Tag Archives: the 70s

Growing Up Smith

Smith Bhatnagar is a little Indian boy who moves to America with his family and falls in love with it immediately. It doesn’t necessarily fall in love with him back. It’s small town America circa 1979 and the neighbours aren’t super welcoming. The ones right across the street though are a real source of curiosity for him: Amy, the literal girl-next-door, is crush-worthy…too bad his family already has a wife lined up for him back home. Amy’s father (Jason Lee), quintessentially American, is also endlessly fascinating to him.

MV5BMjA2NzYzMDc1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTA0MzgyNzE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,754_AL_Smith is so named because it was the most American name his father could bestow. But as much as he and his teenage sister embrace their new lifestyle, their parents are more tepid. They’re chasing the American Dream but wish to protect their Indian culture as well. Furthermore, even as hard as they may try, they’re never getting things quite right. This is a real moment in time from an immigrant’s perspective, written by someone who knows the process, Anjul Nigam, Indian-born, who also plays Smith’s father.

Growing Up Smith is crowd-pleasing and wholesome. Roni Akurati is full of energy and zeal as the titular character. He’s immediately full of charm, with an irresistible smile and oodles of pluck. Good thing too: though the film doesn’t exactly get dark, Smith does face hardships as he pursues an authentic American childhood. There’s plenty of zany, fish out of water adventures, but some heart-felt moments of truth as well. It plays it safe though, sticking to rather obvious culture clash stuff. This is not a piercing, gritty look at the immigrant experience, rather something that’s been spit-shined with 70s nostalgia.

 

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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!

20th Century Women

1979: three women. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is an older single mother of a teenaged son who she fears is missing out on some seminal influences, so she enlists his precocious friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and her free spirit\punk photographer tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to “it takes a village” him.

If 20th Century Women isn’t as concerned with being an accurate reflection of the times, it’s a fucking brilliant portraiture. The characters, expertly drawn by writer-director Mike 20th-century-women-annette-benningMills, feel very much like real people because their problems are so distinct. The women don’t bleed into each other; they are each accorded with specific neuroses, anxieties, passions, and influences. We know a little about how they were born, and how they will die, but mostly we know how they are living. 20th Century Women is not plot-driven; nothing “happens” except truth is revealed through meticulous character study.

It helps, of course, to have Annette Bening on board. She’s the reason we’re watching. Her performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. I have been rooting all awards-season long for Natalie Portman in Jackie but having seen this, it will be difficult to go back. Bening treats this movie like a masterclass in acting. Nothing is showy or extraneous. In fact, some of her most brilliant times on screen are in perfect silence, with just the wrinkle of her brow or the droop of her shoulder or some awkward middle-aged dancing communicating all we need to know. Fanning and Gerwig are really quite good as well, but I only know that from the scenes which Bening sits out. If she’s onscreen, my eyes are glued to her. She’s always been this watchable, it’s just been a while since she’s had a role that was equal to her.

Mills’ affection for his characters is evident in their quirkiness. 20th Century Women is funnier than it has to be. Since I’m a strict non-talker at the movies, I tend to communicate approval through hand squeezes. I felt like I’d done a lot of squeezing by the end of the movie, even a little eye-catching and eyebrow lifting, which is probably moot in a dark theatre, but I was feeling magnanimous!  Sean concurred, which I think is an even thumbnail_25085better endorsement for a film that couldn’t be further from his own experience. And that’s what’s so remarkable. Though its genius is in the details, the specificity of the characters, it’s all somehow very relatable. And any movie that’s also a mirror is definitely worth its salt.

How to Change the World

From How to Change the World’s title, you may be expecting a self-help documentary or at least a few useful life tips. If that’s the case, look elsewhere. The subjects of this documentary do not in any way seem qualified to dispense that sort of wisdom, nor are they interested in doing so.

How to Change the World tells the story of Greenpeace’s founders. They were (/are) a bunch of hippies, 99% white males, and absolutely unqualified for the job. They couldn’t agree on much as a small group and then when film of their anti-whaling stunts gave them fame/notoriety, they how to change 1completely imploded. Protests are aborted, physical injuries are sustained, lawsuits are commenced (Greenpeace v. Greenpeace!), turncoats are identified, and shots are taken liberally at one another. Essentially, it’s an episode of Big Brother starring a bunch of 65-year-old grouches.

