Thursday, 18 January 2018

Review: Paddington 2

Paddington 2 (2018) - Paul King

       Look, let's just get this out of the way: I didn't cry during Paddington 2, which is a sequel to the children's movie Paddington, about (presumably, I've never seen it) a CGI bear who was British before he moved to London, and ya know, made friends and shit? It's based on an old English children's book series (presumably, I've never read it) and the main thing I knew about it before today was that he wore a red hat, and a blue coat, and I definitely didn't cry during the sequel that I saw today. I didn't go to see this movie by myself, a 30-year-old adult (however I do use that word lightly), a children's movie with a fake bear and a British accent who teaches us about manners and eats marmalade sandwiches, and I definitely didn't cry at the end when everyone in the town comes together to prove Paddington right, that if you keep your head on straight and actually care about the people around you, whether they're your family or even a scary, complete stranger, then things might just work out your way. I didn't fucking cry, okay?
       I totally cried, folks. This movie! Where the fuck did this movie come from? Sure I vaguely remember not giving a shit when the first one came out a few years ago, and I remember a few months ago seeing the trailer for this one, similarly not giving a shit, and then moving on with my life (however I do use that word lightly). But then two things happened. 1) Moviepass, ensuring I will probably see anything in theatres (except The Greatest Showman because even I don't have such a strong sense of self-loathing that I would subject myself to that grease-burn of a movie), and 2) It has great reviews and a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. What the actual fuck? My favorite movie reviewer, who I shall not name here, but you know who you aaaare (you do not know who you are. Well, I mean, you probably do, but not like, in the sense that you're my favorite movie reviewer...not yet), apparently loved it, and perfect RT score? I'm not trying to say I follow everything the Great Golden Tomato decries (although I will admit for the most part it is pretty accurate, for my tastes at least. The people who are complaining about its scores should just make better fucking movies), but a ridiculous CGI bear kids sequel getting that high up there was definitely of note. I know as a critic (I'm not a critic, like at all) I shouldn't be justifying why I saw a movie, but I wanted to illustrate just how uninterested I would normally be in a ridiculous CGI Bear kids sequel.
       To the total credit of Paddington 2, I did not have to have seen Paddington the First (there were some bank robbery fallout story lines from the first, and a few very violent flashback sex scenes that probably would have been more powerful and made more sense with some context, but other than that I was totally able to figure it out and also I'm lying a lot). Paddington (Ben Wishaw) was rescued as a wee cub by two charming bears who had to permanently delay their trip to London to raise the new addition to their family. It's very sweet but also has a tiny hint of longing to it, and there's some melancholy when Paddington discusses how it was her (Aunt Lucy, as he calls her) greatest dream to see England. Which is why Paddington wants to get his widowed aunt (read: mother) the perfect 100th birthday present for her, and he's awe-struck when he finds a pop-up book of all the greatest sites of London. Good lord, one paragraph into the summary of Paddington 2 and I've already discussed a longing melancholy. What the fuck is this movie?
       Okay, what this movie really is is pure and earnest and above all, overwhelmingly sweet. Paddington firmly believes in the tried and true words of his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) that "When you are polite the world is good and right." Did that sentence make you want to die a little bit? Okay, good, I'm not alone. But director Paul King with his screenplay co-written by Simon Farnaby do something surprising: they actually create this kind of world where good deeds go rewarded and people are genuine and caring. Of course this world is complete nonsense and completely unrealistic, but there is a commitment that absolutely works throughout. It's the kind of world where people band together to make speeches and help out complete strangers, where even the bad guys get a happy ending. It's absolutely inane, but is done with some genuine care that it never gets stupid, it stays right at sweet and silly. And while it's not surprising to create idealized worlds for a children's movie, but what is surprising is that they do it without being saccharine or annoying. For a kid's movie, that's nuts.
       The movie, of course, is for kids. So there's plenty of goofy, slapsticky comedy involving a bear that was never actually there on set (because it's fake, and made with computers, because apparently you can't make bears "do things for you") doing things like accidentally shaving a guy's head, or trying to wash windows with a bucket of water that's too heavy. And absolutely, kid's movies should appeal to kids, but what makes this movie work well is that the parts that could normally be pretty stupid are done with so much sweetness that they go from being stupid to being very silly. And I like silly. Silly is good. Throw in an actually pretty decently animated bear (it's CGI, remember? And just to be clear, CGI animals next to real humans almost 100% of the time look like awkward nightmare fuel) that is cute as heck and so polite ya just wanna barf, and this movie is  entertaining throughout.
       The other thing that this movie definitely has going for it is, and this is also surprising, is the humans! When are the human counterparts in kid's movies like these anything but an annoying distraction and an obvious excuse to cut down on costs instead of just making an entirely fucking animated movie? Answer? Garfield 3: Feline Fine in the City (I made that up right now and I am not a 100% sure that it's not a real title). But actually, the cast in the movie is fantastic. Sally. Hawkins. Is. In. It. Sally Hawkins!!! Anything that can ever remind me of The Shape of Water I want immediately stuffed in all my face holes. I love her so much, and she brings the same heartfelt and sincerity to her role as here as Paddington's second mother. She's bubbly and excited and honest and an absolute delight (I almost wish she didn't talk, but that's neither here nor there. Gah, I liker her as an actor so much).
       Brandon Gleeson, a welcome addition to any movie, is the grumpy inmate chef (oh yeah, Paddington gets framed and sent to prison in this movie. It's wild) who clunks around and makes ridiculous faces like his granddaughter was just off-camera and he was trying to make her laugh and it's adorable and very silly and so earnest it works. And then Hugh Grant plays a more insane (like legit insane, it was kinda dark, and therefore funny) version of himself as the evil actor who steals the pop-up book that frames Paddington. All the human actors involved (and two of the narwhal cameos) were really well done, displaying once again that the filmmakers involved actually gave a shit when they were making this movie.
       The movie has some really nice sequences and animated flourishes and look really good. It's cute and sweet and has some fun action throughout as well. And it successfully sells its message of friendship and good manners, as much as I may have resisted it while I was watching it. Paddington is just so good and kind no matter where he goes he can leave an infectious happiness that transforms everyone around him to being a better person. That single idea makes me feel ill, and yet this movie never actually made me feel that way.
       And then...ugh, okay, and then there's the end scene...where like...okay, so at the end it's like...it's just really sweet because...and then his...and all his friends...they all...and all the people that he helped throughout the movie, they all...and then like he opened the door at the end and it was...oh my god it was so sweet and so amazing, ugh. I am NOT getting teary eyed right now, okay?
       I am. I am getting teary-eyed. I really liked this movie. It was cute as hell.

Grade: A Hundred Marmalade Sandwiches

My biggest complaint with the movie is that when he transform the prison cafeteria into a cake and tea shop (like I said this movie is ridiculous) they don't make ANY savory items. All sweets and desserts. C'mon, Paddington. Don't you wanna eat some Shepard's Pie or some Fish and Chips or somthing? Damn, dude.


Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: The Commuter

The Commuter (2018) - Jaume Collete-Serra

       I thought of something as I sat down to the one in the afternoon on a Monday showtime of The Commuter (Thank you Dr. King, your words and actions are a constant inspiration, even more today, because the world is straight raw dirty fucked), the newest in the never-ending deluge of Liam Neeson-starring action movies about him being a man with a particular set of skills that for some reason people keep fucking with his family. I sat down and realized: I have never seen any of the past decade of Liam Neeson action films (and there have been loads, three Takens, Run All Night, Non-Stop, Unknown), except maybe The Grey, which I only kind of saw (like, yes I saw it, but no, I was not sober enough to remember anything about it other than the fighting-wolves-with-bottles-on-his-hands-scene happened OFF-SCREEN. Fuck, that still makes me so mad). I just never really felt like I was missing out on much. The stories were right there in the trailer and the action just never seemed all that...persuasive. And remember, these were the days before moviepass when I wouldn't just go spend every day in the a movie theatre because it's better than the crushing silence of loneliness. I jest!
       ANYWHO. As I watched The Commuter I came to the realization that I like the idea of Liam Neeson as an action star much more than I like him as an actual action star. As an actual action star he's kind of...eh. I mean, he's a legitimate badass, and that carries through enough to make him not terrible to watch, but Neeson is seriously just kind of....eh. He has two modes, which are perfect upstanding family man, and barking gruff-o-saurus, and there's no in-between. At least not in his latest output with Jaume Collete-Serra, his oft-collaborator. I like it better when we're kinda winking at how badass and action-y Liam Neeson is, without him ever actually having to do too much actual stuff (like in The Lego Movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Ted, or Family Guy, or even The Orville...Holy shit, Seth McFarlane must have seen him burying a body at some point.)
       And all that long-ass intro brings us to here, The Commuter, the continuing fart space that is January releases. I did not enjoy this movie. This movie's plot is so needlessly confusing twisty but no one involved in the creation process was smart to enough to make any of it really make any sense. It's basically the film Non-Stop (from what I gleamed from the trailers, which was basically the whole movie, because trailers) but on a...you guessed it, commuter train! He has to do some stuff...find some people...figure out clues? It was basically a slightly less boring version of Murder on the Orient Express, but with a less racist title, vaguely more excitement, and not as many famous, abusive, cunt actors (Fuck you Johnny Depp).
       The movie starts with a montage of Liam Neeson getting up in the morning, over and over, being the perfect husband and father, day in and day out. Oh boy! He's a regular guy! He is a good dad! Aw! I sure hope nothing bad will ever happen to his family! Seriously, at this point Liam Neeson is just being irresponsible marrying all these women and having children. He knows something awful is going to happen to them at some point. So this time, Vera Farmiga (who rules, and I hope made a payday for the probable two to three day shoot she had) goes up to Neeson while he's on his regular train back home after being fired from his insurance job (Oh no! He's a regular guy! But now he got fired! Why can't a good guy catch a break!), which I guess ends up marginally mattering to the plot, but mostly it's just badly written emotional stakes, and she offers him 100,000 dollars to...find someone. On the train. Someone who doesn't belong? She speaks in riddles, takes off, and then Neeson takes some of the bathroom money intended as reward, making him involved, and then his family is in danger because Farmiga has people everywhere and can do everything and have lovable old bald men killed instantly at any moment.
       I'm finding myself repeating myself when I write reviews for bad action movies. First I judge the actual plot, characters, emotionality of the film (which is always stupid, non-existent, convoluted, or just plain terribly-made), and then I always say that I could forgive all that if the action was exciting or the comedy was funny or the emotional points were actually emotional. It's a little song and dance I'm finding myself doing over and over.
       I hate to repeat my and get into a predictable rhythm...but goddamnit, this movie was exorbitantly stupid and unnecessarily complicated for very little payoff. The actual mystery/plot is ridiculous and the way he goes about trying to "solve" it is laughable. The action scenes (of which there aren't very many) are just blurs of bad CGI and sped-up punching (much like the gunshots in my last reviewed film, Proud Mary) made difficult to fully perceive due to poor direction. And occasionally there are terrible "jokes" meant to make us "laugh," and also some weird emotional through-line about how commuters on a train are like a close-knit group of friends, but is executed with the nuance of a seven-year-old who is screaming because they can't drink water from the toilet.
       The worst thing about the movie is the general conceit: Why does Vera Farmiga need Liam Neeson, an ex-cop with a particular set of skills (I swear to god she uses those exact words. It's like even in the fake universe the movie inhabits everyone knows Liam Neeson is actually secretly a hitman-assassin-ninja-action-secret-badass-deity), to find this particular person on the train, if she can literally control everything? The moment he tries to tell a friend to call the cops she knows about it, and has someone instantly killed. She can have young kids stop Liam Neeson just as he was about to get off the train to give him his wife's wedding ring to signify his family's in danger, but she can't figure out who a single person is, someone who she knows has been in direct contact with the FBI? Ugh. Why am I thinking this hard? A movie this stupid shouldn't be making me think this hard. It should be fun and entertaining and--oh wait, yeah, we covered that.
 
