We’re celebrating Queer, Black, Female voices in Hollywood. It’s still Pride Month, people, drop us a Thumbs Up and show you care!
Happy Disney+ day, everyone!
I know it wasn’t available worldwide on November 12 but it was here in Canada, which just happened to be our travel day home from Disney World where we saw lots of evidence that Disney is putting some major marketing power behind this streaming service. The Mandalorian, the Star Wars episodic series that debuted today, was publicized everywhere with flags and posters and merch – particularly in Hollywood Studios where Galaxy’s Edge calls home. And alongside standard Lady and Tramp stuffed animals were new models, based on the live-action dogs featured in Disney+’s original programming.
Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) gives his Darling wife (Kiersey Clemons) a puppy for Christmas, a lovely and darling little cocker spaniel she names Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) who immediately lives up to the moniker. She enjoys a very cosy life nestled between her two favourite humans and can’t imagine life getting any better. But then she meets a street dog who goes by a lot of names but we’ll call Tramp (Justin Theroux). Tramp reveals that life is about to change and not for the better – Darling is about to have a baby, and everyone knows that when baby moves in, the dog moves out. Lady doesn’t want to believe it but of course when baby arrives, she is no longer the centre of her masters’ universe.
Sean and I had just suffered through the inevitable travel day that always puts an unfortunate end on every vacation (waking up at 4:15am is always brutal, particularly when poor Sean was up past midnight purchasing a whole additional suitcase to hold all the souvenirs we bought our niece and nephews, but since we had a relatively easy commute home via a direct flight that came in under 3 hours and Matt had 2 connections and hours of delays resulting in 14 hours of travel, it’s rude to complain…the snow, however, was morally depleting no matter how long you’d traveled to reach it). No matter how tired we are when we walk in that door, we have 4 little pups who celebrate our homecoming like we just won the Superbowl or walked on the moon. If they had access to ticker tape, we’d be hip-deep.
That said, we were cuddled in bed with our 4 4-legged friends (that’s 20 legs if you count ours) by mid-afternoon and were soon watching the newest and finest that Disney+ had to offer. I always find it hard to be away from my pups and this vacation was particularly rough because on our very first day away our dog sitter texted me pictures of bloody stool and I worried for 10 days straight (everyone seems fine). Anyway, I’d been lonesome for my little loves and this movie made me quite emotional.
Perhaps it lacks the sparkle that the first one had, and I’m not 100% convinced real-looking talking dogs (or any animals) is a good ideas, but it’s here, but it’s kind of sweet and it’s a safe family pick. Plus, keeping the antique setting is a lovely excuse for the most sumptuous sets and costumes.
And with some interesting voice work by Tessa Thomspon, a delightfully cast Sam Elliott, and a racist song replaced by a new ditty co-written by Janelle Monae. This updated Lady and The Tramp isn’t a huge hit but it isn’t a miss either – I think it’s worth a watch, especially for dog lovers who just can’t help themselves.
Zach Galifianakis is our tour guide as we enjoy a behind the scenes look at the set of his wildly successful talk show, Between Two Ferns. It’s completely fake of course. And wonderful.
Zach’s “show” is a series of web videos you can find literally anywhere on the internet but most of all on Funny or Die. It looks like a bit of amateur public access television that somehow manages to book very high profile celebrities and seat them betwixt the eponymous two potted ferns. He has interviewed the biggest names: Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, even Obama, but the thing that makes people seek out his videos is that he uses it as an excuse to insult celebrities to their face. He uses his own name but the interviewer character is extremely antagonistic and recklessly inappropriate. As Will Ferrell states, we’re laughing at him, not with him.
The movie’s premise, which is as thin as they come, is just Zach hitting the road in order to film 10 rapid-succession shows in order to achieve his ultimate goal of a network late night show. The plot, if you want to call it that, is flimsy because it’s just a vehicle for random acts of bizarre humour. You either like it or you don’t. It’s on Netflix so it’s low risk, but this is not going to win over any new fans and isn’t trying to. It’s just a 10 course dinner rather than its usual light snack. Can you take that much fern? Can anyone?
“People find you unpleasant,” this according to David Letterman, and he’s putting it lightly. This version of Zach Galifianakis is an asshole, but that’s the fun of his little show: it subverts the usual softball style of celebrity interviews. It looks Jon Hamm straight in the eye and asks whether Bradley Cooper’s success “will open doors for other hot idiots?” If you think it must be hard to get those insults out while remaining deadpan, stay tuned through the credits for proof.
When did aliens become so boring? In Men in Black: International, everyone is trying to out-deadpan Tommy Lee Jones, and succeeding. There is no excitement, no awe, just a bunch of bored white men joined by a bored diversity hire, all bumbling around England, Paris, and Morocco trying to save the world from an unseen alien menace after an alien prince is killed but not before delivering a MacGuffin to MiB’s newest agent (Tessa Thompson).
