VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected

Airbnbs are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. Last year, mine got burglarized. In You Should Have Left, Kevin Bacon lands in a creepy one that may be driving him mad. But I’m sure others are great (insert side-eye emoji).

I’m getting ahead of myself. A Blumhouse production that in any normal year would have hit theatres, You Should Have Left gets a lot of mileage from a classic horror troupe (nuclear family stranded in a haunted residence), one The Shining already perfected. Credit to writer/director David Koepp (Premium Rush) to keep things interesting by fleshing out the characters and writing sturdy dialogue.

The plot: May-December couple —Theo (Kevin Bacon) and Susanna (Amanda Seyfried)— takes the proverbial “break from it all” ahead of a busy time. They find an ultramodern home in the middle of nowhere in Wales (the newest horror cliché), seemingly ideal for them and their precocious daughter. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: ‘You Should Have Left’ Is More Inviting than Expected”

REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle

In days as convoluted as these, harmless movies about well-intentioned people overcoming difficulties and coming out empowered are a welcome respite. The High Note is one of those films. Clearly destined for the big screen (nice production values, a combination of up-and-comers and vets), The High Note is a nice movie that doesn’t break new ground or ruffles any feathers.

Freed from the 50 Shades burden, Dakota Johnson is delightful as Maggie, the assistant of an R&B diva. Maggie has designs beyond her less than fulfilling job: She wants to become a music producer, preferably for her boss. But there’s no clear path to go from her lowly job to behind the sound desk.

In turn, her employer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish), is struggling with a transition of her own. A decade after her last successful record, she’s been offered a residency in Vegas, the musical equivalent of a farm upstate. Davis believes she still has fresh material to offer, but for industry standards, she’s old news. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ Falls Somewhere in the Middle”

REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of

Stephen McHattie and Lise Houle in Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland.

Twelve years ago, Pontypool pulled the rarest of feats. It was original for a zombie movie and intrinsically Canadian (the disease was transmitted via language). Something you may not have noticed is that there was a post-credit scene, featuring the leads as different characters: Johnny Deadeyes and Lisa the Killer, two shady types looking for adventure. I completely missed that until re-watching it for this review.

The promise of the little-seen sequence is fulfilled in Dreamland. Director Bruce McDonald reassembles the Pontypoolcrew (actors Stephen McHattie and Lisa Houle, scriptwriter Tony Burgess) plus a couple of ringers (Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis) for a surrealistic noir. Not Twin Peaks-bonkers levels, but pleasantly weird. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Dreamland’ Expand the ‘Pontypool’ Universe… Sort of”

REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge

With a batting average higher than most of her French-Canadian counterparts (including the likes of Dolan, Arcand and Falardeau), supporters of Canadian cinema would be well served by paying more attention to Anne Emond.

The writer/director has delivered three searing dives into the female psyche (Nuit # 1, Our Loved Ones, Nelly). Her newest film, Jeune Juliette, has a much lighter tone, but the lead is just as complex as the previous ones. OK, maybe not Nelly Arcan, but she’s on a league of her own.

The Juliette of the title (Alexane Jamieson) is a teenager enduring the worst high school has to offer: Loneliness, bullying and the petty behavior from others students who perceive her as overweight. Even though their casual nastiness leaves a mark, Juliette is also aware that she’s smarter than her classmates and it’s a matter of time until she leaves them behind. She also has a sturdy support net: Her doting dad, a sympathetic brother and her best mate, Leanne. Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Jeune Juliette’ Comes of Edge”

REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’

It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.

Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.

The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them. Continue reading “REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’”

REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle

As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.

Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.

The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible. Continue reading “REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle”

COVID-19: Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

Today’s post is only tangentially related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you check the calendar, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 manned mission to the Moon. It launched on April 11, and followed two earlier Moon landings by Apollo 11 in July 1969 and Apollo 12 in November 1969. Unlike those missions, though, this one nearly ended in disaster.

In 1995, Apollo 13 was immortalized in a big-budget Hollywood movie directed by Ron Howard. Now, a researcher at NASA has put together a minute-by-minute audio-visual chronicle of the six-day mission. The chronicle features radio exchanges between the three-person crew and ground control at NASA, press conferences, even conversations between NASA officials and the astronauts’ families on Earth.

Continue reading “COVID-19: Houston, We’ve Had A Problem”

VOD REVIEW: The Director of ‘Resistance’ Could Have Used Some

As luck would have it, Jesse Eisenberg is becoming one of the faces of pandemic. The Oscar-nominated actor is the lead in two high-profile features premiering on VOD. The first one, Vivarium, is a high concept sci-fi horror hybrid. The second one, Resistance, is far more traditional, but is not as satisfactory.

Based on the experiences of renown mime Marcel Marceau during World War II, the bulk of Resistance takes place during the German occupation of France. Initially a pedantic wannabe actor, Marceau (Eisenberg) takes a shine to a group of Jewish orphans that have escaped Germany.

As the Nazis put the squeeze on the Jewish community, Marceau feels compelled to protect the kids and join the French Resistance. His revolutionary activities put him in collision course with the Butcher of Lyon, the infamous Klaus Barbie. It downs on Marcel that saving others is a stronger statement than dying for the cause. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: The Director of ‘Resistance’ Could Have Used Some”

VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’

It’s probably still in the back of your mind. In June 2018, a children soccer team and their coach were trapped inside a cave in Thailand after monsoon rains flooded the exit. The event mobilized dozens of volunteers, including local and foreign divers, American forces and even Elon Musk (if only to provide an impractical solution and then harass a volunteer). The situation seems ready-made for a feature.

Lo and behold, here it is, less than two years since the rescue effort.

Cave Rescue is the kind of movie produced in a rush to take advantage of recent events while still fresh in people’s minds: Undercooked, underwhelming and with an inflated sense of self.

The film dedicates precious little time to how the kids ended up in the cave and rather focus on the rescue efforts (a mildly competent filmmaker would have spent time establishing the children as characters to raise the stakes. Not the case here). People pop up in and out of screen: American military personnel issuing obvious orders, farmers happy to sacrifice their crops to save the boys, interchangeable divers looking busy and a religious figure embodying the spiritual aspect of the rescue. Why not. Continue reading “VOD REVIEW: There’s No Saving ‘Cave Rescue’”

Vivarium: Quarantine Horror

Embrace your Coronavirus confinement in Vivarium’s surreal suburban nightmare

IT CAME FROM MIDWICH Eisenberg, Poots and their invasive offspring.

Vivarium
VOD/Apple TV

Vivarium is a rare surrealistic horror. More structured than a David Lynch film and darker than something by Terry Gilliam, it takes petite bourgeois goals (own a house, have a kid, become your own boss) and reveals them as nightmares.

Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) are a young couple looking for a starter home who are roped into checking out a house just outside the city by a creepy-looking real estate agent. The place is one of dozens of identical green households in a very quiet neighborhood — so quiet, there are no neighbours in sight.

Red flags accumulate and Tom and Gemma make a run for it but fail: the hood is endless and the pair lands in front of the same house time and time again. Out of gas and ideas, they go to bed. The next day there’s a baby on the porch and they’re instructed to raise the child and be liberated.

Suffice it to say, the kid is weird. Friction ensues.

Continue reading “Vivarium: Quarantine Horror”

REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold

A minor controversy took place last year when the Centre National de la Cinématographie selected Les Miserables over fan favorite Portrait of a Lady on Fire to represent France in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film process (not that either had a shot against Parasite). I’m here to tell you the CNC had it right.

Don’t get me wrong. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a good film, but comes way short from being the transcendental experience that has been advertised.