       Yeaaaaah, they kind of explain some of the plot points I've been griping about at the end with one quick sentence that does kind of clear things up, but only after an hour and forty minutes of stupid sequences and plot twists that no one cared about or asked for. And then there's Liam, just trudging along, being gruff and coarse and screamy when he needs to be, and being confused and worried about his family the other times. Yawn. This movie was about as much fun as actually taking the train somewhere.

Grade: 3 out of 10 Murdered Mike Ehrmantraut (I spelled that correctly on the first try and that makes me so much happier than anything in this movie did!)
     

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Review: Proud Mary

Proud Mary (2018) - Babak Jahafi

       January is historically known as a dumping ground for movies. Studios aren't exactly putting their best foot forward, and it makes sense. It's cold outside, everyone just spent seventeen hundred dollars on Christmas presents for everyone in your family and all your friends and literally everyone person you've ever met, and people don't exactly wanna go racing out to the theatres. So the studios lob out the shit they think people don't want to see anyway, and leave the warmer months for the bigger flicks. Things, however, are starting to shift a little bit. Blockbusters are being released earlier and earlier in the year. Two years ago we got Deadpool in February, and this year we have Black Panther coming out early as well; things could potentially be changing as far as how we view January releases. And then I saw Proud Mary and I decided, "Nope. It's shit. January is still all shit." And then I took a shit. All in all not a terrible day.
       Proud Mary tells the story of mafia enforcer (and also world-class assassin I guess) Mary (Taraji P. Henson, who let me say right off the bat, is annoyingly wasted in this movie), who is...proud? Nah, I mean, she's a strong and take-no nonsense woman working in the underground crime world of Boston, and that's where the movie starts. On a job taking out a bookie who owed a lot of money she finds out she accidentally wasted the guy while his son was in the other room playing video games. She lets a few guilty tears out, steals a photo of Danny from the mantel place (because sure) and splits. Cut to a year later, and Danny is now living in a Dickensian nightmare, selling drugs for a prick named Uncle who regularly beats the fuck out of him, while Mary (who is proud, remember) watches over him. Like a lot. Like all the time. She has to be missing so much work to do this.
       What was advertised as an Action/Thriller ends up being a weird mixture of a crime story, Lifetime-Channel-like-movie-of-the-week domestic drama, and only barely occasionally any kind of action flick. I so wanted this movie to just be fun. It could have absolutely been stupid as shit as long as it was still kind of fun. Henson does her best to be the emotional yet badass lead of the movie, but the terrible writing and weak (and barely existing) action sequences prevents that from ever happening. And Jahi Di'Allo Winston isn't awful as Danny, and the two have a decent rapport and certain points...but...good God everything that comes out of their mouths is garbled non-human nonsense.
       The whole movie, in fact, suffers from the Everyone Is Stupid Problem (EIS Problem, as some scientists have coined it. Real scientists. With medals and shit). When the kid first wakes up at Mary's house she makes him breakfast and insists at least three times that he eat, and then the moment he takes a bite she tells him to, "Slow on, down, son!" So which is it? Should he eat or not? And then after that one bite she's like, "Okay let's go clean your cut." Why can't he eat first? What are your priorities, Mary? But then the worst part is she decides to go confront (and possibly kill, considering she packed a gun) Uncle, who she knows because they are both in crime families. The kid is like, "I'm coming with you!" And she's like, "Okay but you're staying in the car!" Why the FUCK would you have the kid come with you for this sort of encounter? Yes, this may seem like a small thing to write about in so much goddamn detail, but this basic lack of human understanding and logic seriously distresses me. All these people are stupid.
       The rest of the movie focuses on Mary's crime family, led by Danny Glover, who I now fear suffered a stroke shortly before filming the movie. Once again the writing is completely wooden and non-humany, but unless he was trying to create a character who had always just woken up from a nap, I'm afraid he's not well. There's a relationship with Glover's son, Tom (Billy Brown), but that ends up meaning absolutely nothing either. They're all just plot points in a rote idea of a movie.
       But the biggest problem with all of this, is it's ALL MARY'S FAULT. Everything that happens in the movie is because of Mary's rash decision making, and it ends up starting a war that kills dozens of people (sure, most of them are faceless immigrants or minorities so who cares right), but she never has to, like, fuckin' apologize for it. She just does it, gets to kill whoever she wants, and walk away scot-free (spoiler alert but who fuckin' cares) because the movie is named after her.
       And I can overlook a lot of that if the movie had some good action set-pieces or was actually "thrilling" at all, but it wasn't. The few action sequences were bizarrely shot with every person taking a bullet being sped up so they fell down twice as quick. They do this throughout the whole movie and it's really off-putting. There's one arguably alright gun fight at the end but it's so dark and hazily shot all I can focus on is the really loud soundtrack playing "Proud Mary." Get it? The song? And it's also the name of the movie? Yeah.
Why are mafia hitmen in BOSTON dressing like The Black Widow?
       The movie obviously wants us to think of the hitwoman with the heart of gold who saves the day and makes everything okay, a modern day Pam Grier shooting people to funk music but with a more maternal instinct. But instead we get weird performances and a movie that's far too lazy to question any of its characters morals or even logical decision making. Of course we need to have more movies that star women of color, but let's make it a worthy, good move. Let her be proud sure, but also let her be fucking fun too, or at least entertaining to watch. Let's have a sequel where the kid has also become an asshole assassin who murders entire families while they fall down in fast forward.
       Unrelated but my throat's dry and I need a glass of water.

Grade: 2 out 5 Murdered Joggers Under a Bridge

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: The Post

The Post (2017) - Steven Spielberg

       Every other movie that comes out these days loves to tout that it's "Based on a True Story," especially when it comes to these awards-driven December films starring big-name actors and big-name directors. And hey, real life has had some pretty crazy stories, so it makes sense to mine our real-life human experiences to find drama, conflict, humor, and empathy. But sometimes I feel like it's a nervous tick of the filmmakers and producers, like the idea that this is worth your time has to be driven into your brains in the most blunt way possible: It's real! This really happened! Isn't that so cool?! The biggest problem with this kind of narrative endeavor is it can leave the audience removed from the experience in trying to suss out what is fact and what is flourish. Movies and real life? They're really different. Nothing ever happens all that excitingly in real life, so when movies showcase scenes of people researching or doing equations on a window (always a window, ALWAYS a window) with chase music playing in the back, it usually mostly serves to only remove me from the actual story. Movies like The Post (while still really well made and well acted and well blah blah blah) beg the question of "how much do we keep it true to real life and how much do we want to make it more like a movie?" They definitely decided closer to the latter, at times to the detriment of the overall experience. But it was still Streep and Hanks and Stuhlbarg and Odenkirk and David Cross (Mr. Show!) and it was an extremely timely message of the importance of journalistic integrity standing up to an evil Republican regime, so, yeah, it was still pretty good.
       The Post tells the true life story of a government study about the Vietnam war that was leaked in 1971, and the legal and publishing battle that followed when Nixon's government tried to shut down the New York Times (and soon after The Washington Post) from printing anymore of the leaked report. Is it a crime against national security, or is it the people's right to understand exactly what the government is doing and saying behind closed doors? Obviously, if you know anything about the current state of anything, this movie is remarkably topical for our country today. And even when it does it kind of schmaltzily (read: Spielberg), its message of the importance of free print, that the media exists to aid the governed and the governing, was legitimately moving. The free press IS important, you guys! Spielberg reminded us of something very important! Also, let's face it, the acting caliber alone in this movie is enough to make it palatable for two hours. Streep and Hanks could basically fart for a hundred and twenty minutes and I'd still see it.
       Another of the movie's strongest points (and once again once that is so timely for this awards season you'd almost think they rushed this out to theatres on purpose?!) was Kaye Graham's (Streep) constant undermining simply for being a woman. The paper was her father's and when he died he gave the reins to her late husband who committed suicide, thrusting the position of power on her, a position she never expected and one that all the male white-hairs on the board of the paper are certainly not ready to accept. Streep's performance is one of nervousness and formality but with an unchecked reserve of strength and determination no matter how much the men around her try to beat her down. Her mannerisms are cautious and understated, and she truly sells her character's apparent nervousness but also her huge reserve of intelligence and ability.
       My biggest complaint with this movie is that it's so intent on making sure you know you're watching a movie. And hell, it's Spielberg directing so the movie looks effortlessly glossy and perfectly staged and extremely expensive, so it's not like that's overall a terrible thing, but it just kept poking at me in the back of my head. Case and point? The first scene of the movie starts with a black title card that reads: Vietnam. 1966. And then guess what music starts playing? If you chuckled and sarcastically said, "What? CCR?" then goddamnit you're right! Oh my GOD. I love CCR, alright? But if I ever see one more fucking movie taking place in Vietnam while "Fortunate Son" plays I am going to straight stand up in my theatre, dookie in my hand, and throw it at the screen. THERE WERE OTHER SONGS DURING THE VIETNAM WAR. Why does every filmmaker in America think we won't realize what era we're in if "Born on the fuckin' Bayou" isn't playing?
       The other issue is the never-ending dramatic score that amps up every scene to 11, regardless if someone is stealing government documents or ordering a ham sandwich. Once again, I know this is a movie, and movies are supposed to be, ya know, exciting, but you know what's not exciting? Watching investigative reporting happen. It's mundane, involves a lot of waiting and a lot of farting through dead leads and meaningless paperwork. But that doesn't stop The Post from making me feel like a Russian spy was about to bust out of the newest box of classified documents and shoot everyone with cyanide darts before making a daring escape with a rip-chord through the window. It felt so overwrought at times it completely removed me form the actual story unfolding on-screen. All I could think was, "Wow they sure are trying their hardest to make me give a shit about this." But the thing is, I already did care about it. It's an important story and a relevant topic. Those things don't automatically have to equal shock and anxiety. The drama from the story and Graham's difficult decisions should have been enough to make the movie compelling, but it's almost like Spielberg didn't trust his audiences enough, so instead he had Iranian soldiers chasing a commercial plane down a runway (Argo reference what-whaaat).
       But even with all that in mind, this is still a really great-looking film with technical expertise and performances so good it almost seems like they're not trying (I'm not convinced they really are. Hanks and Streep make it seem quite effortless). I'd have liked to see it told a bit more straightforward without flourish and thrills, but I guess I shouldn't be complaining too much when the movie is championing the rights and necessity of an unbiased press that is unafraid of a possibly totalitarian Republican regime. Huh, why did that sentence send feelings of utter despair down my spine? Maybe it's the stupid fake media.

Grade: 7 out of 10 ACTINGS.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya (2017) - Craig Gillespie

