Tag Archives: Rashida Jones

The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

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The Grinch

The original, made-for-TV How The Grinch Stole Christmas! will always be the version that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s as old as my mother, and like her, it’s a classic. That’s the one I’ll always need to rewatch. But I can see how 2018’s The Grinch will be a favourite for kids in the years to come.

It’s a safe retelling, sticking fairly closely to the original story, with a few embellishments here and there to puff it out to 86 minutes. The Grinch is a mean, green dude who lives in a cave with no one for company but his faithful dog, Max – and that’s the way he likes it. In the town down below, however, the Whos of Whoville are a happy, joyful people, who eagerly and lavishly celebrate the holiday The Grinch most despises: Christmas.

Whoville is an orgy of colour and action. Imaginative details abound – from the mouse skating by on candy cane skates, to the machine that cleverly collects snow MV5BNjJhYmE0NGYtOThhMC00ZGIwLWExNDUtZmU3NWI3NmNlNmViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjgxNTQwNw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_and poops out snowballs for the trail of excited children behind it. The animators have outdone themselves drenching everything in lights and tinsel and Christmas cheer. The Grinch himself looks better than ever, his green fluffiness rendered hair by hair. And Max, half companion, half servant, all wonder dog, has fantastic and recognizable doggy traits.

A couple of noticeable differences: The Grinch doesn’t seem to be entirely bad, even while still misunderstood. He can be quite sweet to his pal Max, and he’s compassionate with new addition Fred, a rubinesque reindeer, dopey with good intentions. And The Grinch’s “nemesis” Cindy Lou Who is now the adventurous daughter of a hardworking single mother, a detail that helps move this timeless story into this century. I didn’t mind any of the new stuff, but I did miss just a few details from the original film, which I know and love so well.

A lot of the voicework was fantastic: Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, and especially Kenan Thompson. Nothing against Benedict Cumberbatch but I found him terribly mis(voice)cast as The Grinch. And I found it baffling that they hired him only to make him do an American accent – he might have sounded better in his own voice. Ah well.

All in all, kids will love this movie. I know this for sure because my theatre was filled to the brim with some sort of organization’s boatload of kids. Their joy and mirth brought an extra layer of fun to the screening – not to mention squeals like “He’s naked!” followed by every single kid dissolving into giggles, the sound of which is sure to grow anyone’s heart by two to three sizes at least.

Monogamy

A bored wedding photographer sets up a side business – ‘Gumshoot’, where he’ll surreptitiously photograph his subjects without being seen. Kind of like a private eye (hence the clever name), except he’s actually been hired specifically to do this. One day Theo (Chris Messina) arrives at a park to photograph a woman known only to him as ‘Subgirl’ and what he finds there, at 9am, is a beautiful woman touching herself. He takes her picture from behind his grassy knoll. He takes a whole bunch.

At home, he takes his time perusing them, and his fiancee Nat (Rashida Jones) can’t help but notice the close-up crotch shots. They share an intimate moment together, inspired by the wantonness of the photos. And maybe that would have been nice had Theo left it f0a9f8c6bd1adb17_monogamy-trailerthere. But does he? Oh no. He does not. He becomes obsessed, scrutinizing the photos for every tattoo, every freckle, every…clue?  And then he takes more pictures. Subgirl (Meital Dohan) leads an interesting life that seems to get more and more perverse. Would that excited you? Are you an exhibitionist like Subgirl? Or are you a voyeur like Theo? What would it be like to stalk someone with your camera? To film them in such compromising poses? To know that in a way, they are performing just for you. Sexy? Creepy? Both?

I confess I’ve always had a thing for Chris Messina. He’s dark and brooding and kind of an asshole. Why do we always fall for the assholes? To be clear, I don’t even know Chris Messina. I just lust after his character on The Mindy Project, and then fantasize about breaking all his limbs for all the terrible things he’s done to my precious MindyWhoCanDoNoWrong. My Rashida Jones crush is possibly even stronger. Does she actually emit the light of a thousand suns or have I just soaked for too long in Leslie Knope’s love for best friend extraordinaire, Ann Perkins?

Anyway, I guess you can only photograph cock sucking for so long before your own relationship starts to suffer. So too does his mental health, I think.

But this movie isn’t just about a Brooklyn hipster. It’s about the fraudulent wedding industry, and the stereotypically male knee-jerk reaction to marriage (and its inherent mysogyny), and the sad sac, boo hoo, woe is me, self-pity-party of the man’s end of a breakup. On the head, as my brother-in-law would say (as in, nailed it).

