I’m hoping that showing you Kevin Smith in big shorts was enough fantastic content to tide you over for the month. I could look at Kevin Smith in big shorts every single day for the rest of my life and it would still make me smile. That picture brings me so much joy. The shorts, they’re so big! Gets me every time. Anyway, here’s 15 reviews that I’ve been trying to catch up with for the past month. It’s a nice mixed bag, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.
May 7/10: American Honey (Netflix/Cineplex Store rental)
Give The Florida Project more of a plot and a slightly more likeable protagonist, and you have American Honey. Both movies do a fantastic job of exploring a part of society we rarely get to see on the silver screen in the most tasteful way possible, in that they never talk down to the impoverished and aimless characters.
I’m finding it really tough to not talk about The Florida Project in this review since the two movies are effectively companions to each other. Their tone, acting, and even colour scheme feel remarkably similar yet both tell an important and unique story. Where they differ most is how they’re shot: The Florida Project opts for breathtaking symmetrical and stationary long shots in the hot Orlando sun, while American Honey reflects its faster pace with a more frantic camera with plenty of extreme closeups and handheld shots. Both are fantastic films that bring something new and unique to cinema: what I like to call the pseudo-fictional ethnography. I was going to do an entire post about them a while ago (on The Florida Project, Mid 90s, and Eighth Grade), but scrapped it in favour of the format I’ve been doing for the past few months. It’s a fascinating trend that I very much hope gains more entries in 2019.
May 8: Coraline (Netflix)
Coraline may call itself a kids’ movie, but it never shies away from being terrifying. Where does it rank among kids’ movies that are actually kinda horrors? I’d say above Dan Harmon’s Monster House. That may also be the only other entry in the genre. Coraline has a decent enough story and some fun whimsical characters, but I think the only thing I want to talk about is the animation. It’s so damn gorgeous. How could we possibly improve animation further than this? Stop motion, maybe just animation in general, has peaked; there can’t be a way to make a movie cooler than Coraline. Sure, Incredibles 2 looks pretty, but Coraline makes it look like Foodfight!. If you watched it as a kid, I highly recommend going back and appreciating it even more now.
May 9: Enemy (Amazon Prime Video)
Enemy is one of those movies that requires a second viewing to fully grasp what happened, and even then, it’s entirely up to interpretation. This was my second time seeing Enemy, and it’s a whole new experience. Denis Villeneuve’s most complicated movie pretty much just has four characters, and two of them are Jake Gyllenhaal. One of the Jakes discovers his doppleganger by coincidence while watching a movie, and begins to seek this guy out, searching all over Toronto.
[Spoiler warning for the rest of the review. I highly, highly recommend watching Enemy before reading forward] When you look at Enemy on a surface level, you get a story about a man and his doppelganger struggling for leverage and screwing each other over, and then it ends with Jake #1 walking into a room in which a giant spider has replaced his wife. That is, you’re gonna have trouble getting all that much out of it. But when you dig deeper and develop some kind of metaphorical interpretation, you begin to get at what Denis Villeneuve was trying to do, and suddenly Enemy’s brilliance is revealed. My theory (with help from Noah) is as follows: There is only one Jake. When his wife found out that she was pregnant 6 months before the beginning of the movie, his mind fractured, and he began living a double life. He started sleeping with a woman who isn’t his wife, and continued to do so even after his wife found out. The secret club is where he goes to get away from all the stress of his double life, and watches a woman crush a spider. Spiders are a metaphor for the looming demand of commitment to his wife, and seeing it crushed is a little bit of freedom for him. We see a massive spider crawl across the Toronto skyline as his very pregnant wife keeps demanding reasonable things of him, and his inability to remain faithful is tearing him apart. The girl he’s having an affair with dies in a car crash, and him being the self-important asshole he is, inserts himself into the event retroactively. With her dead, he finally has the chance to settle down and put that life behind him. In the final scene, though, we see Jake take the key to the secret club and ask his wife if they’re busy tonight. He’s throwing it all away again, but he can’t escape his wife this time. Her presence tortures him. She is a giant spider, inescapable yet trapped herself. But that’s not important, here’s where the real meat of the movie is:
Let me take a second here to present my conspiracy theory. Enemy has a filter over it that makes every shot of Toronto look like the most drab, desolate, horrible place of all time. Is it a coincidence that Denis Villeneuve is French-Canadian, and Quebec is known for being highly critical of Toronto? Is Enemy’s true purpose to discourage people from going to Toronto? Was Denis hired by the Quebecois separatist movement to cause a rift between Quebec and the rest of Canada? The answers to all these questions is most definitely yes, but I don’t have the proof just yet. Give it time, I’ll prove it, I swear I’ll prove it!
May something: Long Shot (Theatre)
As far as genres go, romcom might be the one I’ve seen the least of. It’s not that I have something against them, it’s just…okay, I totally have something against them. I don’t like to go into a movie knowing exactly what’s gonna happen, and that’s the entire appeal of romcoms. I adore Crazy, Stupid, Love, but apart from that, I can’t name another one that I’ve enjoyed all that much other than maybe Knocked Up, The Big Sick, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Long Shot doesn’t make me like romcoms, and it’s not even close to being up there with the aforementioned ones, but I guess it wasn’t all that bad? I sometimes like to quantify how funny a movie is by approximating the amount of jokes that landed, and I’d say it was between 65% and 70%, which is pretty decent. It ticks all the generic romcom boxes though, and despite expecting that, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Romcoms just aren’t for me, and I’ve accepted that.
May 19: 30 Minutes or Less (Netflix)
This is up there with 21 Jump Street and Drive for most viewings of a single movie. I really like/love those two movies, and thought that I liked this one a bunch, too. But it turns out 30 Minutes or Less is kinda bad? And not that funny? Why have I seen this so many times? Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg are fun together but nothing else works very well. Michael Pena is not funny, has never been funny, and never will be funny. Danny McBride plays the same character as always, and then it ends. This will probably be the last time I see 30 Minutes or Less, so RIP I guess.
May 20: Game of Thrones (Crave)
Is it possible to review all of Game of Thrones, every single season, all 73 episodes, in a single brief review? Nah, so I’m not even gonna try. Alls I’ll say is that Game of Thrones has a perfect first four seasons, a great fifth, a decent sixth that ends with two of the strongest episodes of television I’ve ever seen, and now I’ll try to talk a little more about the 7th and 8th seasons. In the wait between 7 and 8, I had a lot of discussions with friends about how season 7 lacked the political intrigue that made every previous season so fascinating and unique. It focused more on battles that couldn’t possibly come close to the Battle of the Bastards, and suffered greatly for it. The less egregious problems were simply major nitpicks, like the moronic plan to get a Wight from beyond the wall, and Jaime surviving getting flung into deep water despite having a full suit of armour on. They’re little things, but when a show has proven so far that it is entirely dedicated to realism within the world it created, these little things area a whole lot less forgivable.
And that, of course, brings us to season 8. I don’t really have anything new to say; everyone has already ripped it to shreds. It’s upsettingly pathetic. Benioff and Weiss so obviously fell out of love with their own work. Season 8 lacks any and all of the nuance, writing, and politics that they worked so hard to create not so long ago. With the exception of the first episode, every week it felt like D&D were going through the motions, doing their best to suppress their moans and whines as they stumble through the ultimate entry in one of the most acclaimed series of all time. What’s even more upsetting is the fact that every other aspect of the show is brilliant. The acting remains top notch, the visual team gave it their all and provided us with the most stunning season yet, and Ramin Djawadi is a musical genius. To see it wasted on plotlines that go nowhere, don’t make sense, or most commonly are just plain stupid, is disrespectful to the amount of work everyone else put in. Shame on you, Dan, and shame on you, David. Finish what you started or pass the torch, don’t ruin your own legacy.
May 25: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (random streaming site)
Despite having only seen two of his movies, my friend Noah loved to rave about Shane Black. The Nice Guys is one of our favourites of all time, so it makes sense. He hates the other movie of his that he’s seen, The Predator, so I’ve always been skeptical of Black’s prowess. We finally sat down and watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, one of his more well respected movies. Unfortunately for Noah, he can no longer vouch for Black’s quality. KKBB is pretty much a rough draft of The Nice Guys that never manages to get close to the charm or layered narrative that The Nice Guys achieves. RDJ is miscast; his attitude doesn’t fit what KKBB is going for. Michelle Monaghan’s character is kinda one dimensional and as Noah pointed out, Shane Black doesn’t seem to like portraying women as anything more than plot devices. The plot meanders back and forth from being satirical and being generic, as if it thinks that making fun of generic action movies excuses its own blandness. Stylistically it falls totally flat, half-assing an unreliable narrator that adds absolutely nothing to the overall product. The only interesting thing about it is that it begs the question: How the hell did Shane Black direct and write the masterpiece that is The Nice Guys?
May 25: Stand By Me (Amazon Prime Video)
It’s always a breath of fresh air to see a movie with kids who can actually act. I think I can count on one hand how many movies feature great kids, and two fingers belong to M. Night Shyamalan movies. The combo of great performances and compelling character-focused writing makes Stand By Me something a little special. The bittersweet ending places the fictional town of Castle Rock in reality; sometimes you have unforgettable experiences with people you forget, whether intentionally or not. All we see is a snippet of these kids’ lives, and all we know is that Gordie cherishes that memory despite rarely ever seeing his best friends again once they parted ways. It’s not perfect, but Stand By Me excels at showing us kids who feel like kids, and very few movies manage to get it so right.
May 28: Booksmart (Theatre)
I’ll never pass up the opportunity to check out a famous actor’s directorial debut. Recently, Paul Dano disappointed me with the unbearably boring Wildlife, proving that acting ability has little to do with directing prowess. Olivia Wilde’s debut, on the other hand, is a delightful comedy that never gets pretentious or boring, nor does it waste its fantastic young cast. In terms of plot, it’s pretty much identical to Superbad, but its originality shines with distinctive characters, each capturing an aspect of a 2019 high school perfectly. 21 Jump Street ushered in a new era of realistic movie high schools, and Booksmart builds on that foundation brilliantly. The soundtrack bangs super hard, too, which is a rare compliment for me to give out. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are made for their roles, their chemistry never in doubt. And let’s not forget about Skyler Gisondo, who’s hilarious in this movie and somehow even funnier in Santa Clarita Diet, an amazing show that Netflix decided was too good to be on their shitty service. Booksmart is one of the rare great comedies of this decade (with the exception of a drug trip sequence that doesn’t work for me), and I implore you to go see it because it ain’t makin’ much money.
May 31: John Wick 3: Parabellum (Theatre)
Keanu Reeves is a bad actor. Like, he’s really, really bad. Did Chad Stahelski tell the rest of the cast to make Keanu feel better by acting as bad as they possibly can? Regardless, I enjoyed the shit out of John Wick 3. I know, as a pretentious ass I’m not supposed to like big dumb action movies, but there’s some genuinely great filmmaking involved in every John Wick movie. All of them do away with the god awful shaky-cam style that plagues far too many modern action movies, instead opting for a smooth and follow-able experience that complements the brutally beautiful fight choreography. My favourite part of the series, though, is the surprisingly robust world building it achieves. It’s a comic book-y world in which every corner of every block in every city has an assassin or 40 around it, all ready to kill John Wick. The hierarchy of the Table keeps adding elements that you just have to get on board with because if you think about it too much, you start to miss out on how amazing the action is. Nothing topped the flurry of knives exchanged between Wick and a bunch of grunts in a narrow hallway early in the movie, but each new sequence brings something new and hilariously over the top, consistently eliciting a laugh out of me; one of those “this is both so cool and so silly at the same time” laughs. It’s a surprisingly great series, and I can’t wait to see how they up the stakes in John Wick 4.
June 3: The Art of Self Defence (Theatre)
Boy, I’ve seen a lot of movies in theatres lately. Maybe that’s why my bank account is empty.
I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing, not even the genre, and that is the best way to see it. I’ll just tell you right now, it’s quite good and worth seeing, so stop reading right now if you plan on checking it out any time soon.
This movie tricks you. The first 20 minutes or so left me thinking, this is the movie that defines the word “average”. The shots are bland but watchable, the dialogue is strange and very obviously inspired by Yorgos Lanthimos but isn’t as awful, and it seems as though it’s going in a generic but somewhat satisfying direction. I’m sure at this point that Jesse Eisenberg is a weakling who will find inner strength through Karate and Imogen Poots will be some kind of stern teacher/manic pixie dream girl, and Alessandro Nivola will be the wacky sensei who uses unconventional methods to bring out Eisenberg’s Karate skills.
The Art of Self Defence slowly, gradually builds until it naturally becomes something much, much darker and more interesting than anything I thought it could be. It maintains the quirky humour and the Lanthimosian stilted dialogue, but flips everything else on its head. As Eisenberg gets more and more involved, we start to see the sinister side of Nivola’s Karate school. All of a sudden the characters get more intriguing, the shots are composed with more nuance, and I genuinely have no clue where it’s going. It’s clever and well acted (with the occasional exception of Poots), and handles its twists with a trust in the audience a lot of directors would be too scared to implement. My father hated it, but I enjoyed it a ton and encourage y’all to go see it when it comes out.
June 4: Fleabag (Amazon Prime Video)
With only 12 episodes over 2 seasons, Fleabag isn’t much of a commitment, so go watch it immediately and come back. You back yet? Ok great, now let me tell you why Fleabag is one of the most brilliant comedies/dramas I’ve ever seen.
Fleabag opens on a scene in which the eponymous Fleabag, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge who also wrote and directed the entire show, talks to the camera, giving us a play by play of her giving a dude (who is hereby credited only as “arsehole guy” despite playing a relatively large role) his first anal experience. He’s very thankful. Fleabag’s first season is about sex, family, friendship, and other things Fleabag (the character) is terrible at dealing with. We watch her struggle through relationships with her on and off boyfriend, her uptight sister and her vile husband, her complacent father and his infuriatingly passive aggressive new girlfriend, and of course, arsehole guy. It’s also about a snatched statue, a small but busty bust, and its brilliant journey that continues through to season 2.
The second season, as Fleabag tells us, “is a love story”. While still being consistently hilarious, it’s far more dramatically driven, taking a deep dive into faith and the different interpretations of love or lust. The first episode of the season is the show’s most brilliant, and not only because I adore the bottle episode style (can you call it a bottle episode if they’re just eating dinner at a restaurant and can easily leave? Whatever, I’m calling it a bottle episode). Tensions rise to a boiling point among our main characters all while introducing us to Andrew Scott, who’s seamlessly transitioned into playing a hot priest instead of his usual unhinged villain (as we’ll see in a minute). The rest of the season is a wildly entertaining exploration of a relationship potentially forsaken by God himself, and my only complaint is that it could have been longer. Fleabag is almost too tight; it packs so much greatness into such a small package and though I wouldn’t want a third season, I would have loved to have seen a little more from all the consistently captivating characters.
I’d like to thank my mother for this recommendation, and also take this chance to say happy birthday! All these reviews are dedicated to ya! That’s like a month’s worth of reviews! All finally completed for my 40-or-whatever-age-you-are mother! Anyone else reading this, get outta here, it’s for my ma, the best ma.
June 5: Black Mirror season 5: Striking Vipers (Netflix)
Striking Vipers is so fucking weird. Charlie, why did this idea even occur to you? How does one come up with something like this? Anthony Mackie having sex with his male best friend in a video game in which he plays as a dude and his friend plays as a girl while his wife sleeps in the other room? The first half hour or so left me perplexed, and I was not into it. But I eventually realised that this is one of them good Black Mirror episode types: the ones where the technology takes a backseat role in telling a more interesting and character focused story rather than being the focus of the episode. That’s present in the two best episodes of the entire show, An Entire History of You and Shut Up and Dance. Mackie and the moral grey area of sleeping with his best friend, as well as both of their struggles with sexuality, make for an episode that may take itself a little too seriously but is ultimately a pretty nuanced and different take from most Black Mirror episodes that can be summed up with “TECHNOLOGY BAD”.
June 5: BM S5: Smithereens (Netflix)
Speaking of TECHNOLOGY BAD, we have Smithereens, which is effectively an hour and ten minutes of Charlie Brooker screaming in your face that social media is REALLY, REALLY BAD. Andrew Scott is fantastic and Topher Grace is entertaining, but never before has Black Mirror been so on the nose. I’ve always criticised BM for this, but somehow this episode takes it to another level, approaching a subject that has already been explored in another bad episode, Hated in the Nation, and doing absolutely nothing with it. If you’d told me that this was a really long PSA for texting and driving, I’d believe you. Even with a return to the 3 episode season, Charlie Brooker has run out of ideas. It’s time for Black Mirror to end, Charlie. It hasn’t been good since season 3, and even then you could see the gears grinding to a halt. Oh god, I haven’t even talked about the Miley Cyrus episode yet.
June 6: BM S5: Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too (Netflix)
Arkangel was the worst episode of Black Mirror because it came up with an idea and instead of taking it in an unpredictable direction or going further than you thought it would with a fun twist, it goes exactly where you’d expect and then it ends. That is, it had an interesting idea but it failed to do a single interesting thing with it. Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too is the new worst episode of all time, because I not only hate where it goes, I hate the concept itself. The first issue is that it took over half the episode for me to realise what it’s trying to do: it’s a dumb kid’s show with a Black Mirror “twist”. That twist is pretty much just a bunch of f-bombs. It takes forever for this to become clear, and once it’s clear, the only thing I could ask was…why? Why make a Family Channel episode? Who is the target audience? Who thought this could work? And most of all, where’s the scathing social commentary Black Mirror is known for? It follows the kids’ show formula without a hint of satire. It’s like Charlie Brooker wrote half a script, then let a 12 year old kid who still watches Hannah Montana but also just learned what the word “fuck” means write the rest. I must be missing something, because Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too is nothing but stupid. It’s so, so stupid. Charlie, you’re stupid. Were you ever all that smart, Charlie? I can count on three fifths of a hand the truly great Black Mirror episodes; were those just a fluke? You think you’re making high art, but you’re not, you’re making some intermittently entertaining but consistently empty attempts at social satire that on rare occasion manage to eke out a real story. Technology bad, Charlie. Yes, I know. You’ve made that clear. Now leave us alone, please.
Poor Charlie, I really lay into him there at the end, don’t I? Was I too harsh? Meh, I see Black Mirror show up on people’s list of favourite shows all the time, I’m sure he’s doing just fine. Anyway, it feels good to be back! I can guarantee my return next week for more, and the week after that and the week after that. No more skipping! This week’s shoutout goes to a certain Fun Guy. Board man gets paid, you know? Y’all who aren’t from Toronto have no clue what I’m talking about, I know. FVV lost a tooth to get that ring. HE STAY