It’s late in the eighteenth century and like in most of the world, women in France are treated as trade goods, unless independently wealthy. Marianne (the drop dead gorgeo…  super talented Noémie Merlant), a freelance painter, is hired by a countess to make a portrait of her daughter Héloïse (Adele Haenel, BPM). The fresco is to be sent to a suitor in Milan with whom Héloïse is to be betrothed. Continue reading “REVIEW: Portrait of a Lady on Fire Left Me Cold”

RAW FEED: The Call of the Wild

A peek inside the mind of a film critic in real time. Warning: It’s disturbing

  • 2oth Century… Pictures. End of an era.
  • Maybe the trailers are misleading, maybe the CGI dog is better in the movie…
  • No, that’s a CGI dog. The eyes are a dead giveaway. Too much white. Where are The Lion King people when you need them.
  • Granted, kids are more forgiving.
  • Wonderful. Bradley Whitford is in this (he’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Jack London’s novel was raw and complex. This version feels soft. Has the dramatic subtlety of Legends of the Fall.
  • I really don’t need the dog to emote AND Harrison Ford to tell me how the dog is getting in touch with his wild side.
  • That said, Ford knows grizzled.
  • So, John Thornton is in the Yukon mid-Gold Rush, but he’s not there for the money. Got it.
  • Whoever thought of pairing Omar Sy with Cara Gee is genius.
  • Gee is the most stylish postman in history. Love the glasses.
  • “We don’t carry mail, we carry love.” I’m going to say this is not verbatim Jack London.
  • Evil CGI husky about to be dethroned… in a PG kind of way.
  • The power of London storytelling breaks through, but barely.
  • Not quite clear why Buck’s spirit animal is a wolf if he is half St. Bernard, half Scotch Collie.
  • Brits carry a gramophone, champagne and fashionable clothes to explore the Klondike. In case you haven’t figure it out they are clueless.
  • Wonderful. Karen Gillan is in this (she’s never to be seen again after two scenes).
  • Kudos to Dan Stevens for making a clueless dandy mildly menacing.
  • The fact Buck is so noticeably CGI deprives the film of actual stakes.
  • The movie avoids the most unsavory passages of the book, which is a disservice to the public. “The Call of the Wild” is a classic because of them. It’s often an introduction to young readers to the darkest corners of the human soul.
  • Then again, the original ending wouldn’t fly in today’s climate.
  • Janusz Kaminski shot this? This is Lost Souls level.
  • Oh, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes) plays Buck. Nobody better to play a dog. Except an actual dog. Or Andy Serkis. Two prairie dogs.
    The Call of the Wild is now playing, everywhere.

INTERVIEW: Lee Majdoub, Sonic the Hedgehog

Lee Majdoub and Jim Carrey in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Now that Sonic the Hedgehog is a bonafide hit and talks of a sequel are afoot, the focus has shifted from the speedy mammal to the cast. Jim Carrey is back in manic mode as Dr. Robotnik. At his side, a surprisingly competent henchman: Agent Stone. Loyal to a fault, Stone manages to keep a straight face as Robotnik goes unhinged barely two inches away.

The actor behind Agent Stone is Lee Majdoub, a journeyman actor who, after working consistently for over a decade, is getting noticed not only as one of Sonic’s nemeses but as a recurrent character in the CW series The 100. We contacted Majdoub in Burbank, CA. He relates to Agent Stone in two key areas: His work ethic and big heart.

Jim Carrey is constantly in your face in Sonic. What are the challenges of that?

I would have to tell myself “he’s doing such an amazing job, don’t ruin it, don’t you dare laugh right now.” All my scenes were with Jim and I was feeding off what he was doing. He is a very sweet person to work with. Very collaborative.

What was your reaction when you found out Sonic was getting redesigned?

As an actor, you don’t play much of a part in what’s going on behind the scenes. I was more blown away by how many fans were engaged and how much of a response there was to it.

Before the movie, what was your relationship with the game?

The first video game console we had was a Sega Genesis. I spent a lot of time playing Sonic the Hedgehog

Your IMDb page is quite packed. What’s your career plan?

