Planes, Trains & Automobiles ****/**** Image C+ Sound A Extras B+ starring Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean written and directed by John Hughes
by Bill Chambers It took thirty years and multiple viewings before I finally realized that John Hughes's Planes, Trains & Automobiles is about many things, but mostly it's about a trunk. A behemoth fit for a starlet taking a cruise to Skull Island, the trunk is the property of travelling salesman Del Griffith (John Candy), who peddles shower-curtain rings for American Light & Fixture.1 Indeed, it's his avatar. Stuffy ad exec Neal Page (Steve Martin) trips over it while racing special-guest-star Kevin Bacon for a New York City cab at rush hour. It's fate. Del will obliviously steal the taxi Neal does manage to flag down, but it's not until they wind up sitting across from each other in LaGuardia that Neal puts a face to the trunk, reinforcing his bias against the moustachioed stranger--a sort of benign Ignatius J. Reilly who, between his girth and his luggage and, arguably, his indifference to Neal's boundaries, is the textbook definition of a man-spreader. The trunk disappears for long stretches, though it has a habit of bobbing back up into the frame the second you've forgotten about it completely. It's uncanny that way.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton **/**** directed by Chris Smith
by Alice Stoehr A few decades ago, Jim Carrey was a rising star of stand-up comedy ready to leave the Toronto suburbs. In mid-'90s Hollywood, he became a household name. Now he's wistful and solidly middle-aged. "Every time you open your mouth you learn something about yourself," he says. "Especially when you play characters." This introspection forms the spine of Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a documentary about his performance as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. The present-day Carrey wears a leather jacket, with a salt-and-pepper beard on his famously rubbery face. Shot head-on or from a three-quarter view, he recounts turmoil on the film's set: "Most people felt that the movie was happening behind the camera." A trove of long-suppressed behind-the-scenes footage woven around the interview shows Carrey disappearing into his role, much to director Miloš Forman's chagrin. He insists his co-stars address him as "Andy;" parades around as Kaufman's loathsome alter ego, Tony Clifton; and repeatedly antagonizes wrestler Jerry Lawler, who plays himself in the movie. Kaufman's real-life family drops by the set and can hardly believe the resemblance.
*/**** starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon directed by Zack Snyder
by Walter Chaw Marrying the worst parts of Zack Snyder with the worst parts of Joss Whedon (who stepped in to complete the film after Snyder had a family tragedy), DC's superhero team-up dirge Justice League shambles into unnatural half-life with a message of apocalyptic doomsaying presented now without puke filters, so that it looks like a movie my mom watches on her television with the motion-smoothing turned on. The same trick has been attempted with a script burdened by Whedon's patented hipster-ese, which went stale about halfway through "Buffy"'s run, let's face it. The Flash's non sequiturs (Whedon's suggesting he's autistic (which isn't funny)), Aquaman's hearty, get-a-haircut bro-clamations ("I dig it!" and "Whoa!" and so on)--all of it is so poorly timed that it's possible to become clinical about what happens when a punchline is grafted onto a piece at the eleventh hour, and it doesn't help that no one in this cast is known for being even remotely funny or glib. Jason Momoa is a lot of things; Noël Coward ain't one of them. When Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shakes her head bemusedly (I think) and says warmly (I guess), "Children. I work with children," you get that sick, embarrassed feeling that happens when you're watching a person you want to like succumb to flop sweat and overrehearsal.
Fireworks ****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B- starring Beat Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima written and directed by Takeshi Kitano
by Walter Chaw Nishi loves her very much, but when she tries to link arms with him for a photograph, he pulls away. He's not comfortable with his emotions. He's from both a culture and a profession that frowns on that sort of thing. When his co-workers talk about him, they do so in hushed tones and warn one another not to get too familiar, even in their gossip. He's lost a daughter and his wife is very ill. They make allowances for him one day and it results in the crippling of his partner. Nishi avenges him, but another young cop dies in the process. Nishi, dispassionate, empties his gun into the bad guy's skull. But his partner is still abandoned by his wife and child for not being the man he used to be. None of this is how it's supposed to work. Men are taught to be a specific way and promised rewards for their stoicism and brutality. I'm 44 years old. It's taken most of my adult life to begin to unravel the ways that expectation and breeding have made it hard for me to tell my wife, whom I love in a devastating way, "I love you." I was afraid to have kids because I didn't know if I could tell them I loved them. I have two. I tell them every day. I make myself. Takeshi Kitano's Hana-bi deals with the consequences of masculinity--perhaps the most trenchant exploration of the theme not written or directed by Walter Hill. The film understands that some men can only express themselves through motion, which isn't enough in the best of times and is laughably insufficient in the worst of them. Of all the '90s masterpieces of world cinema, Hana-bi is my favourite.
**½/**** starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost directed by Taika Waititi
by Walter Chaw I've reached a limit with facility, I think--a point at which things that are professionally-executed and entirely meaningless just slide off into a kind of instant nothingness. I'm talking about machine-tooled product, a brand like Kleenex or Kellogg's, where the only time there's any awareness of consumption is when the experience of it is unexpected in some way. There's a reason people see the Virgin Mary in potato chips sometimes. Variation in extruded products is so exceedingly rare that it's akin to holy visitation: some accidental proof of the supernatural; a glitch in the Matrix. Marvel films are akin now to your daily lunch. You can remember the stray meal. Mostly, it's something you do knowing you've had one yesterday and are likely to have one tomorrow. If you're like most of us, you could probably eat better.
***½/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras A- starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara written and directed by David Lowery
by Alex Jackson All forms of an afterlife are kitsch. You can't even conceptualize Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, or spiritualism without turning it into a greeting card or a joke. Kitsch is built into the concept. There was a point in my life where I felt that while it was kitsch, kitsch was all we had. The only other option was to confront the vast nothingness and indifference of the universe and acknowledge how little time and space we take up in the grand scheme. Maybe our belief in a life after death is the equivalent of Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff and not falling because he doesn't look down.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras A starring Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae screenplay by J.S. Cardone & Bill Ewing directed by J.S. Cardone
by Sydney Wegner As co-writer/director J.S. Cardone insists, The Slayer is not quite a slasher. More than titillate or thrill, it seeks to unsettle, to dig at the viewer with emotion rather than throwaway jump scares. The set-pieces have the imaginative gore of any good slasher, but a sadness permeates the film so deeply that all the dorky banter and melodramatic murders in the world can't disguise it. The slow pace and heavy emphasis on the psychological trauma of its lead doomed The Slayer to be drowned out by the deluge of early-'80s slashers, and most viewers who might have been drawn to the carnage implied by the lurid title and poster were likely left unsatisfied. The Slayer opens with a nightmare: Wandering wide-eyed through a house, the protagonist, Kay, is strangled by long, inhuman hands encrusted in slime and blood. The opening promises the violence and sex (she's of course wearing a classic skimpy nightgown) of the typical slasher variety, but pay closer attention to the close-ups of a chiming grandfather clock and the beautiful orchestral score--those signal the kind of movie you're in for. When Kay startles awake from this dream, sweaty and terrified, her husband stands above her. He starts talking to her about something innocuous, but the camera, peering up from a jarringly low angle, makes him seem ominous and oppressive. This, too, is a tell. Kay will spend the movie trying to convince the other characters that what she dreams is real, and they will brush her off, and then they'll die. They aren't a comfort to her anymore, because she is far gone to a place where everything is at the wrong angle.
*½/ **** Image B+ Sound B Extras B starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox screenplay by Dennis Shryack & Michael Butler and Lane Slate directed by Elliot Silverstein
by Bryant Frazer America's love of the open road collided with its suspicion of out-of-state license plates in The Car, a risible 1977 thriller about a muscle car on a killing spree. The Car was conceived as a cash-in--an easy riff on Jaws with the working title Wheels(!)--but it earned a reputation for genre silliness that made it a staple of late-night TV line-ups in the 1980s. Shot mostly in the Utah desert, The Car follows sheriff's deputy Wade Parent (James Brolin) as he investigates a series of mysterious hit-and-run killings involving bicyclists, a hitchhiker, and a mean-looking, black Lincoln Continental. It's a low-octane concept even for genre knock-offs, and despite the traditional framing of organized law enforcement as the heroes of the piece, there's not a lot of detective work required. The Car shows up; the Car runs someone over; the Car drives away, blasting its horn triumphantly. It's not until it takes a special interest in Wade and his schoolteacher girlfriend, Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), that the deputies concoct a plan to lure it out of town and into a trap, using Wade as bait.
H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator ****/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras A starring Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Jeffrey Combs screenplay by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris and Stuart Gordon, based on H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West--Re-Animator" directed by Stuart Gordon
by Bryant Frazer An extremely loose adaptation of a generally unloved short story by H.P. Lovecraft ("Herbert West–Reanimator"), Re-Animator is a genre miracle: a low-budget horror movie with a smart script, strong performances, genuinely nightmarish gore effects, and a wicked sense of humour that avoids smugness or condescension. Director Stuart Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay with gothic fiction specialist Dennis Paoli (from a teleplay by William J. Norris), moderates the ghoulish overtones of Lovecraft's Frankenstein parody by first establishing an ordinary young-doctors-in-love scenario. In this version Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), an idealistic young M.D.-in-training at Miskatonic University, is covertly romancing Meg Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of the med-school dean (Robert Sampson), when the arrival of transfer student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) starts to put a strain on their relationship. Strapped for cash, Dan takes West in as a roommate over Meg's objections, and he proves to be a problem tenant for a few reasons. Most obviously, he is a prideful twerp who begins his studies at Miskatonic by picking a fight with one of the teachers, the towering, imperious Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whose work West regards as derivative. ("So derivative," he opines in the deliciously bitchy scene that introduces the characters to each other, "that in Europe, it's considered plagiarized.") But West is also a budding sociopath with a monomaniacal focus on developing the green-glowing serum he believes brings the dead back to life, and he's looking to procure fresh bodies on which to experiment. The trouble really starts when goodness is corrupted--when the generally level-headed Dan decides to help him with his research.
*/**** starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons screenplay by Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup, based on the novel by Jo Nesbø directed by Tomas Alfredson
by Walter Chaw Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman, an adaptation of the seventh in Jo Nesbø's literary crime series, treats its narrative as gestural performance art: a suggestion of a suggestion of genre. When it's fascinating, it operates with a certain dream logic, where one thing leads to another thing senselessly, nightmarishly, the dreamer buoyed along powerless to affect his own fate within the larger, obscure narrative. Harrison Ford famously complained that Blade Runner is a movie about a detective who doesn't do any detecting. The Snowman is a movie about a detective who can't do any detecting because there isn't any connective tissue. No matter what the teasing notes left by its serial killer claim, there are no clues. It's very much like Andrew Fleming's own abortive attempt at a franchise, Nancy Drew, which is also alien in its behaviour, acting like a movie would act if it were made by a sea cucumber. Consider a scene in The Snowman that pushes the story to its conclusion: there's a revelation, a key piece of evidence or something, and a location, and the heroine, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), stands up at her desk. A male colleague, who was sitting in a cubicle across from Katrine, suddenly teleports to the balcony above her as she leaves. He asks if she's all right. The better question would be if there was so little footage shot that every bit of it was used, continuity be damned. The great Thelma Schoonmaker was brought in at the eleventh hour, presumably at the behest of executive producer Martin Scorsese (once slated to direct the film), in a presumed attempt to save the project. Schoonmaker, for everything she's great at, was never that great at continuity under the best of circumstances. Something Scorsese played around with in Shutter Island. Something that occasionally turns The Snowman into a Gertrude Stein piece.
****/**** starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, Caleb Landry Jones written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch directed by Sean Baker
by Walter Chaw Sean Baker's The Florida Project follows the day-to-day of a group of five- or six-year-olds as they run wild through the broken-down streets, hot-sheet motels, and abandoned buildings that serve as the ramshackle spokes radiating out from Disney World in Orlando. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is the ringleader, impossibly exuberant and sly in exactly and only the way a six-year-old in full operational mode can be. She is a force of nature, and Prince's performance is entirely unaffected. It's a miracle. Moonee's best friends are Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), and they roam far afield, standing on picnic tables, exploring empty housing units, experimenting with lighters, and scamming ice-cream cones from marks more exhausted by their pitch ("I have asthma and my doctor said that I...") than convinced by it. I was free like this when I was 5. I grew up in downtown Golden, Colorado, which has as its main identifying feature a wooden sign stretching across its "main" street ("Washington") that says "Howdy Folks!" I used to catch flies and shine shoes in the barbershop on the corner. The barber was the mayor, Frank. I spent the pennies I earned at the 5 and 10 across the street. The Florida Project is about that.