That sort of thing normally does not appeal to me. Still, I found How to Change the World very interesting for several reasons.

First, the amount of footage these hippies compiled in the 1970s is astounding and makes the film feel alive. We do not just hear interviews about their adventures, we see these escapades on screen, and that makes this movie extremely easy to watch (aside from the awkwardness of the in-fighting) as well as entertaining (possibly because of all the awkward in-fighting!).how-to-change-the-world-3

Second, the rise and fall of this branch of Greenpeace is a fascinating study of the effect of fame. Most of the conflict we see seems to arise out of the external attention and accompanying pressure this group faces after they hit it big. Not that they all get along at the start (they don’t, even then they fight regularly), but initially they can look past those disagreements because they are agreed on the bigger goal. But once there are no clear goals, or too many, the interpersonal issues take centre stage. It doesn’t help that none of these guys is remotely qualified to run a multinational organization, but it sure adds fuel to the fire!

Third, it is remarkable to see the different paths these characters take after their initial adventures. The conflict between the turncoat and the injured member in particular is given a whole new perspective by movie’s end.

Overall, I enjoyed How to Change the World even though I was frequently annoyed or exasperated by these characters, especially by the pseudo-philosophical musings of the journalist-turned-leader of this motley crew. The fact the movie overcame that annoyance says a lot about the content. How to Change the World is well put together and it feels very honest, which makes it feel real.

I give How to Change the World a score of seven bumbling hippies out of ten.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (An Extremely Non-Spoilerrific Review)

Sean’s from the 70s.  Jay is an 80s chick. Sean is kind of a nerd.  Jay, not so much.  Sean saw Star Wars: A New Hope (though he still just calls it, “Star Wars”) at least 20 times before his eighth birthday.  Jay had never seen any Star Wars movie until this past weekend.  So what did they think of Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Sean: As a kid, I always loved Star Wars.  I’m at the younger end of the Star Wars generation since I never knew a world without it.  Too young to see the first two in theatres, I caught up by Return of the Jedi thanks to the miracle of VCRs and HBO showing Star Wars around the clock in 1983 (and I kept watching it over and over every chance I got).  Star Wars felt like it belonged to me since it was happening just as I was growing up and learning what movies were.  And because of my age I was still young enough to not be at all cynical about product placement or Ewoks by the time Return of the Jedi rolled around.  To my seven year old self, it was all positive that Return of the Jedi served firstly as a mechanism to manufacture more toys and second as a conclusion to my favourite movie series.

luke skywalker return of the jedi

My two favourites: Luke in his Jedi robe (though I kept losing the lightsaber)…

leia return of the jedi

…and Leia as a bounty hunter (though I always was looking for that goddamn helmet too)!

The only negative was that I had to convince my parents to buy all those action figures and vehicles, but fortunately I was a very spoiled kid so I got more than my share (but sadly, not the amazing Imperial Shuttle, though I’m over the disappointment, I swear).  It helped that I was willing to do pretty much anything to “earn” more toys, whether it was mowing the lawn or painting the deck or saving my proofs of purchase from other toys so I could send away for the Emperor!

The prequels were a whole other matter.  I was so disappointed to see how boring Darth Vader’s backstory was on screen, as opposed to how awesome it had been in my head, having patched it together through whatever references were offered by the original trilogy.  And I don’t think it was the 16 year gap in between, since even in university I was perfectly happy to watch the original trilogy over and over (and I wasn’t alone, my roommates and I would often spend Saturday afternoons watching all three back-to-back-to-back).   Anyway, even though I was still am mad about the prequels’ wasted potential, I watched all three, even seeing the last one in theatres.

Which leads us to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Having really enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, and since chronologically we could sort of forget the prequels ever happened, I have had high hopes for The Force Awakens ever since it was announced.  And Jay was nice enough to track down tickets even though she could not have been less excited to see it.

Jay: The only exposure I’ve had to Star Wars was a set of sheets I inherited from my cousin Tim, who’s a decade or more older than I am.

The infamous Star Wars sheets. I also had a flannel blanket but we buried my dead dog in it.

The infamous Star Wars sheets. I also had a flannel blanket but we buried my dead dog in it.

I guess he grew out of his single bed so I got his sheets, and spent a good deal of my youth sleeping with Harrison Ford. Plus, I exist in the world. I haven’t seen the movies, but I’ve seen plenty of stuff that references them, so I almost didn’t have to. I can never remember if C-3PO is the big gold robot or the little blue and white one, but I know it’s a robot. It’s just that the Star Wars universe never appealed to me. Science fiction will always have to work harder to convince me, and so will movies with talking animals, green aliens, and make-believe weapons.

So no, I hadn’t seen Star Wars, and I really didn’t care to. My life felt perfectly complete without it, and to be honest, I think 2015 is already way too inundated with movies that are meant for young boys but consumed by grown men (I’m looking at you, Marvel). But I could see that this movie meant something to Sean. It was a revival of his childhood, a tribute to his youthful imagination, and a chance for the franchise’s redemption after the last trilogy sullied things up. Kevin Smith said he cried when he visited the set of the Millennium Falcon because it reminded him of that feeling he’d had for it as a child. And how many times do we really get to recapture those magical feelings once we’re grown up? Not too damn many. It did nothing for me, I wasn’t even curious about it, but I resolved to be by Sean’s side when the portal to his boyhood opened up on the big screen before him.

And you know what? I didn’t hate it. I was enchanted by John Boyega’s Finn and the arc of his character. I had fun slotting together the puzzle pieces of Star Wars trivia I’ve picked up over the years (mostly from The Simpsons, I think) and seeing how they translated 30 years later. I was charmed by Harrison Ford’s rapport with the furry beast Chewbacca. And I felt the momentum of the piece really drove me forward and kept .facebook_1450656563309me interested despite the fact that I was jumping in blind for movie #7. So I was feeling pretty juiced about it, squeezed Sean’s hand during all the parts I thought he must be loving, and had plenty of follow up questions for our car ride home. But you know what? When the credits rolled and I looked over at Sean expecting to see rapture, he shrugged his shoulders. It was okay, he thought, but not great. Not even as good as Creed – not even as good as “The Avengers” he said – “Wait- there was an Avengers movie this year, right?” He couldn’t even remember if there was an Avengers movie this year, but if there was, it was better than this.

Ladies and gentlemen: Sean’s lacklustre response FUCKING BROKE MY HEART. Here I had drummed it up as this Big Fucking Deal and it’s not even going to crack his top ten this year.

Sean: I had no idea Jay was so invested in this, for my sake.   And she’s invested in everything I’m interested in, she’s amazing like that.  I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My complaints about it are minor and spoilery so I won’t get into them here, but it’s a solid movie and objectively I would rank it third out of the Star Wars movies, behind A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (yes, ahead of Return of the Jedi as a standalone movie).  That seemed like a ringing endorsement but Jay was expecting more and after reading her thoughts above, I understand why.

let's blow this thing and go home

“You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home.” BEST. SCENE. EVER.

This should have been my thing, it should have taken me back to my childhood, it should have sucked me in and made me talk about it for days, and it didn’t.  As a gateway/jumping on point for the next generation of fans/consumers, The Force Awakens works really well.  As fan service, it ticks all the boxes and I don’t think that anyone who anticipated like I did will leave the theatre disappointed, exactly.  But you know what?   This all felt like something I’ve seen before (twice) and I’ve seen it BETTER before (twice).  I’m not trying to be a contrarian asshole (just a regular asshole) when I say that if J.J. Abrams was shooting for greatness, he missed the mark here.  Paying tribute to the feelings I had as a kid is not enough to give me those feelings all over again.  And if you pay tribute by imitating something beloved, the fact the script includes ironic acknowledgements of the imitation does not help make the imitation great.  It only tells me that the imitation was a conscious decision and you went this way rather than coming up with something new.  That’s not reassuring to me in any way and it didn’t invoke nostalgia within your movie.  It just made me wish I was watching the original trilogy and that took me completely out of what was happening on-screen in yours.

second death star explodes

Not quite as epic but still awesome, and the afterparty made it a classic (original footage of the afterparty not found and there will be no Hayden Christensen cameo here).

Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough for The Force Awakens to take a new path.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  Because again, The Force Awakens is a good movie and I enjoyed the ride, but I couldn’t truly love it when it felt so much like a remake.  To quote Jimmy Johnson for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life, “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?”  The Force Awakens is safe and good, but it’s not the great movie I was hoping for, and that’s why I can’t put it in my top ten for the year.

