Tag Archives: whoa there what the fuck just happened

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.

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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.

 

Buster’s Mal Heart

Buster is a mountain man on the run from authorities. He survives the cold winters by breaking into vacation homes and living off the spoils. He’s pursued by the police but also by flashbacks to his prior, family-man life, and by persistent daydreams of being adrift at sea. He calls radio shows to warn others about the impending “Inversion”.

The film, which eschews conventional story-telling, seems to have three distinct time lines, if I may call them that. 1. Buster (Rami Malek) as an overworked father and husband. He works as the night manager at a creepy hotel and the shift work is killing him. He lives with his in-laws, which might be killing him too, come to think of it. At the MV5BMzgzNjFhMmUtZDNmYy00N2M2LThiMzMtYjkwMjA4NjlkZjIwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUxMjc1OTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,735_AL_hotel he encounters a drifter (DJ Qualls) begging for a room for the night, and this encounter will change the course of Buster’s life forever. 2. With matted hair and a dirty beard, Buster’s mind appears to be cracked. He lives off grid, barely surviving, almost no semblance to his former self. 3. He is half-starved, lost at sea in a small rowboat, sending letters in bottles overboard. We don’t know how long this has gone on for.

How many, if any, of these time lines is real? Are they manifestations of his wormhole conspiracy theory, or the product of a mind broken with grief and guilt, or just the insomniac’s daymares? That’s for you to figure out, without much help from director Sarah Adina Smith, who is perfectly comfortable with an audience full of head-scratchers and what-the-fuckers. In fact, she’s going to throw in a whole bunch of biblical allusions just to fuck with you some more.

One thing’s for sure: Rami Malek is ready to be a leading man. His minimalist style still conveys mental instability and eccentricity across all timelines. He contributes to the film maker’s ruse by making each version of Buster equally believe and unbelievable. All three feel authentic but all three cannot be. He gives away nothing. And in the end, if you’re going to enjoy this movie at all, you’ll have to be comfortable with that, with not getting any answers. By having bold questions shoved in your face and living with just discarding them. Is any version of Buster a real person, or are they all just metaphors for disillusionment? Or am I, the viewer, the one who’s disillusioned?

 

TIFF 2017: Bingo! I Got Bingo!, Part 2

Catching 3 films by female directors is easy. The TIFF lineup this and every year has lots of interesting films to choose from, many of them directed by women. Getting full TIFF Bingo isn’t so easy.

I have stress dreams about the Midnight Madness ball and avoid it like it’s a not deep-fried vegetable so that’s out. And, while Battle of the Sexes had its moments, I can’t honestly say that I thought “Now this I’ve got to try”.

But I did…

Thank a Volunteer

Mom and Dad– The festival and the city that hosts it can be a little overwhelming at first. Even though I feel like an expert by the end of my stay, every year I’m feeling a little disoriented when I first get into town. So I’ve just checked into my hotel, it’s 11:40 at night, and I’ve got a Midnight Madness screening of Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad in 20 minutes. I’m running around trying to find Ryerson theater and I’m getting stressed out imagining all the ways that I could humiliate myself trying to volley a beach ball in a crowded theater. Luckily, a friendly orange shirt is never far away and I was very thankful to the volunteers who helped me find where to line up. I never miss a chance to thank a volunteer and I applaud for them every time the TIFF commercial prompts us to.

So, anyway, Mom and Dad. Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence) seems to be just begging us to make this a cult classic. An unexplained virus suddenly hits suburbia in the middle of the school day that infects parents with an uncontrollable urge to violently murder their offspring. Poor Carly (13 Reasons Why’s Anne Winters) and Josh Ryan (Transparent’s Zackary Arthur) are forced to fend for themselves against their now-deranged parents played by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair.

Mom and Dad is bananas. Almost every aspect of the film- from the basic concept down to the music and over-caffeinated editing- seems driven by the same manic energy that fuels Cage’s typically unhinged performance. The actor, who in the eyes of the enthusiastic Midnight Madness crowd may as well have been John Lennon, already starts overacting long before the virus starts making everyone crazy. He outCages himself in this movie and- while it would be a stretch to call it a good performance- it feels like the right performance for this movie. But it’s Blair, surprisingly, who somehow finds a way to keep this runaway train from going off the rails. From the start, we can tell that her character is a good mom. She loves her kids but she’s exhausted and taken for granted. She’s the only believable character in the whole thing and her presence brings Mom and Dad back to earth. It’s through her that we start to sense that the virus is tapping into an existential crisis that was already in place before the infection.

To call Mom and Dad good would be ridiculous but it’s not really trying to be. It just wants to be fun and, for the most part, it is. It’s often funny, even coming dangerously close to smart, especially when it’s in terrible taste.

Phone Dies

I got some great photos this year, many of which you can see if you follow us on Twitter. I like sitting in the front row so I was able to get some shots of Nicolas Cage, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Payne, and Darren Aronofsky that I’m really happy with. But you won’t see a photo of Ellen Page (who, if I’m not mistaken, counts as a superhero out of spandex) because my phone died.

