REVIEW: The Wife Is Not that Into You

It’s hard to find a more reliable performer than Glenn Close. The six-time Oscar nominee (should have won for Fatal Attraction) can be equally believable as a take-no-prisoners lawyer, the head of intergalactic police corps, and Homer Simpson’s mom.

The Wife gives Close a different showcase, one that asks from her to repress her emotions until it’s not physically possible. It’s a stunning piece of acting, one than someone with less experience wouldn’t be able to pull off.

The beginning of The Wife is dream-like. Literary lion Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), one of those American writers who think of themselves as gods, is awaken by a call from the Swedish Academy. He has been awarded the Nobel Prize, the perfect capper for a prolific career. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Wife Is Not that Into You”

REVIEW: Smallfoot, Big Ideas

There was a time most kid movies had the same message: “Be yourself”. It was vague and debatable, but suited any story. Thanks to Pixar, young audiences have become more sophisticated, and good nature platitudes don’t cut it anymore.

Other studios have followed suit. For a moment, WB’s Smallfoot really pushes the envelope by peddling scientific experimentation over blindly following tradition (religion?). Of course it backtracks at the end (there is reason behind every stupid ritual), but how amazing is that a kid-friendly flick is teaching healthy skepticism.

The rest of Smallfoot is amiable slapstick that owes a lot to Looney Tunes, at least in aesthetics and disposition. Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a good-natured yeti hoping to take over his dad on the task of awakening the sun (as you do). His first try goes awry and unexpectedly puts him in touch with the “smallfoot”, a tiny, hairless creature considered a myth by the community’s leader, the Stonekeeper (Common).

Banished for questioning the sacred stones, Migo becomes determined to prove the existence of the smallfoot. To his surprise, his belief is shared by other yetis, including his love interest, the Stonekeeper’s daughter (Zendaya).

Smallfoot’s main problem is inconsistency. It has interesting ideas, which are shelved for a good chunk of the movie to give way to mildly amusing pratfalls and banter. There are a number of cutesy songs that halt the movie’s momentum. Only one registers, a rather cutting solo by Common about the joys of living in denial.

The unassuming flick smuggles other interesting messages: It criticizes the “fear of the other” (peddled by right-wingers across the globe) and how it deprives us of access to different cultures. Smallfoot also believes in a community’s ability to choose its destiny, as opposed to be kept in the dark for its own good. Good on you, movie. Three prairie dogs.

Smallfoot is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: Michael Caine Dissects the Sixties in My Generation

For better or for worse, historic depiction of the 60’s is often limited to the social movements in America. The slick documentary My Generation breaks with tradition by focusing on the same period in England: Unburdened by the Vietnam war and decades of civil rights trampling, social revolution in the UK was more about breaking with the social order and the ways of the old guard.

Narrated and anchored by Michael Caine, My Generation mixes beautiful footage of London from over half a century ago, stunning photographies, and testimonies of emblematic game-changers, like Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithful, and Twiggy.

The doc’s thesis is a well-thought one: The rigid class system was asking for a revolution and got one, courtesy of a younger generation less hung up on status than their parents. England’s working class found itself represented in movies, fashion, and music. Success by merit was suddenly a thing, same as living on your own and sexual liberation.

While the approach is somewhat slight and purely from a pop culture perspective, My Generation gets the point across. Michael Caine does more than just read from a piece of paper: An actor who found his way into era-defining films (Alfie comes up often), Caine experienced the revolution from the inside (a cockney actor turned leading man) and delivers a compelling running commentary. He also conducts the interviews with his peers, although we are only treated to sound bites. An odd decision, considering the power footage of Caine and McCartney reminiscing would have had.

The tone of My Generation is relentlessly positive until the final quarter, when the establishment strikes back by pinpointing the use of drugs as the movement’s fatal character flaw. While I appreciate the tidy 85-minute length, the documentary tends to oversimplify and whitewash the decade. Some texture would have been appreciated.

It comes as no surprise the soundtrack of My Generationis a delight: From The Kinks to The Beatles, from rather obvious choices (The Who’s “My Generation”) to deeper cuts (Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”), this is a movie you can listen, as well as watch. Three prairie dogs.

 My Generation opens this Friday 21st at the Rainbow Cinemas.

