Tag Archives: Movies

Review: Sorry to Bother You

sorry to bother you

When I saw a quote on the cover of Sorry To Bother You’s DVD case proclaiming it to be “Get Out on acid” (courtesy of Dana Harris from Indiewire) I thought that was a bit of topical marketing hyperbole. Turns out it’s actually a fairly accurate assessment.

Boots Riley’s debut film tells the story of Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who finds himself quickly rising in the ranks at his new telemarketing job. As he gains more and more success it comes at the cost of his more socially-minded roots, alienating him from his union pals at the company (Jermaine Fowler and Steven Yeun) and his activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). He also begins to learn more about the extent of corporate greed and… well, things spiral from there.

Sorry to Bother You mines its social satire through a dystopian-esque world that is equal parts whimsical and bleak. In this version of reality, for example, citizens revel in a show called I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me. (So in other words it’s heightened, yes, but not THAT many steps away from our current reality.) Riley recalls the work of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze in his off-kilter, daydreamy visual innovation, lending Sorry to Bother You a bite and creativity that only strengthens the very blunt statements Riley is making.

In fact, I’d argue that there are actually a few too many ideas at play at times, muddying Riley’s otherwise clear vision. Had certain ideas or plot points been pushed further (and others done away with entirely) they could have made even more of an impact. His social commentary is vibrant and important, but it feels like he’s still figuring out the best ways to cohesively convey it.

Some reviews seem to feel that Sorry to Bother You gets a bit too, well, weird for its own good by the end. But while things certainly escalate quickly and go in unexpected directions, that’s part of the appeal of this bold film. And the fact that this got a wide release in theatres is perhaps a minor miracle. It’s an insanely ambitious first film and while it doesn’t entirely stick the landing, it works far better than it should and promises all sorts of exciting things to come.

My Top 10 Films of 2018

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10. Andy Irons: Kissed By God

Don’t let the “sports doc” packaging fool you – this is much more than a collection of cool surfing shots (though there are plenty of those to be found, too). Instead, Andy Irons: Kissed By God tells the wrenching personal story of Andy Irons, a world champion surfer who died in 2010 at the age of 32. No prior surfing interest is necessary (I’d never heard of Irons before), as the film’s main focus is on Irons’ battle with mental illness, addiction, and family tensions. It’s extremely difficult content told in a way that feels digestible, but it also deftly avoids over-simplifying or exploiting. Powerful, straightforward documentary storytelling at its finest.

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9. Blindspotting

As 2018 unfolded, it became clear that one of the major themes of the year in film was a socially-minded focus on racial and class inequality. And perhaps no film contended with those vast themes in a more freewheeling, vibrant way than Blindspotting. Considering the gravity of some of its subject matter, this tale of two Oakland, California friends (played by co-writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) is an extremely funny and enjoyable film. (Though it’s certainly not without its intense moments.) It’s a faithful ode to Oakland, and an important film that I truly believe almost anyone could enjoy.

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8. Annihilation

Alex Garland followed up his promising directorial debut (2014’s Ex Machina) with this year’s philosophically intriguing and visually dazzling Annihilation. Fleshing out Jeff VanderMeer just-okay sci-fi novel of the same name, Annihilation follows an all-female expedition heading into an unusually vegetated and almost certainly dangerous quarantined zone. Things don’t go well. But as a viewer, this strange, heavy film was totally engrossing. Garland expertly blends beauty with horror in his storytelling, subtly expounding on some of the more difficult sides of human nature along the way.

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7. Eighth Grade

If there was one film this year that warmed my heart, it was Eighth Grade. Which is not to say that it’s treacly or entirely feel-good by any means. But writer/director Bo Burnham has crafted his debut film which such warmth that I found it virtually impossible not to fall for it. And were there three more likeable performances this year than Elsie Fisher (Kayla), Josh Hamilton (Kayla’s dad), and Jake Ryan (the nuggets kid)? I think not.

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6. BlacKkKlansman

Truthfully, my #6-2 rankings are pretty interchangeable, since I adored all of them. Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman took a rightfully impassioned and forthright perspective on racism in America, drawing very clear parallels to the bigotry and hate that still thrive today. It’s full of style (as you would expect from Lee), but also a propulsive story and genuine tension that made the 2.25 hour runtime breeze by. BlacKkKlansman is masterfully constructed and far more entertaining than anything about this subject matter has a right to be.