I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a score of seven Kessel Runs out of ten.  Seeing that score is as painful for me, Jay, as it is for you.

Jay: What the fuck’s a Kessel Run?

Sean: Oh Jay, we absolutely have to watch the original trilogy.  Something tells me I still hold all those magical feelings from my youth, but the path to them is through the greatness of Episodes IV, V and VI rather than trying to recapture those feelings through something “new”.  There will always be room for new Star Wars stories, but for me I don’t think the originals will ever be topped.

Jay: I think you of all people should be a little more open-minded about sequels. You are, after all, husband #2, and you’d better hope I don’t court warm fuzzy feelings toward “the husband of my youth.”

 

Flashback Friday – Rocky Edition

One of the things I loved most about Creed (as mentioned in my review) was how nostalgic and referential (even reverential) it was about the previous Rocky movies.  I’m still thinking about the references I caught and wanted to spend a little more time with them here.

Lots of spoilers follow, so with that said, once you’ve seen the movie come inside and let me know what you thought!

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Creed

This is shaping up to be a rough movie season for Jay.  First, she got dragged to SPECTRE (which by all accounts is a spectacular movie).   Second, she’s been dreading Star Wars: The Force Awakens since it was a twinkle in J.J. Abrams’ eye.  And third, a whole other Sean-approved franchise makes a return and potentially gets rebooted into a whole new series of movies.  Dun Na NAAAAAA, Dun Na NAAAAAA!

That’s right, Rocky is back again, for the seventh time.  It seemed over after IV, V, and VI, but some studio exec decided we could handle more!  And it was clearly the right decision because I think MGM/Warner Brothers now has a whole new franchise on its hands, featuring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed (Apollo Creed’s son).

I have always loved this franchise.  From the moment I saw Rocky III, I was hooked (yes, I started with III and have never regretted it – as recently discussed in my defence of SPECTRE, plot and character are pretty much unnecessary in franchises and here’s more proof that’s a good thing).  Based on my love for the franchise, I had high hopes for this movie but I was also nervous at how this would all turn out.  After seeing Creed, I am happy to report that this franchise’s record is still unblemished as long as we agree that Rocky V never happened.

One of my favourite things about Rocky VI (a.k.a. Rocky Balboa) was how much love it showed to the franchise as a whole.  Creed takes the same approach.  There are a number of nods to the past and they’re great to see.  The best part is that Rocky, as trainer, takes all that history and imbues Adonis with the style of boxing we’ve grown to love in these movies, namely trading head shots until both boxers’ faces look like ground beef.  Head trauma be damned, these boxers just have so much heart that they have to leave it all in the ring.  And do they ever!

As for the cast, Michael B. Jordan is great as Creed and Stallone is better than ever as Rocky.  The two characters come together naturally and it’s a great relationship to see play out, as uncle and nephew take on the world together and give us some classic Rocky moments along the way.  Especially Stallone, who really plays the old man well the whole way through (although at this point he’s almost 70 so it may not even be acting).  Either way there are some very funny moments to be found as the two leads interact with each other.
CARL

Overall, the only way this movie could have been any better is if they had worked in some Carl Weathers flashbacks where he got his stew on. I can see how that was tricky to work in to Creed since Apollo died before Adonis was born, but still, it would have been a nice touch.

Rocky-III

Want to know who won this fight?  Creed has the answer!

Other than that one shortcoming, Creed is perfect.  It delivers a great story, feels like a natural extension of the Rocky franchise, gives us a ton of nice call-backs to past events, and even answers some burning questions (including who wins the fight at the end of Rocky III).  Those fan-service moments were definitely my favourite aspect of the movie and they added so much to it.  They’re not just winks and nods, they are tools used successfully to remind us of Rocky’s mindset as he tries to pass on his winning ways to a new contender.

As the credits rolled, I reminisced about all the other great Rocky moments (see my list HERE but be warned, it contains tons of spoilers) and at the same time was excited for Creed II.  And mark it down, there will be a Creed II.  The seeds are sown here for at least two more movies and I hope they come to pass, because Creed is not just a great addition to the Rocky franchise, it is an excellent movie in its own right.

Creed scores a knockout: ten triumphant underdogs out of ten.