Tag Archives: whoa there what the fuck just happened

Earwig

What a strange and unusual film.

Somewhere vaguely in Europe, mid-20th century, Albert is employed to look after Mia. Mia, just a ten year old girl, us forcibly shut-in, even the apartment’s shutters stay closed, casting a gloomy, and often creepy, atmosphere over the apartment’s two solitary dwellers. Despite the isolation, the two are not close, and no affection passes between them. Mia’s teeth are made of ice cubes, and Albert’s main responsibility is to care for them, changing them several times a day, and tending to the metal appliance fixed to her face, presumably to keep her teeth from melting (?). Don’t ask me any follow-up questions because the film isn’t prepared to answer them. This just is what it is, and isn’t it weird? The phone rings, and an unseen master enquires after Mia’s wellbeing. Every day repeats in this way until one day the master tells Albert this will be his last payment; Mia is to be prepared to go outside for the first time, and ultimately to leave. This is big news, and a convenient excuse for the movie to get even stranger.

Earwig is unsettling. It sends creepers up your spine. Even when nothing major is happening, the atmosphere is so dark and foreboding, it always carries the possibility of trouble. Director Lucile Hadžihalilović is a master of suspense; she bathes us in it whether there’s reason or not, which means we’re spending the entire film trying to puzzle out the movie’s mysteries, and trying to anticipate the horrible thing that surely must be coming. She uses all of horror’s familiar visual language, but she never gives the relief that comes immediately after a jump scare. It’s never-ending dread with no catharsis.

Hadžihalilović is clearly unafraid of slow cinema. Her films, and perhaps this one in particular, are so somber and bleak and deliberate that I start to wonder if perhaps I’m having a nightmare. I understand very little of the plot but I’m haunted by her specific imagery, sometimes held so long that I have to break eye contact just in case there’s a spell being cast, or some sort of hypnotism. It really is that disturbing, discomfiting.

Hadžihalilović builds such a complete world, almost acetic except for a fixation on glass, and establishes an almost ritualized routine that it’s of course jarring when she then disturbs it.

Paul Hilton, as Albert, is full of melancholy, anguish, and anxiety. His dentistry looks like medieval torture, but if it feels half as bad as it looks, little Mia (Romane Hemelaers) doesn’t show it. She may be stoic, but I am not. This film was bad for my skin. I spend a lot of money on creams and serums and peels to keep it relatively unlined, and then a movie like this has me making my perturbed face for nearly two hours straight, sure to leave an ugly furrow between my brows. I never understood the movie, not once, not even a little, and I’m not entirely convinced I was meant to. ‘Story’ seems besides the point when it comes to a movie like Earwig, which wants to provoke, disrupt, disturb, yes, but not exactly entertain. Hadžihalilović holds power over us, and enjoys it. We are helpless in her hands.

Annette

Ann (Marion Cotillard) and Henry (Adam Driver) are an odd but glamourous couple – she, a world-famous, beautiful, apple-eating opera singer, he a successful, provocative, banana-loving stand-up comedian. And yet they’re in love. The public eats up their love story, consuming the pretty pictures they see in the media.

Annette will not be for everyone, and for once that’s not me being a snob condescending to you normies who surely won’t appreciate creative cinema when you see it (though god knows I’m alarmingly comfortable being that bitch); it’s me, a snob and seasoned consumer of movies, telling you that even I found it weird and difficult to digest. First of all, it’s a musical. It’s a musical that’s not stylized as a musical. It’s a tediously descriptive musical. The song that opens the film is called So May We Start, and those are more or less all of the lyrics as well, asking in a prolonged and pedestrian way if they should start the film. I didn’t turn it off, so I guess that passed for consent, so we see them become their characters, Driver donning a long, curly wig, and ten minutes into the film, it begins. If not immediately won over, I was at least intrigued enough to keep this party going. But all subsequent songs – and there are many, they are constant – are equally plainly descriptive. Their love song: “We Love Each Other So Much.” Simon Helberg’s song about being Ann’s accompanist: “I’m an Accompanist.” Henry’s song about fatherhood skills: “I’m A Good Father.” Not a metaphor for miles. And yet, when Henry performs his comedy, there isn’t a single joke. There are only songs about the usual contents of a stand-up routine. And when Ann’s on stage at the opera, her song is about the most common components of the opera: death, and bows. The songs stand in for actual entertaining content. Are the songs themselves supposed to be entertaining? It’s hard to say for sure but it’s even harder to believe that yes, they are. Because truly, they aren’t. And I normally love a musical, even a half-baked one, and I’ve always enjoyed using 5000 words when 5 would do. But these songs, conceived by the band Sparks, are just not for me. Too avant-garde? Not avant-garde enough?

