The title promises “bad times” and that’s exactly what this film delivers. In saying that I am not criticizing Bad Times at the El Royale. It’s a well-made variation on the multiple perspective crime genre (think Pulp Fiction) and it will keep you guessing until the end as each character is introduced and additional information is gained from each new perspective. But while Quentin Tarantino mixed a fair bit of humour into Pulp Ficton’s dark brew, writer-director Drew Goddard’s El Royale is a long row of tequila shots without a chaser. It starts slowly but even then, right from the start, the tense atmosphere tells you that a lot of bad shit is coming.
The main events in Bad Times at the El Royale unfold over the course of one rainy night on the Nevada-California border. The El Royale is literally split in half by the state line, so the first challenge for each guest is to decide in which state they’d like to stay. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill at the El Royale ever since it lost its Nevada gaming licence, so the hotel is essentially deserted. Ringing the bell doesn’t summon the desk clerk; it takes several seconds of beating on the “staff only” door to wake him. Once he’s up, the guests are able to check in – there are four at first, and two more will show up before the night is done. Hardly any of the guests are what they seem, and only a couple of them will live long enough to check out in the morning.
While the movie doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, the solid premise and excellent cast still make this film worth watching. It’s absolutely packed with talent, as demonstrated by the always-excellent Nick Offerman being relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss it role (though he does get to do some woodworking, of sorts, so that was probably reason enough for him to sign on). Bad Times at the El Royale gave me a tense, suspenseful night chock full of hardboiled twists and turns, and that’s all I could have asked for before the sunrise.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is a good movie in the shadow of a great one.
As a child, Rupert Turner was enamoured with a teen hearthrob, John F. Donovan, who was actually an adult playing a teenager on some soapy high school drama. A budding actor himself, Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) writes to Donovan (Kit Harington), telling him of his ambitions and desires – namely, to one day act alongside him. Surprisingly, Donovan writes back, and a beautiful friendship is forged, strictly as pen pals. But when that relationship is discovered, first by Rupert’s mother (Natalie Portman), then by the press, the friendship is misinterpreted and Donovan vilified. He dies before our two buddies can ever meet up.
Ten years later, a grown-up Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) is releasing a collection of their correspondence as a book, and a skeptical reporter (Thandie Newton) is interviewing him. The truth of their friendship is revealed through flashbacks, as is Donovan’s life, which of course was not all rainbows and lollipops.
Behind his privilege, Donovan had an absent father, a family that fauns over him and resents him in equal measure, an alcoholic mother (Susan Sarandon), an agent who is decidedly not his friend (Kathy Bates), and a girlfriend/childhood friend (Emily Hampshire) who is also his beard (unknowingly). He’s hiding a lot. He lives in a world filled with illusion. He’s pulled in a thousand directions and has no friends who aren’t on the payroll, and yeah, it is kind of sad that he unburdens his soul to a kid, but it’s also kind of understandable, which is sadder still.
Director Xavier Dolan is uniquely positioned to have something to say about child actors and the celebrity beast and I really enjoyed his attempts at profundity in this film. This is his first English-language film and while there are still traces of his typically auteur-ish style, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is perhaps missing just a little of what normally makes a Dolan a Dolan. It also suffers a bit from bloat. Susan Sarandon’s performance is quite good, her character very interesting, but there isn’t a lot of room for her, as Dolan cut the movie down from 4 hours to just over 2 (and left Jessica Chastain completely on the cutting room floor). Kathy Bates’ part isn’t really a part at all, barely more than a cameo.
Dolan’s crime seems to have been starting out with too much to say and then having a hard time parting ways with any of it during editing. But I think John Donovan is a character worth getting to know. And the topic of celebrity death, and our cultural obsession with it, and possibly contribution to it, is ripe for harvesting. I think the wording of the title has something to say about it all by itself. This movie isn’t all that it could be, and coming in to a Xavier Dolan film, I can’t help but bring high hopes and standards. But there’s something worthwhile here, and I hope it will be mined for the diamonds and not just the flaws.
Jared is a good guy. He goes to church with is parents, where his father is the pastor. He plays on the high school basketball team. He’s kind to his girlfriend. But when he gets to collage, the world isn’t quite so good to him in return. He makes fast friends with a fellow runner, but that leads to a surprise sexual tryst one night that the other guy can’t live with. So, he tries to destroy Jared’s life, forcibly outing him to his deeply religious parents.
Jared (Lucas Hedges) respects his parents (Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe) so he goes to gay conversion camp as instructed, in the hopes that they can turn him straight. Conversion therapy is nuts. I mean, it just is, on principle. What kind of whack jobs really believed this would work? And what kind of whack jobs wanted it to? It would almost make a handy queer dating service, as it is probably the biggest concentration of homosexual folk any of these kids has seen before, if it wasn’t so nasty and abusive. That’s what it really boils down to. The head instructor, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), blames your “problem” on some member of your family who made you gay. He wants you to pick someone to focus your anger on. He wants you to learn to “act” “straight” (did you know that the triangle is the straightest shape?). He focuses on behaviour – if you stop playing football, you are no longer a football player. Problem solved.
I mean, this whole thesis feels strangely out of date. Why is Hollywood still trying to convince people that gay is okay? I think societally we’ve moved past this point, except all these scripts that have been languishing for years are only now getting produced, and they’re already obsolete. You have to check out indie cinema to see some truly of-the-moment lgbt themes. But okay, gay conversion therapy is a horror. Of course it is. But the thing that’s great about Boy Erased is that Jared is such a strong character. Everyone and everything in his life is trying to make him feel wrong and ashamed and dirty, but he doesn’t. When he confirms to his parents that he thinks about men, he knows it goes against everything they believe, but it doesn’t seem like he’s internalized that self-hatred. It can’t be easy, in that house particularly, to know that his very being is not only repugnant but blasphemous to the people he loves most. And yet when he consents to the therapy, it’s for them, not for him. We never get the sense that he believes he needs to change. And that’s kind of astonishing to see.
Eventually Jared need to come to terms with disappointing the people he loves. And maybe he’ll need to cut out the people who are adding toxicity to his life. Those are hard choices, but they’re the right ones. This movie is really more about his parents needing to learn that they’re the idiots, and they’re the ones in need of education and re-conditioning. But while Nicole Kidman, in all her church lady big-hair, bejeweled glory, sort of comes around, there’s not a lot of remorse on the part of Russell Crowe’s character. And that’s where the movie falls short. Jared is surprisingly at ease with himself but the movie doesn’t give him nearly enough credit. Director Joel Edgerton, perhaps unsurprisingly, spends more time on his own character, than he does on the ones with real influence in this story.
Boy Erased is a good, competent little movie that will fail to make a big impression.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh, and if you’re not sold yet, Michael Shannon plays a crazy cop in it.
It’s National Canadian Film Day! I’m sadly spending it watching American movies in New York City, but not to worry, I celebrated a bit early before I left, and I’ve got just the thing for this fantastic day in cinema (which for some reason is commemorated on 4\20…stupid Canada.)
Canadian cinema will never compete with Hollywood, in part because we don’t have the people or the resources, but also largely because L.A. is already 80% Canadian. Even Matt’s brother lives there! (Hi, Mark). Well, okay, that figure’s a bit high, but all the talented ones are Canadian. Deadpool is Canadian. Seth Rogan. Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams. Shatner. Michael Cera. Ellen Page. Jay Baruchel. Catherine O’Hara. Eugene Levy. The Sutherlands. Will Arnett. Victor Garber. Michael J. Fox. All the funny people from SNL. There are talented Canadians in the director’s chair as well: Cronenberg. Cameron. Atom Egoyan. Norman Jewison. The Reitmans. Sarah Polley. Patricia Rozema.
To celebrate more specifically, here are some little gems of Canadian cinema that I think you’ll enjoy no matter what nationality you are.
Xavier Dolan’s Mommy: Before Dolan was directing Adele, Jessica Chastain, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon, he was just a young Quebec boy with a lot of ambition. His movies have been increasingly polished and mature, culminating with Mommy, a disturbing movie about a complex mother-son relationship.
Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal: Although best known for his Oscar-nominated Les invasion barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), an older work in his catalogue, Jesus of Montreal, is quite a trip. A group of actors are hired to put on the passion of the Christ in Montreal. Jesus is interpreted a little differently than usual and the church is not happy. The movie works on its literal level and also as a biblical allegory, so you can watch and rewatch this one and always come away with something new.
Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies: He’s now known for Prisoners and Sicario (and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel) but shortly after Polytechnique, he directed one of Canada’s best films of this millennium. The story follows twins as they follow they unwind the mystery of their immigrant mother’s life after her sudden death. The film is haunting, sharp, and will make you put your head down and weep.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y.: You may know Vallée from Dallas Buyer’s Club or Demolition, but Canadians got to know the filmmaker long ago, with solid movies like C.R.A.Z.Y, the story of a young gay man growing up in his conservative father’s household along with 4 brothers in Quebec during the 1960s and 70s. The soundtrack’s spot on, the writing is honest, and the acting is top-notch.
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg: Described by Maddin as a “docu-fantasia” and by perplexed critics as a surrealist mockumentary, nobody knows exactly what the hell this is, but it IS both an experiment and an experience in cinema. Maddin casts someone else as Maddin and then paints a mythologized, metafictional tribute to his beloved town of Winnipeg. If you love movies, you have to check this out. You’ll feel it in your toes.
Being fairly well-versed in national cinema, Matt, Sean and I also watched a movie by a local filmmaker by the name of Vincent Valentino. We met him briefly at the Monster Pool Horror Anthology and have wanted to see more of his work since. He just happened to have a little ditty about washed up porn stars that starred lots of familiar-to-Ottawa faces, plus the always-arousing presence of Ron Jeremy. And how better to celebrate Canadian Film Day by having a laugh with your friends.
Did you know some of your favourite film makers have made not just great movies, but some unforgettable music videos as well? Some directors got their start on MTV, but most on this list are just trying something different.
Antoine Fuqua, best known for directing Training Day and more recently Southpaw, got his start in music videos, shooting songs for Toni Braxton and Prince, but his most famous, arguably, is the one he did for Coolio: Gangsta’s Paradise, which took home best rap video at the MTV video awards in 1996. It’s been 20 years and a couple of weeks since its release but if you hear this song, it transports you back to that magical, Michelle Pfeiffery time in 1995 when rap was still a bit on the fringes, but Fuqua (hired by Jerry Bruckheimer) dared to pair Coolio with America’s super-white sweetheart in a series of face-offs that really normalized things and turned the genre on its ear. “I wasn’t completely happy with Antoine Fuqua’s concept at first, [says Coolio, to Rolling Stone] because I wanted some low-riders and some shit in it; I was trying to take it ‘hood. But he had a better vision, thank God, than I did. I couldn’t completely see his vision, but I trusted him.” The video is dark, shadowy, and intense, with choice clips from the film highlighting its rougher themes, proving Fuqua had style.
Gus Van Sant, director of Milk and Good Will Hunting, did a video for Red Hot Chili Peppers after directing Flea in My Own Private Idaho. The band credits Van Sant’s video for Under The Bridge with helping them break into the mainstream. The video features the band in a studio with lots and lots of projected lights and layered images superimposed over their faces, and backdrops of deserts and ocean, and then shifts its focus to the streets of Los Angeles, where Anthony Kiedis sings at various city folk, the camera lingering on characters as they go by. This video is just a small dose of Van Sant’s melding of stylistic devises that audiences would come to know him for.
David Fincher, weirdo director of Fight Club and The Social Network, has done a number of music videos, including Billy Idol’s Cradle of Love and Madonna’s Vogue, but I love the one he did for Aerosmith because it’s SO Fincher. In fact, it was banned from MTV for its gruesome, realistic scenes that kinda sorta alluded to incest. It was a landmark video for its narrative structure, blue mood lighting, and tricky not-for-primetime subject matter.
