Cinecast Episode 482 – A Six Demon Bag

Two movies could not be more different in tone. First up is an indie horror from a first time director who has made a minor masterpiece in Hounds of Love. Next up is a SPOILER review of the rainbow psychedelia that is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II. Kurt saw some fireworks at HotDocs; and a hobby horse revolution among other things. Andrew revisited his favorite Ted Jonathan Demme film, turned his brain off with the third xXx movie and then perused the entire history of film over the past seven days. It was a busy week for both the guys, but there’s always time to record a show – even if it is eight in the morning.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Director: James Gunn (Slither, Super, Movie 43)
Writer: James Gunn
Producers: Kevin Feige
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 136 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Three years ago, The Guardians of the Galaxy was considered the first big risk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, completely removed from the rest of the Avengers on other planets with characters even avid comic book readers weren’t overly familiar with, all led by an actor who was primarily known as the chubby goofball on an NBC workplace sitcom. To the surprise of everyone, the movie became an absolute juggernaut on release, a critical and commercial smash that immediately cemented itself as one of the most beloved entries into the franchise, even considered the very best by many. The fact that it was so much weirder and very different to the rest of the MCU ended up being the thing that people loved most. With an irreverent wit, a group of anti-hero characters who hated everyone as much as they loved themselves banding together to save the galaxy, and a bright, extravagant visual palette that popped in a way that directly opposed the bland, grey tones of the rest of the MCU, the first Guardians was lightning in a bottle that would be impossible to capture twice.

So how do you follow that up? The whole idea of the first Guardians was that it was fresh and unique, but even before it came out the film already had its sequel confirmed, which gave returning writer/director James Gunn (who recently announced that he’ll also be back for the third Guardians film) a tall task. His response, as is the case with most sequels, was more more more. That word defines The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and it’s got connotations both good and bad. Guardians 2 is weirder, more energetic, more colorful, with more action and even more humor than the first. It’s also jam-packed with more characters all fighting for more screentime, more plot, more exposition, more storylines, and more dead spaces in between all of the good stuff. It’s a fun ride, immediately capturing the spirit of the first, but there’s an undeniable feeling of simply returning to the well rather than bringing the kind of refreshing verve that the first movie brought.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nice change of pace from the rest of the MCU (particularly its most recent entry, the unbelievably dull origin story Doctor Strange) but by its very nature as a sequel, it can’t pop to the full extent of its predecessor. Guardians 2 gets off to an excellent start, with an opening credits sequence that rivals the greatest of any scenes in the MCU to date. With all of the character introductions and the team established from the first movie, we’re able to slide right back into the groove of things as the returning quintet (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel) of the title immediately bring back the dysfunctional family chemistry that they formed so well three years ago. Things look like they’re setting up for an epic opening battle, the kind we’ve seen in most of the MCU movies, but right as the tension rises and their behemoth alien opposition arrives to the party, the focus instead narrows in on little Baby Groot, who kicks on the tunes and starts grooving. While the battle rages on out of focus in the background, we instead watch Groot dance around to “Mr. Blue Sky” with utter glee.

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Hot Docs 2017 Review: Shiners


 

Opting for nothing less than an examination of the purpose and philosophy of 21st century labour – in short, how and why do we work in an era of automation and disposable consumerism? – Stacey Tenenbaum’s re-evaluation of the humble shoe shiner smashes any and all Dickensian or Jim Crow notions of the trade with smiles and (mostly joyful) tears.

She travels the globe, from Times Square to La Paz, Bolivia and from Sarajevo to Etobicoke to assess the evolution of the most local of services: cleaning and burnishing shoe leather in a public space. Shiners addresses socioeconomic hot buttons issues of the day, such as race, class, ecology, automation of labour, addiction, politics and human dignity. But, it is first and foremost a character study in a waning trade that has always attracted interesting characters. Combine this with Van Royko’s low-f-stop cinematography and you almost smell the oil, leather, and Kiwi.