As the first three MiB films showed, it can be fun to have one disinterested agent in our lead duo. But those films worked because Will Smith’s junior agent brought enough energy and wonder for the two of them. They worked because Smith’s Agent J was the audience’s stand in, who marvelled and freaked out at the marvelous and freaky stuff onscreen. And also, they worked because for all his surface gruffness, Agent K was actually quite an interesting character, and Jones let us see that just enough to make us invest in him. Unfortunately, MiB:I’s H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) both have seen it all before, and even worse, so has the audience. So everyone ends up being disinterested, including the viewer.
The aliens and events in MiB:I simply don’t measure up to what the franchise has previously offered us. The aliens are bland and the stakes are surprisingly low consindering our heroes keep telling us their job is to save the world. Basically, it’s the opposite of what is expected from a summer blockbuster. The only joy in the film comes from Kumail Nanjiani’s pint-sized sidekick, who has all the best lines and whose hilarity highlights the disappointing blandness of everything else.
MiB:I simply has nothing to offer and no reason to be. That’s a particularly damning critique when this franchise’s defining trait has been ridiculousness. MiB:I didn’t need to be a good movie, but it did need to be silly, loud, and campy. Instead, it’s forgettable and unoriginal to the point that I’d have been better off rewatching any of its predecessors. I’m sure they’d have offered more surprises on a rewatch than MiB:I did on my first (and undoubtedly only) viewing.
When The Avengers aren’t fighting crime on screen, they’re often teaming up to do other movies. Here, a totally non-exhaustive list, so feel free to contribute your own in the comments.
Zodiac: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (RDJ) hunt a serial killer, with future Spider-man villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Tsk tsk.
Wind River: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Oslen) risk frostbite in this thriller.
I Saw The Light: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get their
cowboy boots on in this country-western send-up to Hank Williams.
Infinitely Polar Bear: I totally recommend this film about how a bipolar diagnosis affects a family, starring The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
Men In Black 4: This one is not technically out yet, but could we be more excited to see a movie starring Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)???
Her: This is a super cerebral movie about a man falling in love with the voice of an operating system (Scarlett Johansson) – look carefully and you’ll also see Star-Lord himself (Chris Pratt).
Sunshine: Danny Boyle assembles a team of astronauts to save the dying sun, among them Captain America (Chris Evans), Guardians Vol. 2’s Aleta Ogord (Michelle Yeoh), Endgame’s Akihiko (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Doctor’s Strange’s right hand man, Wong (Benedict Wong).
American Hustle: David O. Russell recruits the voice of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man’s best pal Luis (Michael Pena).
Traffic: This is a really interesting and complicated movie about the war on drugs, by Steven Soderbergh, and just wait til you hear how it criss-crosses the MCU: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) star, with War Machine
(Don Cheadle) making an appearance also. Bonus level: Miguel Ferrer, Iron Man 3’s Vice President Rodriguez.
Chef: Beloved Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) plays the eponymous Chef, and is joined onscreen by pals Ironman (Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Antman’s daughter’s stepdad, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale).
Creed: Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) met his fate in Black Panther, but Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) gets to snuggle up in Creed.
Sherlock Holmes (TV): Although they never teamed up in the MCU, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) teams up with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is this addictive detective series.
Sherlock Holmes (movie): On film, Sherlock is played by none other than Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.), and his faithful Watson by evil Kree Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). What an odd pairing!
Unicorn Store: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are reunited and it feels so good. And this time they’re getting a unicorn! Yes, a real one. Jackson’s wardrobe is cotton candy for the soul, complete with tinsel-weaved wigs. Must see, currently streaming on Netflix.
Marshall: Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman) plays Thurgood Marshall alongside N’jobu, Killmonger’s slain father from the same film (Sterling K. Brown).
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Captain America (Chris Evans) use their powers for evil instead of good – Larson playing rock star Envy Adams, Scott’s ex-girlfriend, and Evans playing action star Lucas Lee, one of Ramona’s seven evil exes. This is a fun one to re-visit, as it is written and directed by Edgar Wright, who also wrote the screenplay to Ant-Man.
Wonder Boys: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Ironman (Downey Jr.) make an uneasy alliance in this Michael Chabon adaptation.
13 Going On 30: The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was surprised to learn that Captain Marvel (Larson) makes an appearance in this film as a mean girl in high school!
In the Heart of the Sea: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes Spidey (Tom Holland) under his wing in this Moby Dick retelling.
Isle of Dogs: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets her voice on in this Wes Anderson animated film, alongside GrandMaster Flash (Jeff Goldblum) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).
The MCU is super incestuous. I bet you can think of many more!
