Tag Archives: Streaming on Netflix

Light Of My Life

A man known only to us as Dad (Casey Affleck) is camping deep in the forest with his young daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky). Only it turns out they’re not so much “camping” as “hiding” and “surviving.” They’ve been doing it for so long that Rag, who’s about 10, has never really known other people. Their lives depend on escape plans and emergency contingencies; their home consists of whatever of their campsite they were able to shove into a sack before fleeing. Dad is paranoid about everyone. They take no chances.

Is this another Leave No Trace? Sort of. But with a bit of Bird Box mixed in. A “female plague” has decimated the female population, leaving the country in ruins. Rag is one of only few girls left, and her father is desperate to keep the secret. I could easily imagine the intense pressure of safe-guarding what is most precious to him. We are never without a sense of dread. It’s actually a bit difficult to watch because the tension is enormous – we are always anticipating the next threat around the corner, even when their lives are quite peaceable.

Written and directed by Affleck, he’s awfully fond of really long scenes in which he tells rambling, long-winded stories. Sean had more patience for this than I did. I preferred exploring the unique bond that crops up between father and daughter when they have no one else in the whole world, and what it does to a kid to grow up with such vague but serious threats: everyone is the enemy, even if she’s not yet old enough to understand what these “bad men” want with her. Her innocence rubs up against our own understanding of the hostility toward her. It’s an agonizing watch, really, brutal and brilliant, a dismaying test of ethics.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

I feel like a bad Canadian for even thinking this, but the truth is, I don’t like Jim Carrey. Well, to be fair I’ve never met the man; what I mean is, I don’t like his schtick. I don’t like his over-the-top, cartoony performances. And since he’s playing an actual cartoon character in this, How The Grinch Stole Christmas never really had a fair chance with me, never mind the fact that it skewers a venerated classic film that I grew up idolizing.

Jim Carrey plays The Grinch. He’s green, he’s hairy, and he’s very very mean. Except a little Whovillian named Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen) sees the good in him – wants to see the good in everyone – and nominates him to be Christmas cheer captain. He is coaxed down the mountain to accept his prize and things actually go fairly well – he gamely stuffs his face as Fudge Judge, wins a potato sack race, and is submitted to carol after carol after carol. But there’s at least one Whovillian who can’t quite accept his presence: Grinch’s childhood bully and current mayor of Whoville, Augustus Maywho. Maywho gives him a gift meant to humiliate and remind The Grinch of what caused him to flee up the mountain in the first place. With plenty of Whovillians joining in the laughter, The Grinch is once again flooded with shame, and this time he vows revenge. Just one catch: little Cindy Lou isn’t quite ready to give up on him.

Tim Burton was attached to direct this for a long time but eventually the studio settled on Ron Howard, who does his best to deliver something Burton-esque. It’s not nearly as dark as Burton would have gone (in fact they got out of their way to establish The Grinch as a sympathetic character) but Howard steps out of his comfort zone in terms of visual style. Whoville becomes a smorgasbord of Christmas cheer; there’s eve a machine gun that helps Christmas be vomited all over town. It’s an abundance that’s hard to ignore: production counts over 8000 ornaments, exactly 1938 candy canes, 152 000 pounds of fake snow, and 6 miles of styrofoam used to create sets. Sean and I actually saw some of these sets on the Universal backlot tour, just behind the Bates Motel from Psycho. During production, Jim Carrey put on a dress and grabbed a knife and ran screaming from the house, scaring the pants off a bunch of tourists who failed to recognize him at the time. Otherwise his days were pretty miserable, spending 2 hours to get into costume, and another hour just to get out. The latex suit was covered in yak hair dyed green. But when you watch the movie, you’ll appreciate just how many other character underwent extensive hair and makeup routines. This movie actually has the most extensively make-upped and costumed cast since The Wizard of Oz – 443 costumes were created by wardrobe, and on busy days, 45 make-up artists were working at once. So if I’m not exactly giving Jim Carrey credit for a job well done, I do think production design (art director Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell) deserve some accolades, along with costume designer Rita Ryack, plus hair stylist Gail Ryan and make-up artist Rick Baker who received his 6th of 7 Oscars for this film

Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Tim Curry were considered to play The Grinch, and I think we should all spend at least 10 minutes today thinking about what those movies would have looked like. The truth is, Jim Carrey is probably a good choice for the role. Who else could pull off a costume that essentially has The Grinch running around “naked” a lot of the time, his private area conveniently covered by a suspiciously large tuft of hair. Jim Carrey and Ron Howard both wanted to make a very kid-friendly movie but thanks to studio interference, there’s a bit of raunchiness in the film that may surprise you. The love interest between The Grinch and Martha May (Christine Baranski) is surprisingly sexual. In fact, it’s safe to say that those Whos are pretty pervy, generally speaking. But there’s lots of base humour and visual gags to get you through, and very small children probably won’t pick up on lots of the adult-oriented stuff. Still, it may be hard for those of us familiar with the original made-for-TV movie to really embrace this one. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is probably best left to the kids.

 

The Duchess

While the children are outside playing, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) and Charles (Dominic Cooper) among them, Georgiana’s mother is inside, brokering her daughter’s marriage to a man she’s met but twice. She’s not 18 yet but the match will make her a duchess, and by her mother’s standards, that’s more than enough.

Georgiana is so young that she’s actually surprised when the marriage to the much older Duke (Ralph Fiennes) turns out not to be filled with warmth and happiness. He only cares that she produces a male child, and her failure to do so is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, he saddles her with children he’s conceived elsewhere, the least well-kept secret in all of England. And though she’s turned a blind eye to every indiscretion, when he beds her only friend and moves her into their home, it all gets to be a bit too much. With no other option, Georgiana must tolerate it, as she tolerates all else. None of her hats and dresses can make her happy so she does the only thing she can: she takes a lover. Remember childhood friend Charles? Georgiana certainly does.

I saw this streaming on Netflix and was surprised I hadn’t seen it. Now that I have, I’m less surprised. I didn’t need this in my life. It’s not bad, it’s just very generic. It feels like a movie I’ve seen before and it even, in some ways, reminded me of another Keira Knightley film, Colette. It’s a period drama with a very slight feminist bent. She discovers sex! Turns out, it’s not all about your husband raping you until pregnant. Sometimes it even feels good. There. I spoiled it for you. Sorry/not sorry. It’s a literal bodice ripper (and such a shame, the hair and costumes are the only real thing this movie has going for it) – if it was a book it would be a Harlequin, with Fabio on the cover, and I’d feel much more embarrassed about having read it. Instead I’m mostly just mildly annoyed. Georgiana is apparently a distant relative of Princess Diana so the film was marketed using the Diana angle as heavily as it could (“There were three people in her marriage”) for a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with her. Shameless, of course, but when your film’s this bland, what else can you do? Ralph Fiennes’ stockings aren’t exactly selling tickets.

 

The Star

In nearly every church staging of the nativity story, some beatific, well-behaved little girl is cast as Mary, some lucky boy as her Joseph, and then about 30 of their friends as various sheep and camels and goats and whatnot (in Love Actually, Emma Thompson is surprised to learn there was not just one lobster but several, plus an octopus and a Spider-Man) – the point is, there are lots of kids and very few roles, so they’ve always been padded out with the animal brethren likely to be hanging around a manger.

In this particular retelling of the nativity story, the humans take a back seat to the animals; for once, they’re the stars, especially a brave young miniature donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun). Bo dreams about being in the royal caravan but in fact is locked up in a mill grinding grain all day. His buddy Dave, a dove (Keegan-Michael Key), eggs him on.