**½/**** starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan screenplay by David Marconi, based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather directed by Martin Campbell
by Walter Chaw Martin Campbell's The Foreigner, based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman, showcases the great, the incomparable, Jackie Chan as a grief-stricken man with a Special Forces past, galvanized into action when an IRA bomb kills his only, and last, daughter in a chichi London retail block. Having failed in his attempts to bribe London officials for names, Chan's Quan, restaurateur/owner of The Happy Peacock, focuses his attentions on former IRA/Sinn Fein leader Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). Quan terrorizes the terrorists, stakes them out at Hennessy's farmhouse/fortress, and generally makes life miserable for everyone until he finds the people responsible for his daughter's death. It's a role that Liam Neeson would have played had there not been a recent hue and cry over yellowface and whitewashing, and so Chan, in the twilight of his action career, is forced into somewhat thankless service in a film that wants to be more like The Fourth Protocol than like Police Story. The Foreigner isn't a great film, but it's an interesting one for all its mediocrity.
***½/**** starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson written and directed by Noah Baumbach
by Angelo Muredda Late in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), one-time piano protégé turned arrested adult Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) bemoans the fact that his father's casual abuse over the years never culminated in that one unforgivable thing he or his sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) could point to as a deal-breaker, beyond which no love or mercy could be extended. Instead, he says, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Huffman)--a decently gifted sculptor and by most accounts better college professor whose work is now worth less than the attic it's stored in--hit them with "tiny things every day. Drip, drip, drip." With Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach carved out an impressive niche for himself as a chronicler of how parents' micro-aggressions, that steady drip of petty criticisms and unnecessarily cutting observations, leave a mark on their hyper-literate upper-middle-class American children. But he's never found so clear a voice to get across both the anguish and the humour of that condition as he has in his newest, a fussily-constructed but involving and at times impossibly sad family drama about the existential terror of being just smart enough and talented enough to know you're nothing special.
****/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty written by Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson directed by Albert Brooks
by Bryant Frazer Early in Lost in America, David Howard (Albert Brooks) is trying to convince his wife, Linda (Julie Hagerty), that it's a good idea to abandon their Los Angeles house in favour of an interstate-ready mobile home. He describes the amenities in detail--it even has a "microwave that browns"--and outlines his dangerously misguided fantasy of dropping out of society to explore the country. "Linda," he says, "this is just like Easy Rider, except now it's our turn." That's a good line, and not just because Albert Brooks--round-faced, pushing 40, with enormous glasses and a distinctive Jewfro--is a physically and temperamentally unlikely candidate for the Easy Rider lifestyle. It's really funny because it's so clearly a terrible idea. In a rush of pride and vocal anger at being passed over for a desired promotion, David lost his job as an advertising copywriter, unwrapping himself from the protective swaddle of gainful corporate employment. Now he wants to drag Linda, a department-store HR functionary, into the void with him. It's like a car wreck in slow-motion, except the guy driving sold his air bags for gas money and is delivering a peppy monologue about how great it feels not to be wearing a seat belt. This, we understand, is a calamity in the making.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Fiona Dourif, Adam Hurtig, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif written and directed by Don Mancini
by Bill Chambers It's not uncommon for a long-running horror series to embroider an increasingly convoluted mythology over time, as the kind of premise that launches horror icons also tends to be too primal to sustain a franchise. That's why Michael Myers became part of the Thorn cult and Freddy Krueger sired offspring while his own backstory continued to blossom. The Chucky saga, the story of a bloodthirsty Cabbage Patch Kid run amok, is no exception, but it's utterly unique in how the style of these films has pivoted, to use a buzzword, with the evolving narrative. What began as a mostly straight-faced slasher trilogy with a different identity altogether--these were Child's Play movies--was continued seven years later as a tongue-in-cheek ode to monster mash-ups with 1998's Bride of Chucky. Post-modernism then entered the picture and the comedy was pushed to the nth in Chucky creator Don Mancini's directorial debut Seed of Chucky, which seemed to exceed the threshold for camp shared by both the franchise and its fans. Another seven years passed (incidentally, the mythical length of time it takes for the human body to shed its skin) before Mancini's Curse of Chucky resurrected the title character, this time as the cursed object in an old-dark-house chiller. Now Cult of Chucky sees Mancini retrofitting his Mickey Mouse once again for a Bad Dreams-style psycho-ward thriller. Say what you will about Mancini being a maker of Chucky movies almost exclusively (he's the rare auteur to initiate, then stay with, a horror franchise), but within these limited parameters he's had an opportunity to show more range than most genre filmmakers.
This week finally sees the North American release of the Ben Mendelsohn-Rooney Mara drama Una, which Walter Chaw reviewed at last year's Telluride. The Florida Project also begins trickling into theatres today; Angelo Muredda covered it for TIFF. And I hear there's a sequel to Blade Runner?
***½/**** starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green directed by Denis Villeneuve
by Walter Chaw Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is oblique without inspiring contemplation, less a blank slate or a Rorschach than an expository nullity. It's opaque. There are ideas here that are interesting and inspired by the original film and Philip K. Dick source material, but they've all been worked through in better and countless iterations also inspired by the original film and Philip K. Dick. The best sequel to Blade Runner is Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, with a long sidelong glance at Under the Skin, perhaps--and Her, too. All three films are referenced in Blade Runner 2049 without their relative freshness or, what is it, yearning? There aren't any questions left for Villeneuve's picture, really, just cosmological, existential kōans of the kind thrown around 101 courses taught by favourite professors and at late-night coffee shops and whiskey bars. Yet as that, and only that, Blade Runner 2049 is effective, even brilliant. It's a tremendous adaptation of a Kafka novel (a couple of them), about individuals without an identity in tension against a faceless system intent on keeping it that way. It has echoes of I Am Legend in the suggestion that the future doesn't belong to Man, as well as echoes of Spielberg's A.I. and its intimate autopsy of human connection and love, but it lacks their sense of discovery, of surprise, ultimately of pathos. This is a film about whimpers.
EROS + MASSACRE (1969) ****/**** Director's Cut: Image B+ Sound B Extras B- Theatrical Version: Image B Sound B Extras B starring Mariko Okada, Toshiyuji Hosokawa, Yûko Kusunoki, Etsushi Takahashi written by Masahiro Yamada & Yoshishige Yoshida directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
HEROIC PURGATORY (1970) ***/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Mariko Okada, Kaizo Kamoda, Naho Kimura, Yoshiaki Makita written by Masahiro Yamada directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
COUP D'ETAT (1973) ***½/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras B starring Rentarô Mikuni, Yasuo Miyake, Akiko Kurano, Tadahiko Sugano written by Minoru Betsuyaku directed by Yoshishige Yoshida
by Bryant Frazer In director Yoshishige Yoshida's restlessly erotic trio of films dealing with Japanese radicalism (aptly dubbed "Love + Anarchism" by Arrow Films), past and present merge as easily and ineluctably as the personal and the political. Released between 1969 and 1973, they were made at a politically turbulent time in Japan, when the New Left movement gained social currency and student anarchists, the Zengakuren, challenged the status quo by occupying buildings at universities and high schools around the country. In that conflict between anarchy and order, Yoshida saw reflections of Japan's past--earlier generations of radicals who challenged societal structures in the same way that new activists were pushing back against contemporary norms. Yoshida was not inspired to make anything as simple as a series of biopics or historical dramas; instead, he embarked on a series of formally elaborate films that evaluated the struggles of radicals and would-be revolutionaries from decades past in light of the then-current political moment.
**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A+ starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Steve Buscemi written by Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff, based on the comic book by Clowes directed by Terry Zwigoff
by Sydney Wegner Say "privilege" in 2017 and you will inevitably trigger an allergic reaction, particularly if you precede it with the word "white." "Privilege" feels inflammatory and overused, a casualty of the movement for basic human decency snidely referred to as "PC culture." For those to whom it applies, it can be hard to confront and accept--especially in America, where the idea that anybody got anything by luck alone goes against everything we've been taught is admirable and pure. But in order to use your unjustly-granted powers for good, the knee-jerk defensiveness needs to be agonized over and dealt with. As I've matured, I've learned that you can't grow without feeling like garbage, that the concept of learning from your mistakes often applies to learning from the ones you didn't make intentionally. Now that being a better person seems to have become a radical political act, it's something that is on my mind a lot.