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Cam

Mostly, we’re very lucky to travel the world, attend film festivals, and see great movies eons before any of you jerks. But, to be honest, there are a few downsides. Popcorn isn’t a food group. It’s hard to take notes in the dark. There’s only so many times you can sincerely shake Matt Damon’s hand and say “Pleased to meet you.” But worst of all: sometimes you see a really great, or really interesting, or really controversial film and all you want, in fact NEED, to do is talk about it with fellow film fanatics but you can’t because literally no one else has seen it yet. I remember seeing La La Land at TIFF, my eyes stinging as I went from my dark corner of the theatre to broad daylight, sobbing as I walked through downtown Toronto to my next film, and walking straight into Arrival. Back to back massive, amazing films that I needed to discuss and debrief – but with whom? And then I saw Jackie and Lion and Loving and The Lobster, 4 or 5 movies a day for 10 days, at the end of which, I’m punch drunk. And then I have to sit on all this movie madness for anywhere from 3 months (lots of Oscar contenders are aiming for Christmas releases) to 3+ years (if the festival fails to bring in offers for distribution). Thank goodness I drink; if my memory were any better, I’d probably be fucked.

Cam is one of those movies that I’m dying to talk about, and it proves that a press pass is a nice thing, but 17 press passes for my 17 friends would be much nicer. Of course, I MV5BNjI1MTQ2YWEtYmE0OS00NzJkLWFhMDgtNmM3OTJkYzFlZDYwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODc4ODY5Mzc@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,998_AL_come home and stare at this white, white screen, trying to distill my thoughts, keep them straight, not confuse them with any of the other 32 trillion movies I’ve seen, and find a way to sort of talk about them with all of you. And that’s possibly the hardest part for me because I’m a bit of blabber mouth but a review is not about telling, it’s about hinting, hinting just enough so that you have an idea whether you should see it or skip it or read some other, more cohesive review that doesn’t waste 400 words complaining about having seen a terrific film.

I buried the lead there. Surprise: Cam is a terrific film!

I’m so glad I got that off my chest. I was playing it so cool during that first paragraph, trying to distract us both with all my reminiscing (I’m pretty sure those are my  memories anyway – of course, I wouldn’t swear to it. Not on my mother’s life. Not even on yours – no offense, of course, but I don’t even know the lady).

Cam is about a sex worker named Alice – though her fans know her as Lola. She’s a cam girl. She works for a website where men can live-stream women for “free” – although getting her to do pretty much anything requires a lot of “tipping.” Lola is quite popular. She’s able to maintain relationships with several men outside the chatroom – not in the real world per say, but in other digital venues, where they’re encouraged to spend more money, and even send gifts, for a more personalized show. Alice (Madeline Brewer) is a surprisingly ambitious sex worker, and she’s smart too. She pushes her shows to the limit, choreographing, staging, and even faking gruesome suicide scenes which her horny, horrible customers seem to gobble up. Alice has her eye on the top: she wants to be the #1 camgirl. But that pride in her work only extends so far – her mother don’t know shit about how Alice pays her rent. She keeps her two lives separate and firmly on lockdown – and that works, until it doesn’t.

One day she finds herself locked out of her account, and stranger still, someone else is using it. Well, not someone else. It’s still her. It’s just not her her. Who is this impostor? How is this sneaky, thieving lookalike even possible?

Cam descends into this pulsating vortex where we must question everything. What is digital identity? At this point, is it even separate from our “offline” identity? How valuable is it? How do we prove it? How do we safeguard it?

Alice is a many-flavoured protagonist, and Madeline Brewer will FREAK YOU THE FUCK OUT. Damn she’s good in this, in a can’t-watch, must-watch kind of way. Fierce and fearless, she’ll turn you on, she’ll mess you up, she’ll  haunt your dreams.

Cam is a smart, timely movie about sex work, but it’s also this swirling, confounding, complicated piece of cinema that manages to look stylish and cool even as it challenges some pretty core notions. I like its subversive nature, how it pokes the bear in sly and cool ways, how it opened me up to an underground world I’ve never really seen before. I was “lucky” enough to be in the audience for its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, but I won’t be truly happy until you’ve all been infected with it also, so I can finally dissect it the meaty, enthusiastic way it deserves.

 

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Sorry To Bother You

Well.

I hardly know how to talk about a movie like this.

It’s radical.

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 MV5BMzNjZTZlZmYtODU0ZS00NzFkLTkyZGEtOTI5M2Q0YTZmNzg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_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 feint of heart.