Tactile close-ups of fingers and cloth, skin on skin, are mixed with medium shots to emphasize the ‘power-difference’ between the person ‘in the chair’ (which is not always a literal chair) and the shiner, which the film then smoothly undoes. Finally, a healthy mix of wide shots to show their labour employed inside the context of their city. Shiners has a craftswoman’s ebb and flow as Tenenbaum effortlessly flits back and forth across their stories.

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Friday One Sheet: Blade Runner 2049

Unfortunately it looks like the rage that was minimalism isn’t quite dead yet. I say unfortunately because while minimalism has its time and place, I tend to prefer creativity and flashiness and color – when it’s done well. Minimalism tends to stifle creativity and encourages laziness. Case in point here. Not these aren’t handsome looking posters; on the contrary they are quite eye-catching and definitely set a mood. But at the same time, they’re kind of boring.

And if you ask me, they look like Mad Max: Fury Road and a Fast and Furious movie respectively. Which I’m hoping, Bladde Runner 2049 is nothing like; despite the fact that I do like those movies, I’m hoping Blade Runner: 2049 is a bit closer to something like Looper in tone; or at least in pacing.

At any rate, I remain cautiously optimistic about this film. One moment I’m excited, the next I’m apprehensive. This new poster set does really nothing to swing the proverbial pendulum either way for me. So here’s to more hoping and waiting.

After the Credits Episode 208: May Preview

Last meal?

We have officially entered summer movie season and this year, it seems the studios are really entrenching themselves in the concept that if a tentpole is opening on any given weekend, nothing else can open for at least two weeks because they won’t make any money.

At least that’s what it feels like looking at this month’s calendar which includes a couple of potentially huge blockbusters spread a few weeks apart with only a few titles of interest to tide viewers over.

Join us as Dale (Letterboxd), Colleen and I (Letterboxd) look at what’s coming in May.
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Trailer: The Dark Tower

Though it’s now been out for a few days and you’ve most likely already seen it, the conversation behind the scenes here about the posting of The Dark Tower trailer turned into a rather amusing chat about how little a few of us care for the source material.

There’s a lot of love in the world for Stephen King (I’m a fan of a swatch of his work) but from the moment an adaptation of “The Dark Tower” was announced, fans whipped themselves into the kind of frenzy generally reserved for comic book movies and Star Wars. Every announcement and setback were dissected for the smallest ounce of information and the project, which seems to have been in production for years, has morphed from series to movie to some combination of the two.

Idris Elba stars as The Gunslinger, a man who travels through a world that is parts Old West/apocalyptic nightmare/Mordor, in search of The Man in Black (the devil himself apparently – played by Matthew McConaughey in rather great casting) and the mythical Dark Tower which, he hopes, will save the world. Into this mess comes a boy from our world and together with The Gunslinger, the two have to save the Dark Tower in order to save both worlds.

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Review: The Circle

Director: James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now, The End of the Tour)
Novel: Dave Eggers
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Gary Goetzman
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Karen Gillan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 110 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


After breaking out with his 2012 alcoholism indie drama Smashed, director James Ponsoldt has seen each of his subsequent films raise him to a new height, first with The Spectacular Now and then with the masterful The End of the Tour. It was inevitable that after building his name on these very low-key, intimate character dramas, Ponsoldt would eventually want to attempt an elevation into new territory, and that’s where he found himself with the prescient tech thriller The Circle, based on Dave Eggers’ acclaimed novel, for which Eggers and Ponsoldt collaborated on the screenplay. Unfortunately, this is a case where we see that while a filmmaker can do marvels in one area, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a proper fit for another.

Following intrepid young rookie Mae Holland (Emma Watson) as she finds herself inducted into the hive headquarters of Apple-like tech conglomerate The Circle (with a Google-esque dual housing/work facility that its workers, known as Circlers, never seem to leave), Ponsoldt’s film begins by charting an incredibly familiar and shallow trajectory that we’ve seen in plenty of tales of tech terror like 1984 and Eagle Eye. Basically, The Circle is getting closer and closer to a kind of all-seeing, all-knowing dominion over the world where everyone is connected and no one has any privacy. Because somehow despite everything we’ve seen telling us how bad of an idea this is, apparently that’s still where we’re headed according to the movies. When the Steve Jobs type figure Eamon Bailey (a shrewdly cast Tom Hanks, subverting his America’s Dad image to play baddie for a change) introduces a new camera the size of a small marble that can be placed anywhere and sees everything, giving The Circle access to the daily lives of everyone across the planet, we all know where this is headed. Technology is good, until it becomes bad. The bad guys, including The Circle’s COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) want to rule the world by taking away the privacy of everyone under their iron fist, but of course their most important meetings all happen behind closed doors.

Initially feeling some hesitation towards the happy wonderland of The Circle where everyone kills with kindness, Mae slowly finds herself becoming indoctrinated to their ways (the second movie this year where Emma Watson falls victim to Stockholm Syndrome?), eventually going so far as to agree to let her life be filmed 24/7 and broadcast to the world, going “fully transparent”, as she coins it, in one of the many cheesy sell lines the movie gives its characters to shill out. This is where the movie goes in a slightly different path from the usual throughline of these tech thrillers, but instead of rising above the grain it takes this opportunity to drastically fall flat on its face. What follows is a series of increasingly insane events that take suspension of disbelief to impossible extremes and leave you stupefied wondering when this stopped becoming a film that aimed for a prescient vision of where our reliance on technology was headed and became a corny after school special from the ’80s warning us of a future that’s never going to happen.

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Hot Docs 2017 Review: PACmen


 

How many people have selfies taken with Dr. Ben Carson on their phones that they will probably never look at again? For a few shining moments, the former neurosurgeon whose stab-to-scalpel story was adapted into a television movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr., was an outsider-candidate for the U.S. Republican presidential ticket in 2015.

This stemmed from a promising keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where Carson brazenly lectured President Obama on the moral decay of America, as Obama sat ten feet away. It is fitting that his political potential started with prayer, as PACMen shares the story ‘Run Ben Run’ from the inside.

As Donald Trump often blathers, “America does not like losers,” And while the orange authoritarian bafflingly blazed his way through the primaries and election cycle to the highest political office in the world, he was right in this case — outside of a small political bubble, Dr. Carson was exactly and going to be always that, one of politics’ many losers.

Aussie director Luke Walker has unprecedented access to Carson’s Political Action Committee, “Extraordinary America,” (in common parlance, a super-PAC), the body of wealthy evangelical Christians and Tea Party-ers who are responsible, in a large way, for getting Carson to run for the Republican nomination, and also handled the logistical and financial details of his ‘ground game’ in the early state primaries. Walker structures his film between the nuts and bolts of running a behind the scenes political leadership race with Dr. Carson’s ill-informed, often outright goofy series of blunders in front of the news cameras on the national stage.

Your ability to catch the vibe that Walker seems to be laying out with PACmen — decidedly Christopher Guest but for real this time — might depend on your penchant for schadenfreude. At the beginning of the many conference calls and hotel-ballroom meetings, there is a collective prayer for success that often gets hyper-specific: “Let us pray that the liberal biased media stop attacking Ben.” This is amusing in and of itself, if not for the dramatic irony that they are being filmed by a director who has structured a vision of their worst fears into a divine comedy. For PACmen is a story of faith and hubris and unintended hilarity, writ large.

As the numbers of the campaign, both the fundraising, and the chances of securing the number of delegates required to win primaries, approach ‘mathematical zero,’ Carson fails to concede to reality and keeps running. Behind the scenes, the prayers are amplified. The old white guys with bluetooth headsets and ornately carved wooden desks, including Jeff D. Reeter (owner of said desk), Terry Giles and John Philip Souza IV increasingly grasp at a miracle. A volunteer helpfully offers, “God is in the business of miracles.” Meanwhile, the media is in the business of calling out ridiculousness for what it is. To be fair, it seems increasingly to be the late night talk shows shouldering this responsibility over the cable news networks.

The will to laugh at shenanigans and cluelessness, however, may be tested as you see the on-the-ground staffers, volunteers and believers slowly get fired as the Carson campaign wheezes to an ignoble end and the Super-PAC might secretly realize that backing a certain horse after really only one convincing speech might have been a bit presumptuous, although I am unsure if presumptuous is a word in the vocabulary of people who exist in the extreme subsets of American politics. (Notably, Carson ended up in government after all, bizarrely; he endorsed the candidate far outside his values, and was made Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for his political endorsement, praise be to God!)

PACmen espouses the truism that someone cannot pray their way into power — especially if they pontificate on national television that the Egyptian pyramids were built by the Jews for grain storage. Carson had a penchant for demonstrating a woeful lack of foreign policy knowledge, and he combined it with a quiet perplexity, most tellingly demonstrated when he missed his queue to take the stage at a national debate, and looked the nonplussed fool in doing so. Trump managed to make a greater share of policy and political gaffes and scandals (minus the pyramids), but it was his brand, and by owning it, he waltzed straight into office to the profound disappointment of the evangelical Right.

Reality management, a time honoured political endeavour, and faith (also) collapse under the hard light of scrutiny, and the sharp blade of comedy and wit, the very Judas that the Carson campaign labelled as Ted Cruz, was actually the Australian filmmaker hanging about and quietly capturing comedy gold.

Hot Docs 2017 Review: 78/52


 
 
Director: Alexandre O. Phillipe (Doc of the Dead, The People vs. George Lucas)
A Documentary on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, specifically the shower scene.
Producers: Kerry Deignan Roy, Robert Muratore
Starring: Walter Murch, Elijah Whood, Karyn Kusama, Peter Bogdanovich, Danny Elfman, Jamie Lee-Curtis
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 129 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 


In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller PSYCHO redefined the horror landscape.

In the process of bringing his cinematic vision to life, Hitchcock was afforded a whopping seven days to film the iconic shower scene. From the moment the shower faucet is turned on to the moment the Marion Crane meets her fate, a mere 146 seconds pass. In two minutes and twenty-six seconds, there are 78 setups and 52 cuts.

78/52 is an examination of that incredible cinematic execution, the psychology at play, and how it affected pop culture for years to come.

Throughout the doc, PSYCHO’s shower scene is broken down detail by detail – including precisely which melon was used to create the sound effect of the knife stabbing the skin. Artists and fans of all sorts discuss the impact and psychology of the work, all in tones that are equal parts reverie and delight.

There is an inherent joy in seeing the talent gathered for 78/52 just watch PSYCHO. Elijah Wood, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro are but a few of the fans that gather for the documentary. Repeatedly, the documentary pauses for a moment, and we can see studious delight on their famous faces as they watch Hitchcock’s twisted tale unfold before their eyes.

PSYCHO is a film about coveting through watching. So, what about it do these fans covet? What, in turn, do we?

The temptation with a documentary like this is to geek-out a little too hard. Hitchcock is a master who has inspired volumes. His works have been broken down frame-by-frame and studied to the enth degree. Could there possibly be more to say? Well yes, as it turns out.

As we close in on sixty years past the PSYCHO’s release, it’s easy to take for granted the films place in the lexicon. Like STAR WARS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and JAWS, PSYCHO has become “something other”. It is a touchstone, cinematic shorthand, something people know even if they don’t know – but there’s the rub. So very many now do not know PSYCHO. With that in mind, the time is right to examine the work, and concentrate so much time on the most iconic scene in this truly iconic work.

For films like 78/52, the trick is to find the sweet spot. Remind people of things they may have heard before, bring ideas to the table that few may have considered, and wrap it all up with talk of impact and legacy on works that would follow. If the film doesn’t do enough, it gets met with a shrug. If the film does too much, it loses the audience. The happy medium is about as wide as a knife’s edge.

Happily, 78/52 knows just how to wield that knife.