Meanwhile, Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) are celebrating their wedding feast and about to have a VERY awkward conversation. Boy is she relieved when a wayward runaway donkey crashes the party and gives her a few minutes’ reprieve. Anyway, eventually she and Joseph start their trek to Bethlehem and Bo and Dave find a helpful sheep named Ruth (Aidy Bryant) to lead the way and help Bo with a Lassie moment.

Meanwhile, a trio camels (Tyler Perry, Oprah, Tracy Morgan) belonging to the three wisemen are also having a moment trying to get their human cargo to a baby foretold by the stars.

Every nativity scene you’ve ever seen has a donkey. Now you’ll actually appreciate him.

The Star is actually a charming little movie full of big voice talent and quirky little moments to make your season bright.

Phil

Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?

If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?

I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?

Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?

Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.

Only The Brave

Fire is scary as hell and I think societally we’ve all agreed that it’s better not to die in or around one. But some people make their livings alongside it. Are they the brave ones? Sure, some of them. But in my experience, not exclusively. Like any profession, there are some who are called to it and others who are there for the paycheque and while that’s inevitable, it’s also not ideal if you’re running into a life-threatening situation and counting on that guy to not fuck your shit up.

Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) has put together a crew of hot shots, which is apparently what they call the elite firemen who battle dangerous, raging forest fires. I have not used the word fireman since I was 4, but there’s no other kind in this movie. There are only 3 kinds of careers for women in this movie: 1. wife 2. baby mama 3. porn star.

As the Granite Mountain Hotshots are finally about to qualify, they swell their ranks to take on several rookies, including Brendan (Miles Teller), who’s got some issues, and not just that he calls his mother dude, but I’d say that’s chief among them. He’s a classic fuckup but he’s also ripe for a father figure, so this career path is only half as stupid as it seems.

Only The Brave is based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as they took on the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. It has one of the highest mustache ratios you’ve seen on screen this century, and the movie has annoying habit of sounding like it’s being written in Michael Bay slogans (it’s based on a GQ article, so, you know). Miles Teller is sporting a blond look and someone either bleached his eyebrows or shaved the damn things off so it looks like he’s already lost them in a fire, which sort of takes the fun of forest fires if you know what I mean. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to boil your blood: just boys being boys, by which I mean bros being dumbasses, trying to out-testosterone each other with feats of extreme stupidity.

It’s not all bad; Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges are solid and dependable, and sometimes the story is affecting in a sparse kind of way. But it lost me during its rah-rah-heroes shit and a lot of the time I just felt pretty eye-rolly about it.

Benjamin

This intervention is classy as fuck. I mean, how often do you see hors d’oeuvres at these things?

Ed (Bob Saget) smelled crystal meth through his teenage son’s door and panicked. He has assembled what can only be described as a rag-tag game of misfits to confront his son and force him into rehab…IF he has a problem, which Ed is still loathe to admit. Aunt Clarice (Chery Oteri) and Uncle Mitch (Dave Foley) haven’t seen him since he was a baby. Ed’s BBF, a doctor also named Ed (Rob Corddry) will lead the way despite the fact that he’s an OB-GYN. Jeanette (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is running the whole thing, though she prefers to emphasize her girlfriend part of her credentials rather than assistant. Benjamin’s sister Amber brings a date, and a spare, and is mostly there to antagonize her father. It is unclear who put together the guest list, but the guest list was their first mistake. It was not their last.

Long story short: these people may be bigger fuckups than the kid they’re intervening, and without any moral superiority, it’s hard to sustain authority. Ya know?

Bob Saget is not a good enough actor to be allowed to direct himself (and yet here we are). I’m not saying he’s the worst part of this but…he is. He totally is. And there are a LOT of broken parts. Danny Tanner would have done a better job and – dare I say it – he would have been less corny. Saget might have one of the most recognizable faces on the shoddiest piece of work: total amateur hour. How was Full House his prime? How on earth do you go downhill from America’s Funniest Home Videos? Benjamin styles itself as a dark comedy but you know what’s problematic about that? I didn’t hear anyone laughing.