I Have A Date With Spring

South Korea is in a Renaissance of film. Powerhouse directors like Park Chan-wook,  Bong Joon-ho, and Yeon Sang-ho have produced exciting, glossy blockbusters that made the leap from Asia to Hollywood, but the truth is, some of the greatest stuff being produced in Korea are genre films, and Montreal’s Fantasia Festival is just the place to see them. We’d previously seen movies about fake pregnancy, and an animated zombie movie at the festival, to name a few, but this year we’re seeing even more, and they’re crazier than ever.

I Have A Date With Spring is about a young director, alone in the woods on his birthday, resolved to camp out until he finally completes his script. It’s been 10 years since his last 201806-IHADWS-16film, and 3 years since the script started haunting him, and he just wants to bang it out. Instead he’s visited by strangers, and finding a fan among them, he divulges what he’s got so far:

It’s the day before the end of the world. Aliens decide it’s now or never in terms of visiting the Earth, so they choose 3 sad sacks and do their best to befriend them and learn their worldviews. Each story is told in its own separate vignette.

One, a young schoolgirl, is a bullied outsider who has no place to go when school is suddenly evacuated. She unadvisedly gets in the car with an alien (who looks like a normal Korean man but doesn’t act like one – red flag!) and spends the day with him, driving deserted streets and narrowly escaping his awkward advances. She’s got a pretty bleak outlook, hates her mother and classmates, and spends her time drawing violent and creepy things.

A second is a middle-aged professor, alone in the world except for an elderly mother who calls him from half a world away. It’s a beautiful, young alien who visits him – except for the hacking cough and the unfortunate boils. Will that be enough to stop him kissing her?

The third, a harried and unappreciated housewife who goes to the market one day to find it devoid of shoppers or staff. Instead she plays a crane game with a mysterious young woman who claims to know her (hint: it’s another alien!) and she follows her back to her marijuana hothouse for some relaxing gun play.

The aliens all leave their new friends with a last gift. And that’s when things get twisted.

Writer-director Seung-bin Baek has a dark and wonderful mind. You won’t be able to guess where he’s going so just sit back and enjoy the ride. Aside from some unnecessary voice-over narration in the young director scenes that bookend the film, he strikes a resonant, deeply disturbing chord that’s interesting and fresh and unlike anything else I’m going to see at the movies this year. His characters have loneliness, isolation, and outsider status in common, so when the aliens decide to grant them their innermost wishes…well, that takes us to an unexpectedly sinister and surprisingly philosophical place. The movie is horrific in many ways, but where it most succeeds is in pointing out life’s every day horrors – things that you or I might relate to. Things that might you or I wish for Earth’s destruction also. And that, friends, is why we make our way to Fantasia Fest year after year. We do it for weird.

 

The Ornithologist

Ornithologists: a strange bunch. Imagine being so enthralled by the mere sight of a bird that you allow your kayak to get sucked into life-endangering rapids. Obviously there are lots of branches of zoology and people get off on studying all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures. I just have a hard time imagining an entomologist (a person who studies insects) getting half as nutty and obsessive about ants as the average bird watcher is about anything.

Fernando (Paul Hamy) is an ornithologist who seems to relish the solitary aspects of quietly pursing winged friends. But one day his quest to lay eyes on a black stork MV5BNzdiOTM4MjctN2VhOS00M2FiLTg0OGUtNjgxNDMzYTRhMzNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjAyMzAyMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_goes too far and it gets him into serious trouble. I have trouble feeling sorry for him, because if he was going to half the effort to watch an ex-girlfriend, we’d call it stalking and throw him in jail. Am I really to believe it’s any less creepy when the subject of his intensity is a bird? In my book, that makes it worse. Luckily for him, a) I’m not the bird police, and b) a couple of lady hikers rescue him when the bird poop hits the fan.

The Ornithologist sets a strange tone right away. I don’t trust it because the camera focuses on certain things and I don’t know why. It sets me on edge straight away. Before the story has even begun, this movie is talking to me. Its angles, and especially through his binoculars, give such a restricted view it makes me nervous.

Unfortunately, the slightly odd, “good Christian” Chinese hikers are lost, and they beg Fernando to stay with them as they are quite afraid of the forest. I concur, ladies. These woods are scary – though perhaps not half threatening as the people in them.

The Ornithologist is a deeply strange movie and it absolutely will not appeal to everyone. Director João Pedro Rodrigues mixes Catholic symbolism with Portuguese mythology to make a muddy, opaque picture that will allow you to discover new facets of yourself, even as Fernando does the same on screen. Personally, I developed a new mantra while watching The Ornithologist. I was at the 1h16m mark when I realized I was quietly chanting whatthefuckishappening over and over. I still don’t know the answer but I do know I have an impressive capacity for audacious meditation.

Deadpool 2

deadpool_2_poster.0There are times when it feels like a movie has lost a sense of direction, and is relying on one-liners to fill in the gaps until it finds a way forward. Deadpool 2 never feels that way, mainly because the whole film is a series of one-liners. That is how Deadpool 2 gets Deadpool right.

Deadpool is supposed to be an immortal wisecracking antihero, and that’s exactly what Deadpool 2 delivers. In fact, movie Deadpool may be even more potent than his comic book counterpart, since we have seemingly hundreds of superhero movies to send up and most are easy targets.  Deadpool makes sure not to miss any by taking seemingly hundreds of shots at them. None are spared, with Ryan Reynolds’ past superhero movies (and Reynolds himself) being hit as much as any other (and maybe more). More than anything, that self-effacing attitude is why Deadpool works.

Deadpool 2 is stupid and it knows it.  It will do anything to make you laugh, and it will succeed. But Deadpool 2 doesn’t stop there. As you get into the film’s rhythm, you realize that in between the jokes, there’s a ton of action, a superteam origin story, the onscreen debuts of two classic X-Men characters, significant character development, and best of all, a much-needed mop-up of some major continuity issues. And with an X-Force movie on the way, Deadpool basically has birthed his own cinematic universe (I’m treating it as a separate universe than the X-Men films since aside from Colossus, there are no other A-list X-Men in sight), so for better or worse, Deadpool is sticking around for the long haul.

Overall I think Deadpool’s success is more better than worse (though Jay would surely disagree).  Deadpool 2 is an entertaining movie that can co-exist with movies like Avengers: Infinity War (and Deadpool is probably the superhero best served by being removed from the Marvel Universe, as evidenced by Fox keeping him separate from the X-universe for all intents and purposes).

The comparison between Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War brings up an interesting contrast.  Since I was frustrated with the lazy writing in Infinity War, I should have been equally frustrated with Deadpool for the same reason.  Lazy writing is lazy writing whether or not a superhero breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it, right?  Then why did I give Deadpool a pass when I held lazy writing against Avengers?  The answer, I think, is because Marvel is asking me to take seriously that half of the universe was wiped out with a magic glove, whereas Deadpool is up front about how stupid and meaningless this all is, that everything can and will be undone, and figures out a way to have fun with it.  And that is why for as long as they are making superhero movies, there will be a place for movies like Deadpool 2.

 

 

Unleashed

Did you ever feel so lonely you wished you could legally date your dog?

Did you ever watch an American episode of Shameless and wish there was worse writing, and no pants?

Sean can’t hardly believe that I actually watched this one, but I did. Nor can he believe that I’m about to tell you there’s a worse movie than November Criminals on Netflix right now, yet here I am. Yesterday I skewered a movie based on a book I sort of remember reading. I can’t lawfully, for reasons of libel, tell you the director of November Criminals is illiterate. But what I can suppose is that he’s not much of a reader, so he got an unpaid intern to give him the Coles notes version over avocado toast, and he made a movie based on the parts that he could remember without having taken any notes.

Unleashed, on the other hand, feels like it was pitched by my adorable, precocious 3 year old nephew Jack, who proposed something like “I dunno, maybe it could be about a dog and the dog gets to turn into a human, and then there’s a lady and they kiss and get married and stuff (to which my 4 year old nephew Ben would undoubtedly shout “too many ladies!” – that was his legit criticism of the Smurfs movie). Unleashed in fact has a woman, Emma (Kate Micucci, of that terrible nun movie I complained about a few days ago), who is such a dating disaster she “wishes” her cat and dog to life, and they turn into two “hot” guys. I put “hot” into quotations because they’re played by Justin Chatwin and Steve Howey, a couple of chuckleheads from Shameless, which means they’re the kind of “hot” that you can buy quite cheaply. Chatwin, being “pretty,” is the cat of course, so naturally he takes up modelling and being a bitch. Howie gets to be the big dumb dog. I have absolutely no respect for either of these actors and I still think this stuff is beneath them; their “performances” better suited to kindergarten ice breakers. And while it might be adorable for 3 year old Jack to just magically transform a dog into an eligible bachelor, it doesn’t play as well on screen, where mysterious astrological reasons are alluded to but certainly never addressed, because there’s no Coles notes on the sciences behind that.

A major plot point of Unleashed is how much they miss licking themselves AND YET NEITHER REFRAINS FROM LICKING HIMSELF.

I refuse to dignify this movie with any further discussion. Instead, let’s check out pictures of my real-life dogs and talk about who would play them if they were mysteriously brought to life.

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This is Herbie. He’s the effortless alpha of his crew, reigning with a gruff nonchalance. He’s cool and aloof and everyone’s crazy about him. Of course, he plays hard to get. Hard to impress. But fiercely loyal to his Jay and a secret softie.

 

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Gertie is a cutie. She has a big heart and she’s always taking care of others. She’s nurturing and maternal but can be a fierce disciplinarian when needed. She’s very curious and VERY smart. She can do anything she puts her mind to but her greatest trick of all is manipulating you into doing things for her. She loves attention and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants.

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This is Fudgie. He may be small but he’s quick and he’s agile and he has an insatiable appetite for catch. He’s 100% lovable and 102% neurotic. His biggest anxiety is that you don’t love him enough, so he’ll lure you in with a cute as heck pose and then steal your heart forever by exposing his belly for you to rub or kissing you up the nose, if you’re lucky!

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Here’s Bronx. Born a runt, he’s visually impaired but that doesn’t stop him from running around like he’s bonkers-bananas. He has sad and soulful eyes but his heart has truly never known a single moment of sadness. He’s pure gladness and love and he’s not afraid to express his feelings with constant displays of affection.

 

Which actors would play these dogs?

Woodshock

In the wake of her mother’s death, Theresa’s grief manifests itself in complicated ways. Her fragile emotional state is pushed off a cliff thanks to some powerful drugs she can’t help but mess with. The result? A film that is haunting, surreal, and hypnotic.

Brought to you by first time directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whose names  you may be more familiar with as the sisters behind the clothing and fashion accessories _DSC8956R3label, Rodarte. They’re not the only designers to make the leap to film: Tom Ford made the jump rather successfully not to mention stylishly with A Single Man, and Nocturnal Animals. As for the Mulleavy effort, I’m less convinced. In parts it is absolutely stunning to look at, and they certainly have an eye for what lingerie will best highlight the nipples of the film’s star, Kirsten Dunst. But it’s not quite enough, and perhaps not enough by a long shot.

I will give them this: they create a dreamy, half-conscious state where we’re not entirely sure what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t. The mood is heavy and stays that way. Woodshock is visually assured but that’s the only assurance you’ll get. Everything else is a negotiation game you’ll have to play with yourself, because neither the film nor the filmmakers (some of whom were in attendance at its New Hampshire Film Festival screening) are providing answers or even clues.

The story is as gauzy and ethereal as Rodarte’s 2018 spring collection. Woodshock is high on visual impact but the plot, which probably is a misnomer here, is more like aKIM_0049 series of impressions – you get whiffs of what might be going on, and if you’re nose is good and you’re super motivated, you might even convince yourself the story has bones. But if you’re the kind of movie-goer who likes things like Neon Demon where themes are explored and drama runs high if not in any specific direction, you might count yourself a fan of Woodshock. Crazier things have happened.

The Square

The-Square-movie-posterSometimes, I walk out of a movie and wonder why a director decided to insert a scene that didn’t seem to add anything to the film.  With The Square, I walked out wondering why the majority of the scenes had been included.  Even the film’s poster gets in on the act, blatantly photoshopping Elisabeth Moss into a scene in which she doesn’t appear.  That is a fitting allegory for her role in the film as well as for a lot of the movie’s scenes.  Moss didn’t need to be there in the poster picture but someone went to the effort of adding her anyway, for no obvious reason.  The same thing seems to have happened with many scenes in this film, the latest from Ruben Ostlund, who previously directed Force Majeure.

The Square centres around an obnoxious, entitled museum curator (Christian, played by Claes Bang) who makes more than a few mistakes in promoting his museum’s new exhibition and, on the side, searching for his stolen phone, wallet, and cufflinks.  The fact he sees himself as a pretty good guy only makes things worse for him and everyone he comes into contact with.  In between his missteps, we are treated to some truly bizarre scenes involving a human pretending to be an ape at a dinner party, a real ape acting as a third wheel at Moss’ character’s apartment, and a cheerleading performance by one of Christian’s kids, none of which advance the plot in any way, despite a lot of effort being put into staging and filming these scenes.  But to what end?  The Square repeatedly left me feeling like I had missed the point, but it happened so many times I had to conclude there was no point.