TIFF18: Quincy

Quincy Jones is an icon, a man who needs no introduction from the likes of me. He’s worked with the best because he is the best – not just at composing music or creating trends, but at transcending them, and transcending culture itself. If you listen closely, this movie is about a man who consistently allows his talent to break down barriers. He’s accumulated a lot of “firsts” in his life (the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song – and the first African American to be nominated twice in one year as he was also named in the Best Score category; the first African American to hold the position of vice president of a white-owned record company;  the first African American to be the musical director and conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony) but as far as I’m concerned, he’s also a man with a lot of “onlies” to his name – the first, and the only, because this man is a trail-blazer of incomparable talent and drive.

With his daughter Rashida Jones co-directing the film, they skate lightly over the more scandalous periods of his life and focus on his love of family and his impressive musical career. He composed for Frank Sinatra and for Sidney Lumet. He MV5BYzZhMTY1YjQtNWRjNi00YzVkLWEwODAtNzk1MjMzNzZiMWE1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_wrote movie scores and TV theme songs. He traveled the world making music, and he’s given back to the community by mentoring young musicians and passing the baton, literally, to new composers. He met Michael Jackson while working on The Wiz, and went on to produce Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad with him. Oprah credits him for ‘discovering’ her for The Color Purple, which he scored and produced. He also composed the music to Will Smith’s Fresh Prince theme song – he was a show producer, and Will Smith auditioned for and signed a contract at Quincy’s 57th birthday party.

Between his art and philanthropy, there isn’t a corner of culture the man hasn’t marked and this documentary offers an excellent overview of his accomplishments while also providing insight to the life he lives at home. I love the many Quincy-isms up for grabs in this doc. There aren’t many topics where he doesn’t offer some bit of wisdom. But neither he nor his daughters (he’s got 6 – it’s almost biblical) believe him to be without flaws, but perhaps at the age of 85, we can afford to concentrate more on his activism and artistry, and the terrific impact he’s had on music and pop culture. You can check Quincy out right now on Netflix.

TIFF18: Female Voices

I am proud to say that the Toronto International Film Festival has been at the forefront of committing to diversity and gender parity in its films. Everyone with half a brain is doing it this year, but TIFF’s been doing it for a while. They have shown us repeatedly that screening a higher proportion of female-directed films doesn’t affect the overall quality of the films shown at all. They have continued to curate fantastic films no matter who’s in the director’s chair. It’s just that programmers have to dig harder to unearth gems that aren’t always backed by studios. For every Wonder Woman or A Wrinkle In Time, there are dozens of indie films with hardly any attention, just waiting for someone smart enough to see it for what it is (Julia Hart’s Fast Color comes to mind as a recent example).

This year at TIFF, 34% of films are helmed by women. A few to look out for:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy in this movie about a sad sack writer (Lee Israel) who can’t get any work so she turns to forgery to pay her rent.

High Life: Claire Denis directs Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth in a sci-fi film about a bunch of criminals who get sent into space for an experiment on human reproduction that of course goes wrong because IT’S IN SPACE and then they just have to struggle to be, well, not dead IN SPACE. Despite the caps lock, I honestly cannot wait to see this one.

Galveston: We’ve already seen this one, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Mélanie Laurent directs Ben Foster and Elle Fanning in a real doozie of a crime thriller, with a distinctly European flavour despite its very American setting.

Destroyer: Karyn Kusama directs Nicole Kidman as an undercover agent who has to reconnect with the gang member she once worked, a situation that ended in life-altering tragedy. There’s already Oscar buzz about Kidman’s performance.

The Weekend: Toronto-born writer-director Stella Meghie directs Sasheer Zamata in this film about a stand-up comedian who gets embroiled in a weird love-triangle with her ex and his new girlfriend on an awkward weekend away.

Quincy: Who better to (co)direct the documentary about Quincy Jones than his talented daughter, Rashida? It’s sure to be an intimate portrait of an influential man, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

A Million Little Pieces: After James Frey’s “autobiography” got a lambasting from Queen Oprah for its inauthenticity (read: fabrication, read: lies), this screenplay cooled its heels while the furor died down and apparently Hollywood thinks we’re as ready for it now as we’ll ever be. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the “Frey” character and his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson directs him and a cast including Charlie Hunnam, Billy Bob Thornton, and Juliette Lewis.

Where Hands Touch: The crazy-talented writer-director Amma Asante tells the story MV5BZDIxNjIwNjktZTQzNS00ODI1LTkyZGItNDhkYjJlM2FhODcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,690,1000_AL_of a biracial teenage girl struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, starring Amandla Stenberg and George Mackay.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo’s film already has tremendous buzz coming out of Sundance. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a teacher (duh) who becomes obsessed with a young student she believes may be a child prodigy (is that redundant? I think adult prodigies are just, you know, educated).

