Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Seen in August 

Robin Williams as Lance Clayton in World's Greatest Dad. Image via Film School Rejects

Summer movies tend to fall into that kind of simple fun and satisfying category but it wasn't really a great summer for movies (Boyhood and Guardians of the Galaxy were the exceptions) so I made do with my own guilty pleasures. Now the summer is gone so it's good-bye to all that. Here in Toronto it seems fitting that the Toronto International Film Festival rings in the start of more considered movies that get released in the autumn.

World War Z
Ebola virus outbreak got you scared? Don’t worry, I’m sure some dude with great hair, who is a great dad and has Hollywood good looks will swoop in and save the day. Any minute now. Yup. Just going to wait for a hunky WHO investigator to show up. I’ll just watch this movie while I wait.

Guardians of the Galaxy
This is some good ol’ fashioned space adventure fun. It’s just the right mix of action, comedy and “feelings” that can only be described as crowd pleasing. Maybe you wouldn’t like this because maybe you were never an 11-year-old boy. Or maybe you are what people call a “stick in the mud”. Well, unstick yourself and let it all go. Even if you don’t like movies set in space with talking raccoons and living trees and good looking dudes getting it on with beautiful women of unusual skin colour, the soundtrack, resplendent with R&B and funk-pop classics, will win you over.
“Get rich while committing so many crimes you run out of names for them”
The Wolf of Wall Street
Like Wall Street or Boiler Room this film seems to celebrate rather than denigrate the greatest douche bags of our time. Hedge fund managers. I enjoyed it and all but couldn’t help feeling like I wanted to punch a banker in the throat. There’s just something about the fast paced maniacal delirium of it all that completely glosses over that this wasn’t just some guy who got insanely rich, but it is endemic of the entire financial sector. Sure everyone dreams of the good life, but not at the expense of playing naive dupes out of their savings while committing so many crimes you run out of names for them.

World’s Greatest Dad
Robin Williams, we hardly knew you. Robin Williams plays the complete opposite of his inspirational Dead Poets Society school teacher. In this Bobcat Goldthwait film, Williams plays Lance, an ineffectual private school english poetry teacher and failed author who is lonely a single dad to Kyle, an incredible ass of a teen-ager. When Lance finds Kyle dead from, ahem, auto-erotic asphyxiation, he makes the accident seem like a suicide and writes a moving suicide note. Somehow, the note becomes public and all the kids who hated Kyle or ignored Lance suddenly come to see the loner teen as a sort of hero, poster child and cause célèbre for teen-age depression and suicide. The film comically skewers and critically exposes the bizarre media driven angst, the uniquely American crocodile tears and the strange exploitation of such events for fame and fortune. If you disliked some of Williams’ more sentimental roles, this is him in a much more caustic role that should’ve earned more praise.

The Trip to Italy
This is the second feature created from the second series base on the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon road trip. This time they drive around Italy (in a Mini Cooper doing Michael Caine impressions, get it?) eating amazing local cuisine, soaking in the incredible beauty of the place and singing along to Alanis Morrisette. Not quite as good as the original but on the other hand, during a summer where I didn’t get out of Ontario, this brief travelogue was a sort of virtual holiday. In that way it created a kind of book end to The Great Beauty which is like an update to Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Which, is a little of what this film touches on. Can a soft, unchallenging, pleasure-seeking and decadent life be fulfilling? Probably not, but a couple of weeks at the beach wouldn't kill you either.

The Amazing Spider-man 2
The failed formula of these super-hero sequels is so easy to spot it’s a wonder no one ever stops them before they happen. The same is true for this one. Unfortunately, the writers stay true to the comics version fate of Gwen Stacey but they still want to tack on a happy action filled epilogue. Much of the film feels like an after school light comedy romance only to bolt on all the actual action sequences and one-too-many-villian-party-pile-on in the last third of the film.

Game of Thrones Season 4
In like a lion, out like a lamb. This season of this ongoing fantasy series seemed to start with the shocker everyone expected (or maybe hoped for), but as it went on it seemed to be stretching out plot lines unnecessarily as if they were biding their time waiting for the author to deliver new pages. A bit of a disappointment, which I suppose is why I’m keen to get some closure on this series even if I am growing a little tired of some of the well trod fantasy clichés such as how “barbarians” fight by yelling a lot or witches that require blood to cast a spell etc.

George Takei camps it up as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. Image via CBS News

To Be Takei
Surprisingly fun and upbeat documentary about the actor George Takei who came to fame by playing helmsman Mr. Sulu aboard 3 seasons of the Star Trek Enterprise and six feature length Star Trek films. Mr. Takei (pronounced “Tuh-Kay”) receded from the spotlight after the original series to work in politics and other ventures such as educating the American public about his family's imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp during WWII. Late in life, he went public about his homosexuality to help advocate for gay rights in his home state of California. This combined with his indomitable spirit and humour while armed with one of television’s greatest voices have led to his recent popularity and, to many people, his stature as an icon of American pop culture. George Takei, actor, Japanese American icon, gay rights icon, disproves again the old adage that there are no second acts in America. To the contrary, one of the defining aspects of American life is that you can have second, third and more acts.

Archer Seasons 1-5
Okay. Guilty pleasure. I really did binge on this badly animated comedy full of crass, violent and juvenile humour, terrible puns and long running inside jokes. It’s a parody of all the clichés of spy films such as James Bond or Mission Impossible. The lead character, Sterling Archer, is a super-spy who happens to prefer indulging in the more superficial aspects of spy craft. You know, the women, the drinking, the stylish clothing, fast cars, shooting at stuff and blowing things up, all while accomplishing very little. I can’t really recommend it because, well, let’s face it, it is not for everyone. When I say it is crass, I mean genuinely sophomoric which explains why it could only be produced as a cartoon. Much of the humour would never pass the censors as live action.

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