The Rider

5. The Rider

Chloe Zhao’s semi-biographical sophomore feature tells the story of Brady (played, appropriately, by Brady Jandreau), a seriously injured rodeo cowboy who must now find new meaning in his once hyper-focused life. It is a quiet and quietly sad film, but Zhao’s strong sense of humanity comes through her highly observant camera, lending The Rider some qualified uplift. Jandreau, for his part, makes a highly compelling and charismatic lead, no doubt drawing from his parallel life experience. The sum of these unusual parts is a subtle but impactful film that has definitely stuck with me during the many months since I first saw it.

Transit

4. Transit

What if Waiting for Godot was a thriller? That’s the question that came to mind for me while watching Christian Petzold’s German thriller about a non-specific invasion of Europe. Franz Rogowski plays Georg, a man stuck in France and desperate to find safe passage to North America, but without the means or paperwork to do so. Watching the characters in Transit make mostly fruitless attempts to flee definitely brings on the existential dread and could have become tedious, yet Petzold’s assured direction instead ensures that the film never stops feeling tense.

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3. Recovery Boys

One of the best Netflix-released movies of the year was one that unfortunately got almost no attention. Following her excellent Oscar-nominated short, 2017’s Heroin(e), documentarian Elaine McMillion Sheldon made the leap to the feature-length format but stuck with similar subject matter with Recovery Boys. The film spans roughly a year in the life of four young opioid addicts in West Virginia who find themselves at Jacob’s Ladder, a long-term farming-based rehab. Sheldon doesn’t use “talking head” interviews in her filmmaking, instead capturing moments and reactions as they happen, which makes for a very human and personal approach to subject matter that can often be sensationalized. In both Heroin(e) and Recovery Boys, I loved McMillion’s empathetic filmmaking perspective — I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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2. First Reformed

First Reformed may be the film I thought about the most this year. Because while Paul Schraeder’s latest, about pastor beginning to heavily question his faith, may be cynical (he did write Taxi Driver, after all), it’s definitely not short on ideas. Combine that with artistry, atmosphere, and fantastic performances and you definitely have one of the most memorable entries of the year. It’s a movie that is difficult to describe in words, but once you see it for yourself, you can’t get it out of your mind.

Roma

1. Roma

There has been so much praise for Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma that it may start to sound like hyperbole, but in this case it’s safe to believe the hype. Primarily focused on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young maid working for a family in Mexico in the 1970s, Roma tells its deeply personal story in ways that are both intimate and grand. With stunning black and white cinematography, Cuaron creates a whole film’s worth of frame-worthy images. Yet, he also never forgets about the human element of the story. And thanks also to Aparicio’s wonderful first-time performance, the emotional stakes of this small story are sky high. Captivating from the opening long take to its final moments, Roma is not only the biggest cinematic achievement of 2018, but a film I suspect we’ll be talking about for many years to come. 

Honourable Mentions: Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Widows, Green Book, Kodachrome, A Star is Born, Burning, First Man, Support the Girls

My 10 Favourite Films of 2017

Happy 2018! The title of this post is pretty self-explanatory, so let’s dive in!

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10. Stronger

Portraying real-life tragedy in film is always touchy. Let alone recent, heavily-reported real-life tragedy. But David Gordon Green’s Stronger presents a sensitive yet gritty take on the story of Jeff Bauman (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man who lost both of his legs during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Most films about a dramatic national news story focus on the ins and outs of the event itself (see: Peter Berg’s also quite-good movie about the same event, Patriots Day), but Stronger shines a spotlight on what happens AFTER the news cameras stop rolling, when the real work begins for the innocent people directly affected. Stronger does not sugar-coat the mental and physical struggles that Bauman faced, nor does it shy away from presenting Bauman’s less likeable personality traits. The result is an intimate and highly compelling character portrait that avoids exploiting the inherent drama of its inciting event.

The Last Jedi

9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Breaking Bad fans may recall an episode called “Fly” (season three, episode 10) a strange entry in the series where protagonists Walt and Jesse spend almost the entire episode alone together inside of a laboratory chasing down a pesky housefly. This “bottle episode” was one of three Breaking Bad episodes that Rian Johnson directed, and it’s among the most memorable and most divisive in the entire series run, mostly because it was so different than everything that came before or since. Now, Rian Johnson has entered the Star Wars franchise and shaken things up similarly with The Last Jedi, essentially creating the “Fly” of Star Wars. Some people love it, some people hate it. “Fly” was among my very favourite Breaking Bad episodes. And as much as I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One? The Last Jedi is among my very favourite Star Wars installments.