Since Ryan Coogler was busy making Black Panther, Sylvester Stallone took back the writing responsibilities (with Juel Taylor) for the eighth instalment of the Rocky franchise. As a result, Creed II is as much a continuation of 1985’s Rocky IV as a sequel to 2015’s stellar Creed and as much Rocky’s story as Adonis Creed’s.
In Creed II, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has won six bouts in a row and is about to fight Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler for the world title. Creed wins the fight and then, shortly after, proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and she says yes! At that point, Creed should be on top of the world but he’s about to learn that the championship belt is heavier than it looks, because he’s now the target of a bunch of wanna-be champs, including a Russian whose father killed Creed’s dad in Rocky IV. Creed will need Rocky’s help to beat the younger Drago, who so far has brutally beaten every boxer he’s gone up against.
Rocky’s part in this story is an important one. In fact, several pivotal events that happen to Creed are shown from Rocky’s point of view, suggesting this is Rocky’s franchise again. Which makes sense when Rocky himself is writing the story.
Is that a bad thing? Kind of, which is hard for me to say as a fan of the Rocky franchise. There’s something magical about the super cheesy and entirely predictable Rocky lovefests from Rocky II through to Rocky Balboa (Rocky is excluded because being the original, it is only predictable in retrospect). And Creed II captures that same magic at all the right moments. It’s a solid addition to this four-decade-old franchise.
But it’s a step back from Creed and that regression is further proof of Ryan Coogler’s genius (as if we needed any). With the first Creed, Coogler took the Rocky franchise in a new direction and included a ton of callbacks that riffed on the original formula without feeling derivative.
Unfortunately, Creed II doesn’t ever get to that same level because it is content to recycle the tried and true Rocky formula: a win at the outset, followed by a setback at an opponent’s hands, and then after a super-sweet training montage, a well-earned victory over that same opponent. Creed II executes that formula as well as any of the Rocky-titled films, but it never separates itself from that pack. Rocky fans will leave Creed II satisfied, but fans of Creed may be in for a bit of a letdown.
It’s a bad time for corrections officer Nicole Stevens (Tessa Thompson) to get away. It’s always a bad time. She lives with her mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and cares for her round the clock when she’s not at work. But go away she must. A prisoner’s mother is dying and Joan (Melissa Leo) has a 36 hour death bed visitation furlough coming – supervised by poor, beleaguered Officer Stevens.
C.O. Stevens is distracted, and Joan is a master manipulator, determined to squeeze every last drop out of this respite. The trains and buses upon which they rely are predictably unpredictable, and Stevens is just a little too trusting, a little too good-hearted. Joan does not have this problem.
You watch this movie with dread, knowing something is going to happen, something bad, and you almost don’t want it to. Despite Joan’s self-centered assholeness, you kind of buy into this ultimate odd-couple road trip. It will be sad to see it end.
Tessa Thompson is all kinds of wonderful. She’s overwhelmed by the assignment but too dutiful to refuse. She’s a caretaker who wants to see the best in everyone. Joan has lived a hard life, the details of which are only hinted at. We don’t know how long she’s been locked up, but she sucks in fresh air like it’s in limited supply, so I believe it has been a while. She’s shifty and nervy and she pushes Stevens’ buttons. She pushes MY buttons. And yet Leo gives her just enough charm that we can’t quite write her off. Whoopi has a smallish role but it’s kind of great to see her on screen.
Director Laurie Collyer knows she’s got us hooked based on the cast alone, and the movie doesn’t quite live up to its promise. It feels slight. It does a gender flip and a race flip but still winds up feeling less than 48 Hrs. Leo isn’t really up for the over-the-top comedy, and the movie fails to shift gears to accommodate dramatic moments. It’s a good try that doesn’t quite pan out. For me, it’s totally worth it to bask in Thompson’s radiance for an hour and a half, and since it’s on Netflix, there’s not much to lose.
I hardly know how to talk about a movie like this.
Ostensibly it’s about “telemarketing” but that’s like saying Toy Story is about single parenting. It’s really about racism and assimilation and wage slavery and identity – by way of telemarketing, at least to start.
Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is thrilled to get a shitty telemarketing job, working for commission. There’s almost no way to actually succeed doing this kind of work, but Cassius stumbles upon the secret, magic key: a white voice. A persuasive, approachable, overconfident voice, like Tobias Funke’s, perhaps. Using this voice, Cassius shoots straight to the top, rocketing past his buddies and even his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) who are trying to organize a union that will help the little guys make a living wage too.