Michael Bay is my personal nemesis, and director of winners such as Pearl Harbor, and Transformers. But did you know that before Bad Boys, there was Meatloaf? That’s right – in the greatest pairing since Avril Lavigne and the guy from Nickelback, Michael Bay staged the epic I’d Do Anything For Love video – ridiculous and grandiose, there is nothing these two wouldn’t do. No expense or piece of storyline was spared; the budget is said to have been over $4 million dollars, but there is a helicopter and 2 hours of makeup application for a 6 minute video, so that’s reasonable.
Sofia Coppola, feted director of Lost in Translation, once did a video for the White Stripes: I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself. It’s a cover song, obviously, and it needed a fab director to take a Burt Bacharach ditty that Dusty Springfield made famous, and putting their own mark on it. Coppola decided to keep it simple: Kate Moss pole dances, in black and white. Why? “Because I would like to see it. [says Sofia] That’s the way I work: I try to imagine what I would like to see.” It has a Bob Fosse\Factory feel and updates the vintage classic. But this is Virgin Suicides Sofia Coppola we’re talking about; the video is sexy, sure, but it’s also lonely. Moss is out there alone. No audience. There’s emptiness mixed with her particular brand of eroticism. But it certainly seems that she knows exactly what to do with herself. And now you might have a few ideas of what to do with her too.
And how about that Spike Lee? He’s gotta be the obvious one on this list, right? The director of Do The Right Thing was also behind the camera for Public Enemy’s iconic video. Videos actually; one was made to highlight the film, but a second was made with thousands of extras simulating a political rally in Brooklyn. It really captures the emotions, and the anger really, of the song’s lyrics. This song was conceived was Lee’s behest, and this is man who does not avoid controversy. The video was a megaphone and Lee knows exactly where to point it.
Brian de Palma is maybe my favourite on this list. You know him as the director of Scarface and Carrie, but did you know he also directed the video for Bruce Springsteins’ Dancing in the Dark? Neither a psychological thriller nor graphically violent, Dancing in the Dark doesn’t even appear to pay homage to Hitchcock. Are we sure it’s de Palma? Apparently this is what he does when he’s between movies. He makes music videos as business cards: this gun’s for hire.
And speaking of out of character, how about this New Order video for Touched By The Hand of God? It’s Kathryn Bigelow at the helm, responsible for the inspired casting of New Order themselves to play hair-band versions of themselves. No hints of The Hurt Locker here, Bigelow instead opts to parody glam metal. And where De Palma used a young Courtney Cox, Bigelow went with a young Bill Paxton. Crazy, right?
Tim Burton, the man behind Edward Scissorhands and a whole genre’s worth of quirky gothic horror stuff, also does music videos in his spare time. Hired by The Killers when they all had flagging careers, he in turn tossed a day’s work to Winona Ryder who was happy to get paid scale to play some sort of weird, bug-eyed wax doll. I think. It’s definitely cinematic and Burtony and it doesn’t make me like, or understand, the song any better.
This list would not be complete without Mr. Scorsese. He directed the epic music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad, which (together with Thriller, directed by John Landis) cemented these sprawling, story-telling videos. It co-stars a young Wesley Snipes and is heavily influenced by West Side Story. It is 18 minutes long (take that, Thriller!) and even had a screenwriter. Jackson plays a student named Daryl who’s home after a semester at a private school. To prove to Snipes that he’s still “bad” he…well, he dances. As you do. He snaps, the video turns to colour, and here you have it:
This list is already long but believe me, it could go on for ages. Directors be busy!
Ron Howard (Cocoon) – Michael Sembello, Gravity HOLY SHIT YOU NEED TO CHECK THIS OUT
Do any of these surprise you? Do you see any of the director’s style shining through these music videos?
There is no way in hell I could fail to mention that Canadian indie director whizkid Xavier Dolan recently directed the history-making, ultra-lush Adele video to end all videos. It’s the first music video ever to be shot in IMAX, in stark black and white. Set in the outskirts of Montreal, it’s an emotional one, beautiful and well suited for Adele’s overdue comeback. It racked up a record-breaking 27 million views in the first 24 hours of its release – take that, Taylor Swift. Apparently it was Adele who reached out to Dolan, and he’s still reeling that she even knows who he is.
Tangerines – In a messy war between Georgians and Chechans, an old man who makes boxes and his friend who grows tangerines are having a hard time getting their boxed tangerine business off the ground. But then the factions start fighting right on their doorstep and they pull a lone survivor, a Chechen, from the wreckage. Their plan is to nurse him back to health while burying the dead, and that’s when they discover that one of the dead isn’t quite dead. And that’s how they end up nursing sworn enemies back to health under the same roof – each vowing to kill the other as soon as he is able to get out of bed unassisted.
J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) – This is a Canadian film, french language of course, so not actually foreign to me, but will be to most of you. Xavier Dolan wrote this when he was 16, and began starring and directing in it when he was 19 or 20. It’s about the tenuous bond between a single mother and her teenaged son, a relationship Dolan has described as “semi-autobiographical.” His performance is petulant but perceptive and it made me wonder if he knew that he’d made the mother out to be less than a villain, and the son a spoiled brat. I have a feeling he has more of a sense of humour for these two than they could ever muster for themselves. And he styles them with his odd composition notes, a dash of black and white here, a dollop of characters barely in the screen there. He’s got a penchant for artistry that’s only being hinted at here, but watch out for Laurence Anyways, and Mommy, you haven’t seen the last of this talented young director.
Christiane F – Fucking German movies, eh? Goddamned barrels of sunshine. Made me yearn for some citrus wars, or matricide at the very least. I started watching this one about a month and a half ago, back when it was German language film week, and I just couldn’t hack it. And you know what? I still can’t. Who can watch a little 13-year-old girl running around in clown makeup and heels WITH FUCKING SOCKS , thinking she’s all grown up even though she doesn’t even have pubes (which we can verify because everyone has TERRIBLE UNDERWEAR), fucking around and shooting up with goddamned dirty needles, and then whoring to pay for it, boasting she can do 7 in an hour, condoms optional. No. Just no. And? It’s apparently based on the real Christiane’s memoirs. So, live with that. Also? The worst part was totally the socks.
Miraculum is one of those movies that knits together different stories and hopes to make a beautiful afghan but sometimes ends up making a bit of a mess. Let’s face it, it’s hard to find, say, four different stories that are equally compelling, and in this case, Gabriel Sabourin does a better job with some stories (as screenwriter) than with the one he tells himself as an actor.The city of Montreal has just been home to a terrible plane crash where the lone survivor remains unidentified. Julie (Marilyn Castonguay) a nurse and also a Jehovah’s Witness, becomes quite taken with this unidentified stranger, maybe as a placeholder for her complicated feelings toward her boyfriend (Xavier Dolan), also a Witness, who is dying from leukemia and unwilling to get the treatment that would save his life, as per their religious doctrine.
The Burbs is not one of Tom Hanks’ best, but when he teams up with Bruce Dern as two suburbanites with maybe a little too much time on their hands, it’s still pretty awesome. A new family has moved into the neighbourhood and get this – they don’t mow their lawn! And their garbage cans are suspicious! And…do they look a little…foreign to you? Paranoia starts to creep in and suddenly the neighbourhood dads are crossing some pretty serious boundaries to accuse their little-known neighbourhoods of all kinds of mayhem, including murder. Coincidentally, this “neighbourhood” was shot on the Universal backlot, which we’ll be visiting in the next few weeks – it’s the same neighbourhood that was used for Desperate Housewives and Leave It To Beaver.
Words and Pictures has got both Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen, so already I’m sold. They’re both playing high school teachers – she, art (being a talented artist herself, but recently plagued by arthritis) and he, English (being himself a writer, currently stifled by his alcoholism). They’re both a little isolated and angry at home, but shine in their respective classrooms and soon have their students engaged in a “war” – words vs pictures, or is a picture really worth a thousand words? It’s witty and interesting and while not their best work it was a surprising and gratifying Netflix find on a quiet night and I enjoyed it.
I bet nobody like the movie Blackhat, ever. Am I right? The “action” was silly. The “romance” was even sillier. The “thriller” aspect was completely inert. I can’t write anything about this movie without using ironic quotations, for goat cheese’s sake! They bust hacker-Thor from prison to help stop an even evil-er hacker and it’s all cyber-crimey and pretty dull, with really loose writing and lazy directing, and you just want it to be over, but why spend TWO HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES anticipating credits when you could just not watch it at all?
