Tag Archives: whoa there what the fuck just happened

The Fate of the Furious

1488423016_80f557346e9c57a769fa41a2b284345aAs a movie franchise adds new instalments, we expect (and even demand) that the stakes get higher, that the setpieces get bigger, and that the payoff be greater when our heroes win in the end. Normally, the need to maintain some level of realism constrains the film in some way. Not so with the latest entry in the Fast and Furious franchise.

The Fate of the Furious is absolutely ridiculous from start to finish. There is only one law of physics in this world, and it is this: our heroes must succeed.  So if for Vin Diesel to win a race, a car needs to go faster in reverse than in drive after doing a 180, then that’s what is going to happen. That is always part of the pact that action movies (and action sequels in particular) make with their audience: accept the rules being bent now and again and in exchange, receive that elevated payoff I mentioned earlier. By and large, we are willing to accept that sort of thing in service of those higher stakes I mentioned. What sets the Fate of the Furious apart from most movies is that it doesn’t bend the rules at the climax; rather, it breaks them in the opening sequence. Right from the start, we know that absolutely anything goes, and it just gets more ridiculous from there.

If, like me, you can accept that in the service of entertainment  then you will enjoy this movie. On the other hand if, like Jay, you have no tolerance for big, loud, dumb action movies then you will want to choose some other form of entertainment. Because Fate of the Furious is among the biggest, loudest and dumbest movies ever made. It is also among the most gleeful, and I thoroughly enjoyed every over-the-top set piece, each of which is spectacular in its idiocy.

The Fate of the Furious is exactly what it aims to be, no more and no less. It was never going to reach the emotional heights of Furious 7, and it was never going to bring something fresh to the genre. It is a fun experience (especially in 4DX, which made this movie even more of a rollercoaster ride) but ultimately it’s a flashy, forgettable movie. Which may otherwise have been enough if I had not just seen Baby Driver at SXSW and been reminded how great an action movie can be when it is truly innovative instead of a formulaic eighth entry in a franchise that was all style, no substance right from the start.

The Fate of the Furious gets a score of six Lamborghinis on ice out of ten, with the caveat that if you have a time machine then jump to June 28 and see Baby Driver instead.

 

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The Prestige

prestigeChristopher Nolan’s bad movies are better than most people’s good ones.  I count three of them (Memento, Inception and The Dark Knight) among my all-time favourites, and I have enjoyed everything else of his that I’ve seen (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar).  Noticeably absent from that list, until this week, was The Prestige, which usually appears near the top of critics’ “best of Nolan” lists.  So when The Prestige popped up on Netflix’s “recently added” row, I dove in immediately.

The Prestige is a tale of the ever-escalating war between two rival magicians, played by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman.  Bale is the purer magician while Jackman is the larger commercial success.  As the stakes get ratcheted up, Bale is arrested for Jackman’s murder.  But in a battle of illusionists, can we really believe what we see?

Structurally, The Prestige is as complex as anything that Nolan has thrown at us.  This movie shouldn’t work as well as it does.  There are flashbacks within flashbacks but I knew at all times where/when a scene fit in with the rest of the film.  We’ve got enough examples by now of Nolan’s capabilities, but The Prestige is yet another display of his narrative mastery.  Basing the film on the three parts of a magic trick works very well, keeping the viewer on edge until the big reveal.

The reveal itself, though, left me disappointed.  It was a huge stretch that went completely against the movie’s prior suggestions that the secret of magic is setting up the trick and selling it to the audience.   I found the reveal of both Bale and Jackman’s methods problematic, in different ways, but Jackman’s big surprise was what really took the air out of the film for me.

Because of that, on my list The Prestige gets relegated to the lower tier of Nolan films, somewhere in Interstellar territory.   Make no mistake, though, that’s due to Nolan having made so many great films as opposed to The Prestige being a bad movie.  It’s still pretty damn good!