On top, Cassius is of course hypnotized by the wealth and privilege, but now that he’s rubbing elbows with “the man”, he’s finding it’s a little different than he’d imagined. “The man” is of course Armie Hammer, like you ever fucking doubted it. Hammer was literally born to be typecast as a slave owner – his great-grandfather was a legit oil tycoon and philanthropist, and the family is worth somewhere in the neighbourhood of $200M. So yeah, he’s got owning slaves in his blood, and we can all read it in his cheekbones. In Sorry To Bother You, he plays a CEO who is “saving the world” by enslaving all the poor people and making them thank him for it. Signing a contract, they agree to work wage-free for him forever in exchange for housing (which looks surprisingly like prison cells minus the bars but with double the roommates) and food.
And everything is just gently pushing you. Pushing your boundaries, almost imperceptibly. In the beginning, things are near normal but they escalate, asking us to accept just one more inch of absurdity. It is THE best kind of satire, uncompromising but plenty challenging.
First-time writer-director Boots Riley has made a film that is gutsy and experimental. It feels like this is a guy who isn’t sure he’ll ever get to do this again, so he’s not leaving a single idea on the table. He takes huge risks and when they pay off, hot damn. Sorry To Bother you zigs and zags in unexpected places but the super talented cast helps this thing stay grounded. Riley is full of piss and vinegar and a comic outrage that’s infection. This is bold stuff, exciting to watch, fearless, outrageous, and I want more. Not for the faint of heart.
Kane’s been missing for a year when he suddenly turns up at the home he shares with his wife, Lena, hemorrhaging blood. He’s been deployed on a top-secret mission that Lena can’t fully understand even as she’s recruited to join the next one. Of the dozens of men deployed, Kane is the only one to return, and he’s just waiting to die of organ failure.
Three years ago, something mysterious happened to a nearby lighthouse, which has been enveloped in a “shimmer”, a danger zone inside which terrible things are happening and from which no one returns. The zone is growing daily, and their own city will be overtaken if they don’t figure it out soon. So Lena (Natalie Portman) joins the next mission, the first one to be all-female, an expert biologist but also just a wife wondering why her husband would sign up for a suicide mission. She joins a group of women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny) highly trained but with nothing to lose as they enter what is likely to be their last mission.
Inside, every living thing has been transformed. Mutations have made some things astonishingly beautiful, and other things the stuff of nightmares (imagine an alligator-shark hybrid). And now those things are also taking on human DNA.
Director Alex Garland took on human uniqueness in Ex Machina and further explores the subject here. When they are reflected back on us in other living things, which of our traits make us truly special, truly human? It’s a scary question. Garland continues to excel in the creepy, quiet moments between the splashier, gorier stuff. His style throws us off-kilter even as the visuals delight. The audience is continuously confronted with questions to chew on while scary monsters breathe down our goose-pimpled necks. Alex Garland is clearly a talented sci-fi film maker, and even if you leave the theatre confused, you won’t be able to let it go.
For fans of the novel, by Jeff VanderMeer, don’t go in too attached. Garland chose not to re-read the book before embarking upon the script, so the movie turns out more a distant cousin of the book rather than a faithful adaptation. In fact, the details I remembered most from the book were absent; clearly Garland and I latched on to different themes. But the essence remains, the terror remains, the curiosity remains. Annihilation doesn’t exist just to scare you, it wants to challenge you. This is a bold film that doesn’t fit inside any comfortable Hollywood mold. The studio is crapping its pants because it think the movie’s too “cerebral” for us folk. But you know what? Embracing the unknown can be freeing. And exploring these concepts with women as our protagonists, free from macho bullshit, allow us to also experience these things for their beauty and their terror at the same time. Portman’s character is remote, unreachable. Rather, Thompson and Rodriguez provide the most emotional heft as their characters contemplate the most gorgeous and familiar of mysteries.
I left this movie shaken.
Two buddy detectives (Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard) are corrupt as hell and enjoy bashing skulls together as they extort the hell out of any vague criminal sort that crosses paths with them. But that’s a really good way to meet some really bad people, and eventually, they do.
It takes all of 4 minutes to realize that this movie is not going to live up to even modified expectations. The dialogue is surprisingly bad, perhaps because writer-director John Michael McDonagh, capable of Calvary, is instead treating this like he’s writing on spec for straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler.
The good news is that both Pena and Skarsgard look pretty darn good in three piece suits. The fault is not with them – I don’t think anyone could survive this kind of sloppy writing. I think I see what McDonagh is aiming for: salty, quippy, something like Apatow meets Tarantino. Not only does it fail to live up to either of those names, it’s forgettable even as you’re watching it. It may as well never have been made. And it never justifies itself. 97 minutes later, I still can’t even account for the 70s porn music that unironically accompanied random car chase scenes, and I definitely can’t decide which of the villains is most laughable. I guess you might find it passably enjoyable if you’re in the right mood, but I am decidedly not. This shit just feels tone deaf.