Monday, 30 April 2018

Film Review: "Duck Butter" (2018).


From the director of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day comes Duck Butter. This experimental comedy film directed by Miguel Arteta, and written by Arteta and Alia Shawkat. Seeking love that's real, Naima and Sergio carry out a radical test. But when the chemistry tapes off, will their bond last?

Shawkat and Arteta's initial draft of the script initially focused on a couple over the course of a year-and-a-half, between a man and a woman, deciding to have sex every hour on the hour to find intimacy. Shawkat, who was cast in the lead role, met with actors, who were uncomfortable with the idea. The two initially cast Laia Costa, whom they felt that she had just the right grasp on the character, and that Costa only agreed to take on the role if she could remain on set during the entire twenty-four-hour shoot. Arteta and Shawkat decided to re-write the role for a woman. In September 2016, it was announced Shawkat and Costa had been cast in the film, with Arteta directing. In addition, Mae Whitman, Hong Chau, Kate Berlant, Lindsay Burdge, Kumail Nanjiani, with Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass rounded out the film's cast. Mark Duplass and Jay Duplas would also serve as producers under their Duplass Brothers Productions banner. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place over the course of nine days, with majority of the film being shot over the course of twenty-four hours. All of the dialogue was improvised.

The film stars Shawkat, Costa, Mae Whitman, Hong Chau, Berlant, Burdge, Nanjiani, with Mark and Jay Duplass. Terrifically naturalistic performances were given by the cast, especially from Shawkat and Costa that conveyed an intimacy and humanity that is certainly lacking in most Hollywood comedies now days. In this quirky indie feature, Shawkat searches for meaning and passion in a swirl of Hollywood malaise and ironically may have finally found a character who can reveal the shades of her talent. After languishing in second-banana roles in State of Grace, Arrested Development, Search Party and Drunk History, Shawkat here creates a fully realised character of surprising nuance and depth. This film might finally make Shawkat and Costa movie stars.

This dramedy with exceptional performances from Shawkat and Costa, Duck Butter is a funny yet moving and astute look at the passions of two troubled souls in Hollywood searching for physical intimacy. Arteta's eighth feature is another good addition to his body of work, for him as a director and for Shawkat and Costa as actresses. In the long run, the film will be remembered more as a chance for Shawkat and Costa to wet their acting chops than for anything else. Although, I wish I could say I liked it more, but despite a smattering of priceless moments, the film gets bogged down in the very narrowness that afflicts Naima. Nonetheless, it's a warmly satisfying comedy about dissatisfied people seeking to escape from the personal prison of their mundane lives in soulless Los Angeles.

Simon says Duck Butter receives:



Also, see my review for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

'Once Upon a Time in Canada' Chapter 38.

Holy shit! The hunger is really coming for me! I don’t even know what to say. I’m pretty dumbfounded. And I’ve had a shitload of stuff to deal with the past week. Work can’t be any less energy consuming. If I’m not at work when it is my day off, all I do is catch up on rest, household chores, and blogging. I have to make sure that my blog is up-to-date as much as possible. Even if I’m tired. And when I don’t do so, you know I’m in trouble. Well, food, here I come! Well… not right away. I still have some things to do.

My trip to the supermarket was the first on the agenda, and was a quick chore compared to the other chores that were coming up. I managed to get whatever I needed to do out of the way in a short timeframe. Today, however, dinner wasn’t served at home. I was convinced to have dinner out with my Michael. If anytime he calls, almost all the time he wants me to come out of the apartment and hang out with him for the night. Call it The Ridiculous Adventures of Michael and Simon. But there's more to it than a reasonably priced meal at a restaurant that Michael suggests. Michael would often get me involved in one of his many crazy shenanigans. Between the times I left the apartment and the time we left off to another one of his shenanigans, we had dinner at Messini Authentic Gyros Restaurant on Danforth Avenue in Greek Town.

So we needed some big grub to survive for the night. Yup. It sure was. It did the trick, but it was a little bit pricier than our usual meals. But why spend less for less when you’re starving? An empty stomach needs fuel, especially after the past of week of working tirelessly with a job like mine for a place like CN Tower. Fortunately, the meal filled us up for the night, like I said. The items we chose were the combination meals, the Pork Gyros Pita for us to be specific. That gave us plenty of meat, vegetables, and pita. Doesn’t seem like much, but it wasn’t. In that time, we talked whilst we enjoyed our meals. All we ever talked about were typical conversational stuff that any men, as well as what we usually, would talk about. All the conversations we had would go on for hours, few hours minimum. Not just when we’re eating of course.

As stated, we were done with our meals and went out in search of something to do for the night, for the night was still young. Continuing the banter we were having is a given. We then had to catch the subway in order to reach our destination: Tilt Arcade Bar. We caught the Line 2 subway and the 511 bus. There was plenty of time for us to get there and have turns at the various games there for hours. However, Tilt was too full, so we had to change plans and find something new to do. Ever the improviser, Michael always knows what to do / where to go in case things don’t according to plan. Even though sometimes he can be indecisive. I even at times had to come up with ideas as to what would we do or where we could go.

Anyways, the new plan was to go to the SLC building at Ryerson. It’s the only place we could go to relax and talk about whatever we wanted. Plus, we could have nice seats to down on, and lots of space. Also, unlike other places, we could have a lot of peace and quiet. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. I didn’t know why I was feeling so sleepy. Maybe I had too much to eat or work is just affecting me. Thus we split and went our separate ways towards home.

Also, see Chapters 37 and 39.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Film Review: "The Rider" (2017).



Todd MacCarthy, of The Hollywood Reporter, noted the film as "A rare gem. CholĂ© Zhao beautifully captures the way a handful of people stoically deal with the merger hands life has felt them." Which is exactly what The Rider isThis contemporary western drama film written, produced and directed by Zhao. Based on a true story, the film centres on a once rising star of the rodeo circuit who is warned that his competition days are over after a tragic riding accident. Back home, Brady finds himself wondering what he has to live for when he can no longer do what gives him a sense of purpose: to ride and compete. In an attempt to regain control of his fate, Brady undertakes a search for new identity and tries to redefine his idea of what it means to be a man in the heartland of America.

Zhao first met Brady Jandreau during her research for her earlier film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015). She visited the ranch where Jandreau was working and he was teaching her how to ride a horse. She wanted to put him in one of her films, and when he had the accident that left him with life changing head injuries, she decided to base the script for her next film on his story.

The film stars Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, and Cat Clifford. Under Zhao's direction, the nonprofessional cast excels in a wide range of emotions. Zhao and her cast have created an emotionally compelling neo-realist portrait of a once rising rodeo star experiencing the stress and pressure of post-rodeo life. Zhao, a first time filmmaker, patiently observes these conundrums rather than passing judgment, and her stellar cast of non-professional actors delivers a great ensemble performance.

Zhao's sophomore effort is a quiet, sensitive indigenous coming-of-age story set in a contemporary American western landscape.It's an earnest, smartly mounted film about life on a present-day man of the American heartland. The slow-paced film includes a lesser known social theme - damaged individuals in the American heartland. The restrained performances and luscious location photography are enough to make this a film worth exploring, though it might not be a bad idea to down a few caffeine-rich drinks before settling in to watch. Viewers will be torn between admiring its laid-back naturalism and wishing it possessed just a little more oomph. Because her laissez-faire approach makes little effort to fit the fragmentary scenes into a tidy portrait of Jandreau, the film feels more authentic than if she had chosen to impose a tighter structure. An outsider looking in voyeurism veering offensively close to being more about the filmmaker's fixation on her immigrant alienation - if not a blatant exotic poverty porn aesthetic - than the brutal internal isolation of her subjects absent of causality. Zhao's film is imperfect, but it's a heartfelt and gorgeous one with a very timely story at its core. The film shows the potential indie cinema still holds to offer an honest vision of America.

Simon says The Rider receives:



Also, see my review for Songs My Brothers Taught Me.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Film Review: "You Were Never Really Here" (2017).


"Bring the hammer." This is You Were Never Really Here. This psychological action thriller film adapted and directed by Lynne Ramsay, and based on the 2013 novella of the same name by Jonathan Ames. When a teenage girl goes missing, a jaded, brutal enforcer attempts a rescue mission. He uncovers corruption and abuse of power along his way.

In early May 2016, it was reported that Ramsay would write and direct an adaptation of Ames' novella with Joaquin Phoenix to star in the lead role. By August, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts, Alessandro Nivola, Frank Pando, and Dante Pereira-Olson rounded out the film's cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place around New York City. In early May 2017, it was confirmed that composer Jonny Greenwood would score the film.