 

Neon Demon

A plot? You want a plot? Try this: Elle Fanning is young. Elle Fanning is blonde. Elle Fanning is pretty. She knows it, she likes it. But it’s when she the-neon-demonstarts believing it, truly believing that her beauty is important and holds power over other people, that’s when things start to bubble.

Elle (she has some other name in the movie, probably) has recently arrived in L.A., the city one goes to when one has legs for days. She’s ripe for the picking. When things come easily for her, she buys into it. As you can imagine, this makes for lots of pretty enemies. Pretty, but not pretty enough. They’re no longer the Pretty Young Thing of the moment. She is, so she becomes their hate suck. Luckily, model types excel at verbal abuse but are just too weak from hunger to be much of a threat.

This movie is by Nicholas Winding Refn, the sick and twisted dude who came 54800_100.jpgup with that head-stomping scene in Drive. And all the other scenes in Drive. I described Neon Demon to Sean as “less plot than Drive, and with super models” and also as “this year’s weird movie” to which he replied “Beasts of the Southern Wild weird?” and I answered “No, more like High-Rise weird.” More like weird weird.

This is a polarizing movie that you’ll either love or hate. Or, if you’re like me, the-neon-demon-2016-elle-fanning-bella-heathcotenot really either of those two things. Surprise third option! I definitely didn’t hate it. Lord it has some of the coolest images I’ve seen in a film, ever. Gorgeous. Stunning. It’s one of the boldest things I’ve ever seen on film and I’m giving lots of credit to Refn’s cinematographer Natasha Braier (what! a female cinematographer??) Together, Refn and Braier create an unforgettable world that is hyper-real, extreme in both its beauty and its grit. The colour palette tells a story all on its own, progressing seamlessly from beginning to end.

And I don’t really mind it being plotless. The sparse storytelling just mimics the vacuousness of the girls. But it’s not just symbolically shallow;  I just also ellefound it to be kind of empty. Like there’s obviously an allegory here, about our culture’s emphasis on female beauty, and on a certain kind of white girl skinny beauty in particular. And the dangers of narcissism. And female cattiness, which I almost hate just on principle. But this movie didn’t make me think. Like, at all, beyond “Oh, that’s gross.” So treat it like a high fashion magazine with pretty pages to flip through. I just can’t give it much more credit than that.

TIFF 2016: The Best

 

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Graduation

From time to time, we all have to compromise our own values. It’s part of growing up. But do you remember the first time that you betrayed your own moral code?

According to Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, director of the brilliant and beautiful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which I have not seen), Graduation is about a lot of things. “It’s about family. It’s about aging. It’s about you. It’s about me”. But mostly, as the Cannes Best Director winner articulated at the North American premiere, it’s about that pivotal moment in one’s life where they make a conscious decision for the first time to do what they know in their heart to be wrong.

Romeo (Adrien Titieni) couldn’t be more proud of his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) when she gets accepted into a fancy British school but he still can’t relax. Despite her stellar grades, she still needs to pass her finals to get out their Romanian town. When a vicious random assault threatens to shake Eliza’s confidence just days before her exams, Romeo can’t help feeling tempted to use his position as a well-respected surgeon to bargain with her educators in exchange for some leniency.

Graduation takes its time. It takes time to establish the relationships, set up the scenario, and let the story play out. Mungiu doesn’t resort to melodrama or even a musical score to beg for our attention. Almost every scene plays out in just one meticulously framed take. It’s an approach that gives his actors plenty of room to shine and his story the time to come alive. If you don’t mind the slow pace, Graduation asks big questions and will get you talking. It’s a very rewarding experience.

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My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea

Dash Shaw was in high school when James Cameron’s Titanic was in theaters and couldn’t help imaging what it would be like if his school sank like the famous ship with all of his classmates inside. When you think about it, to avoid drowning to death in a sinking building, the smartest would head for the top floor and try to get to the roof. Once Shaw, director of My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea and apparently quite an accomplished comic book writer,  started imaging each floor being occupied by a different grade level, he knew he had a story worth telling.

To see a film called My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea without feeling like you’re seeing something completely unique would be a letdown. So I’m pleased to announce that, whether you love it or hate it, Shaw’s debut feature will not let you down. The unusual animation style takes a little getting used to at first and, even once you get comfortable, there is so much to look at that many of the movie’s jokes- and the jokes are almost constant- can be easy to miss. My Entire High School may eventually be best remember for its carnage (those who are spared from drowning are mostly impaled, electrocuted, or eaten by sharks) but it’s made all the more special by the hilarious and sometimes touching dynamic between three adolescent friends whose bond is in crisis just as their lives are in imminent danger. And it’s all brought to life by some of the best voice acting you’ll hear this year from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Reggie Watts, and Susan Sarandon.

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It’s Only the End of the World

I was one proud Asshole walking out of the Toronto premiere of Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s latest family drama. I was genuinely moved by a Xavier Dolan film. I admired Mommy, his last movie, I really did. It was just too self-indulgent for me to really relate to it in any real way.

So I was pleased to find myself loving this movie, more than almost anything else I saw at the Festival this year. I was finally starting to get it. I was quite disappointed to see that not everyone was as impressed as I was. It’s Only the End of the World currently has a score of 48 on Metacritic. If you’re not familiar with that site, let me put that in perspective. That’s only four points higher than Batman v. Superman’s score. Ouch.

I stand by my recommendation though. Based on a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only the End of the World tells the story of a family who are easier to relate to than to understand. After a 12-year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is finally coming home but he is bringing sad news with him. He is very sick and doesn’t have much time left. He’s not quite sure how to bring it up but it wouldn’t matter anyway because his mother, brother, and sister can’t stop alternating between picking fights with him and each other and awkwardly trying to force reconciliation. They try to bond over trivial things and fight over tiny details but can’t seem to bring themselves to talk about anything important.

The claustrophobic family reunion atmosphere seems to rein Dolan in a bit. He still manages to make Lagarce’s play his own though. For such a talky film, it’s surprisingly cinematic with its unnerving score and great performances from Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotilliard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassell. Using his signature tight close-ups, Dolan works with the actors to find subtext amid all the shouting. No easy task. Hard to act like you’re holding back when you’re screaming at each other.

I’m still not entirely sure what they were fighting about. But the story feels real and profoundly sad.

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Nocturnal Animals

Careful with this one. The people around me at the TIFF encore screening of Nocturnal Animals were basket cases watching it.

It’s easy to imagine yourself in the same position as Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a husband and father whose family finds themselves terrorized while driving a lonely Texas highway in the middle of the night. The tension is nearly unbearable as this story unfolds. Those around me could barely sit still watching it and Susan (Amy Adams) is getting even more stressed reading about it. See, the scary part of Nocturnal Animals is but a story within a story. It’s the plot of a manuscript that Susan’s ex-husband (also Gyllenhaal) has sent her of his latest novel. As unnerving as the novel is to watch, it’s even worse for Susan. She’s quite sure the novel is about her.

The three narratives (there are also a lot of flashbacks of Susan’s marriage) are balanced beautifully in the second film from director Tom Ford (A Single Man). Susan is a successful art dealer and everything around her is beautiful and fake. In the story within the story, Tony’s world is harsh and all too real. Nocturnal Animals is sure to be divisive. Ford lays out his themes very clearly and I’m sure I feel comfortable with all of his implications. But there’s so much to look at and so much to feel, think,about, and talk about that you kind of just have to see it.

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Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.

Hank Boyd Is Dead

Sarah Walsh has been in LA trying “the acting thing” for a long time but she’s recently moved back home to care for her terminally ill father. She’s picking up hours as a caterer’s assistant and finds herself working the funeral of a man she used to know in high school. Hank Boyd, a smart but socially inept outcast, is dead by his own hand – he killed himself in police custody before standing trial on a murder charge.

The small town is filled with speculation: where the victim’s head might be found, crimes Hank may have committed previously, and whether Boyd is serial killer material. To Walsh these accusations ring false – sure he was weird, but a murderer?

Hank2Hank Boyd is Dead is half narrative film, half pretend documentary, with characters giving talking head interviews about the deceased and the mysterious circumstances of his life and death. The production values are a little inconsistent, with the narrative pieces much stronger. The acting is quite good. The unknown cast really makes this work, with Stefanie Frame as Walsh being a particular standout.

The Boyd family is pretty messed up. Hank’s predilection for beheading pretty young girls is the least worrisome habit on this family tree. This means the movie necessitates some pretty heavy suspensions of disbelief, and believe me, my disbelief was pretty flipping thick. The writing is expository and clunky with obvious attempts to fill in the potholes in the plot. While it is not exactly a spoof, it is perhaps enjoyed best in that spirit.

 

Sunshine

50 years into the future, the sun is a dying star, and Earth will die along with it. We send a ship of astronauts to bomb the sun back into shining but the team goes awol somewhere out in the million miles of space. So we send another one, but this IS IT. Mankind’s last hope. We’ve officially mined all of Earth’s resources for this motherload. No pressure!

sunshine02The new team includes Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. They’re clearly already under stress when we meet them several years into their trip to the sun, but shit’s about to get a whole lot messier. Just as they’re approaching the most dangerous part of the mission, they receive a signal. It’s a ping from the lost ship. It’s been 7 years since anyone’s heard from them…they can’t still be alive, can they?

The crew debates whether they should divert their mission to find out. But this is not a democracy, the captain reminds them. They’re scientists, and he gives the decision to the person most qualified to make it, the ship’s physicist, played by Cillian Murphy. No matter what he decides, he’s fucked. No matter what he decides, his crew will hold him responsible for the lives and the mission he’s risked. Classic lose-lose scenario. Fun!

Okay, fun is the wrong word. Writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle are reteamed after Sunshine_spacesuitbring us The Beach and 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle has more recently done Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and Steve Jobs. Alex Garland wrote Ex Machina. These boys don’t do fun. They do: harrowing, intense, suspenseful. Sun-psychosis. The closer the ship gets to its goal, the more things fall apart. Fall apart literally and psychologically. And philosophically.

It starts out as an interesting, cerebral sci-fi adventure, on the lower end of the action scale, but not without daring stunts. But in Sunshine, getting closer to the sun is like getting closer to god. And reality unravels a bit like we’ve seen in Interstellar. Sunshine is ambitious. Boyle and Garland are asking us to consider some hot and heavy questions. Big Questions. Boyle manages to put story and character ahead of special effects, making this a very worthy, brainy, thoughtful entry into the sci-fi genre (and likely his last – he found this film to be extremely draining). The film makers actually want to make us understand what it’s like to get so close to our most glorious star. The increasingly fractured and subliminal scenes are almost reminiscent of some of the more hallucinogenic stuff from Boyle’s Trainspotting days, and the glimpses from inside sunshine-murphy-sunthe helmets of the striking gold space suits clutch at your throat. I had some very real autonomic responses to this film and I swear I could feel the heat. Boyle wisely uses actors who can take the heat and radiate some of their own. He even more wisely stays away from the love triangle cliché and sticks to things that feel very real for a set of humans staring into the sun and seeing their own deaths. There’s fear and panic and bravery and resolve.

If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases, but Sunshine includes an appropriately global response, which helps to underline the fact that in space, with human extinction on the line, there is no race or culture. It’s about those decisions to make sacrifices, to act for the greater good, to reach beyond which you think yourself capable. Sunshine stumbles in its final act – things get so weighty it seems to buckle a bit, but this remains a movie that is criminally underrated. Many thanks to my fellow film bloggers who pointed me toward this, and I hope maybe I’ve done the same for some of you.

Assassination Classroom: Graduation

001As you may remember, I had a great time last weekend watching a thoroughly ridiculous manga adaptation. Assassination Classroom: Graduation starts off from an even sillier place, as it features a superpowered yellow smiley faced squid who teaches assassination techniques to middle schoolers so they can kill him. I was 100% ready to love this movie, but instead suffered a big letdown.

sfsWhich is not to say Assassination Classroom: Graduation is a bad movie. I mean, it’s not really a GOOD movie by any measure, but my post-screening research shows that it adheres quite closely to the source material (incidentally, this is a sequel to last year’s Assassination Classroom with each movie covering about half of the original manga’s story) and was a big box office hit in Japan. But this movie had no intention at any time of embracing the complete ridiculousness of its concept or the yellow squidlike teacher. Instead, Assassination Classroom: Graduation plays it almost completely straight, delivering life lesson after life lesson as the middle school class grows up and learns the ways of the assassin from a big yellow squid. How you can play that concept straight at all, I don’t even know.

The film’s straightforward approach seemed to satisfy the two white girls ahead of us who were eating a bagful of Japanese candy including green-wrapper Kit-Kats (green tea flavour?!?), but I wasn’t there to see an earnest coming of age story. And I certainly wasn’t there to see half an hour of the movie devoted to a love story between the squid and a lab technician. I was there to see an off-the-wall action movie and Assassination Classroom: Graduation is not that. Colour me disappointed.

bxzX8w6So back to those green tea Kit Kats. Apparently Kit Kats are a huge deal in Japan because the name sounds like “kitto katsu”, which means “you will surely win”. That nice sentiment has given rise to a whole host of ridiculous Kit Kat varieties being eaten up by the Japanese (and also at least two white Canadians), including Shinshu Apple, Edamame Soybean, Purple Sweet Potato, Hot Japanese Chili, and Wasabi, among others. Lots and lots of others.

That Kit Kat madness is a perfect example of what I was expecting from Assassination Classroom: Graduation, but did not get. Learning about this Kit Kat craze is a decent consolation though, and it only happened because I went to see this movie. Obviously, the lesson is that Japan never fails to provide wackiness but you can’t always predict just where that wackiness will come from at any given time. And maybe that’s part of the fun!

Memento

Like most people our age, we have a copy of Memento in our DVD collection, and the cover of that copy declares itself a “masterpiece.” While I’m not entirely sure I agree, it IS an achievement and for many of us, a turning point in movies. It may have been the first Christopher Nolan you saw, but I doubt it was your last.

guypearceIt’s the story of a man looking for his family, like Finding Dory only more murdery. Okay, it’s nothing like Finding Dory, but Leonard (Guy Pearce) genuinely can’t form new memories, and he’s not so much looking for his wife as looking for her murderer. The story is ingeniously (and frustratingly) told frontwards AND backwards, colour sequences alternating with black and white, creating a disorienting narrative that mimics the character’s confusion. The two story lines eventually meet, but this technique manages to build both momentum and tension in ways we hadn’t experienced in a good long while.

Leonard uses tattoos and polaroids in place of memories but it’s not a perfect system as pictures can lie, and both are corruptible. The movie winds up being as much a trip for us as it is for him, and Memento spawned a lot of copycat movies and a new “mindfuck” genre.

It absolutely demands to be rewatched and nearly every time you do you find some new detail that requires much discussion over pie. You’re no film snobuntitled.png and certainly no Asshole if you don’t obsess over this movie at least semi-regularly.

Lucky for you, Toronto, there’s an exclusive screening in 35mmfor TIFF and ROM members at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Sunday July 10 2016 at 1pm as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s current exhibition, Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. All proceeds from this event will support TIFF’s film preservation and projection efforts, including the ongoing presentation of 35mm films.

 

Short film: Heir

You all know I’m a chicken. Big, big-time chicken. I don’t do scary movies. I don’t do ’em. I have a preference for my urine to be either in my bladder or in a toilet, not spreading down the leg of my pants.

I made an exception for this film, however, because I thought: 14 minutes. I can survive anything for 14 minutes. I can even manage my bodily functions for 14 minutes! But about 7 minutes in, I wasn’t quite as confident.  Not that the scariness starts at minute 7. It starts from minute 1, in that creepy-crawly, suspenseful, bad feelings running down my spine sort of way. But I held on, guys. Me and my Fresca, we held on.

And you know what I encountered? I’m not sure if I should say. I don’t want to ruin the ending. Although I do want to warn the 99% of you who will find this BEYOND FUCKING DARK. So let’s play charades. The kind of charades where you can’t see me. But if you must picture me: my hair is perfectly coiffed and H2not at all a week overdue for a haircut, and my chubby little knees are definitely demurely covered by my yellow floral dress and not exposed because my dress is somehow bunched up around my hips AGAIN. Now I also need you to picture The Worst Thing Ever. Not the worst thing in a horror movie. It’s not chainsaws for hands or a chain-letter that kills your  favourite aunt. It’s the Worst Thing Ever. The kind of thing that, when you go to prison for it, all the other prisoners think you’re a disgusting lowlife. Stealing your Grandma’s welfare cheques? Understandable. Dismembering your wife? The dirty whore deserved it. But this? This is bad. So now imagine that this Thing turns you into a monster. Literally. Like, not just morally a monster, but actually a monster.

Yeah, it’s a little “taboo.” Unsettling? Oh, maybe a bit. Crawling with jarring, sickening imagery that will scar  your brain and refuse to leave it? Um, check. But it’s well-done, the practical effects are on-point, the make-up is top notch, the score is chilling, the cast is extremely well-chosen. I can’t criticize any part of this movie making. But man: its contents really zapped me. It’s gruesome, it’s shocking, and it makes you feel like a dirty, dirty voyeur.

 

 

Tribeca: High-Rise

High-Rise is the cinematic equivalent of a raisin muffin: it’s okay as long as you weren’t expecting chocolate chip.  But why not have chocolate chip to begin with?

High-Rise-1-Glamour-16Mar16-pr_bThe film’s biggest problem is that it took 40 years to convert J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name into a movie.  In the meantime, Snowpiercer happened and was a way more awesome movie than High-Rise, or really anything else ever.

It’s not just that Snowpiercer had better acting, writing or directing than High-Rise (though it did).  High-Rise looks good but has a structural problem.  Call me an optimist but I couldn’t accept High-Rise’s premise of an isolated lawless world developing inside a skyscraper, not when the outside world remained completely accessible to the building’s inhabitants.  There’s no apocalypse event in High-Rise.  The building’s main doors aren’t ever blocked.  Mid-movie, a cop even pokes his head in to check whether things in the building are okay.  But for reasons that aren’t at all clear, instead of calling 911 to report any of the murders, suicides or sanitation issues inside the building, the residents all choose to stay inside, ignore the dead bodies 2016_11_high_riseand garbage bags that line the halls, and scavenge for dog meat rather than drive to the nearest supermarket for hot dogs.  That’s something that was impossible for me to swallow.

It’s too bad that conceptual problem is baked into High-Rise.  I wanted to like the movie but I just couldn’t.  Am I naive in thinking that people would take a bit of time between drunken orgies to leave the building and restock their snacks?   I hope not, though the numerous food references in this review tell me I’m very hungry, yet instead of going upstairs to our kitchen I’m still here typing…

High-Rise is not a bad movie, but if you’ve seen Snowpiercer then High-Rise feels like a pale imitation.  And if you haven’t seen Snowpiercer, what are you waiting for?