But this isn’t even the weird, or weirdest, part of the movie. Henry’s embroiled in a scandal and the couple grow apart as her star continues to rise as his career stalls and then fails. Even their newborn baby isn’t uniting them, cute as little Annette is. And by cute I mean she’s not cute at all. She’s very, very creepy. That’s a mean thing to say about a baby; good thing she’s actually a puppet. I’ve misused the word ‘actually’ in that sentence, though I do not mean to deceive you. Mostly I’m confused myself. Visually, verifiably, clearly, Annette is ‘played’ by a creepy rubber puppet who moves like a stiff rubber puppet, with unblinking glass eyes and obvious ligatures to keep her joints relatively articulated. My god is she creepy. Not quite as creepy as the wispy mustache that Henry grows, but still quite remarkably creepy. But wait – there’s more! The film never comments on the fact that Annette appears to you and I to be a puppet – they simply treat her like a real baby, as if this movie is a middle school Christmas pageant with no budget and no recently birthed siblings to play the baby Jesus. Annette’s mom and dad simply see their beautiful baby girl. However, baby Annette does have something strange about her, a gift the film lauds as unusual and extraordinary, but which doesn’t seem all that weird compared to the weirdness of the film itself. It’s like an elephant holding a press conference to tell us that a 7 year old boy is reading at a 6th grade level. That’s quite remarkable, sure, and good for the kid, but are we really just glossing over the fact that an elephant learned both English, AND the power of the media? The medium IS the message, people.

Do not let me dissuade you from watching Annette. After a debut at Cannes and a tiny theatrical run, it is now streaming on Amazon Prime, a fairly innocuous way to sample a truly original film, and while you may or may not respond to it, at least it’s not another Hollywood retread. It’s daring and risky (it pairs a pedo mustache with a douchebag fedora!) and a fun game is to keep your face neutral and simply record the spot in the film where your spouse finally buckles and says “That’s weird.” For Sean it didn’t come until 1h24m into the film, at a point so random and arbitrary that I was astounded and amused in equal portions. I wish my reaction to the film was just as balanced, but still, I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s moving end. It perhaps wasn’t totally earned, but it was a few very stirring minutes of film at the end of a 2h21m movie.

Asphalt Burning

About 20 minutes into this movie, Jay decided it would be worth throwing her laptop at the TV if it stopped us from watching any more. Honestly, I am surprised it took that long for her to get to that point.

Roy (Anders Baasmo Christansen) is a Norwegian car junkie and proud Mustang owner who, while celebrating his upcoming wedding, kisses his fiancée’s ex-girlfriend Robyn (Alexandra Maria Lara). Despite Roy’s best attempts, for some reason his fiancée Sylvia (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) does not agree that the kiss shouldn’t count because Roy could not have known the two knew each other. Roy’s only chance to win Sylvia back is to travel from Norway to Germany’s Nürburgring and beat Robyn’s Porsche on its home track, in a race for Sylvia’s hand. Sylvia is surprisingly satisfied with this arrangement despite every single minute of in this movie proving that marrying Roy is a terrible idea.

Having raced on a virtual Nürburgring in both Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport I can confirm that Roy’s Mustang would have no chance at all there against Robyn’s Porsche, but of course the race is going to play out very differently in Asphalt Burning than in virtual reality, let alone real reality. Still, despite being totally unrealistic, the final race is actually one of the more believable parts of this film, even factoring in a bizarre tour bus subplot which I cannot even begin to explain.

Clearly, Asphalt Burning had aspirations of being Europe’s answer to Fast & Furious, or at least Cannonball Run, but it comes at least a quarter mile short of that not-so-lofty goal. There is a valuable lesson to be found here for any filmmakers with similar aspirations, though: do not use CGI to stand in for practical vehicle effects. If you can’t make a trick happen with a combination of practical effects and editing, then don’t make that trick a part of your film. Not coincidentally, all of Asphalt Burning’s stunts seem to have been done entirely on a computer.

It’s not helping anyone to include totally unbelievable and unrealistic stunts in your movie. It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and it’s going to make me hate your movie even more than the bad dialogue, dislikeable protagonist, and inane plot points already did. As always, I should have listened to Jay.

Midsommar

After suffering the tragic loss of her parents and sister, Dani (Florence Pugh) decides to tag along on a trip to Sweden planned by her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his roommates. They are attending the Midsommar festival in a tiny northern town, a nine day celebration involving white robes and dance circles. On the surface, the festival appears to be harmless hippie nature worship but even from the start there are signs that something dark lurks just underneath. Then, one by one, the visitors start going missing.

midsommar4.0When Jay is not feeling well, I have this awful habit of subjecting her to movies she would not watch in her own. Star Wars and Indiana Jones come to mind as films I have foisted on her. Today I decided to add Midsommar to the list, and it actually went pretty well!

Midsommar is deliberately slow paced, and quite beautiful to watch as it unfolds and devolves into a creepy mess. There is a simple lesson here: when invited to a cult meeting, do not drink the Kool-Aid. And if your friends start disappearing, don’t just brush it off, get the hell out of there. Because if you don’t, odds are you’re going to be an unwilling part of the ceremony.

Midsommar is an unsettling movie and most definitely a horror film, but it’s not reliant on jump scares at all, so Jay isn’t even that mad at me for making her watch it. Rather than relying on cheap tricks, Midsommar aims to disturb, to creep you out, and to teach you to never, ever visit Sweden. Ever. It succeeds on all counts.

 

 

TIFF19: The Lighthouse

Two men are dropped off on a rock in the middle of the ocean, left alone to tend the lighthouse.  The men, let’s call them Wick and Winslow, though they mostly go by “Sir” and “lad”, are strangers about to get extremely cozy during the four weeks of their isolation.

Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is a young guy, a bit of a drifter, here to make some serious money and go home.  Wick (Willem Dafoe) is gruff yet poetic, exacting yet frustrated by Winslow’s rule-abiding nature.  The two rub each other wrong right from the start, and the thing about having absolutely nothing but each other’s company is that you’ll either become best friends or the worst of enemies.lighthouse

The weeks pass slowly, marked by back-breaking work.  There’s wanking and drinking and farting, but eventually their time is up.  They’ve made it!  Except that’s really just where the story starts.

A storm blows in, which means no boat can come for them.  They’ve been stranded, but for how long?  Days?  Weeks?  Time becomes meaningless, reality blurred.  We’re witnessing a descent into madness, but the question is: whose?  Winslow’s? Wick’s? Our own?

Shot in stark black and white, with an aching cinematography and an arresting sound design, Robert Eggers (director of the Witch) returns with a dizzying, disorienting film about madness.

The candlelight serves perfectly to illuminate Dafoe’s lined face, his fevered eyes leaving us to wonder whether he’s a psychopath or just a drunk.  Dafoe and Pattinson spar thrillingly on screen, each pushed by the other to unravel even further.  It’s magnetic even if it’s not always easy to watch.

The Lighthouse is full of omens and mythic imagery awaiting decoding.  This film doesn’t have the same sense of unending, unbearable dread that the Witch did, but it will surprise and confound you in new and unique ways, daring you to look away.

Us

“Why is nice Jordan Peele making such scary movies?”

As is often the case, Jay’s question is one that I can’t answer. But f you thought Get Out was too much, like Jay did, you will want to skip Us altogether. Maybe see Captain Marvel again while you wait for Dumbo, because Peele has clearly decided he’s made us giggle enough and now his goal is to induce heart attacks instead of belly laughs.

And yet, I still have to tell you to see it, even though you will kind of hate every minute. Us is just too good to miss. Like Get Out, there is a lot going on under the surface of Us, and like Get Out, it works as a thriller so if you want, you can ignore all the subtext and just enjoy the ride, or cringe in terror until the ride ends. In Us’ case, the ride is both metaphorically and literally a hall of mirrors, as a vacationing family is forced to face off against their evil twins. It’s like goateed Spock four times over, only in Us it is clear that the family from the mirror universe is out for blood and won’t stop til they get it.

Peele writes, directs and produces here, and in his sophomore outing as director he has already proven to be a monumental talent. He doesn’t appear as an actor but he’s imparted many of his mannerisms to Winston Duke, the family’s easygoing dad who seems more than anything is excited to get out on a rented motorboat that hangs slightly left. Duke provides a welcome dose of comic relief even as he does whatever is necessary to protect his family. He is equal to Lupita Nyong’o, and that’s the best anyone can ever do, because she brings it every time. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, as their kids, are both great as well. It’s awesome seeing them work together to survive as the stakes get raised higher and higher by the minute. Even more impressively, those four, and almost everyone in the movie, play dual roles, and there’s not a weak link to be found.

Us is one of those rare movies that stands above by being better executed, more thoughtful, and shamelessly cleverer than the rest of its genre. And like Get Out before it, Us is not a typical Oscar contender but it better get some attention next February. Because Peele and company deserve to be praised for what they’ve given us with Us: a brilliant film that manages to be brutal and restrained, and one that 24 hours later I still haven’t fully digested or shaken.

TIFF18: Donnybrook

Earl, an ex-soldier, has a junkie wife and two kids and no legit way to make them a better life. The only thing he’s ever been good at is fighting, and as luck would have it, there’s a slim chance he can turn that into some cash. Donnybrook is offering up $100k to the winner of a massive, no rules cage fight. All you have to do is be the last one standing. $100k will buy a home for his kids and treatment for his wife, but he can’t even afford the $1k entrance fee. So he robs a gun store where he’s known by the owner – it’s not a perfect crime, but Earl (Jamie Bell) isn’t exactly the sharpest tool, nor does he have to be in this shit town.

On the road to Donnybrook, Earl’s story will intersect with Delia and Angus, a brother-sister drug-dealing team with a questionable relationship, and the cop who’s pursuing MV5BZTJjMDdkZDgtNDRjMy00ZGU5LThjOTMtZWE4Nzk3ZDRhZTFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ1MTYzNzY@._V1_them. Lots of crazy things are going to happen. LOTS OF CRAZY THINGS. I can only hope to prepare you fractionally for the craziness that’s about to be unleashed. I was not prepared at all. Some films at a festival are hardly finished. Lots don’t have trailers yet, or even production stills. Lots will go on to be re-edited so their final, released-in-theatres version will look wholly different that the version I saw at TIFF. Donnybrook felt finished but little was known about it. The only synopsis available simply states that “two men prepare to compete in a legendary bare-knuckle fight.” I thought I was sitting down to a boxing movie, not a HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED movie, and I shouted that more than once. More than twice!

And it’s not just the gratuitous violence. There’s some pretty freaky sex stuff too. The drug-addicted wife is likely the only one headed for treatment, but she’s only the fourth or fifth most in need of it. There isn’t a healthy person for miles, and if there was, they’d probably be killed just for their car keys. Donnybrook is dark and violent and brutal.

Tim Sutton seems to want to give a voice to white rage in middle America. They’re poor, they’re addicted, they’re abused. And they’re racist, xenophobic pieces of shit, though Sutton seems to excuse that, and revel, even fetishize their anger. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem, just that Sutton contributes to the problem without saying anything intelligent about it. If he cared about these “marginalized” people, he wouldn’t make such caricatures out of them.

First Reformed

The Reverend Ernst Toller is the minister at First Reformed church, a small congregation in upstate New York. Mary, a young woman in the community, asks him to counsel her husband, who is struggling with her pregnancy. Michael is an environmental activist who is gripped by despair and hopelessness – he cannot imagine bringing a child into this world. Ernst (Ethan Hawke) takes him on, but it’s a tough case, and he relates more to the wife (Amanda Seyfried) than to the husband, who seems unreachable.

But the truth is, the Reverend is in no condition to counsel anyone. He’s messed up. MV5BYjA3OTJlODAtZjNlNi00ZTE1LTkxNzctNzJlNjQ5NjQxZTcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX750_CR0,0,750,999_AL_And Michael’s question “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?” messes him up even more. He defends god, but struggles privately. He takes up Michael’s obsession but continues to pollute his own body, as we watch his physical and mental health spiral downward.

The first half of the movie is a lot of Ernst feverishly and guiltily Googling, while also drinking himself to death. It’s is not overly compelling stuff. But it’s super jarring when there’s suddenly a scene that feels like a complete divergence from everything that came before it. It’s almost like director Paul Schrader is shaking things up to allow room for the spiritual. He reminds us that we’re not in charge. We may think we know what’s happening, but we don’t.

And that’s true. I was very caught off guard by the ending, and there’s not many stories in the world that I don’t see coming a mile away. I mean, we know this dude is having a breakdown in a major way. But things get extreme, and, um, open to interpretation? This movie is getting a lot of love from the critics, but it does boil down to: 90% boring, 2% omg wtf, and I guess 8% wrapping your head around Cedric the Entertainer’s casting. It’s one you’ll have to see for yourself.

Ethan Hawke is quite good, and he has to be because this character embodies so many conflicts – faith & science, love & fear, strength & despair, consecration & desecration. It’s hard to really put this one into words, which I think is kind of the point. Schrader tackles the inexpressible, he goes there, and treats spirituality with more seriousness than I’ve seen from a movie in a long, long time. It does not make for fun viewing. Can you hack that? Is that how you want to spend 108 minutes?

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.

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 faint of heart.