Well, I did it, Andrew from Fistful of Films. I watched Mommy. Andrew’s made no secret of his appreciation of this Cannes sensation- now I get the picture on his masthead- and after the film resurfaced during Thursday Movie Picks a couple of weeks ago, I vowed to finally give this a watch.
First, I’ll say that I liked Mommy better than The Score, the Robert De Niro-Edward Norton heist movie from 2001 that I watched the night before. Like Mommy, The Score is filmed and set in Montreal, where I spent the first twenty-four years of my life. I know the city well, well enough to know that Quebecers don’t sound like that. The accents and dialects (more French than Quebecois) aren’t a big deal and most non-Canadians may not even notice but they’re distracting for me. Mommy’s already off to a good start just by being a Canadian film with actual Canadians.
The actors in Mommy get more than just the Franglais right. As mother and son, Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon always manage to make their increasingly complicated feelings and relationship believable, if not always likeable. Both Die (Dorval) and Steve (Pilon) are immediately off-putting. We are warned from the beginning that Steve can be a lot to take but I was unprepared for foul-mouthed and deliberately provocative style. Even Die, Steve’s long-suffering mother, is tough to take at first, presenting herself immediately as arrogant and confrontational through some pretty cocky gum-chewing.
I warmed to these characters quickly though. Die first. We quickly see how out of control- even dangerous- Steve is and I couldn’t help seeing her as a mother doing the best she can with an impossible situation. Steve has his charming- even sweet- side too. His feelings of guilt over ths burden he thinks he must be to his mother rise to a scene in a karaoke bar where he deliberately causes a scene in order to derail Die’s flirtation with a lawyer who she thinks can help with her son’s situation. The relationship between mother and son is unpredictable and at times a little strange but makes sense as we realize that they can’t help feeling that all they have is each other.
This relationship is written and acted to perfection even if Mommy isn’t. Dolan devotes way too much time to a stuttering former teacher who lives across the street without any real justification for doing so. I also could have done without the unusual 1.1 Aspect Ratio that is distracting at best and counter-productive during the more cinematic sequences that Dolan seems to love.
Have you seen Mommy? If you have, I would love to hear what you thought of the final scene.
I don’t have much to say about the whole Caitlyn Jenner-break the internet thing. I hope she’s happy and getting happier with her transition. I’m not a fan of the Jenner-Kardashian machine, and it feels weird to me to take something so intimate and personal and seek to profit from it, but I guess she’s only following the family business model. I just hope it doesn’t cheapen the real struggle that less privileged people go through with their own transitions every day, out here in the real world.
Laurence Anyways is a 2012 movie by talented Canadian director Xavier Dolan. It’s about a man, Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) who, in the late 80s and his early 30s, decides he must live as the woman he’s always known himself to be. Hurdle number one: breaking the news to his girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement), who goes through the predictable knee-jerk reactions – are you gay, have you ever worn my panties, I’m leaving you. But she can’t really leave him. Leave her, I should say, and soon becomes his biggest supporter.
Dolan is a young director who’s still finding his way with this film. There are some crazy set pieces that don’t always work, but are still admirable and some quite memorable. He’s clearly got a visual talent beyond your average director. But he brings this movie in at nearly three hours, and it just doesn’t need to be that long. In fact, the film’s first 20 minutes are probably the most editable. And the interview framework feels forced and unnecessary.
Poupaud and particularly Clement are masterful here. I really enjoyed scenes between Laurence and his ice-bitch mother, played wonderfully by Nathalie Baye. There’s a lot this film is telling us in sideways glances and throwaway remarks. Poupaud’s quiet moments work like magic. The first day Laurence wears a dress to his job (as a college professor) is a minute in film that needs to be studied. The silence is crafted beautifully. Clement, meanwhile, gets to be the explosive one, her red hair accenting her passionate missives like fireworks.
There are some mis-steps here but Dolan presents his flamboyant film with confidence, if a little too much music, a little too stylized. But it’s something to behold, and this kid just keeps getting better and better.