November blockbuster that will keep you entertained from start to finish.  I give it a score of nine spiritual goatees out of ten.

The Secret Path

You may have noticed there was a day this summer when Canada “went dark.” It was August 20th, the day the Tragically  Hip performed for the last time. Hip lead singer, front trudeau-the-hip-concert-kingstonman extraordinaire, Canadian superstar Gord Downie had recently announced that he had a brain tumour and was terminally ill. Since making music has always been his passion, he and the Hip went on a farewell tour and despite the ravages of cancer, he performed full-throttle at each and every show, somehow finding the energy and the courage to power through. Their final trudeau-downiedate was in their hometown of Kingston Ontario, just a little ways down the road from Ottawa. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was in the front row, and spoke for all of Canada when he thanked Gord and the whole band for their decades of artistic serviced to the country. It was a stirring night. The end is coming for Gord and he knew it, you could see it in his eyes, feel it every time he was overcome by emotion, but instead of making it about him, he chose to use this spotlight (and believe me, about 32 out of our 33 million strong l3z58mkrpopulation were tuned in one way or another) to speak on behalf of Canada’s indigenous population.

Since that night, as Downie inches closer to his final days, he’s still pouring his last energies into speaking up for our Aboriginal people. His latest endeavor is a tribute to Chanie Wenjack – in music, graphic novel, and animated form. 10 poems were turned into an album, which was turned into a graphic novel, which was turned into an animated film. They all tell the story of one boy, who represents the many, many more just like him, our first nations children ripped from the arms of their mothers, out of their communities, and into residential schools. Residential schools were run by church and state with the sole purpose of ‘civilizing’ the savages. gord-downie-sheila-north-wilsonProhibited from speaking their languages, practicing their spirituality, or honouring their cultures, teachers stripped them of their identity. Many children suffered terrible abuse, but all of these kids were deprived of their childhoods, and all of the families suffered terribly as I’m sure you would if your child was removed, perhaps never to be seen again, or if you were lucky enough to be reunited, we can only hope that you can find a common language in which to communicate. Communities were destroyed in what many Aboriginal people refer to as a genocide. It’s a dark part of Canadian history that wasn’t acknowledged until very recently. Today our First Nations peoples often live in poverty and other consequences of this intergenerational tragedy. Healing is not an Aboriginal problem, it’s something we need to address as an entire country. Gord Downie is doing his part.

If you are so inclined, The Secret Path can be streamed here for free (or in fact, down below). I hope you take the time to do so, and to share it with a friend. The images are haunting, but the lyrics will punch you in the gut. I was in tears by the third track.

Chanie Wenjack was only 12  years old when residential school became unbearable to him and he tried to find his way home. Not knowing where he was or where he was going, he walked until he collapsed in the snow, tired, lonely, starving, and he died. But there are dozenssecret-path and hundreds and maybe even thousands of Chanies dotting our countryside. Lonely and miserable, many children made an escape an attempt only to lose digits or limbs to frostbite, arms and legs on traintracks, or lives to exposure, or to punishment when recaputured. How many tiny bodies are still unaccounted for? The fact that we don’t even know is proof of how little white Canada cared for Aboriginal people, and this is a guilty fact we struggle to reconcile even today.

One day, likely sooner than later, Gord Downie will die and our whole country will mourn a great man, and a good man too. But Downie’s using his last work, and his last breaths to remind us that there are many others worth mourning too.

 

 

 

[As great and heartfelt as Gord Downie’s work is, it’s also really great to hear from Aboriginal artists themselves. Check out our coverage of the ImagineNative film fest]

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.

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.

TIFF: Jackie

Jackie is a beautiful film by Pablo Larrain that focuses on Jacqueline Kennedy in the minutes and days following her husband’s assassination.

Larrain is a Chilean film maker, which makes him at outsider to American politics. He poured over documents and was fascinated to read about this day that every age-appropriate American remembers so vividly: when the car turned, the location of the grassy knoll, the flag-wavers lining the street, the bullet’s trajectory – and always sitting beside the president, his wife, Jackie. e02adc223bf38b822b3e250330bde15cLarrain thought to himself, what if it was the other way around. What if he was sitting beside her? And in that thought was born a beautifully conceived film that puts its female character front and centre.

Larrain thought the script was good but sent it back with a note to cut every and any scene that she wasn’t in. The camera would be on Jackie the whole time. Obviously a film with such unerring focus would need an actress who could carry it, and Natalie Portman is that actress. This is her best role since Black Swan and honestly it may be her best role, full stop. She inhabits Jackie like a second skin. She doesn’t get caught up in the trappings of impersonation, she just embodies the grace, the thoughtfulness, and the mystery of one of America’s most beloved and glamourous first ladies.

Despite being a favourite in the press, Jacqueline Kennedy is perhaps unknowable. She was always careful about her public persona and was closely guarded when speaking on record. The film makes this abundantly clear through scenes with a journalist (Billy Crudup) about a week after tragedy has struck. She edits her remarks, strikes things from the record, and demands final approval before a single word is printed. Noah Oppenheim’s script is 14996precise and offers up tantalizing looks behind the closed doors of Camelot.

Peter Sarsgaard, as Bobby Kennedy, is a charming lurker. Greta Gerwig in her most un-Gerwig role to date is restrained and almost unrecognizable. I’d heard that Natalie Portman gave a stellar performance in Jackie but I was unprepared for how good the film would be as a whole. This isn’t just a candidate for Best Actress but I believe, for Best Picture. It’s so well-orchestrated, each piece comes together perfectly to make a very satisfying picture. JFK, one of the world’s most recognizable politicians, is a mere shadow in this film. Jackie gets her moment in the sun, which makes Natalie Portman the star at the centre of this movie’s universe.

She deserves all the acclaim she’ll receive. She’s brave and courageous here, mixing grief and poise in an intoxicating cocktail that you won’t be able to tear your eyes from. She’s magnetic. She shimmers with loss and outrage as she protects her husband (and more importantly: his legacy) from the vultures already climbing over his coffin. Jackie feels very much like an insider’s peek-a-boo on what has to be an iconic yet little-understood moment in history. Finally we experience JFK’s assassination as Jackie felt it – as the gruesome murder of her husband and the father of her two young kids. She sat beside him, scooping his brains back into his skull, calling to him even as she knew he was already dead. His blood is still fresh on her dress as LBJ is sworn in just 43 minutes later, Kennedy’s body resting just a few feet away. What to tell the children? What to tell the nation? It’s absolutely fascinating. Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography allows us to get very close to the grief, while also appreciating its context: Air Force One, the White House, the Lincoln convertible. Jackie manages to be both historic and quite personal, and Larrain ushers us ably into both worlds. Both Portman and Larrain resist the temptation to over-emote. Like the former first lady herself, restraint, control, and self-possession are at its heart.