For as far back as I can remember, I have had Sundance Film Festival FOMO. Going to Cannes will likely remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future, but the prospect of going to Sundance is much more attainable — just a matter of the stars lining up in just the right pattern (and my wife granting me permission to skip her birthday to spend a week in Utah). Until both of those things happen or Hell freezes over, I will continue to sit by idly paying attention to all of the buzz coming out of the festival every January and make a mental list of all my must-see films.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was one of those films and was one I assumed I would have to wait until the Fall to see at TIFF. Thankfully, the film showed up a whole lot earlier. The buzz has remained high ever since the January premiere and I have heard and read the word “Oscar” being thrown around in a completely serious way. And when that happens, it can go one of two ways: it can be warranted or absolutely preposterous. And despite the lengthy and obnoxious title, I hoped it was the former and not the latter on this one.
The premise of The Last Summer revolves around that small window of time for high school grads just before they go to college and continue their march towards jobs, adulthood and the real world. It is a magical time because you are on the precipice of a new adventure and are literally about to turn your back on who and what you were in the past. I do not really remember my own “last summer” much — I think I went to a few parties, hung out with my now ex-girlfriend, went on one small trip and definitely watched a ton of movies. I spend more time thinking nostalgically about that entire school year, what a wild adventure that was, all the friends I made (and the few I still remain in contact with) and all the memories I made that continue to bring me great joy.
I think that is why I was really cautiously optimistic about checking out The Last Summer when I saw the trailer a few weeks back. I was hoping it would evoke nostalgic memories for me and think about those friendships and adventures. And having Riverdale‘s K.J. Apa as the lead of a fairly recognizable ensemble didn’t hurt either.
Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) have just broken up. They were dating for 9 years in New York City, but decided to end their relationship when Jenny gets her dream job at Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco. With one week until the big move, she looks to her friends Erin (DeWanda Rise) and Blair (Brittany Snow) to help cheer her up and go on one last adventure.
It took me two tries to watch Someone Great. Admittedly, I was extremely tired the first time I watched first-time director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s film and fell asleep after about 20 minutes. But I watched it again from the start the next day, and immediately realized what a terrible mistake I made. Robinson has created a raw, emotional, and charming film that speaks to what friendship means in the face of becoming an adult — and the maturity on display here may catch you off guard.
What I have always found fascinating about movies is the fact that once they are finished and released into the world, they rarely change. Sure there have been Director’s, Extended and Unrated Cuts released after the film’s initial release (Ridley Scott is the KING of tinkering with his movies and never being satisfied with any of his final cuts) but they rarely alter the original content or message. They merely add to and/or enrich and/or destroy the viewing experience. What does change, almost every single time, is how we as individuals feel about the movie we are watching. It’s not unheard of to watch a movie you liked for the second or third time and have absolutely no idea why you ever enjoyed it in the first place, or vice versa. And I find that this ideal happens substantially more often for films I see at festivals, specifically the Toronto International Film Festival.
I mention and namedrop TIFF because the first time I saw Unicorn Store was at its World Premiere screening during the festival back in September of 2017. It was Day 5 of the festival and my first movie of the day. I had slept in that day not just due to exhaustion from the previous four days, but I was also still reeling from seeing mother! the night before (I went into that movie completely blind as my fifth movie of the day and was not okay afterwards). I was excited to see Unicorn Store that day for multiple reasons: it was Oscar-winner Brie Larson’s directorial debut; it was playing at my favourite venue, the Ryerson; and it was not an obscenely priced Premium ticket to pick up. I sat down in my seat, took not-all-that subtle photos of the celebrity sitting behind me (the team flanking him was less than thrilled), and waited for the film to start.
Looking back at my Twitter feed from that day, it looks like I enjoyed the film for the most part. But as days and weeks turned into months, I forgot about it and it quickly became one of four movies I saw during that festival that never officially saw the light of day again. Flash forward over a year and a half later, and Unicorn Store is finally being released on Netflix. But a lot can change in that amount of time, even if the movie itself has not done much changing.
I was a Disney kid growing up. The numerous VHS tapes gaining dust in my Mom’s basement can attest to that fact. My all-time favourite was Aladdin, but I’m told I was a big fan of The Jungle Book, The Sword and the Stone and Robin Hood when I was much younger. And while we ended up buying and watching a lot of other random Disney movies (and some sequels), we never bought Dumbo. And the more I think about it, I do not even think I watched Dumbo in it’s entirety until I bought the Blu-ray myself nearly ten years ago. I knew who he was, but the fondest memory of the character I have was his brief appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
Which made this weekend’s release of the live action remake/reimagining/rewhateverweshouldcallit all the more interesting. Unlike Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin remake I’m destined to be much too critical of, my nostalgia for Dumbo does not run nearly that deep. Having recently re-watched the original film, I was genuinely shocked how little I remembered about it. And sure, I am not the biggest proponent of Disney remaking every single one of their animated classics, but I was willing to give this one a chance because of its stellar cast and because I still have a soft spot for Tim Burton.