The Cured– So I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Ellen Page during the Q&A for The Cured. They’re just not tweetable because my phone didn’t have enough juice left for the flash to work. So it’s not a great picture. It’s a shame because I love her.

And, yes, fortunately for my TIFF Bingo card, my phone officially died on my way back to my hotel.

On to The Cured. This debut feature from Irish director David Freyne finds yet another way to breathe new life into a genre that seems to never run out of ways to reinvent itself: the zombie movie. Once this version of the zombie apocalypse has died down, two thirds of the “infected’ have been successfully cured and are slowly being reintegrated into society. Ex-zombies don’t have it easy though. They still have painful memories of the suffering that they inflicted and most people still don’t trust them.

Senan (Sam Keeley) has just been released from a treatment facility and is taken in by his brother’s wife Abbie (Page) who has been widowed by the outbreak. When he falls in with a militant group of zombie rights activists, Senan struggles to find a balance between his desire to fit in and atone for his crimes and his instinct to stand up for his fellow cured.

To Freyne, his film is really about how we treat each other in today’s mixed up world. It’s a serious movie with serious themes that somehow finds time to deliver the goods when it comes to zombie scares. Freyne’s direction is confident and precise, more so than almost any other movie I saw at the festival this year.

So there you have it. I wore out my phone battery, saw 3 films by female directors, thanked every volunteer that I spoke to, and even managed to see some good movies while I was at it. By now, experienced Bingo players have probably already spotted my path to victory but please feel free to stay tuned for more details.

 

Mother!

tmp_oLHXPW_d785c743c5338b61_MomSome stories do not need to be told. Mother! falls squarely within that category. I walked out of the theatre at the end of the movie asking, what was the point? Why did I suffer through two hours of claustrophobic misery to get back where I started?  And actually,  further behind than where I started because at least then I was curious about Darren Aronofsky’s latest project. Afterward, I was just tired and dreading this review.

Mother! is not an awful film, I don’t think. It has a stellar cast and is visually captivating (though it’s too harsh and dour to ever be beautiful). Maybe some will even appreciate the crazy downward spiral that is this film, as it goes to soul-devouring depths that most wouldn’t dare to approach. Me? Not one bit. Not even a little. It made me uncomfortable right from the start, and not in a challenging way, and not in a way that offered me anything.

This film is the same as Javier Bardem’s nameless poet: selfish, desiring my affection, and oblivious to anything else. It is art that takes from the audience rather than giving, which also echoes the plot of the movie itself. Is that intentional? If so, that would make Aronofsky our version of the poet, and I would suggest that you not give him your energy in service of his creation. I already gave enough for both of us.

 

 

 

Girls Trip

Ugh. This kind of movie is just demeaning.

There’s a good idea in there somewhere: four friends reconnecting. That’s the dream, right? That for one weekend you can all make your schedules obey your will, find sitters for the kids, money for the trip, time off from work. And everything converges on one magical weekend during which you can let your hair down and party like you did when you first met your crew, back when you were single and carefree.

The four friends in Girls Trip haven’t gotten together in 5 years.  Ryan (Regina Hall) is an aspiring self-help guru\daytime TV star and she and her husband are about to get their big break – too bad she can’t stand his cheating ass. Sasha (Queen Latifah) is on the verge girlstrip0004.jpgof bankruptcy and the only thing that might save her is a whole bunch of hits to her celebrity gossip site…and it’s awfully tempting when your best friend is poised to become the next Oprah just as her marriage is imploding. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a less important friend so we don’t know much about her except she’s a caring single mother who wears scrubs at work and is pretty high strung. And Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is hardly a character at all, she’s just there to provide the kind of lewd laughs the other ladies are too famous for, contractually. It’s hard to believe they were ever friends, or that a weekend away together wouldn’t result in murder since in the film’s exceedingly long but comparatively short running time (2 hours), I had the panicky urge to start stuffing people in dumpsters.

Anyway. The script is atrocious. It’s Hallmark-grade MAYBE, heavy-handed as hell. It wants to be a females in New Orleans version of The Hangover, and it even steals a lot of their jokes (substitute roofies for absinthe, for example), but it’s weak. Very, very weak. But there are a few things that Girls Trip provides that you are unlikely to find elsewhere: 1. A “grapefruiting” demo (it’s a sex thing, duh – basically a grapefruit turtleneck for excessively large penises to aid in the blow-jobbing of). 2. You’re not seriously going to insist on a second item after that first one, are you? 3. Okay, fine: Kate Walsh as the token white lady who can’t stop talking in Ebonics. 4. As the movie is set at the Essence Festival, the film bloats itself with clips from performing artists such as Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, Maxwell, Babyface, and Mariah Carey. And about two dozen more. 5. Someone urinates like they’re legit trying to put out a forest fire with it, only instead of trees they drench people. And this happens twice.

But wait! There’s more: the power of female friendships, never leaving your unfaithful husband until you’ve got another prospect lined up, drugging the people you love, sexually harassing people like there’s no tomorrow, and white people using words they have no earthy business thinking let alone saying. So much fun. Girls Trip is a low-budget movie that looks low budget and feels even worse. But it put up some big numbers at the box office because there’s a dearth of actually funny movies these days – too bad this one’s no exception.

The Emoji Movie

the-emoji-movie-gets-character-postersI am way too old to use emojis. I use words to express my thoughts and feelings. Also, I like to use however many characters are needed to express myself. Emojis are a crutch and aren’t meaningful. For example, this movie in an emoji is 💩. But that doesn’t even come close to saying how bad it is.

I’ve just hinted that I think emojis are stupid. Not surprisingly, The Emoji Movie does not take that stance (though that would have made for a more interesting film). Instead, the main human in The Emoji Movie loves emojis, uses them at every chance, and seeks the perfect emoji to send to his crush so she will go to the dance with him.  He doesn’t bother to talk to her or just ask her out with words because that’s so 90s.

SPOILER ALERT: the kid finds the perfect emoji because just before the phone store employee deletes everything on his phone, the sentient emojis in the phone text him a new emoji that is like a gif of five very similar looking faces, AND HER RESPONSE IS TO REALIZE HE IS A REALLY DEEP GUY WHO IS GOOD AT EXPRESSING HIS FEELINGS. SERIOUSLY? LIKE, SERIOUSLY? I mean, sending the “perfect emoji” was a slightly better idea than sending Rihanna lyrics (which was the best the main human could come up with on his own) but both ideas really, really suck (at least the kid deleted the Rihanna email, which of course closed with a high five emoji…).

OTHER SPOILERS THAT AREN’T REALLY SPOILERS BUT PROVE THAT THE WRITERS ARE OLDER THAN ME AND HAVE NEVER USED A SMARTPHONE:

1. When the kid’s phone makes noise at inopportune times (because the emojis are moving through his apps, duh), he doesn’t shut off the volume. HE CALLS THE PHONE STORE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO HAVE THE DATA DELETED. I mean (a) you don’t need an appointment at “the phone store”; (b) you can click one thing to delete all data on your phone whenever you want; and (c) deleting the data isn’t even going to solve the kid’s problem according to the movie’s rules because the cause of the noise is the sentient emojis, who would just return to his phone when a replacement “Textopolis” was installed.

2. In the movie, it takes 24 hours for trash to be deleted from the phone – which is not a phone thing and not really even a computer thing. It also takes several dramatic minutes to do a factory reset, and if you change your mind right at the very end you just have to unplug the USB cable from the phone store’s computer and all your data will undelete itself automatically – which is not a thing at all and even my grandmothers know that.

3. The apps visited by the emojis are real (-ish) but they make no sense in execution. Jay correctly called The Emoji Movie a lame ripoff of Inside Out, and the apps are this film’s attempt to build a world inside something both familiar and mysterious (Inside Out used brains, The Emoji Movie uses phones). Inside Out succeeds and makes it look easy. The Emoji Movie fails at every turn because it has no coherent logic. At all. It is all just a bunch of 💩.

DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. It is truly terrible in all the worst ways – a real stinker. Avoid it at all costs.

The Honor Farm

Honor farm

I hadn’t seen my friend Josh in months and was eager to tell him all about the exciting new movie I saw at the Fantasia Film Festival. “I just saw The Honor Farm and I’m still trying to figure it out,” I told him while seated at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

I hadn’t seen the baby boomer somehow standing right over me until he chose this moment to cut me off. “I just saw that,” he complained. “It was terrible“.

I didn’t really want to get into it with this guy nor was I even confident that I had understood the film well enough to defend it so I just smiled politely as he told me that it wasn’t even scary. I bashfully admitted that I was the guy who jumped and cried out during the final act.

honor farm 2

The Honor Farm is exactly that kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie that you need to let sink in while you ignore those who will immediately and loudly dismiss it. Lucy (Olivia Grace Applegate) seems to feels like she’s just going through the motions as she prepares for her prom. After her drunk date embarasses her and tries to force himself on her, she reluctantly agrees to accompany her best friend Anne (Katie Folger) and a classmate she barely knows into the woods to take shrooms in an abandoned prison farm.

Other than that, the less you know about The Honor Farm the better. Although you should probably be warned that horror fans like the one described above may be disappointed. Because the set up seems bloody perfect. Eight teenagers, most of them seeming to fit a typical scary movie stereotype, entering a creepy prison on prom night might make you start placing bets on who will be first to die but this isn’t your typical scary movie. What follows is truly surreal and genre-bending and few of these character arcs play out like you’d expect.

I may have been a little lost during the closing credits but The Honor Farm keeps getting better the more i think about it. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot.