Finally opening this weekend in limited U.S. release are two films Walter Chaw and I, respectively, loved on the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (Canada: March 27) and Ethan Hawke's Seymour: An Introduction (Canada: next week, March 20). Don't miss them.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly & Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 **/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C- starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris directed by Sean Anders
by Bill Chambers The Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber To opens with Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas emerging from twenty years of catatonia. As the trailers were eager to give away, he's just been playing an elaborate hoax on best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), but still: point taken. To put things in perspective, more time elapsed between Dumb and Dumber and its sequel than did between The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, and the popular form--along with the popular taste in--movie comedy has changed significantly in the interim. This is the Rip Van Winkle of franchises, squarely un-hip no matter how evergreen is its scatological humour; the filmmakers, ultimately to their credit, value tonal continuity with Dumb & Dumber over blending in. With a plot revolving around a McGuffin that felt rickety when the first one did it in 1994, the picture embraces the quaint charms of the old school to ironically novel effect.
CHAPPIE */**** starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell directed by Neill Blomkamp
UNFINISHED BUSINESS **/**** starring Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, James Marsden screenplay by Steven Conrad directed by Ken Scott
by Walter Chaw The schadenfreude winner of the week is Neill Blomkamp's benighted trainwreck of a fanfic reel Chappie, which presents a horrific tale of how a child raised by art-rap band Die Antwoord would grow to be this unholy Frankenstein of Sharlto Copley and Jar Jar Binks and Gorillaz and a mechanical rabbit. It's a mess. The completion of the Short Circuit trilogy no one was asking for, it's also an update of not only the Verhoeven RoboCop, complete with ED-209, but Blomkamp's own District 9 as well in its themes of class inequality, sentience, and transformation. In its favour is how legendarily irritating the Chappie character is, to the point that when the slo-mo "hero strut" happens in the second half, the compulsion to punch the movie in its neck is nigh irresistible. To its detriment, Chappie purports to have solved the puzzle of digitized sentience, Transcendence-style, and in the process gifted immortality to Björk-lite squeaker Yolandi Visser. That's at least Fourth Circle of Hell stuff right there.
by Bryant Frazer One of the hallmarks of contemporary remix culture is derivative artistic ventures that seek shortcuts to the id, making a playful, self-aware succotash of genre tropes in lieu of inventing new cosmologies. Cleverly done, the approach can yield brainy ruminations on form and content along the lines of Alan Moore's Watchmen or alternate-universe joyrides like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. When the endeavour is shabby and commercial, executed with no love, you end up with smug mediocrities like The Cabin in the Woods or smarmy trash like Dracula Untold. (Nobody--not George Lucas, not Ridley Scott--seems to grok less about what made the original properties they're trying to exploit great in the first place than the fools charged with revitalizing the monster franchises at Universal.) Somewhere in the middle, you get a project like "Penny Dreadful", a monster mash-up set in late-Victorian London that earns no originality points for series creator John Logan, best known for his screenwriting credits on Hugo, Skyfall, and Rango. Named after the pulpy serial publications that sold in old London for a penny each, his show is even more specifically derivative of latter-day pastiches like Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula than it is of their own 19th-century sources. Still, at its best, his knock-off has an engaging flamboyance that makes it, if not must-see TV, at least agreeable popcorn drama.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is a trio of movies Walter Chaw reviewed on the festival circuit: '71, Everly, and The Duke of Burgundy, which has finally come to Toronto. Meanwhile, I covered Maps to the Stars at TIFF '14; it makes its U.S. theatrical bow today.
**/**** starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney written and directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
by Walter Chaw The world's most polite heist/caper/con-man Charade thing, which feels it's finally time to continue that death trudge towards completion of a Matchstick Men trilogy, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra's Focus is a studiedly-inoffensive star vehicle for Will Smith that's interesting only because of Will Smith's casual attitude towards miscegenation. Easy to say that in 2015 a black guy with a white girl isn't that big a deal, but I still can't think of too many examples where a superstar like Smith is willing to repeatedly cast himself opposite a cross-racial leading lady. Smith is even a producer of Will Gluck's intriguing Annie, which, in addition to being a very strange bookend to the surveillance-state nightmare of The Dark Knight, features at its centre an interracial love story between characters played by Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne. I'm spending a lot of time on this, because Focus, aside from the sexy shenanigans of Smith's expert con-man Nicky and his ingénue protégé Jess (Margot Robbie) and the fact of their race-mixing in a mainstream, medium-big studio flick, isn't about anything and isn't otherwise that interesting about it.
by Walter Chaw Unsentimental and terrifying and set against lovely, John Constable-esque watercolour backgrounds, Martin Rosen's adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down arose in that extended lull between Disney's heyday and its late-Eighties resurrection. (This period also saw, in addition to Rosen's film of Adams's The Plague Dogs, Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn and Ralph Bakshi's most productive period, which included 1978's The Lord of the Rings.) Watership Down points to the dwindled potential for American animation to evolve into what anime has become: a mature medium for artistic expression of serious issues. A shame that this flawed piece is possibly the pinnacle of animation's ambition on these shores, Richard Linklater's Waking Life notwithstanding.
by Jefferson RobbinsThe Palm Beach Story is lesser candy from a master confectioner--so it's still worth a taste. Preston Sturges's screwball portrait of a marriage upending itself braids together multiple comedic forms: road trip, Elizabethan comedy of errors, have-nots infiltrating the haves, and a distinct and strange but intriguing touch of fairytale. For instance, the yacht on which jillionaire J.D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee) absconds with disenchanted young wife Gerry Jeffers (Claudette Colbert) is christened The Erl King. Sure, Hackensacker is an obvious gloss on Rockefeller and there's the play on "oil king," but the Erl King of legend is a kidnapper of innocents. (Goethe's poem casts him as a child murderer.) Gerry's scratching a five-year itch, taking flight from glum husband Tom (Joel McCrea), partly on the advice of another "king." "Cold are the hands of time that creep along relentlessly, destroying slowly but without pity that which yesterday was young," warns the millionaire Wienie King (Robert Dudley), after moseying into the Park Avenue duplex Gerry and Tom are about to lose. (A Tiresias who's deaf rather than blind, he can't hear anything anybody says, so he might as well be talking to himself.) Although "adventuress" Gerry, abandoning her marriage without money or clothing, can still wield youth and beauty as sword and shield, she pays a price for the attempt, first charming and then dodging the heavily-armed, dangerously inebriated Ale & Quail Club as it pursues her throughout a southbound train. They're a Wild Hunt straight out of pagan lore.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians ***½/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras A story by Bill Peet, based on the book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton S. Luske, Clyde Geronimi
by Bill Chambers 1959's Sleeping Beauty and 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (hereafter 101 Dalmatians) make for an illuminating double-bill; the latter could even be construed as a Godardian rejoinder to the former. An anti-auteur of these movies, Walt Disney determined their outcome by divesting resources from their development--including his own expertise--and pouring them into his personal Taj Mahal, Disneyland. This deprived the expensive Sleeping Beauty of the talent that may have been able to crack its deceptively-simple fairytale formula and transcend the limitations of a graphical style inspired by medieval tapestries. When the film barely broke even, Disney decided his next animated feature would adapt a property with some grounding in contemporary prose and cost a lot less, leading to the shuttering of the ink-and-paint department and a vigorous embrace of Xerography, whereby the animators' pencil drawings were photocopied directly onto acetate rather than delicately retraced and refined by hand.
*/**** starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine screenplay by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons directed by Matthew Vaughn
by Walter Chaw Whatever surface similarities they might share, the difference between something great like John Wick and something like Kingsman: The Secret Service (hereafter Kingsman) is that Kingsman is smug and misanthropic. It's a self-knowing ape of the James Bond franchise, literally name-dropping both it and Jason Bourne with a kind of Cabin in the Woods smirk as it goes through the comic-book, Mark Millar-ugly motions of gadgets, high espionage, and a plot by lisping supervillain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) that involves the cell-phone triggered, rage-fuelled annihilation of billions. (Yes, it's also a weird rip on third-rate Stephen King novel Cell.) Gone mostly unexamined by critics for fear of "spoiling" the film, I guess, it features a scene in which Barack Obama commits treason and is then rewarded with an explosive decapitation--which is, itself, a form of treason, I think, although I admit the modern political landscape has made the limits of treasonous disrespect of the office somewhat murky to me. It's a jaw-dropping moment in a film that has not only a foreign head of state offer anal sex as a reward to our sprightly young protagonist, but also our Bond-ish hero, Harry (Colin Firth), slaughter a few dozen unlikeable yet innocent civilians in a church. Edgy, non?
**/**** starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jennifer Ehle screenplay by Kelly Marcel, based on the novel by E.L. James directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson
by Walter Chaw In an age of post-satire, where Sarah Palin has a cognitive episode on every channel and prints the take, where it's actually become impossible to mock something that's constantly in the process of taking itself down, enter E. L. James's radioactively-popular "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, which creeps under the low bar set by key inspiration Stephenie Meyer. It all sets the stage of course for Idiocracy's most popular movie in the land being a continuous loop of an ass, sometimes farting. That's what makes the first hour of Sam Taylor-Johnson's film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey actually something like a revelation. She, along with screenwriter Kelly Marcel, has somehow managed to turn the excrescent source material--excrescent not for its eroticism (I like me a good Henry Miller any day of the week), but for its illiteracy--into a satire of that section in the used bookstore where you can buy a grocery-bagful for a $1.00, trade-ins welcome. The picture does the impossible: It makes fun of something so stupid and anti-lovely it was already making fun of itself, and for at least that first hour, I understood completely the camp/communal value of Fifty Shades of Grey. And then there's another hour.
Image A Sound A Extras C "Looking for Now," "Looking for Uncut," "Looking at Your Browser History," "Looking for $220/Hour," "Looking for the Future," "Looking in the Mirror," "Looking for a Plus-One," "Looking Glass"
by Jefferson Robbins Not fair to call it a gay "Girls", in part because it dodges the character grotesques of that show in favour of...a less provocative mix of personality types, shall we say. That's a polite way of calling Michael Lannan's HBO dramedy "Looking" boring by comparison--and finally, prettily, boring on its own merits, however better-lensed and more grounded in real personal motivations it might be than Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow's zeitgeister. Handsome gay men abroad in San Francisco's fully actuated sexual culture is a fine launchpad; Lannan and collaborator Andrew Haigh treat their core trio of characters with respect and care; and the cast is all-pro, managing the mini-crises thrown their way as if they actually matter. But while there's no there there in either "Looking" or "Girls", at least the latter goes big and madcap enough to tempt continued viewing; it's not afraid to entertain, or to anger. The curtainfall on "Looking"'s first season incites little hunger for the second.
by Bryant Frazer First, let's be clear about what kind of movie A Walk Among the Tombstones is. The film's signature image is that of a blonde woman, nude or nearly nude, atop a white bed. A man caresses her slowly, runs his fingers through her hair, and nuzzles her face. If we watch closely, we eventually notice that she cringes at his touch. As new camera angles afford us a better look at the tableau, we notice the bed is covered in plastic. Two men are watching the woman. And her mouth is taped closed. The newly-disturbing scene is photographed with a luxe aesthetic--soft light, lush bokeh, off-axis shot compositions--that suggests a commercial for pharmaceuticals, if not early-'90s Playboy Channel programming. The intended irony is clear enough, but the coyness makes the scene ugly. After a close-up on the woman's dirty feet, the camera cuts to a view of her face, looking directly into the camera, as her body is being pushed at, rhythmically, from just outside the frame. The question, then, is whether she's being raped, dismembered, or eviscerated.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne written and directed by The Wachowskis
by Walter Chaw "Call me Jupe!" pipes Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) in her breathy, little-girl Lauren Bacall voice, and the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending in the same moment announces itself as the siblings' latest insufferable piece of shit about being born with a secret and embracing the real you. With mascara. Jupiter Jones is not the oldest of the Three Investigators, but she is the reincarnated Mina Murray, space queen of a clan of Atriedes/Harkonnen industrialists, and she has a special way with honeybees. That's good, since there's a scene where she visits a guy (Sean Bean) living in a house infested with honeybees. The guy has a daughter who is sick, which we know because she coughs a little before disappearing into the editing-bay ether with the rest of the connective tissue of a film too terrible to waste a summer slot on. Jupiter Ascending is kind of the Radio Shack of movies in that it's too expensive to not open, though it desperately needs to close. Just the fact that this reference will be completely obsolete in six months or so says everything that could be said about this trainwreck. And yet I persist.