       Going into the movie I, Tonya, my overall knowledge of the Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan story was limited at best. I remembered it kind of like the OJ Simpson wrongful accusation of double-homicide (#hedidn'tdoit#hahaI'mjokingofcoursehedid), as in it was an event that happened when i was like 6 or 7, and adults talked about it a lot. From there all my understanding of the story came from a Weird Al Yankovic song called "Headline News," a parody of Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies. Sing accordingly in your head:
Once there was this girl who
Swore that one day she would be
A figure skating Champion
And when she finally made it
She found some other girl who was better
And so she hired some guy
To club her in the kneecap
Full Disclosure: I still listen to this song. I love it. But so what I'm trying to illustrate here is other than the barest bones of it, I knew very little about the actual Tonya Harding story. So I was a blank canvas when I sat down to watch too-crazy-to-be-true-true-story-sort-of-not-true-based-on-who-you-ask-sort-of-biopic I, Tonya, which chronicles not only the famous "Incident" but Tonya's whole life, including growing up with an abusive mother and then an abusive husband and going to the Olympics twice by the age of twenty-three. And what resulted is a movie that, much like its protagonist, is kind of a mess but still a lot of fun and great at what it's trying to accomplish.
       The movie starts off by saying it is based on wildly contradictory accounts from the stories principal players, Tonya Harding and her high school mustache-turned-husband Jeff Gillooly, accompanied by talking heads of the two describing their own memories of the events some time after the events. The movie splashes meta elements of narration throughout as well, like Tonya's manager speaking directly to the camera to confirm, "Tonya really did this," during her intense training montage, to Tonya shooting a shotgun, cocking it, and looking directly at us to state, "This never fucking happened." For a story as absolutely ridiculous as this with so many idiotic main characters running around, it makes perfect sense for it to take on this unreliable narrative point of view. At the end Tonya even says, "There is no truth," to kind of belabor the point home, and for the most part it works. But at times the movie wants to have its meta cake and eat it too. If you insist on not insisting things happened a certain way, you can't also expect the audiences to feel the empathy you want us to for the characters. Instead every character other than Tonya (and often times including Tonya) come off as blithering idiots and completely unlikable, almost to the point of exhaustion.
       The movie has pacing problems toward the third act, focusing far too much of its time not only on the "Incident" but the fucking idiots who supposedly perpetrated it. Honestly, the whole movie could have ended before the entire knee-bashing and I would have been fine with it, because the story they created around Tonya and her mother and (at times) shithead Jeff was definitely compelling enough. Margot Robbie totally kills the entire flick, and once they stopped focusing on her as much the movie lost some of its steam and didn't pick back up until she started skating again.
        Part of the reason for that is because Jeff Gillooly (The Winter Soldier's Sebastian Stan, who is appropriately a fucking asshole but still seems slightly miscast) is such an unlikable presence in the movie that after the nineteenth time he beats the shit out of Tonya, it's really not as funny as I think the movie hopes it is. The movie is extremely raunchy and dark and severe, and most of the time it works, but there are scenes where the violence happening on screen does not match up with the comedic tone the movie is trying to represent.
       But overall these are small complaints for a movie that overall I enjoyed very much. As previously stated, Margot Robbie is fantastic as the titular Tonya, giving her a wonderful mixture of pathos and fecklessness. She had an extremely hard childhood, no is denying that, but as an adult it's rendered her incapable of ever accepting responsibility for anything that goes wrong in her life. She sells the mixture wonderfully and the movie is endlessly entertaining because of it. Allison Janney is unflinchingly monstrous in her portrayal as Vonya, her overbearing and abusive mother. She makes each insult and each slap sting for the audiences while still being fascinating to watch. Most of the writing (especially for these two characters) is sharp and incisive and paints a complex portrait of family and raising a daughter.
       As someone who never really cared much about figure skating before (read: at all) I went home and youtubed forty-five minutes worth of Tonya Harding doing triple axles. It was badass. Regardless of some of the smudging of facts, I really felt the movie did try and give us its most truthful version of, well, not necessarily the facts, but what truly mattered most to understanding Tonya Harding as more than just "that bitch who bashed her opponent's knee in." It's crude, and raunchy, and even at times messy, but so was Tonya. And that's pretty cool.

Grade: 5.4, 5.5, 5.3, 5.4, 5.4, 5.5 (Are those accurate skating scores? Maybe!)
Random Thought: I wish they had included more real-life footage during the movie instead of just during the credits sequence. Actually seeing Tonya Harding do the triple axle was way more impressive than the weird CGI-face-plastered-on versions they gave us during the movie. They make it look appropriately impossible during the movie, yes, but seeing her really do it is fucking insane. Did you guys know how insane triple axles are? I had no idea. I think I'm gonna go watch some more Tonya Harding skating videos. Chick had SASS.

Oh, and here is a link to the that Awesome Weird Al song I mentioned. Tonya and Nancy are the second verse. ENJOY.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Top 10 Movies of 2017

None of these are on it!
       2017 was a year, indeed. It took 365 days for the Earth to complete its rotation around the sun, and since we all subscribe to the Judeo-Christian Liturgical calendars because of the church's grasp has consumed our lives since the dawn of man, we decide to pretend this whole cycle is actually starting over again on January 1st, instead of just hurtling us closer and closer to death and nothingness at the same, never-ending speed.
       ANYWHO! Movies! Let's rank em! These are my favorite movies of 2017 put in the most honest order I could think to (kind of) arbitrarily rank them. Of course it's all subjective, but I tried to rank them in such a way that I felt best reflected my overall emotional response and technical merit. I also tried to think about how the movie stayed with me since I first saw it. Did my opinions change? How did it sit? I've discerned that overall this year I loved dramas that for some reason I thought were comedies, and dramas that were dramas that made me CRY. And with that, let's get started. Here's to more movies in 2018.

Honourable Mention
Good Time (Benny and Josh Safdie)
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)
Molly's Game (Aaron Sorkin)
John Wick Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski)

Missed it and I'm sorry!
Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary)

And now, the real show! Here's my top 10 of 2017:

10) mother! - Darren Aronofsky
Let's get my divisive pick out of the way: I really liked this batshit crazy movie. I liked the creeping tension, I liked the beautiful-turn-claustrophobic design of the house, and I even like the bizarre non-human interactions between characters. But I legitimately think this movie should be viewed as a dark comedy, and then it's pretty awesome. Especially the last act. Holy shit the last act. Even if it was just done for shock value (and it wasn't, it made sense, kind of), it would still be the funniest, most insane thing I've seen all year.
9) Ingrid Goes West - Matt Spicer
This is my favorite "traditional comedy" of the year, as far as "comedies" go. It's an uncomfortable, almost cringe-worthy black comedy that incisively picks fun at our glossed over Instagram lifestyles. Now while that sounds like low-hanging fruit, it's actually done to cleverly display a broken protagonist with mental health issues. But the movie stays sharp and funny throughout, with great performances all around, including Ice Cube's son, Ice Chip.
8) Phantom Thread - Paul Thomas Anderson
This is a curiously quiet Paul Thomas Anderson film that manages to be heartbreakingly melancholy and oddly funny all at once. Its main focus is the chaotic love between Daniel Day-Lewis (who may have quit acting because this movie made him really sad) and his new muse, Alma. It's Paul Thomas Anderson through and through, with gorgeous visuals and meticulously crafted detail to the ornate beauty of Reynold's Woodcock's barely kept together life.
7) Call Me By Your Name - Luca Guadagnino
Here we have another quiet, heartbreaking romance, but here the emotions are all clearly on display, seen through the eyes of a blossoming seventeen year old. This movie's ability to remind me of the futility of youth was beautiful and heartbreaking. The whole movie is gorgeous, from the lush Northern Italy scenery, to the extremely erotic encounters Elio has throughout the film with Armie Hammer. The movie's not only beautiful and sad, it's sexy too.
6) Coco - Lee Unkrich
This movie really kicked me on my ass, and I was not expecting it. Sure, Pixar. Okay, Dia de los Muertos, sure hope you don't get racist. Musical? Blegh. But I was so wrong on all three accounts. It's easily the best Pixar movie in a decade, and it's thanks to its gorgeous animation and design of the Land of the Dead, the plucky cuteness of our protagonist Miguel, and its message of loving and being there for your family. I sure wasn't expecting to love this movie as much as I did, but it had me crying like a baby, and, like, legit everyone? I love crying in the movies.
5) Baby Driver - Edgar Wright
This is the coolest fucking thing I've seen all year. This is the coolest movie possibly all decade. This movie is a rock'n'roll playlist suped up with NOS and snorting ketamine off a shotgun. Some people have tried to detract from its greatness, saying it's just a music video, but they are totally missing the point. That is the point. It borrows little bits from everything we've ever absorbed in pop culture (fast cars, rock and roll, cute waitresses, bank robbers) and then Wright morphs it just a little bit to make it his own, complete a shiny badass gleam that screams "I am so fucking cool," and MEANS IT.
4) Get Out - Jordan Peele
Get Out is one of the most provocative movies of the year, and one of the first successful horror movies in the past few decades to really get that seething commentary down perfectly. My favorite thing about the movie, even more than how smart it is, is how it trades big jump scares or CGI monsters for slow, dreadful suspense. The entire movie builds slowly and creepily to its huge reveal, and it never misses a beat. Jordan Peele is an absolutely fantastic director/storyteller. It's like...yeah, we already knew that, but not to this degree.
3) Lady Bird - Greta Gerwig
"Coming of age" story can sound kind of reductive at this point. We've seen people growing up and "figuring out life" a thousand times before (one word: plastics), but the reason we've seen it so many times is because when it's done right it can be the most personal and relatable story there is. The thing I loved most about Lady Bird is even though there were lots of things I couldn't personally relate to (being a girl, Catholic school, Sacramento) it was still so easy to emotionally connect to. Because no matter what, growing up has universal truths we can all understand. It's also hilarious and has lots of pooka shell necklaces.
2) The Florida Project - Sean Baker
This movie is heartbreaking perfection. It's so well done, and so subtly devastating that you barely realize how sad it is until it's too late. The movie mostly follows kids who live in a motel near Disney World, and the fact that it has kid actors in it is NEVER annoying and that blows my mind. Willem Dafoe plays the best version of a disgruntled old guy with a heart of gold possibly ever. It's beautiful and funny and sad and wonderful and everyone should see it.
1) The Shape of Water - Guillermo Del Toro
Oh man. This movie. This movie, man. This movie just does it for me. Men? Womyn? This movie? For. Me. Haha, okay seriously. This movie just worked so wonderfully on me. It has atmosphere and style and loving emotion pouring out of its ears. It's a ridiculously simple (simply ridiculous?) premise that never wavers from its singular vision and it works perfectly. Sally Hawkins imbues so much love and sweetness as the mute Eliza who falls in love with the Creature from the Fuck Lagoon (sorry not sorry). The score, the dark atmospheric mood mixed with uncomplicated love, and throw in a maniacal Michael Shannon ripping his fingers off and Michael Stuhlbarg as a Russian spy? Good lord I love this movie so much and I never want to stop loving it.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Review: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread (2017) - Paul Thomas Anderson