Loveless

8. Loveless

The latest grim tale from notorious grim Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev, Loveless tells the story of a couple going through a bitter divorce whose 12-year-old son suddenly vanishes without a trace. Oh, and it’s also all a metaphor for Russia’s crumbling political landscape. So no, Loveless is not an uplifting time at the movies. But for all of the chilly gloom, I was actually surprised by how accessible and narratively compelling Loveless manages to be. Not having seen any of Zvyagintsev’s previous films, I was expecting it to be much more esoteric than was, but the camerawork is inviting and the plot – while not high-action – is quite engaging. Zvyagintsev and co-screenwriter Oleg Negin create complex characters who portray some of humankind’s worst instincts while still managing to be interesting and oddly sympathetic. It’s not an easy watch in terms of content, but as for craft and storytelling, there’s absolutely no doubt that Zvyagintsev is one of the masters.

Personal Shopper

7. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart seem like an unlikely director/actor pairing, but between Clouds of Sils Maria and now Personal Shopper, they may actually be among the most perfectly matched cinematic collaborators of recent years. Assayas’ films and Stewart’s performances both have a chilly reserve that gives way to an emotionalism that is surprising simply because there seems to be no trace of it in any conventional sense. This especially applies to Personal Shopper, which left some viewers cold precisely because it is so opaque. Having seen the film, it’s still unclear to me whether the mood and the half-formed ideas about mortality and loss that Assayas sets up ever really amount to anything. Yet I found myself sucked into the liminal state that the film seems more than content to exist in. Don’t come to Personal Shopper looking for easy answers. Just settle in for the experience.

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6. Dunkirk

Speaking of films that kept some viewers at a distance, Dunkirk has received criticism for its lack of focus on character development. And I’ll admit that I too did struggle a bit with the film’s shunning of conventional emotional arcs. However, I don’t think that’s a weakness of the film. In terms of craft, it’s immersive, daring, and sometimes downright confrontational in the way it’s constructed. And though we may not get to know any of the characters thoroughly, many of them are still very interesting thanks to the film’s storytelling techniques and the performances the impeccably-chosen cast give in limited screentime. (Yes, that includes Harry Styles.) I found Dunkirk to be compelling and emotionally charged – just perhaps not in the way I expected.

 The Square

5. The Square

A Palme d’Or winner that skewers the very type of audience that is often associated with the Cannes Film Festival. That perhaps speaks to just how smart and funny Ruben Ostlund’s latest film is. And while the satire is aimed at the modern art world and self-obsessed “intellectuals”, you don’t need much insider knowledge to appreciate the greater application of its statements about greed and narcissism. The Square is a strange, long film but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, thanks to Ostlund’s commitment to the sheer weirdness of it all. He’s not afraid to ~go there, as evidenced by the film’s much-discussed “monkey man” scene set at a banquet dinner. It’s not exactly “cringe comedy”, but The Square combines its satire with impeccable craft, making it one of the most memorable, uncomfortable, and fun viewing experiences I had all year.

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4. Beach Rats

If you hear that a film is about a closeted gay teen, you might have a notion of what that it’ll be like. If you hear that a film is about a bunch of agro dudes hanging out at the Jersey shore, that probably conjures something very different in your mind. Beach Rats manages to be both of those things and neither of those things all at once. Frankie (Harris Dickinson) lives separate lives, trawling through gay hook-up sites during his downtime from hanging out with his bros on the boardwalk. It’s a film about what happens when two distinct sides of yourself will never fit together. Director Eliza Hittman explores this dilemma and its emotional toll on Frankie with the perfect balance of confrontation and delicacy. This film is gritty less in its content than its emotional heft. Hypnotic and grimy, Beach Rats lets us marinate in Frankie’s self-loathing in an alarmingly gorgeous way.

Call Me By Your Name

3. Call Me By Your Name

If Beach Rats is about the toxicity of the closet, Call Me By Your Name is about someone learning about the freedom in breaking out of it. Luca Guadagnino has crafted a stunning, opulent ode to autonomy (and also to the inherent risks associated with living one’s life fully). The love story between Ellio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) aches and pulses with emotional intensity through every stage of the story. Guadagnino and screenwriter James Ivory hit every narrative punch with such subtly that by the time the film reaches its fittingly understated conclusion, the true weight of it all has snuck up on you. And it should not be overlooked that the film is also truly is a feast for the eyes. I was totally swept up in Call Me By Your Name’s gorgeous atmosphere and emotional delicacy.