The film stars Phoenix, Samsonov, Doman, Roberts, Nivola, Pando, and Pereira-Olson. I may not have completely loved the film, but because of the tour de force performances given by the cast, especially from Phoenix, I certainly won't forget it. The moral and philosophical argument that the characters endure is what gives the story its power; and Phoenix does an excellent job portraying a man ambivalent to the bone about the world around him. Phoenix hoists the film from a possibly melodramatic mire to a crushing discussion on the impact of morals and the lack of them.

The film is a masterful blend of drama and horror, with fantastic performances across the board (Phoenix especially, delivering one of his very best). As a portrait of a deteriorating state of mind, the film is a masterful one. The film masquerades as a psychological and philosophical puzzle but is essentially a thriller film full of decorous sensationalism. The film is yet another installment in the pantheon of post-modern films intent upon assaulting the human desire to give meaning to the world. The film in fact needs to be talked about, as what it is attempting to do by marrying the darkest, most nihilistic components of contemporary cinema with a redemptive message is groundbreaking. Within the genre of action thriller, the film is a doozy. It speaks to the worst aspect of humanity imaginable: that evil lurks in every corner of the world. An acute and profound dissection of the genesis of a complex, seemingly harmful world with an alarming potential for complete corruption and evil. I recommend you prepare before you see it. It poses difficult questions, and perhaps has too easy answers. But it's a grueling and fascinating interview process. It may be one of those pesky films that is awful to watch but is worth watching all the same. Oh, dear. As a psychological study of a shattered man struggling to make sense of a heinous world around him, it's endlessly fascinating. We're not supposed to talk about a lot of the ugly feelings the film stirs up, but maybe we need to. It may not be a crowd-pleaser, but it's not every day we get an emotional powerhouse of a film done this well.

Simon says You Were Never Really Here receives:



Also, see my review for We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Film Review: "The Endless" (2017).


"Time is a prison" in The Endless. This science fiction cosmic horror film produced and directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and written by Benson. Two brothers receive a cryptic video message inspiring them to revisit the UFO death cult they escaped a decade earlier. Hoping to find the closure that they couldn't find as young men, they're forced to reconsider the cult's beliefs when confronted with unexplainable phenomena surrounding the camp. As the members prepare for the coming of a mysterious event, the brothers race to unravel the seemingly impossible truth before their lives become permanently entangled with the cult.

The film stars Benson, Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, and James Jordan. The cast contributed a Pirandello-esque sort of paradoxical meta-horror whose folk are unwitting players in a film (or several), desperate to find a way safely to exit the stage and escape the gaze of an unseen, and obviously viewer-like, observer.

The film is a clever, twisted and very impressive slow-burner of a chiller. The film was absolutely suspenseful, with the finale being seriously unnerving. With its great cast, unique concept, and its sharply written script, Resolution is one of the very best films I’ve seen this year. Throughout, the film had a quietly mythic power, and took many big risks that paid off. There's a sense of unease that pervades almost every frame in the film, and a key part of it is not knowing what's lurking around the next bend. This is what horror movies are supposed to do, but it hardly ever really works in practice. It not only nails it, but it does so without leaning on any jump scares, stings in the score, or cheap gore as a crutch. There are long buildups, and then there's The Endless, a movie that's virtually all nothing-much-happening setup until a still-teasing titular event that occupies just a few final seconds. It delivers a dashingly intelligent commentary on the horror genre, the nature of cinema, and the relationship viewers have to on-screen victims. It is an inventive, character-based story that provides be the breath of fresh air the genre sorely needs. It is a strangely tense and humorous meta-narrative" that "manages to keep its eerier moments surprising and its emotional life arresting. Though the film has some significant flaws, it's important that films like it get made and that filmmakers like Moorehead and Benson continue to aim high and take chances. It is a notch above your average low-budget cosmic horror flick. It has the usual scares and head-scratching events. But, the story is what locked me in. As a meditation on cosmic horror, and even film itself, it might be in danger of coming across as pretentious, if it weren't so damned entertaining throughout. Ambiguity enlivens the smart, knotty film, which routinely nods to its own artificiality while positing storytelling as a constantly evolving beast apt to save your life one moment and consume you the next. A strangely tense and humorous meta-narrative about two friends experiencing weird goings-on at a camp.

Simon says The Endless receives: