Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 27-May 7, 2016 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers This is a breezy, lighthearted documentary that nevertheless had me on pins and needles from the moment it introduced an antagonist. Former gynaecologist Dr. Mahinder Watsa, the eponymous "sexpert," is India's answer to Dr. Ruth. At 91, he writes a popular advice column for the MUMBAI MIRROR and continues to see patients as a sex therapist, sometimes off the street without an appointment--to the consternation of his children, who worry their widower father's fame, age, and gregariousness could attract ne'er-do-wells. Watsa's a hip dude unfazed by the most cartoonishly filthy questions, the only guy who laughed during a medical conference when a gay doctor facetiously proposed a drug that turns heterosexuals into homosexuals. The kids love him (though some who've never put a face to the name would be stunned to learn how old he is) and Penguin's publishing a book of his material, but he has a particularly vocal detractor in political science professor Dr. Pratiba Naitthani, who says by way of introduction, "I always used to be the monitor of the class. The best person is always the monitor." (Thank you, Judy Hensler.) She's filed an obscenity claim against Watsa's column on the grounds that it's smut in a publication that isn't designated smut, out of sight from minors--and if you think that's reasonable, know that she also objects to diagrams of the human anatomy appearing in classrooms. She's maddeningly obtuse; she asks rhetorically why after thousands of years the civilized world suddenly needs to know about birth control while living in the second-most overpopulated country on Earth. Though Naitthani imposes a lot of dread on the film as both she and Watsa keep checking up on her case, her dissenting voice underscores the value and urgency of Watsa's work. Abstinence-only education of the kind Naitthani endorses doesn't stop teenagers from having sex, it just makes them practise it in ignorance, putting their health and safety at risk. One young man admits that prior to discovering Watsa he didn't even know whether sex is something that's given or taken by force. Yeesh. Naitthani has a humanizing scene where she volunteers that although it looks to us and her mother like she lives alone, her busyness is a constant bedfellow. "I really don't know what's wrong with me," she blurts out with an incredulous laugh. Perhaps she should ask the sexpert.
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 27-May 7, 2016 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers Hobbyhorsists. They are predominantly young women, tweens and teens alike, who pretend to ride broomstick horses. The horses have names, idiosyncrasies, even lifespans (in a poetic externalization of personal growth, one girl's closet seems to double as a mausoleum for hobbyhorses), and they're billed alongside their riders in dressage tournaments that are surreal spectacles of girls bunny-hopping over fences while the crowd watches on tenterhooks, the way you dread an air-show crash or a figure skater's stumble. Slowly, though, the neophyte begins to decipher the nuances; at one point Aisku, the movie's sometimes-petulant lead, chides a beginner for moving her arms too much, and damn if this little note doesn't improve the youngster's game considerably. Hobby-horsing is a strange subculture but no stranger than bronies--and undoubtedly more athletic. The only reason to hate on it is if you're a misogynistic piece of crap. Finland's Hobbyhorse Revolution isn't the phenomenon's origin story, although it does find a common thread among the hobbyhorsists it interviews: they've all been bullied. (There's a particularly chilling ellipsis in cherubic Elsa's story: "There was this one boy... He didn't like that I was cheerful all the time. So he put an end to it.") Although being a hobbyhorsist sometimes exacerbated the abuse, the therapeutic value of the pastime and its egalitarian social scene appear to have made quitting unthinkable. Maybe it's the Scandinavian setting, but throughout Hobbyhorse Revolution I kept flashing back to Lukas Moodysson's extraordinary ode to seventh-grade riot grrls We Are the Best!: They are so many Tina Belchers, and yet there is something quite punk about our hobbyhorsists, who saw where the proverbial goalposts were and moved them for themselves. They're also hilariously profane. I love these dorks, enough to overlook that the movie's own brio never quite matches theirs.
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 27-May 7, 2016 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers In surveying a complementary milieu with the same elegant reserve, Living the Game could be a blood relative of the streaming favourite Indie Game: The Movie. Although its chill vibe doesn't feel entirely forthcoming in the age of Gamergate, the pro gamers it profiles may exhibit fewer chips on their shoulders because they all hail from the East (Japan, mostly) rather than the West. These folks are damn near role models--at least that's true of Daigo Umehara, who's grown complacent about having written memoirs and been the subject of a popular manga. Momochi owns these books but hasn't read them. He says he doesn't want to know too much about his potential opponent, which directly contradicts an earlier scene showing the copious notes he's made on the strategies of other players. Momochi lives with bubbly girlfriend Choco, the two of them eking out a living as professional gamers. The more skilled of the two, he helps her train, but his hardass approach is causing their relationship to fray at the edges, as is the couple's lack of a steady, dependable income. Momochi takes centre-stage here, though it's because of Choco's increasingly-fragile smile that his story compels. Another gamer (defeated by Momochi in a controversial victory), the Taiwanese GamerBee, inspires more affection than the morose and testy Momochi as well: A latchkey kid who sought a cure for loneliness at the arcade as a child then came around to embracing videogames again after his beloved father passed away, GamerBee is like a character out of an Edward Yang movie. Living the Game's subjects eventually descend on the Capcom Cup, a competition that awards an impressive $120,000 to the last player standing in a "Street Fighter" tournament. That the outcome is unconventionally anticlimactic might've worried the filmmakers at the time, but it almost seems to have dictated a retroactive ambivalence towards the subject of pro gaming that's slightly stultifying. There's nothing wrong with a little equivocation, of course--this is a documentary, not propaganda. But when Living the Game was over, part of me felt like I'd just watched Shrug Emoji: The Movie.
**/**** starring Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green, Glen Powell, Henry Cavill screenplay by Chris Roessner directed by Fernando Coimbra
by Alice Stoehr Nicholas Hoult's signature expression requires that his lips be ajar and his buckteeth be visible. The English actor then furrows or flattens his brow; narrows or widens his limpid blue eyes. It's a concise look, one that makes the most of his open, boyish face. He affects it whether flirting with his professor in A Single Man or playing the bashful Beast in the X-Men movies. That barely-open mouth can suggest uncertainty and impotence. It admits that he can neither understand nor control the world around him. Hoult assumes this expression throughout his performance as PFC Matt Ocre in Sand Castle. Ocre is fresh-faced fresh meat, too tender to handle the theatre of war in which he's abruptly immersed. ("I joined the Reserves for the college money," he explains in voiceover, a detail that screenwriter Chris Roessner plucked from his own life.) The Jordanian desert stands in for Iraq in 2003 as Ocre's platoon plows through the aftermath of the American-led invasion. Hoult's joined by hunky rising stars like Glen Powell as the macho Falvy--a far cry from his work as a pretentious ladies' man in Everybody Wants Some!!--and Logan Marshall-Green as the no-nonsense sergeant. The film follows these men as they drive from one makeshift base to another. It emphasizes their scruff, their sweat, and their loud-mouthed braggadocio. The dialogue, which oozes naturalistic profanity, is thoroughly plausible, if increasingly monotonous.
*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly directed by Theodore Melfi
by Walter Chaw Theodore Melfi's Hidden Figures is so inextricably bonded to the rote motions of awards-season biographical uplift melodrama that it functions as proof of a template studios give to directors who won't kick too much about art and individuality and expression and all that high-falutin' stuff. Better, it's proof of an attachment that fits onto the Studio sausage press ensuring that all the mashed and salted discards are extruded in the proper proportion into the collective cow gut. Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women in the 1960s who go to work for NASA's Mercury program in the days after the Sputnik launch. It talks about how they're brilliant but forced to pee in segregated bathrooms; how they're proud family women but treated like second-class citizens or worse. It positions a white man of power who sees their value all the way through to letting one of the ladies be a co-author on a report she seems to have written herself. It has the end-credits thing where pictures of the real women whose stories the movie ostensibly tells are shown with titles detailing the horrific shit they endured to get their names on a building. Well, one of them anyway. It even has that thing in movies about numbers where there's a lot of running to try to make math exciting to watch. What it doesn't have is any lingering impact whatsoever: no gravitas, no surprise, no interest, nothing. The only thing to say about Hidden Figures, really, is that if you spend time praising it, you're being patronizing--and that is the very definition of irony.
*/**** Image A- Sound A starring Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Faye Dunaway screenplay by Jonathan Penner, based on "The Bridge to Body Island" by Robert Damon Schneck directed by Stacy Title
by Bill ChambersThe Bye Bye Man begins as Terminator: Nebbish, with a Poindexter in a sweater vest named Larry (Leigh Whannell, of Saw fame) pulling up to a suburban home and asking the lady of the house, Jane (Lara Knox), if she told anybody "about the name." Affirmative. Larry then returns to his vehicle, retrieves a shotgun, and blasts a hole through Jane's front door. We see a man jump out of his wheelchair in the living-room window in a tiny, easy-to-miss background detail I suspect would've been airbrushed out of a more respectable film, because the prologue ends there in the theatrical cut. In the unrated version on Blu-ray, it continues on to show Larry entering the house, finishing Jane off, executing the wheelchair dude, Rick (Andrew Gorell), as he futilely drags himself across the carpet, and grimly, dutifully marching down the street to kill some neighbours Rick just threw under the bus. Smoothly staged in one take, the sequence reminds not-unfavourably of A Serious Man, getting most of its period authenticity--the year is 1969--and middle-class dread from an aesthetic ape of that film. (The chyron-ascribed Madison, WI setting is pretty close to Coen Brothers territory, too.) It's suitably horrific. Until, that is, you start thinking about Rick: Why does his escape plan involve slumping to the floor like a sack of potatoes? The whole point of wheelchairs, see, is that they have wheels--an innovation that gave disabled people an efficient, dignified way to get a bag of chips from the kitchen or flee an axe murderer. As we will soon discover, the titular Bye Bye Man makes his marks do absurd, irrational things; the problem is, The Bye Bye Man doesn't quite know how to portray this without being hilarible itself.
ZERO STARS/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras F starring Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren written by Allan Loeb directed by David Frankel
by Walter ChawCollateral Beauty is the conversation you had that one time with the stupidest person you've ever met, in that it's so stupid it poses an existential problem for you. It happened to me once when, as a bartender, one of the waitresses asked me with concern how she could transform the Coke float she'd ordered into the Sprite float the customer had ordered. I didn't know. I still don't. And not having the answer to a question posed by the stupidest person you've ever met is horrifying. It's like you come home one day and your guinea pig greets you with a zen kōan. It's Kafka's great unwritten tale. It's Collateral Beauty: a question with no answer posed by the stupidest movie ever made. Really, the only solution is to dump it out and start from scratch. Collateral Beauty is about grief, sort of, and gaslighting, and it's shot like a visit to Whole Foods in the sense that it's burnished with a classy patina and full of pretty people you'd like to be. Then you get to the checkout lane and it's too much but you're too embarrassed to put anything back. Also the food tastes like ass.
Rogue One ***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy directed by Gareth Edwards
by Walter Chaw A deep cut for Star Wars fanatics, Gareth Edwards's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story also happens to be the single most topical fiction of 2016, talking as it does--in bold, melodramatic strokes befitting a space opera--about the importance of rebellion in the face of fascism. "Order," says Empirical stooge Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). "Terror," corrects brilliant weapons engineer Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). And the representative of the fascist regime smiles, as though it were all just a matter of semantics, this idea that terror and order are opposite sides of the same devalued coin. He's engaged in a kind of political double-speak, in gaslighting--things that until this year were the scourge of banana republics and other backwards backwaters. The Empire that Krennic represents needs Galen to help them complete their Death Star superweapon, with the '80s-era Reagan/Thatcher rationale that overwhelming destructive deterrents are the only way to truly keep the peace. Galen is compelled to cooperate to keep his daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), safe and anonymous in the protection of violent revolutionary Saw (Forest Whitaker). The rest is Jyn's quest to clear her father's name by stealing plans for the Death Star and delivering them to a fractured resistance that isn't entirely sure if it wouldn't be a good idea to give the Empire a chance. You know, maybe they won't do all the things they said they were going to do?
**½/**** starring Scarlett Johansson, 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, Michael Carmen Pitt, Juliette Binoche screenplay by Jamie Moss and William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger, based on the comic "The Ghost in the Shell" by Shirow Masamune directed by Rupert Sanders
by Walter Chaw Emily Yoshida, in an article for THE VERGE addressing the outcry over the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, has the last word on the topic as it pertains to anime in general and Mamoru Oshii's seminal original in particular (an adaptation of a popular manga to which most casual fans in the West won't have been exposed). She provides a stunning, succinct historical context for Japanese self-denial and the country's post-bellum relationship with technology, then writes a review of this film in which she systematically destroys it for its essential misunderstanding of the source material. I agree with every word. I learned a lot. And I still like the new film, anyway. I think Ghost in the Shell is probably fascinating in spite of itself and because the environment has made it dangerous for pretty much anyone to discuss what its critics (not Yoshida, per se) wish it did. I like it because its production design is beautiful and I like it even though it's basically a RoboCop port that takes the American attitude of being horrified by technology rather than the Japanese one of being largely defined by it. It's puritanical. It was interpreted, after all, by a country founded by Pilgrims. Ghost in the Shell often doesn't know what to do with the images it's appropriating, and when push comes to shove, the dialogue falls somewhere between noodling and empty exposition. Still, there's something worth excavating here.
WISHMASTER (1997) ***/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras A starring Tammy Lauren, Andrew Divoff, Chris Lemmon, Robert Englund written by Peter Atkins directed by Robert Kurtzman
WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES (1999) */**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C starring Andrew Divoff, Paul Johannson, Holly Fields, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister, Jr. written and directed by Jack Sholder
WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL (2001) **/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jason Connery, A.J. Cook, Tobias Mehler, John Novak screenplay by Alexander Wright directed by Chris Angel
WISHMASTER: THE PROPHECY FULFILLED (2002) ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+ starring Michael Trucco, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Jason Thompson, John Novak screenplay by John Benjamin Martin directed by Chris Angel
by Sydney Wegner The Wishmaster saga begins with a quick infodump about angels and demons from narrator Angus Scrimm, the folklore giving way to a lush array of reds and purples and sandy earth tones as a sorcerer forges a magic red gemstone over the opening credits. In 1127 Persia, something is wreaking havoc on a crowded square; a skeleton rips its way out of a man's skin and walks around to join several other horrifying atrocities. The sorcerer (Ari Barak) pushes his way through the screaming crowd to the King (Richard Assad), who's being advised by a Djinn (a.k.a. the Wishmaster, played by a wildly campy Andrew Divoff) that he must make a third wish to stop the violence. But the sorcerer manages to trap him in the gemstone, stopping the King before his third wish can grant the Djinn the power to rip through dimensions and unleash his Djinn brethren onto the earth. This prologue sets up a world of magic and fantasy and folklore the series never quite re-establishes. While the ancient imagery is vaguely referenced hereafter, the world of Wishmaster won't feel this sensual or mystical again.
****/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup written and directed by Mike Mills
by Walter Chaw Mike Mills's 20th Century Women is beautiful for the way that it listens. It hears how people talk, and it lets them. It watches the way people interact and allows that to speak volumes for them. It's a film, like so many lately, about communication. There's a moment, late, where a young man--a boy, really--says to his mother that he's an individual: "I'm not all men, I'm just me." And she says, "Well... yes and no." It's a beautiful exchange, performed exquisitely, timed perfectly. It's sublime, not the least for being smart and dead-on. Kind and pointed and impossibly eloquent about certain uncomfortable truths, 20th Century Women is an invitation to have ultimate conversations about how we ruin our children with our best intentions and how that has always been so and will always be so. In multiple interludes, Mills speeds up the film, blurring the action with lighting effects and throwing in archival images while including narration like "the world is very big." It is. The picture holds to the idea that the world is incomprehensible and that we're acted on by forces we cannot control--and at the end of it, after we're gone, it goes on without having known we were there. There's a certain piquancy to that that needs to be earned, and is earned.
À Meia Noite Levarei Sua Alma ***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B starring José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo Lima, Valeria Vasquez written and directed by José Mojica Marins
Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring José Mojica Marins, Roque Rodrigues, Nadia Freitas, William Morgan written and directed by José Mojica Marins
by Alice Stoehr Zé do Caixão, known to English-speaking audiences as Coffin Joe, is like Mr. Hyde without a Dr. Jekyll. Although nominally a small-town undertaker, he has the mien and rap sheet of a supervillain. Attired in top hat and cape, he stalks the countryside, bent on perpetuating his bloodline. He luxuriates in his own depravity. He's a horror-movie monster, and he loves it. Joe is the brainchild of Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins, who's been playing the role for decades. He introduced the character back in the 1960s with a pair of colourfully-titled films: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and, three years later, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse. Both of those phrases are threats spoken onscreen by Joe's victims; both hint at ghostly mischief and a lurid tone. Unhindered by understatement, these films dispense atrocities at the rate of about one per reel. Joe's first evil act, mere minutes into Soul, is blasphemy: he spends Good Friday noshing on a leg of lamb--an unthinkable sin to his pious Catholic neighbours--then, like a schoolyard bully, forces an unwilling bystander to take a bite. Further iniquities pile up quickly in the form of bullwhipping, blinding, and immolation. When an elder dares to challenge him, Joe lacerates the man's face with a Christ figurine's crown of thorns.
****/**** starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eisinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie written and directed by Olivier Assayas
by Walter Chaw There's a brilliant song by Patty Griffin called "Every Little Bit" that, among other piquant turns of phrase, includes the lyric "I still don't blame you for leaving, baby, it's called living with ghosts." At around the 30-minute mark of Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper, our survivor Maureen (Kristen Stewart) tells a confidante she had made a vow with her late twin brother to make contact from beyond the grave should one pre-decease the other. "And then?" he asks. "I guess I'll live my life and let it go." Then a long, gliding shot of Maureen riding her moped through the Parisian nighttime scored to simple, haunted strings that are augmented towards the end of the sequence by percussion, which reveals itself to be a pencil against parchment. Maureen works as a personal shopper for a German fashionista who never seems to be home. In her off moments, she helps her brother's "widowed" girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) try to suss out if his ghost is unquiet and lurking in the house they shared. Maureen's a medium, you see, or at least she and her brother played at being mediums--a morbid pastime informed by a heart ailment, unpredictably mortal, shared by the siblings. A doctor warns her against any strenuous activities or emotions. She'll suffer both before the end.
**/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney screenplay by Steven Knight directed by Robert Zemeckis
by Bill Chambers
"Back in those days I was much more of a taskmaster. I would make my actors hit those marks and always be in their light, and now I've kind of--I don't care as much anymore. I wouldn't allow there to be a camera bobble in any of those films. If the camera jiggled one frame, I'd have to do the take again. But nowadays, audiences are so different. I don't think they appreciate the attention to detail. Maybe subconsciously they feel it, maybe they don't. Having a perfectly composed shot doesn't matter if you are watching it on an iPhone, does it? You wouldn't see it."
That's Robert Zemeckis, speaking to We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy author Caseen Gaines. When I first read those words, I have to admit I had a little moment of "Dylan goes electric" heartbreak, because the precision craftsmanship of Zemeckis's films had always been a comfort. Then I reread them, taking into account the resounding shrug that greeted both his lengthy detour into motion-capture animation and his subsequent return to live-action (Flight), and his sour grapes became considerably more pungent. Many filmmakers relax their standards as they get older; few make a point of announcing it. Fewer still do so with spite. If the prolific Zemeckis is fatigued, he shouldn't pass the buck: it's hard-won--I can't begin to imagine the intensity of effort it took to pull off, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Death Becomes Her. When he belittles the iPhone he gives away his age (62 at the time), but he also sells himself out, as someone who's been at the forefront of the digital revolution for decades. Of course, between his waffling commitment to 3-D and MoCap and his punking of a nation's kids in a 1989 TV special in which he claimed that Back to the Future Part II's hoverboards were a real technology suppressed by parents' groups, it's hard to take Zemeckis at his word.
*/**** starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky and Bill Condon, based on the screenplay by Linda Woolverton directed by Bill Condon
by Walter Chaw Three cheers for Disney's dedication to diversity. I saw a production of "A Christmas Carol" last year with a fully-integrated cast. It made no sense, but hooray for diversity at any cost, even at the expense of sense--even at the risk of self-parody. Even when it doesn't move the ball, necessarily. I'm not talking about making Gaston's fawning sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) overtly gay instead of merely coding him as such, I'm talking about making every other person a person of colour for the express purpose of being on the right side of some imaginary, constantly-moving but unforgiving line in history. Sometimes, it's a good thing; sometimes it feels desperate; and sometimes, it's just premature. When it's good, it looks like Disney's Rogue One, where the diversity spoke to oppressed cultures revolting against a fascist, white-nationalist regime. When it's not good, it looks clueless. We're not a post-racial society; presenting us as such, burdened as it is by the damning weight of good intentions, comes with the danger of excreting another Cloud Atlas fantasy--the type of movie the white people in Get Out would make: tone-deaf and offensive at worst. Or, as with this live-action Beauty and the Beast, just sort of silly and twee.
*½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Daphne Zuniga written by Charles Pratt, Jr. directed by Larry Stewart
by Bryant Frazer Turning up at the tail-end of the late-1970s/early-1980s slasher boom, The Initiation is another one made with little ambition by people with no special inclination towards horror, but at least it doesn't look down on the genre: Despite the sorority-house trappings, it aspires to a perfectly middlebrow level of quality, like a network movie-of-the-week or mass-market paperback original. That's some kind of achievement for a film that opens with a delightfully ridiculous dream sequence (or is it?) depicting an episode of coitus interruptus involving a little girl with a knife and an intruder who catches on fire, and ends with a half-dozen college kids being tracked down by a serial killer with knives and a harpoon gun. Trouble is, The Initiation works a little too hard to lay a foundation for its killing spree in a drama of dark family secrets. The result is a messy amalgam that doesn't work especially well as a soap opera or a teen sex comedy, let alone as a slasher movie.
*/**** starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
by Walter Chaw The thing about porn flicks is that few visit them for their plot and characterizations. Enter Kong: Skull Island, monster porn in which a group of people visit the titular monster on the titular island and witness monster-on-monster violence in a series of very expensive-seeming and escalating tableaux. This is, in and of itself, neither indictment nor recommendation, just observation that porn is good for two things: jerking-off and sociological ruminations. Some would say those are one and the same; I would say that if you want to know what a society is concerned about, you could do worse than vet popular porn categories. I would also offer that the topic of miscegenation, which the vast majority of folks pretend not to think about very much, appears to be of primary importance when it comes to pornography. Many porn actresses, in fact, delay their first "interracial" (code for white women with black men, generally) scene until after they've sold their amateur and anal statuses. It's the last taboo before there are no new lands to conquer. And, for the most part, porn plays into that trepidation as a product of the standard social stereotype of black men having larger dicks and a greater level of commensurate sexual savagery than their meeker Caucasian counterparts. Let's not even talk about the cashew-hung Asian. Ditto, there doesn't seem to be much of a mainstream market for black porn actresses (over-sexed), though Asian women do attract a premium for the mystique afforded them in South Pacific brothels during WWII. No study of primatology is complete without a careful survey of their sexual proclivities, after all.
**½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B screenplay by Jared Bush directed by Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams)
by Walter Chaw Arguably, the only place it really matters in terms of the diversity tango in Disney's new animated musical Moana is in the songwriting and voice-acting, and so although there are only white people directing (four credited directors) and writing (eight credited scenarists), find Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda behind the music and Dwayne Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho behind the Pacific Islander characters. This is progress. Also progress is what seems, to this non-Polynesian, like a real effort to not appropriate a culture so much as represent its mythology, tied as it must be to a narrative about a young woman, Moana (Cravalho), a stout Disney heroine of that certain mold for whom adventure calls, declaring her independence from the patriarchy. We've seen her before, is what I'm saying, but she's neither sexualized nor given an aspirational mate/therapeutic marriage. Progress. I'll take it. There's even a moment where demigod Maui (Johnson) makes a crack about Moana being in the Disney canon. Progress? Self-awareness, at least. I'll take that, too. What's unfortunate is that for everything that's very good about the film, there's something very familiar. The argument should probably be made that familiarity is the sugar that helps the medicine of its progressive elements go down. It worked for The Force Awakens.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS ***/**** starring Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua screenplay by Mike Carey, based on his novel directed by Colm McCarthy
LOGAN ****/**** starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green directed by James Mangold
by Walter Chaw Movements start this way, with one or two events that could be thought of as coincidence in response to some greater trend in our culture, perhaps--or, more likely, in response to some greater corruption. I've long referred to movies, especially genre movies, as indicator species in our cultural swamp. They're the first to show evidence of introduced toxins; at minimum, they're the first major art form to disseminate warnings widely. Jordan Peele's sleeper hit Get Out is just the latest in a recent spate of pictures that have caught the zeitgeist. Test the theory: would it have been as popular in another time? Movies are not unlike Percy Shelley's "dead thoughts... Like wither'd leaves" carried on divine winds to quicken new births. It's a florid reference to justify an unpopular concept. Not religious in any way, I find sublimity in the idea that human hands work in concert sometimes, and the close study of their products can provide insight into the world as it is, not simply as it was. Find in James Mangold's Logan and Colm McCarthy's more or less contemporaneous The Girl with All the Gifts (hereafter Girl) complementary, near identical concepts executed in largely the same way--proof for me of a body politic reacting in concert to poison. As grim as they are (with Logan actually verging on vile and mean-spirited), they are nonetheless to me evidence of at least some collective immune response. Artifacts of resistance left for the anthropologists. Despite their apparent nihilism, they are proof, as referenced explicitly in Girl, of hope.
*/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C+ starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Lily Collins screenplay by Warren Beatty directed by Warren Beatty
by Walter Chaw The title refers to Howard Hughes, I think, and becomes a song its ingénue sings a couple of times over the course of the film. Moreover, it refers to Warren Beatty at this point in an extraordinary career that began in the New American Cinema and that wave of Method actors filling in the spaces left behind by the Golden Age. He was impossibly beautiful, and played against it whenever he could. He was whip-smart. Unabashedly political. Unapologetically a legendary philanderer who made perhaps his greatest single impression on my generation with a surprise cameo in then-girlfriend Madonna's documentary monument to herself, Truth or Dare. Any investigation, though, finds that Beatty is a definitive voice of a definitive moment in the cinematic history of the United States. It's been fifteen years since his last film as an actor, twenty as a director. In the meantime: rumours and speculation about this long-gestating production--his dream project, the culmination of a storied career behind and in front of the camera. And now here it is, Rules Don't Apply, and it's exceedingly uncomfortable, a film that leaves Beatty, acting here as co-star, director, producer, and credited screenwriter, exceptionally vulnerable. As capstones go, it's an interesting one.
El Ángel Exterminador ****/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B starring Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, José Baviera, Augusto Benedico screenplay by Luis Buñuel, based on the story "Los Náufragos de la Calle de la Providencia" by Luis Alcoriza and Luis Buñuel directed by Luis Buñuel
by Bryant Frazer The first scene of The Exterminating Angel takes place at the gate outside a stately mansion where the house's butler, Julio (Claudio Brook), confronts Lucas (Ángel Merino), a servant trying to sneak off the grounds just as the staff is preparing a dinner party for twenty. The worker hesitates for a moment, then continues on his way, the butler calling angrily after him: "Never set foot in this house again." It's the beginning of a very long night for the steward, who is vexed as his waiters and kitchen staff, one by one or in pairs, desert their posts for the evening at the worst possible time. The servants know something's wrong, and though they're not sure what it is, none of them--save the unflappable Julio, who keeps the gears turning smoothly--are willing to stick around to find out. When Lucia (Lucy Gallardo), the frustrated lady of the house, barks her offense at this betrayal, Julio is there to reassure her. "Domestic help grows more impertinent by the day, madam," he declares.