Monday, March 11, 2019

Seen in February… 

Remembering a divorce from the animated short Weekends. Image via Gigazine

The shortest month apparently also yielded the shortest list of films. I think I spent more time napping and rewatching old comforts to make note of here (for instance, bingeing on all eight of the Harry Potter series). Here is what I did see.

Oscar Shorts: Live Action

This collection of live action short films that had been nominated for the Academy Awards were all uniquely frightening and veered heavily towards endangered children as an unconscious theme. Two French Canadian films were nominated and while one was a thoughtful piece about lost and unrequited love (Marguerite), the other (Fauve) gave us two bored young boys playing lazily around an industrial site until something goes wrong. A Spanish film (Mother) plays out entirely in a small apartment over a few minutes of a phone call from a lost child on a faraway beach that would be the panic of anybody.The British nominee (Detainment) re-enacts the harrowing transcripts of two boys who led an infant from a local shopping mall to the train tracks where, inexplicably, they murder the tot. This film, though short was almost unbearable to watch and the young actors who portrayed the boys were incredible. The winning short, Skin, from the USA was an ugly look into the family life of a racist but whenever I outlined the plot to anyone they guessed the outcome because the story had all the subtlety of MAGA hat.

A mom loves her little dumpling in Bao. Image via The Movie DB

Oscar Shorts: Animation

This was another collection of Academy nominated shorts where Canada was well represented with three nominees. The winning Pixar film, Bao, was set in the Toronto home of an aging Chinese mother who imagines a dumpling comes to life but is in fact a metaphor for losing her own son who has recently left home. It has all the trademarks of a Pixar film including an impressively large crew. Late Afternoon, from an Irish filmmaker is a more personal story of a elderly woman with dementia ebbing in and out of her disjointed memories and her relationship with her care taker. Animal Behaviour is another Canadian nominee from the creators of Bob's Birthday and is a simple set up of a support group of animals being helped through their anxieties by a canine therapist (a therapy dog? Oh I just got that). The third Canadian nominee (also a Pixar employee), Weekends is a quiet and atmospheric memory of a kid shuttling between his divorced parents' homes. It's really a beautiful and impressionistic (and painterly) rumination of how a child experiences a divorce and how an adult remembers that time. Unfortunately it didn't really have a plot or narrative which worked against it. An American nominee, One Small Step is a super cute story of a young Chinese-American girl dreaming of becoming an astronaut. One aspect of a lot of short films is how many times they are wordless or without dialogue. It seems to make the stories seem more universal but maybe also lean on stereotypes or clichéd tropes. Still, who isn't moved by a little girl realizing her dreams which are bittersweet because the father who encouraged her had passed away before she had achieved her goals. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it.

Molly Bloom contemplates her future in Molly's Game. Image via The Movie DB

Molly’s Game

This film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an aspiring Olympic skier who after a career-ending injury takes a year off before starting law school only to start running a very high end and exclusive underground poker game. I wasn't planning on watching this but Jessica Chastain plays against type in this film and drew me in. She plays a very smart and confident woman who realizes, against her better judgement, that men be coddled by an attractive woman in a very tight dress. Chastain plays Bloom as the smartest person in the room who keeps making bad decisions - but she makes them very well. Why didn't she stop as the stakes of her quasi-legal gambling business start to spiral? Perhaps it was her insanely competitive spirit to win everything driven by her compulsively harsh father, played by Kevin Costner or was it that she couldn't stomach disappointing her father while at the same time getting involved in a criminal act just to spite him? There's some kind of Freudian crap going on and it is an Aaron Sorkin film so of course there is plenty of clever banter even as it lacks emotion (another Sorkin trait). Either way it's a very compelling story even if its ending seems too Hollywood to be believed. One of the more salacious parts of the story was that an actor who was an accomplished card player, used his celebrity to bring wealthy players to the table and when he was unhappy with his cut he pulled the plug on the operation in what could only be described as a "jerk move". That actor? Apparently it was the unassuming star of three Spider-man films, Tobey Maguire.

It turns out the kids are surprisingly alright in Netflix's The End of the F***ing World. Image via The Movie DB

The End of the F***ing World

This Netflix series about a teen-age British Bonnie and Clyde is based on a comic book and as you can tell by the title, not a kid's comic book. James is most likely, possibly, definitely a psychopath in the making while Alyssa is probably only a sociopath. The funny thing is, they're good for each other and better together than apart. Over the 8 episodes, the pair wreck a car, berate a pedophile, break into abandoned homes, encounter a possible serial killer, commit their own sordid crime, rob a gas station and find an estranged parent. Kids will be kids. This is a surprisingly funny though dark series with a weirdly feel-good ending. Even more surprising, despite a seemingly definite end to a main character, a second season was just announced.

You probably won't like this road trip as much as Del Toro and Depp did in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Image via The Movie DB

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Whew boy. This has always been on my "should see" list, due to its cult popularity and well known performances by Johnny Depp as a partially fictional version of Hunter S. Thompson and Benicio Del Toro as his drug dealing lawyer. Based on the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson and fatally directed by Terry Gilliam this film should be a hard pass. I'd almost like to hear exactly what fans of this film like about it just so I could spit-take in their face. It is terrible. Del Toro is suitably unhinged but now I know what inspired Jim Carey's Grinch performance: Depp's inimitable and I suppose "dedicated" embodiment of Thompson. The only really good thing about this film is the poster and DVD cover art by British artist Ralph Steadman.

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