My exposure to Mötley Crüe has been limited at best. I played their songs in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I was briefly obsessed with “Kickstart My Heart” after hearing it during the trailer for the all but completely forgotten Clive Owen romp Shoot ‘Em Up (do you remember that movie? I own in on DVD and remember literally nothing besides Owen’s character liked to chew carrots like Bugs Bunny and used one to stab a guy). A girl I was intrigued with had a grotesque image of a two-faced demon from Nikki Sixx’s book The Heroin Diaries tattooed on her hip. That’s pretty much where my knowledge begins and ends.
Oh, and I watched Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s sex tape when I was a teenager, as you do.
So when it came time to watch The Dirt, I was at a bit of a loss. Do I wade in as blind as possible or do I look up some of the stories? Do I just trust that the filmmakers will be honest in their portrayals? And if they aren’t, will the movie and music be entertaining enough for me to completely look past it?
I turn 32 this weekend, so my future mortality has been top of mind as of late. I am not sure if 22-year-old me would be excited or disappointed at who I have become. I have had highs, lows and plenty of what-have-yous over the past 10 years and am literally coming off the most exciting year of my life. Some of these moments were planned, some not so much. Some were those classic “Jesus Take the Wheel” moments you can never have too many of. So while my writing situation is less than ideal at this given moment (a grungy food court in downtown Toronto where a couple is breaking up feet away from me), I was very much in the right frame of mind to watch Paddleton, the latest Netflix film from the Duplass Brothers.
Paddleton revolves Michael (Co-Writer Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano), best friends who live in the same apartment complex. They are both single and hang out together often – mostly at Michael’s place, which is on the ground floor directly below Andy’s. Michael has terminal cancer and has been given only months to live. Neither are ready to lose the other, but Michael wants to be sure he makes the decision on how he leaves this world.
It’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, but even crazier if you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening with the Oscars. The wording is still a bit confusing, but The Academy announced this week that they will be handing out the awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Live Action Short, during the commercial breaks and editing together a piece to show the winners and their speeches sometime later in the ceremony.
Oh, and they are trying to hold all winners to 90 seconds for their speeches – and this includes the time it gets them to stand up, be congratulated by their loved ones and peers sitting around them, and sprint to the podium. The guys might be able to pull this off in their dress shoes, but what about the women? Is The Academy encouraging them to wear sneakers and not have trains on their dresses? Naturally everyone is furious. Petitions are being signed. Celebrities and industry people alike are speaking out and protesting the Academy’s decisions. Twitter is on fire with rage. But it’s just another day as we stumble towards the ceremony on February 24.
And with that, here’s a few words on the Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films I missed posting about last week.
I love watching the Oscars. Full stop. Despite the on-going shenanigans the Academy continues to pull on a daily basis, not to mention the seething and vile commentary from bloggers and Film Twitter, I am still very excited for this year’s ceremony. But much like the rest of you, I rarely know which Short Films to pick when I am filling out my ballot for the yearly office Oscar pool. I have had some successes in the past — and by sheer luck, went 3/3 way back in 2004 and then never again — but I typically miss properly predicting these categories entirely.
So when the opportunity arose to watch and review these films this year, I jumped at the chance. I am always well versed in the nominees for the major categories, but the Shorts have consistently been a major blind spot. And now I’m slightly more optimistic at my future picks this year. I still need to catch up on the Documentary Shorts, so today I will focus on the Animated and Live Action Shorts.
Here’s hoping the Docs are a little more uplifting, because if there’s anything these short films have in common so far, it’s that they are very bleak and depressing. And the majority of them involve children.
When I pitched watching Velvet Buzzsaw to my wife, I mentioned that Dan Gilroy had written and directed two other films: Nightcrawler, which I love, cherish and still to this day remain devastated did not land Jake Gyllenhaal a Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Roman J. Israel, Esq., a total mess of a movie that landed Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar nomination, despite featuring the single worst performance Denzel has ever given. The film was better used as a punchline in a Weekend Update sketch involving Bill Hader’s Stefon which still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
So needless to say, it was a 50/50 shot going into Velvet Buzzsaw. I refused to watch the trailer (and you should too) and tried my very best to stay away from any and all of the Sundance reviews. But even after seeing Gilroy’s mash up of satire and horror set in the world of art dealers, creators and critics, I am still sort of confused about what a Velvet Buzzsaw is. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of whatever Gilroy thought he was making here.