      Paul Thomas Anderson's abilities as a filmmaker to create a fully immersive world that is not only captivating but singularly specific, almost surprising, has never been called in question (well, I mean, I don't know, has it? I don't think so. I feel like I would heard about it if it had. Ugh, I've been just been so busy and out of the loop lately. Did you know I haven't even seen Stranger Things Season 2 yet? I need to get my shit together). Whether it's the world of porn, 1960s California stoner detectives, or turn-of-the-century oil-tycoonery, Anderson gets deep into the world he's presenting with deep, symbolic images, complicated characters who skirt around good and evil, and (at least for the last decade) an ominous and almost assaulting score (thanks to Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood) that makes Hans Zimmer sound like an idiot who fell asleep on his keyboard. So it's no surprise that he took all of those elements from his arsenal when making Phantom Thread, the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), an extremely famous dress designer in postwar London who falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps). What is surprising, however, is also how bizarre, how strangely dramatic yet funny and petulant the movie is. It's very grand and sweeping and at the same time very odd and quiet, like an absurdist British rom-com!
       This film's delve into the uncomfortable and fragile egos of damaged souls focuses on Daniel Day-Lewis' Reynolds Woodcock (great name) and his tumultuous relationship with waitress turned muse turned lover turned...well I don't want to give it away, but let's just those two are cray. Woodcock is clearly brilliant at what he does, he's fastidious in his work and in his every day life, presents himself impeccably and acts with a refined air of wealth and decorum. He's also a petulant, fussy, short-tempered child who throws tantrums when things don't go his way. At times it almost seemed as Anderson could have been poking fun at himself, because his own film-making styles of meticulously beautiful shots and painstaking visual detail seem to perfectly encapsulate how Woodcock wishes the world around him would adhere to. And most of his life does adhere to that, until he meets Alma.
        A self-proclaimed life long bachelor, it's clear from the first scene that Woodcock goes through women like goes through fancy french lace. In a particularly funny exchange early on with his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville), she asks him if he wants her to get rid of his current live-in girlfriend, to which Woodcock barely registers an answer, but clearly means yes. It's obviously the nine hundredth time they've had this conversation, and it won't even be the last in the movie. From there, what keeps the narrative momentum of the movie going is, "Well if he does this all the time, what makes Alma special? Why are we seeing this one, considering this man's life is so constantly the same?" And from there it's up to Vicky Krieps to help fill in the lines, and hoo boy, she fills them in. Alma is confusing and unpredictable, going from doting to malignant in the same shot. She has her own agency and ideas for how life should be lived, and that's exactly what infuriates Woodcock so much. She sees the genius and the good in him, but is constantly angry at his inability to change a single thing about himself to cater to her needs. He's often short and even cruel with her, but she finds...let's say interesting ways to help keep a strange balance in the relationship.
       But seriously you guys? This movie is kind of ridiculous and hilarious. Everyone here is either such a stunted child or controlling manipulator, it's almost like Paul Thomas Anderson is making a dramatic fancy-boy version of an episode of Arrested Development. Some of the plot points (which I can't get into too  much detail because it's too great to be spoiled) as the story progresses get downright goofy. Their choices are absolutely believable because of the caliber of acting and writing happening, but when you really remove yourself to think about it, it's insane. Especially for such a meticulous and well-behaved world they've created. Day-Lewis is basically Buster, his sister is Lucille, and he's dating some amalgamation of Rita and Gob. It's bonkers. (Miiiister Effff)
       The more I think of this movie the stranger and more curious it gets in my head. It's at times heart-breakingly sad, operatic, and bleak (like so many of his movies) but at the same time is imbued with a different, stranger, more child-like tone than most of his other movies (Punch-Drunk Loves come to mind as its closest comparison, in so much that they are about weirdos falling in love, but the comparisons basically stop there. Punch-Drunk Love is about lovely if slightly damaged people, while the lovers of Phantom Thread are all, at best, high-functioning sociopaths). It has gorgeous, flowing scenes that spill from one to the next with a cinematic beauty that is hardly rivaled in today's movies, and then got huge laughs when Daniel Day-Lewis told a doctor to fuck off about six times in a row. My showing got enormous laughs throughout (which truly makes me hope the movie is actually funny and not just that Hollywood movie goers are a bunch of self-referential, self-satisfied pop culture fart-sniffers--oh god).
       While mentioning the showing I saw, it was projected in 70mm, and it was fucking gorgeous (yes, I had to google research the difference between 70mm and 35mm to totally understand the difference, and basically after two hours of doing so I came to the conclusion: It looks better). Every shot had so much attention to detail, every dress and every stitch Woodcock working on so crisp and beautiful. And the sound editing was also so strong and clear, often used to punctuate a lot of the visual sight gags the movie creates (watch Alma eat soup with a metal spoon, and then close your eyes and just listen to it, both are fucking funny).
       Phantom Thread is a strange movie that subverts expectations and confounds while still giving us sad, complicated characters in an absolutely stunning tableau of gorgeously bedizened patricians in impeccable clothing and ornately designed flats. And it reminded me of Arrested Development. So basically it's a win-win for everyone.

Grade: 8 out of 10 Mushroom Omelettes