The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs Ben Mendelsohn in this film about a man who has everything but still feels vaguely dissatisfied so he leaves his job and family and ends up down a rabbit hole of regret.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to feast on female-directed films alone at TIFF, and leave feeling fully sated. But before you go, there are a couple other initiatives you should know about.

  1. Via Brie Larson, who was herself a director at TIFF last year, the festival announced a commitment toward media inclusion. They accredited 20% more journalists this year to bolster their under-represented numbers. I absolutely believe that female critics are essential to female-directed films being seen and appreciated, and I want and need all voices to be heard and represented. Love this initiative.
  2. TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera, with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people. Join the movement!
  3. TIFF’s Festival street will host the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, September 8th. Everyone who’s remotely able to should come fill the streets (King St. West between University Ave. and Peter St.) and talk about the inequality plaguing the industry. Sign up here to live-stream the event if you can’t make it – beginning at 10am we’ll hear from Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo, the above-mentioned Amma Asante, and many others.

 

Thanks for helping make this the best TIFF yet – because movies only matter when everyone’s represented.

 

Zoe

Got your fill of rom-coms? How about a sci-fi romance for a change?. Ewan McGregor plays Cole, an artificial intelligence engineer who creates a beautiful and highly realistic synthetic “woman” named Zoe (Lea Seydoux). Cole’s lab isn’t just making convincing companions, it’s also revolutionizing love. “The Machine” is a highly complex algorithm that can predict whether a relationship will ultimately work out. It has also synthesized a drug that can mimic the feeling of falling in love. But all of these things together don’t exactly mean a world full of meaningful relationships: humans will always exploit emotions. And Cole is lonelier than most.

MV5BZDZjOTUyNTctM2E0Zi00MGIwLWEyZmYtYTIzNDg2MmZiN2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk3NjQ1MTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Zoe doesn’t understand that she’s synthetic at first, and it’s a little heartbreaking when Cole has to tell her. Then she questions everything. Like these unrequited feelings she has for him – was she programmed to have them? She was not. But as the two grow closer, and become a couple, she senses things are still unequal. Knowing who she is, what she is, has him holding something back.

Zoe is a movie about the complexities of love, and what happens when technology disrupts it. Men are eager to visit synthetic brothels (Christina Aguilera plays a robot hooker, for some reason) but will they ever trust synthetics to have real feelings? Of course, in a world where those feelings can be manufactured and manipulated with a pill, I wonder if they haven’t been sufficiently devalued that synthetic or not, it shouldn’t really matter anymore.

At any rate, there are some really interesting ideas here, they just aren’t executed all that well. The movie opens up this delicious Pandora’s box but then offers almost no social commentary, and its protagonist’s navel-gazing is immature and insensitive. There are no glaring problems with any of the movie’s moving parts, it’s just that they don’t add up to anything all that gripping or compelling (except for the soundtrack, which was the only notable standout). With themes of authenticity of both personhood and emotion, Zoe pales in comparison to Ex Machina and even Her, and you can’t quite forgive its shortcomings. I suppose movies are a little like robots in that, if you can’t make it better, why bother making it at all?

Tag

Tag is a movie about grown men playing tag. They’ve played every month of May for the past 30 years, since they were kids. They’re crazy competitive about it, and it rankles that Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one who’s never EVER been tagged. Not once. In 30 years. But this May Jerry’s getting married, and that seems to the rest of the gang (Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm) like the perfect opportunity to finally make him IT.

This movie is based on a true story, which sounds absurd except I knew a couple of brothers who did something similar – they played a game they dubbed Touch You Last (you can probably extrapolate what it involves) throughout their adulthood. In MV5BMjNjYzVkNmMtY2VhNC00ZDg2LTlkNmItMzYzOTI4NzIwYTQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMxMjkwMDg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_the movie, the guys find it a good excuse to get together and stay close well past the time that most friendships fall to the way side. Wives and girlfriends (Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Isla Fisher) are not allowed to play because they made the rules when they were 9 (no girls allowed) but over the years the game has been mythic and this year a reporter from The Wall Street Journal is following them around so the stakes are extra extra high and nothing, believe me NOTHING, is sacred.

The film is a mashup between comedy (hit or miss) and absurd and insane stunts that no grown, sane man should attempt in the name of a game of tag, or ever, unless a bear is chasing you AND you owe that bear money AND that bear has ties to organized crime AND your hair is on fire.

The script isn’t overly strong but there’s a lot of funny people in this (I might give the win to Hannibal Buress, who delivers a straight-faced one-liner like nobody’s business) so it does have its moments. It’s just not in danger for being mistaken for a classic, or, you know, an actual good movie. Which is not to say it’s bad. It’s just pretty content to be a medium-funny diversion which you may or may not wait to see as a rental rather than in theatres, where you damn well better make me laugh out loud.