That is The Square: an overlong mess of ideas patched together into a two and a half hour long feature.  The movie starts well enough but doesn’t know where to go once it gets started, and certainly doesn’t know how to wrap up what it’s laid out.

The frustrating part is that many of the ideas in the film have the potential to make for good satire, but the movie can’t figure out how to unlock their potential or say anything meaningful, aside from pointing out how much idiocy and chaos can be created by a self-entitled boor, which we are all way too familiar with in our real lives right now.

All in all, The Square never amounts to much.  Just like its protagonist, it is aimless, clueless, and we’d be better off if it went away quietly.

The Drop In

I enjoy short films because they are their own genre with their own rules.  Unlike feature-length film, there’s no standard runtime, only an upper limit of 40 minutes (including credits) in order to qualify for Oscar consideration.   The fact that shorts usually jump right into the action makes the genre feel freer and less predictable than feature films.  I also like that shorts tend not to use a standard three-act narrative structure (exposition-rising action-climax), forsaking it for the sake of moving right to the heart of the story.

The Drop In is only 12 minutes long, but in that time the film manages to delivers two big twists that took me by surprise (which I won’t reveal here).  The film starts with a seemingly innocuous encounter that soon turns into a tense, high-stakes confrontation.  Even before anything significant is revealed, that tension is apparent between the film’s only two characters. We may not understand why these two are in conflict but we know, whatever the reason, that this face-off means big trouble for Joelle, a Toronto hairstylist who agreed to stay late to help out a new client.

This short feels like the start of a TV series and the abrupt and inconclusive ending left me curious to see more. That’s often the best place to be, with interest piqued, trying to guess both what came before and what comes next.  But sometimes both past and future are better left unknown, and I think The Drop In makes the right choice by telling this story in short film form, rather than to try to make it feature length.  After all, the first rule of show business is to always leave them wanting more, and The Drop In does exactly that.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kingsman2You know when a movie has a really cool part that blows your mind and then you know the sequel will try to recreate that part a hundred times over? Then, when you see the sequel do exactly that, it’s still pretty good even if it’s not quite as good as the first time? Remember when I said almost exactly the same thing about the latest addition to the Fast and the Furious franchise, earlier this year? Well, call this the sequel to that review. For a moment I thought about reusing that same review but I didn’t, because clearly I have more respect for my audience than do those Hollywood big shots who keep greenlighting all these sequels.

Getting back to the subject that I’m supposed to be writing something original about, it is somewhat alarming that the level of ridiculousness that took the Furious series eight movies to reach only took the Kingsman franchise two films to equal.  Kingsman gained so much ground so quickly because it is over the top every chance it gets, right from the start, with one slow motion action sequence after another, all set to some purposely eclectic song choice.

But in all its efforts the Kingsman sequel never comes close to the fever dream that was the church sequence in Kingsman the first, which was the part that totally blew my mind. I realize it would have been cleverer if I had found a way to tie the head explosions at the end to the mind blowing language, but honestly nothing beats the church scene for me.

Even though it doesn’t achieve the same peak level as the first film, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an enjoyable movie that comes out a little ahead of Furious 8 in the stupid yet enjoyable unnecessary sequel category (which I am quite sure will be an Oscar category starting this February).  Kingsman gains the edge over Furious in this important head-to-head showdown by being consistenly funny between action scenes, a result of both its gleeful over-the-topness and the wacky tone it carries over from its predecessor.

Be warned that the film occasionally veers into sheer creepiness (um, a mucus membrane tracking device???). Also, be warned that you will be creeped out much more often than once if you are in any way adverse to people being ground into hamburger (literally) or chopped in half by electric lassos (which is also a thing that actually happens in this film for what I am guessing is the first time ever).

The occasional incident(s) of creepiness are easily forgiven, by me at least, because Kingsman: The Golden Circle is frenetic, confident, and surprisingly touching at times.  The highlights for me were Mark Strong covering John Denver and Elton John finally letting loose on stage after years of self-inflicted repression. Those scenes were more than well worth the price of admission by themselves.

I give Kingsman: The Golden Circle seven country roads (taking you home) out of ten.