Good Time

2. Good Time

If you look at the other films near the top spot of this list, you’ll see that I had a strong emotional response (of some kind) to all of them. The same can be said about Josh and Ben Safdie’s Good Time, though it may be more that my heart just realigned itself to match Good Time’s peculiar, breakneck rhythm. As we follow anti-hero Connie (Robert Pattinson) through an increasingly crazy night (brought on solely by his own fuckery) the stakes get higher and the tension ratchets up. This thing moves. And that’s thanks largely to the Safdies’ direction, which is truly stunning. They somehow create a film that feels highly stylized (in all the right ways) and also gritty, authentic, and intimate. It’s neo-verite on a Sprite bottle full of acid. I also have to recognize Pattinson’s performance, which is captivating and intense in a way that, frankly, I don’t think many people thought he was capable of. I can’t wait to see what the Safdies do next, and I can’t wait to watch this movie again.

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1. Columbus

Somehow, the film from 2017 that left the biggest impact on me was also one of its most unassuming. Kogonada’s debut feature, Columbus, is measured, kind, and profound in a way I simply did not expect. It’s about many things while outwardly appearing to be about very little. Set in the unlikely architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana, the film tracks the burgeoning friendship between local Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and involuntary visitor Jin (John Cho), who finds himself stranded there after his father has a heart attack while visiting and can’t be flown home. While Jin awaits his father’s fate, this deliberately paced film allows the pair to get to know each other organically, and it’s a true treat to watch play out. This likely has something to do with Richardson’s amazing openness as an actor. For my money, it’s the best performance of the year, which is fitting, since Columbus is the best film of the year. I suspect that this is a film that will quietly build a following, its emotional relevance to live on for years to come.

10 films you need to see in June 2017

The Bad Batch

Kicking off what looks to actually be a pretty strong summer movie season, June has a lot of interesting offerings. From the biggest of the big budgets, to indie flicks that’ll probably make only a small blip at the box office, here are the 10 films I think you need to see this month.

Wonder Woman (June 2, wide)

Directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), Wonder Woman just opened on Friday and is already looking to smash records and exceed expectations. Of course, the film is the latest in the sometimes-maligned DC cinematic universe, though so far much more highly regarded by critics than DC’s other recent outings, including Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman.


Dean (June 2, limited)

Directed by, written by, and starring stand-up comedian Demetri Martin, Dean follows a New York City-based illustrator (Martin) who returns home to the west coast after the death of his mother. (It also stars Kevin Kline and Community’s Gillian Jacobs, which are two more pluses, in my opinion.) Knowing Martin’s distinctive brand of comedy, I’d imagine it’d be helpful to already be a fan of his work going into the film, and perhaps as a result, the film has earned somewhat mixed reviews from critics after initially being well-received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


It Comes at Night (June 9, wide)

A24 has become a darling of independent film, with each of their new releases pre-ordained with buzz before much is even known about the film itself. Not everything they release is a hit or even very good, necessarily (for every Room or Moonlight there seems to be a Sea of Trees or an Equals) but It Comes at Night seems like it has potential to be a crossover success. Starring Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough, it story is familiar within the horror genre (a man tries to seclude himself and his family to protect them from a mysterious outside threat, only to have some strangers show up seeking refuge), but it looks to balance horror tropes with artful filmmaking, which I can always appreciate.


My Cousin Rachel (June 9, limited)

Oh, doesn’t this trailer look like melodramatic fun? Based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, director Roger Michell (Noting Hill, Venus) seems to be embracing gothic camp with the help of his seemingly extremely game leading lady, Rachel Weisz. Throw in Sam Claflin as a wan upper-crust dreamboat (arguably the only type of role he should play), and I’m solidly on board.


Rough Night (June 16, wide)

It shouldn’t be noteworthy that June features two major releases that are directed by women and feature female leads, yet it kind of is. The second of those is Rough Night, the debut feature from director Lucia Aniello. Aniello has worked extensively on Broad City and now makes the leap from television to film with the help of Broad City star Ilana Glazer. Following the misadventures of a bachelorette party whose hired male stripper winds up dead, Rough Night also stars Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, and Jillian Bell.


The Bad Batch (June 23, limited)

Anna Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to her acclaimed debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is sure to be batshit insane, if The Bad Batch’s trailer is any indication. Billed as a dystopian cannibal love story, The Bad Batch looks to offer an eclectic cast and style for days. It received somewhat lukewarm response on the festival circuit last year, but it looks ballsy, weird, and fun enough to get me into the theatre.


The Beguiled (June 23, limited)

Haven’t we all been waiting for Sofia Coppola to make a freaky Southern-gothic Civil War parable? Loosely based on the 1971 Clint Eastwood western of the same name and starring Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, and Elle Fanning, The Beguiled takes place at a Virginia girls boarding school that is disrupted by the arrival of Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). And in case all of that wasn’t enough to entice you, last weekend Coppola scooped up a Best Director award for The Beguiled at the Cannes Film Festival.


The Big Sick (June 23, limited)

There needs to be at least one quality indie rom-com released every summer (preferably starring Zoe Kazan), and The Big Sick looks like it could perfectly fill that slot. Telling the real-life story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily (portrayed here by Kazan), the film follows a complicated relationship made more complicated when Emily suddenly becomes very ill. The trailer looks touching and its two stars are endlessly charming. AND The Big Sick is directed by Michael Showalter, whose last film, My Name is Doris, was equal parts funny and melancholy.


Baby Driver (June 30, wide)

Any new film by Edgar Wright is bound to garner a lot of excitement. But while his last outing, 2013’s The World’s End left me a little underwhelmed, I have high hopes for Baby Driver, partly just because it looks like something a little different from Wright. More than just being a typical caper/crime movie, film also boasts an interesting approach to integrating its soundtrack. The trailer looks relentlessly stylish (but, like… in a good way) and early buzz seems strong. It looks like it could be a perfect summer popcorn flick.


Okja (June 30, Netflix)

There was a bit of a kerfuffle at Cannes this year after it was announced that Okja had been picked up by Netflix and would be released on the streaming platform just weeks after playing the festival. But hey, I’m not complaining about getting to see the new Bong Joon Ho movie. Following up 2013’s truly excellent Snowpiercer, Bong’s Okja looks strange and wonderful, telling the story of a young girl attempting to protect a fantastical creature from being kidnapped by a multi-national corporation. And to top it all off, the film stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lilly Collins. Time to fire up Netflix and enjoy.

Review: All These Sleepless Nights

All These Sleepless Nights

It’s tempting to spend this entire review pondering whether All These Sleepless Nights is really a documentary or not. Of course, there’s much more to Michal Marczak’s film than questions of form. But those questions also turn out to be pretty compelling.

Low on story and heavy on style, All These Sleepless Nights provides a slightly voyeuristic look at a group of mostly directionless young adults living in Warsaw, Poland. We spend a lot of time wandering the city streets with them, witnessing their often mundane encounters. We also watch as they use a combination of sex and drugs to lull themselves in a passive state of detachment, adding an even more meditative tone to the movie.

The film’s two main subjects are Kris and Michal, two quasi-handsome, vaguely charismatic friends whose hedonistic and egotistical behaviour unsurprisingly puts some tension on their interpersonal relationships. There are love triangles and some conflict throughout, but All These Sleepless Nights is more about conveying a mood and capturing a mindset, rather than telling any sort of conventional narrative.

It may seem like a pedantic distinction, but going into All These Sleepless Nights thinking of it as a documentary or as a narrative will affect the way you experience it. There’s room for grey areas and blurred lines, yes, but the film’s heavy stylization complicates things. Is this meant to be an accurate document of youth, or a constructed interpretation of it? The answer is undeniably somewhere in the middle. And while it may sound like that formal non-commitment would obscure the film’s impact, it actually increases it, adding to its already hazy, dream-like aura.

All These Sleepless nights has played at documentary film festivals such as True/False and Hot Docs, yet on IMDB it’s classified as a drama rather than a documentary. In viewing it, I found it difficult to view its subjects as anything other than “characters”. The way the scenarios play out (some of which feel quite obviously staged), the subjects’ sometimes less-than-natural reactions, the reliance on the musical soundtrack, and the impeccably lit cinematography all really prevent the film from feeling like something that was captured on the fly and in real time. But again, that isn’t really a knock against it. Marczak (who has been upfront about the fact that aspects of the film were manipulated, re-shot, and improvised, rather than simply “documented”) has crafted something that feels authentic, if not completely grounded in reality. If a film involves real people and strives to represent the authentic feelings they experience (but uses unconventional means to do so) who’s to say it’s not still non-fiction?

Ultimately, though, these questions fade to the background as you’re watching All These Sleepless Nights. You get lulled into the film’s hazy tone, basking in the beautiful visuals. Marczak, also a cinematographer, cultivates one striking image after another. The film is absolutely worth seeing just for that, though don’t go into it looking for any real narrative thrust.

Atmospheric and distinct, All These Sleepless Nights captures the strife, power, and mundane feelings of youth all in one arty little package. It may not appear to say much on the surface, but its impact lingers.