It’s always been about working hard, developing relationships and being a good person. I’ve always tried to help anybody who needs it, give advice when I can, and be prepared. A lot of it has to do with working on myself. If you don’t know who you are, it’s really tough to do a good job on auditions.

Is there any performance of yours you wish more people had seen?

There was a play I did seven, eight years ago. I played five characters who were all suffering loss, a child, their sanity, their home. For a small, ninety-seats theatre, it seemed to have resonated with a lot of people. It wasn’t as much about my performance as much as it was about the story.

At the end of Sonic the Hedgehog, your character is still on the board. Does this mean you’re coming back?

If there’s a sequel and they want me back, I’m going to be very, very happy. Fingers crossed.

Sonic the Hedgehog is now playing, everywhere.

From a Critic’s Notebook: Underwater

K-Stew and Vincent Cassel go Underwater.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • This is an expensive movie to open in January.
  • Exposition dump via newspaper clippings. Not the most elegant approach.
  • Love when a movie starts mid-action. The whole underwater structure is collapsing around Kristen Stewart.
  • There’s something very watchable about K-Stew. She’s at her best when you can see her face (looking at you, JT LeRoy. Bad, bad movie.)
  • K-Stew is Norah, a mechanical engineer. I’m sure that will come handy later in the movie…
  • Norah leaves characters behind to save herself and a colleague. I recognize this hero’s journey. I hope I’m wrong.
  • These are not characters, these are types.
  • J.T. Miller… Why isn’t he in movies anymore?
  • Oh, right. Yeah, he’s not coming back.
  • The setting is an oil drilling operation at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The water looks viscous, polluted. Good job, production design department.
  • Vincent Cassel as the captain. Always a smart move to surround yourself with competent actors. Cassel has never been bad.
  • I feel guilty every time I laugh at a J.T. Miller joke.
  • Surprisingly, Cassel is not the villain. There may not be any villains, actually.
  • I spoke too soon.
  • The creatures are humanoid-looking but are not affected by the pressure. Is this feasible? [SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: ON]
  • The survivors need to go from point A to point B to point C. It’s like 1917 made by Roger Corman.
  • These deaths by water pressure are disturbing.
  • [JUMPS] [SCREAMS] You got lucky, movie.
  • I suspect T.J. Miller ad-libbed all his dialogue and made it better.
  • Cloverfield.
  • Can’t believe I’m having fun.
  • Engineer powers, activate!
  • The cinematography of Underwater is quite solid. Despite the shaky camera, I always know where the characters are.
  • The trailers made this movie no favors.
  • John Gallagher Jr. is the equivalent of the damsel in distress from years ago (a couple). He is like a budget Ben Affleck.
  • Has anybody else noted all monsters are starting to look like [REDACTED]. H.P. [REDACTED] must be smiling from below.
  • This is a little too Sigourney Weaver at the end of Alien. Not the action, the getup.
  • Underwater is a very feminist film. Like, actually feminist.

3/5 prairie dogs. Underwater opens Friday, January 10th, everywhere.

From a Critic’s Notebook: Spies in Disguise

Will Smith as a pigeon and Tom Holland as a science geek in Spies in Disguise.

Take a peek inside the mind of our film critic, as he watches a film in real time. 

  • A Blue Sky production. Surprised they’re sticking around and sharing the same playground as Pixar and Disney Animation.
  • I miss Scrat. As for the rest of Ice Age, I hope they went extinct…
  • Will Smith is Lance, a lone wolf/super spy taking on an army of henchmen. So, a standard Will Smith movie.
  • STOP THE PRESSES!!! Ben Mendelsohn is the bad guy.
  • Mendelsohn is such a compelling presence. It’s unfortunate he’s the pigeonholed (see what I did there) as a villain. Totally writing that.
  • The short this movie is based on, Pigeon: Impossible, is a hoot. So far, the feature version is very standard.
  • In this world, everybody wears skinny jeans…
  • Tom Holland is Walter, the would-be sidekick Lance doesn’t want. Good to know he has a future as a voice actor (he’s also the lead in Pixar’s Onward).
  • Is… this… movie… anti-gun? Bold choice!
  • The Red States won’t like that…
  • I could watch a whole movie about Will Smith freaking out over becoming a pigeon (“I can SEE MY BUTT!!!”)
  • I get it: Mom died in the line of duty, Walter wants to protect everyone with silly inventions. There’s an acronym for that.
  • What is DJ Khaled famous for?
  • The movie reminds us for the twentieth time Lance is not a team player. Street pigeons be like…
  • Animated Venice looks nice. No floods. Oh, wait…
  • Spies in Disguise has a deconstructive vibe: Violence begets more violence. I dig…
  • Writers, you’re killing me, you have a chance to humanize poor Ben Mendelsohn and you pass?!
  • I’ll take Spies in Disguise over any glorification of firearms, especially in movies for children.

3/5 prairie dogs. Spies in Disguise opens Christmas Day, everywhere.

REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters

Coming out of a screening of Jojo Rabbit last week (my second), I asked my wife her thoughts on the film. She said she liked it, but didn’t think the message was all that ground-breaking. Fair enough, the notion of “hate” as learned behavior children acquire early on and has long-lasting effects has been dealt with on screen before.

Then I saw a clip on Facebook.

In this video essay, a very angry girl in her early teens argues against the separation of church and state. She believes that if Christianity is kept out of school and government, so it should “liberal ideas” like abortion or transgender rights. Her argument holds no water, but that’s not the point. The rigidness of her reasoning reveals she has never been exposed to a different set of beliefs. The teen is so convinced, she is happy to put it on tape for the world to see. Forever and ever.

Enter Jojo Rabbit. Continue reading “REVIEW: Why Jojo Rabbit Matters”

31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: Psycho

Marion Crane (Vivian Leigh) is in love with Sam Loomis (John Gavin) but Sam won’t marry Marion because of his debts. Marion works in Phoenix Arizona for a real estate company. Just before the weekend a client puts a $40,000 deposit on a property. Marion is tasked with depositing the money at the bank. She decides to steal the money.

Marion leaves town and starts to drive to Fairvale, California where Sam lives. Along the way she arouses the suspicion of a police officer who catches her sleeping in her car. She trades her car in for another and continues on her journey. It’s dark and rainy and she decides to stop at the Bates Motel.
Continue reading “31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: Psycho”

31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Shining

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) accepts a job to be caretaker at the Overlook Hotel which is isolated in the mountains and cut off on the main roads for the winter months. Jack is recovering alcoholic and struggling writer. He hopes the peace and quiet will help him write. The previous caretaker snapped and murdered his family. The hotel management assume it was from the isolation.

Jack brings his family along to stay at the hotel. Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are happy to come along although Danny has a psychic power/imaginary friend that he calls Tony who warns him that bad things are going to happen.
Continue reading “31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Shining”

31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

Police find a bizarre crime scene with several people dead and the body of an unknown woman at the scene. One of the cops thinks that the victims were trying to get out of the house.

Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch) are father and son morticians. The two work out of the old family house. Austin has a date with his girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond). The sheriff brings in the body of the woman and asks that they try and identify cause of death before the morning. Austin postpones his date to help his dad.
Continue reading “31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe”

31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Babadook

If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook

Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) has been raising her son Sam (Noah Wiseman) by herself after her husband was killed in a car accident before their son was born. Sam has been acting out lately and he has been making weapons to fight a monster.

Sam takes one of his weapons to school and Amelia is called in. The teachers believe that Sam has serious mental problems. Later Sam gets Amelia to read him a bedtime popup book called Mr. Babadook. The book is terrifying and Amelia wonders where Sam got it. Sam tells her on the bookshelf.
Continue reading “31 Days Of Family Horror Fun: The Babadook”