TIFF 2018 – Day 5: The Most Beautiful Couple, Kingsway

The Most Beautiful Couple.

The Most Beautiful Couple (Germany/France, 2018): One would be hard-pressed to find a more harrowing opening act than the one that gets The Most Beautiful Couple started. While vacationing in Mallorca, Malte and Liv’s cottage is invaded three wrongdoers, one of which sexually assaults Liv, while the other two force Malte to watch.

Cut to two years later. Liv seems to have put the incident behind her, while Malte harbours a deep resentment over not have been able to defend his wife when it counted. An opportunity materializes when Malte spots the rapist one night: Revenge seems at his reach, but it would also mean bringing back the trauma Liv worked so hard to overcome.

The Most Beautiful Couple is not Death Wish. Liv and Malte are solid characters whose actions are within the realm of possibility… for the most part. The way they deal with trauma is explored in depth, and the movie benefits greatly of strong turns by Maximilian Brückner and Luise Heyer as the couple in question. Writer/director Sven Taddicken even dares to make the perpetrator a well-rounded character. The denouement feels chaotic and bit far-fetched for such an expertly calibrated drama, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. Three and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: One wishes.

Kingsway (Canada, 2018): An almost dire effort by writer/director Bruce Sweeney, Kingsway has a serious tonality problem that’s not even the biggest issue. An emotionally stunted family tackles relationship problems in the most inept way imaginable. The son (Jeff Gladstone) is clinically depressed and the fact his wife is cheating on him doesn’t help. The daughter (Camille Sullivan) is irascible and not particularly good at relating to other humans. The mother (Gabrielle Rose) is slightly more centered. Then again, she raised the children.

Midway through, Kingsway changes directions from aimless comedy to psychological drama, and I’m still enduring the whiplash. The dialogue is basic at best and only Gabrielle Rose is able to make it work. The cinematography is particularly poor, at times reaching film school nadir. There are a few laughs to be had, but overall, this is the kind of movie in which an obviously attractive women goes to bars hoping to meet Mr. Right Now and fails at it. Somebody, please introduce Bruce Sweeney to Tinder. One and a half prairie dog. Distribution: TBD.

TIFF 2018 – Day 4: The Lightning Round

Nicole Kidman in Destroyer.

You know the drill. When a movie falls through the cracks, we catch it in the Lightning Round.

Destroyer: Nicole Kidman goes through the procedural motions in a bad wig. Gritty, well executed, but nothing else there.

Nekrotronic: Monica Bellucci turns the internet a portal for demons. Goofy and inventive. Unfortunately gets lost in the minutia.

Dogman: Italians do social realism like no one else. The story of a put-upon dog groomer standing up to his bully gets more tracking than anybody could imagine. A must.

Hotel Mumbai: Much attention with this one: A fierce, almost unbearably intense recreation of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2018. The characters don’t get much development, but the story is as compelling as it gets.

Giant Little OnesCanadian teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Would have been more effective if the protagonists weren’t all rich, white, and good looking.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Following the superior Where to Invade Next?Michael Moore returns to the self-mythologizing and fact fudging. This doesn’t mean he is wrong: America is in deep doodoo.

The Predator: Unapologetic fun. Too bad about Shane Black and the male cast (Jacob Tremblay excepted) not supporting Olivia Munn on her denouncement of an actual predator on set.

A Star Is Born: More like A Star Is Bored. Am I right? No? I’m the only one who isn’t gaga for Gaga? Fine, then.

TIFF 2018 – Day 3: Belmonte, Girls of the Sun

Belmonte.

Belmonte (Uruguay/Spain/Mexico, 2018): An unapologetic character study, Belmonte is a mildly captivating portrait of an artist at crossroads. The titular character is a painter depressed over his broken family who finds himself unable to move forward. His hostility towards his surroundings and his lack of empathy for those who love him isolate him further.

The film does a good job digging into the main character’s inner life without having to spell it out for the audience. The insights, however, are not quite ground-breaking, but at least the execution is impeccable, thanks to a strong turn by Veiroj’s regular Gonzalo Delgado. The resolution is thoroughly unearned (the cinematic equivalent of “sleeping on it”), which at 75 minutes-length feels straight-up lazy. Two prairie dogs. Distribution: Unlikely.

Girls of the Sun (France, 2018): While the devastation in Syria is the most covered aspect of the ISIS offensive in the Middle East, the Kurdistan has suffered enormously at hands of the terrorist organization. Following the systematic killing of the male population, an increasing number of Kurdish women has joined the resistance, despite the fact the top rank treats them as cannon fodder.

Girls of the Sun follows the story of Bahar (Golshifteh Farahani, Patterson), a lawyer-turned-freedom fighter for whom personal trauma is the fuel that makes her a fearsome warrior. Her travails are covered by Mathilde (Emmanuelle Bercot), a journalist modeled after Marie Colvin for whom objectivity has long stopped being feasible.

While an undoubtedly compelling story, the film is broad and relies heavily in sentimentality, coming short more often than not. Director Eva Husson does succeed at conjuring some stunning visuals, but the final outcome feels disjointed. Two and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: It touches all the bases for an art-house run.

TIFF 2018 – Day 2: Les Salopes, Ever After

Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin.

Les Salopes or the Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin (Canada, 2018): Instead of making yet another coming-of-age-in-cottage-country movie (or, uh, Little Italy), the Quebecois film industry is exploring far more interesting territory, in this case, desire in women after 40. The lead of Les Salopes, Marie Claire (Brigitte Poupart, Les Affames), is a married-with-children dermatologist with a series of lovers on the side. Her capacity to separate emotions and sex is remarkable, until it all comes crashing down as those around her are not as “evolved” as her.

For most of its length, Les Salopes progresses unapologetically… to fold in the last twenty minutes. There is a lot to like about the film: Bold ideas about monogamy, a protagonist whose capacity to compartmentalize and sexual drive combine into some kind of pathos, and the use of regular bodies (as opposed to airbrushed supermodels) to depict intercourse. Yet the karmic denouement rings false. Solid effort though. Three and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: In QC, for sure. In SK, fingers crossed.

Ever After (Germany, 2018): Even though we have long reached the point of saturation, zombie movies keep on coming. Ever After is not particularly gory, but the character development is above average and the setting is original if not fully developed.

You know the drill: Virus turns most of mankind into flesh-eating maniacs. The few survivors not only battle zombies, but must fight to preserve their humanity, the usual. In Germany, only two cities stand: Weimar -which kills the undead on-sight- and Jena, which is looking for a cure. The only contact between the two towns is an unmanned train. Two women, a Linda Hamilton-type and one with flagrant PTSD, attempt to ride it all the way to Jena. Suffice to say, the trip doesn’t go to plan.

While short on scares, Ever After is more affecting than the standard zombie romp, and not only because we get to meet the two leads. Two-thirds in, the film takes a turn into allegoric territory, one in which Mother Nature is more than a figure of speech. The move is ballsy, not entirely successful, but doesn’t feel out of place either. Two and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: TBD, although I would be surprised if it doesn’t make it to one of the streaming services.

TIFF 2018 – Day 1: Let Me Fall, El Angel

Let Me Fall.

Let Me Fall (Iceland/Finland/Germany, 2018): Who knew Icelandic movies could be so grim? (anybody who saw Under the Tree, for starters). Let Me Fall revolves around Magnea, a bright fifteen-year-old, who falls for the slightly older Stella. This attraction leads Magnea straight into addiction, a descent detailed to the most painful detail by the movie.

If you had any hopes Magnea would see the error of her ways, the movie quickly manages to bury them: We see glimpses of adult Magnea from early on and it’s not a pretty sight. The film steers clear from becoming misery porn by giving each major character considerable depth. Let Me Fall is a dark journey of the soul but one worth taken, although it may put you off from having children (or at the very least, dissuade you from free-range rearing). Four prairie dogs. Distribution: I hope so!

El Angel (Argentina, 2018): Based on the most “popular” criminal in Argentinian history (one who has been serving a life sentence for the last 45 years for a gamut of crimes and misdemeanors), El Angel is an entertaining riff on the lifestyle of the lawless and infamous, while coming short on insight. Carlitos (newcomer Lorenzo Ferro) is a baby-faced sociopath with a penchant for breaking and entering. His association with classmate Ramón (Chino Darín) and his ne’er-do-well father elevates his game, but Carlitos’ unpredictability threatens to derail the enterprise at every corner, particularly after he develops a crush on Ramón.

While the sequence of events that turned the maladjusted teen into Buenos Aires’ most wanted is fascinating, the character itself is one note throughout the entire movie. I’m positive even sociopaths learn something about what’s beneficial and what leads to certain doom. Two and a half prairie dogs. Distribution: Likely.

REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians Goes Beyond the Call of Duty

Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians.

While the Asian population in North America is grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, there are venues to access Korean, Chinese, Philippine and Japanese films: A fair number are available via Netflix and big titles often find their way into the multiplex or art-houses. In fact, if it wasn’t for general audiences’ ludicrous distaste for subtitles, every culture with a film industry would be within reach.

So, it’s not like Crazy Rich Asians needs to reinvent the whole film market. It may, however, change habits, improve representation, and help breach the divide between the average moviegoer and Asian cinema’s vast treasures.

Discarding external considerations, Crazy Rich Asians is a sudser on steroids, a full season of a soap opera concentrated in two hours. Well written too. Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) takes full advantage of the setup and –even though the basic plot is light as a feather­– manages to imbue the characters with enough pathos to make them interesting.

The film revolves around Rachel (Constance Wu, Fresh of the Boat), an economics professor at NYU in a committed relationship with Nick (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to attend a wedding in Singapore, an opportunity to introduce her to his family.

Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is the scion of one of the richest and most powerful families in the country. The matriarch, Eleanor (an imperious Michelle Yeoh), would like her son to return home and take over the family business, and Rachel seems to be standing in her way. Nastiness ensue.

Crazy Rich Asians’ mission statement comes to the fore in the opening minutes: A harried Eleanor is turned away from a snotty hotel in London. She makes a call and, moments later, she is the owner of the establishment. No snub will be tolerated.

The film is basically cotton candy. Everything is delish: The looks, the food, the real estate, the put downs. Michelle Yeoh towers over the rest of the cast, but everybody is up to task, particularly the comic reliefs (Awkwafina, The Daily Show’s Ronnie Chang, Ken Jeong). Constance Wu gets the hardest job of all as the lead: Balancing competing tones and make it look seamless. She struggles at times, but her innate likeability keeps the audience on her side.

There is a major B-plot involving Nick’s uber-fashionable cousin and her commoner husband, but I would be hard-pressed to say it matters to anybody else but readers of the original book.

While the dissection of family values in Chinese culture goes beyond the stereotypes, Crazy Rich Asians is not a film willing to sacrifice a good time for depth. Go for the luxury, stay for the killer one-liners. Three and a half Bichon Frise dogs.

Crazy Rich Asians is now playing, everywhere.

REVIEW: Blindspotting Depicts a City in Flux

Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting.

2018 is shaping up as a banner year for black cinema. Three of the most talked-about films revolve around the African-American experience, with a complexity seldom seen before: Sorry to Bother You, BlacKkKlansman, and Blindspotting stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

Blindspotting doesn’t have the scope of BlacKkKlansman, but is the most well-rounded of the bunch. The brainchild of hip-hop artist Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) and poet Rafael Casal, Blindspotting is a dramedy that follows two friends/co-workers over a weekend in Oakland. Colin (Diggs) is three days away from finishing his probation. Of course they will be the longest 72 hours of his life, particularly after his compadre, the hothead Miles (Casal), purchases a gun for protection.

Not only Miles puts Colin’s freedom in jeopardy. The jailbird witnesses the murder of a black man at hands of a white cop, and getting involved seems inadvisable in his situation.

There are plenty of dark corners in Blindspotting, but also levity. Diggs and Casal use their real-life friendship to push each other into unconventional territory. Every so often the gun reappears to stir the pot. The old rule “if you show a gun in the first act, you should expect it to go off by the third” is used to subvert expectations brilliantly.

Ultimately, this is a film about breaking the black/white divide. In a normal movie, Colin would come to terms with the fact Miles brings him down and cut him loose. Blindspotting values class awareness and loyalty higher, so the decision is not as clear. The movie also deals with the tensions that come from gentrification. Once a blue-collar hub, Oakland is enduring a constant influx of hipsters escaping San Francisco, driving prices up and occupying spaces that used to belong to the working class.

The ending is bold and works proportionally to the audience’s investment on the characters: It can be exhilarating or take you out of the movie entirely. Regardless, one must acknowledge the film’s willingness to go for broke. 3.5/5 prairie bros.

Blindspotting opens today at Rainbow Cinemas – Studio 7.

REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche

Ant-Man as Giant-Man.

The solemnity of Avengers: Infinity War didn’t quite hit me until the first few minutes of the frothy Ant-Man and the Wasp. A sequel to 2015 Ant-Man(the one Edgar Wright got bumped from), this chapter leans heavily on the comedy and well-designed set-pieces based on… size proportion. The film stands by itself for far longer than expected –given certain events in the MCU– and the limited stakes are a welcome respite from Thanos’ idea of redistribution.

Probably because of the absence of drama behind the scenes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a lot more cohesive than the first episode. Returning director Peyton Reed and a team of five scriptwriters fail to fully grasp the whole subatomic shrinking business, but your tolerance for science-speak is rewarded in different ways.

Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, the titular Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has abandoned his career as a superhero and now endures a two-year house arrest sentence. Scott is willing to bide his time for his daughter, but is also fully aware his actions have forced his former companions –Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)– to go on the lam. Continue reading “REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche”

REVIEW: Pope Francis Gets Real

Pope says hi.

Regardless of your feelings towards the Catholic Church, it’s fair to say Jorge Bergoglio encountered a challenging situation when he became Pope Francis in 2013: The institution was noticeably out of step with the world, congregations were dwindling, and the matter of widespread sexual abuse perpetrated by priests wasn’t being dealt with as much as swept under the carpet.

Francis revealed himself to be more of a revolutionary than anybody expected (sure, the transformation of the Church hasn’t been sweeping, but the man is inarguably an improvement). Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) focuses precisely on the Pontiff’s main drives in Pope Francis: A Man of his Word, a documentary built around a couple of wide ranging interviews with the Argentinian Jesuit.

Wenders cares little about Francis’ upbringing or how he became the man he is today. His main concern is the Pope’s view of the world and what is he doing about it. The Pontiff’s modest lifestyle (for Vatican standards anyway) gives away his game: Poverty is the chip on his shoulders and hasn’t hesitated in calling out capitalism. He is also the first environmentalist Leader of the Church to date, a stance that has alienated many Conservative Catholics, particularly in the US. You don’t have to agree with the man, but one has to admire the consistency.

From a cinematic perspective, Wim Wenders gets his hands on some eye-popping footage. Unfortunately, his decision of creating cheesy interstitials with the life of St. Francis of Assisi (as if shot by Carl Dreyer in the 1920’s) fails to achieve the desired effect of linking both Francises through history.

Bergoglio comes across as affable, but doesn’t take much to discover gravitas under his welcoming demeanor. One could argue Wenders is too soft on Francis, particularly when dealing with the matter of children’s abuse at hands of clerics. As biased as it is, it provides enough insight on a man who sees monumental tasks ahead –refugees, climate change, ever expanding poverty– and his reaction is simply to roll up his sleeves and get to work, which is more than the other guy did (the German one, who quit). Three pious prairie dogs.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is now playing at Studio 7.

REVIEW: Incredibles 2 Leaves You Wanting More

Elastigirl leaves the baby with her house-husband in Incredibles 2.

Alongside Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., The Incrediblesis a foundational Pixar film, a veritable neoclassic that explores the changing dynamics of family life disguised as a superhero film from the 60’s. The film invigorated the career of Brad Bird, who crashed and burned with the Iron Giant, a critical darling that didn’t connect with audiences.

The Incredibles was a smash hit, and Bird moved on to bigger things (the narratively ambitious Ratatouille, his first live-action film Mission: Impossible 4), but following another box office miss (the unfairly maligned Tomorrowland), the Pixar creative returned to Pixar to helm a sequel of his first hit… 14 years after the original.

Incredibles 2 picks up seconds after the original’s ending, mid-battle with the Underminer. The considerable destruction that ensued from that encounter forced the Parr family to go back into hiding. Broke and a little bored, when a millionaire offers them to spearhead a PR campaign to bring superheroes back, they are happy to accept. There is a catch, Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is the one chosen to be the face of the movement.

Suddenly a stay-at-home dad, Bob a.k.a Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) struggles mightily: Homework is ridiculously hard, daughter Violet is sullen as ever, and baby Jack-Jack has dozens of powers and can’t control a single one of them. Meanwhile, Elastigirl thrives in her new job, although the new villain in town –the Screenslaver– is getting on her nerves.

The home front chaos is far more compelling than the adventure that ties all together, mainly by how compelling Bob, Violet and Jack-Jack are, together and separately. Bob is not exactly ‘woke’ and even though he doesn’t get in the way of Helen, he is clearly begrudging his spouse. Violet’s priorities are not in line with the rest of the family, especially when facing the possibility of a boyfriend.

The relationship of Bob and Helen is another highlight. Never mind the disagreements, their partnership is one you can believe. Take recent superhero hits Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War: A good chunk of the plot hangs on coupledom, and yet the undoing of these pairs left me cold. Bob and Helen have a shorthand and know when to push a point and pull their punches. It’s a successful marriage in a nutshell.

I don’t plan to spoil the identity of the villain here. Suffice to say, like all good antagonists, it has a valid motive and a cool and unusual modus operandi. It’s not nearly as flashy as fanboy-gone-wrong Syndrome, but it has more depth.

The only aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work is the conclusion. Probably because the scenario is not particularly dramatic, or the threat is too mild to taste, the stakes feel low. That said, Incredibles 2 gets an easy pass on character strength alone. 3 ½ super dogs

Incredibles 2 is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: (Groan), Lucy

Oh, Lucy! was the first movie I saw in last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I remember thinking “what a pointless oddity. I’m positive I will never hear of this movie again.” And here we are.

Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Oh Lucy! is not the film you would expect from the Anchorman duo. Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a lonely middle-age woman living in Tokyo, rediscovers her joie de vivre when by chance lands in an English class with John (Josh Harnett, don’t ask). The expat’s teaching technique consists in giving the student a blond wig and an American identity, “Lucy”. (Seriously, people have problems with Isle of Dogs and not with this?)

Unbeknownst to John, the class triggers a tectonic shift inside Setsuko. She loosens up, quits her job and decides to actively pursue the English professor. John has gone back to America, you say? No problem! She has a passport.

There are a couple of additional complications (John is dating Setsuko’s niece; Setsuko and her sister can’t stand each other) that give the film a whiff of screwball comedy, but Oh Lucy! never takes off: Harnett is no one’s idea of comedic performer and Shinobu Terajima embodies too much pathos to come across as funny.

The film is more effective while in Japan. The moment the action moves to Los Angeles and the “fish out of water” cliché kicks in, Oh Lucy! loses its charm. The tonal inconsistency is jarring: This is a comedy that opens with someone launching himself in front of a train, and clearly there is something wrong with Setsuko that is never addressed.

If nothing else, Terajima’s performance keeps the film watchable, but the low stakes and even lower production values hurt the overall experience. The message -the connections you make in the world may save you in the end- is a sweet one, if about as pat as they come. One and a half ESL prairie dog (out of five).

Oh Lucy! opens this Friday 13th at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile – Studio 7.

REVIEW: Rossy De Palma does English in Madame

Every actor in the strange ensemble comedy Madame is someone who deserves to hit the screen more often: The consistently reliable Toni Collette, the (as of late) little seen Harvey Keitel, Almodóvar mainstay Rossy De Palma, and Brit character actor Michael Smiley (Kill List). They all are a treat to watch, but are poorly served by a movie with considerable identity issues: Is it a comedy of manners? Slapstick? Drama?

Madame is set in Paris for no discernible reason beyond the sights. Bob and Anne (Keitel and Collette) are an American couple enduring unspoken crises: Bob is short in cash and forced to sell his beloved Caravaggio. Anne, his aging trophy wife, is sexually frustrated and considering an affair. They are preparing a lavish dinner that may solve their problems when they realize there are 13 sits at the table, a harbinger of bad luck.

To solve the impasse, Anne dresses the maid, María (De Palma), in haute couture to pass her for a Spanish socialite. As the classic romantic comedy trope goes, María’s earthy charms captivate the guests, particularly a British art broker (Smiley) unaware of the ruse.

Even though the setting is ancient, De Palma makes it work. She is a delight as the reluctant accomplice, whose religion-based misgivings fall by the wayside one by one. Unfortunately, Madame is not her movie: Keitel and Collette have storylines that never take off. The Anne character could have been a delightful villain. Instead we have to put up with her run-of-the-mill midlife crisis. Also, one shouldn’t cast the star of Bad Lieutenant to play the straight man in anything. Kind of a waste.

The film is intermittently amusing and sticks the landing with a beauty of a gut punch. The moral of the story: When in doubt, go with Rossy. Two earthy prairie dogs.

Madame opens today Friday the 13th in Regina, at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile – Studio 7.

Almost Ready, Player One

The #604Stacks.

It’s Juno weekend in Vancouver. For those who think music died with Bowie and Prince, the event doesn’t carry much weight (three weeks ago, I didn’t know what a “Hedley” was. Now I’m trying to forget), but at least the side attractions are quite fun.

Chief among them are the #604Stacks, the low-income housing featured in Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s latest movie based on the Ernest Cline best-seller. The stacks are shipping containers -not unlike Brazil favelas- that symbolize the widespread poverty and overpopulation that may characterize the planet in 2045. From this environment emerges Wade, a teen gamer who goes on an epic journey -both virtual and in real life- to become a hero for a disheartened population.

The #604Stacks are a full scale recreation of the aforementioned housing in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Three of the containers are accessible to the public. The first one is filled with classic arcade games: “Centipede”, “Ms. Pac Man”, “Donkey Kong” and the sort. Worth mentioning, the Oasis, the virtual reality universe where Wade spends most of his time, is peppered with 80’s references, and knowledge of the decade’s pop culture and electronic games is indispensable to thrive.

The second container is a duplicate of Wade’s residence (it doubles as rewards area). The third one houses a VR game inspired by the film. “Rise of the Gunters” pits Wade and friends against the corporate agents who want to control the Oasis. I did poorly at “Gunters”, but crushed “Centipede”. Hours and hours of Atari 2600 practice pay off.

#604Stacks its open to the public Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th, 12 to 9pm.

Ready Player One opens next March 29th everywhere.

REVIEW: Tomb Raider Is Serviceable Fun

Back in the day (2001), when Angelina Jolie was announced as the incarnation of the world’s (second) most famous tomb raider, the decision was celebrated as a victory for Girl Power: Finally, a female hero carrying an action film.

Besides the fact we have progressed astonishingly little in that regard (word by word, the same was said of Wonder Woman last year), it’s worth mentioning Jolie’s Lara Croft movies were not great. Not only the plot was unwieldly, Angelina played a sassier version of herself and not really a character.

The main change the 2018 version of Tomb Raider is that Alicia Vikander actually plays Lara Croft. The film is simple but cohesive and the action set-pieces are fluid, as opposed to the choppy style of some other genre specialists (ehem, Michael Bay, ehem).

In this incarnation, Croft is an bike courier/MMA aficionado living paycheck to paycheck. She doesn’t have to. Lara has inherited millions of dollars from her missing father, but she is reluctant to take a penny as she hasn’t given up hope that her dad may resurface.

On the verge of caving in, Lara stumbles upon a clue of her father’s whereabouts: A restless man, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) may have ended in Japan, in pursuit of the resting place of a witch with devastating powers. And he wasn’t the only one in pursuit of the grave.

Tomb Raider is one of those rare cases in which the marriage of an European filmmaker’s sensibilities and a Hollywood production works out. Director Roar Uthaug, responsible for the low-budget, high-octane tsunami flick The Wave, keeps things grounded in reality. Because Indiana Jones’ parentage is undeniable, Uthaug embraces it, leading to effective sequences of Lara Croft using brains and brawn to escape from impossible situations.

A reliable performer, Alicia Vikander brings her low-key charisma to the role. She is immensely watchable and brings a modicum of verisimilitude to ludicrous scenarios. Fans of the videogame (the film is based on the 2013 reboot) are served with winks and nudges, without going overboard.

As the first movie of a would-be franchise, the film does a good job sticking to the story at hand and not overloading in mythology, so often the kiss of death of origin stories. A strong supporting cast (Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott-Thomas and a criminally underused Derek Jacobi) and rather amusing set pieces make Tomb Raider an enjoyable popcorn flick. 3/5 prairie dogs.

Tomb Raider is now playing everywhere.

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time Could Use Some Ironing

Storm Reid is Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time”

Director Ava DuVernay has had a remarkable career. Outside forays in music videos and television, her films have been consistently powerful: The fierce family drama Middle of Nowhere, the revelatory doc 13th and the heart-wrenching Selma, they all have left an indelible impression. It wasn’t a surprise Disney would pick her to head the adaptation of the emblematic sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. She has the chops and the sensibility to pull it off.

Which is why it pains me to say A Wrinkle in Time is not up to par. It’s not necessarily DuVernay’s fault. The script is agonizingly obvious (kids are more sophisticated viewers than the movie gives them credit for) and commits a capital offense for an adaptation of this nature: It nearly forgoes world-building. Also, as seminal as the Madeleine L’Engle book is, it’s 56 years old, and every plot point has been recycled to death.

The one thing A Wrinkle in Time has going for is zeitgeist: All major social movements crystalize in the story of Meg (Storm Reid), a brilliant 13 year-old who -following her father’s disappearance- has turn sullen and withdrawn. Well on her way to hopelessness, Meg and her family are visited by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a kooky figure who seems to know more than she should about Meg’s dad and his interdimensional travel theories.

Soon Meg, her would-be boyfriend and her annoying little brother head to other worlds in search for the missing father, under the tutelage of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Oprah, supernatural, benevolent beings battling the Darkness, the source of all evil.

I could go into further details, but there is no end to all the narrative details the movie both tackles and glosses over. While nobody expects a page-to-page recreation, A Wrinkle in Time does a poor job explaining the mechanics of the story. Things happen. It’s magic. Moving on. A poor casting decision (Meg’s younger sibling is hard to understand and much of the plot hinges on him) further hinders the film’s unfolding.

Ava DuVernay manages however to keep the visuals interesting, particularly when choosing practical effects over CGI. For brief moments, the film becomes tactile, relatable. Makes you wonder what could it have been… with a better script. 2/5 prairie dogs.

A Wrinkle in Time is playing everywhere.

REVIEW: Up ‘The Stairs’

Regent Park in Toronto is an area in transition. Once a drug traffic and sex trade hub, gentrification has turned the neighbourhood around. Alas, the district’s denizens remain in the borough, trying to survive day in and day out.

The Stairs sheds light on their existence by focusing on their daily routine. The approach is respectful of their choices and prevents any judgement from seeping through. Director Hugh Gibson interviews a handful of residents in the course of five years, and documents their struggle with sobriety and their efforts to gain stability. They fail more than succeed, but the realization that there isn’t a way out is somewhat freeing.

The one element that sets the subjects in The Stairs apart is their community involvement and genuine concern for their fellow men. This trait makes them more relatable and their stories more heartbreaking.

While cinematographically flat, The Stairs has an immediacy that elevates it above similar ventures.  Three prairie dogs.

The Stairs will be playing at the RPL Theatre from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th. Director Hugh Gibson will be in attendance for Q&A.

REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’

Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks into the horizon, as all you do in Star Wars.

As satisfying as The Force Awakens was, as the dust settled, it became clear than J.J. Abrams had basically remixed A New Hope for a new generation without bringing new ideas to the fore (heck, Abrams went for yet another Death Star, the most cumbersome of weapons). Considering this development, concerns over The Last Jedi being another Empire Strikes Back weren’t unfounded.

Enter Rian Johnson. The writer/director behind the brainy indies Brick, Looper and The Brothers Bloom explores corners of the Star Wars universe never seen before on screen, without breaking the mold. Chief among them, a scenario beyond the battle between good and evil that has characterized the saga. Johnson also takes full advantage of the visual possibilities and deliver the most unique-looking episode of the franchise, without becoming a CGI hodgepodge like the prequels. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The Last Jedi’ is Star Wars’ Best Film Since ‘Empire’”