Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2016 Markademy Awards

There is literally nothing I could do for this year’s Markademy Awards that could possibly top the actual Oscars for pure bonkers.  I’m at a loss, folks.  I could’ve trained a flock of carrier pigeons to peck away at a pile of bird seed to reveal each winner’s name, but then it’d just turn out that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty replaced the seed with ball bearings.

It looked for all the world like Beatty’s pause before reading the winner was either a) him having a senior moment or b) him just hamming it up to draw out the suspense.  So Dunaway, intending to either bail him out or cut the nonsense, grabbed the card and the name of the listed film, going so quickly that she didn’t notice the discrepancy.  (Remember, she was acting fast.)  Long story short, that was the single biggest fiasco in Oscar history.  Hindsight being 20-20, Beatty missed an incredible chance at self-promotion by not ending his explanatory speech with “looks like the Rules Don’t Apply to me, folks!” and holding up a DVD.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the 2016 Markademy Awards!  Where you’d better believe I double-checked this post for any errors before publishing.

Actual Oscar nominees: Damien Chazelle/La La Land, Mel Gibson/Hacksaw Ridge, Barry Jenkins/Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan/Manchester By The Sea, Denis Villeneuve/Arrival
Actual Oscar winner: Chazelle

Alterna-ballot: Luca Guadagnino/A Bigger Splash, Pablo Larrain/Jackie, Richard Linklater/Everybody Wants Some!!, David Mackenzie/Hell Or High Water, Mike Mills/20th Century Women, Joe and Anthony Russo/Captain America: Civil War, Martin Scorsese/Silence
My ballot: Chazelle, Guadagnino, Jenkins, The Russos, Scorsese
My winner: Barry Jenkins

Obligatory “LOL at the Academy actually nominating Mel Gibson again.”  Aside from that one tone-deaf nod, this is a pretty strong list of nominees, even if I’m only duplicating two of of them on my actual ballot.  Silence is a film that I admire more than I actually want to watch again, though it’s inarguable that Scorsese is simply playing on a higher level than virtually anyone else.  I’m not familiar with Guadagnino’s past work but he emerged on my radar screen in a big way.  And say what you will about Chazelle the wonder boy, but I thought LLL was a hell of a movie, and this guy clearly is a big talent to watch in future years.

I’ll give the Russos their own paragraph just to acknowledge the incredible juggling act required for Civil War (which got strong consideration for the Best Picture Markademy Award).  They had to live up to the amazing Winter Soldier, live up to the original Civil War storyline from the comics even if the film adaptation version is significantly different, present the Cap/Iron Man conflict in a way that makes a case for either side, kind of apologize to the world for Age Of Ultron by making a “real” new Avengers movie, introduce a brand new franchise-carrying character in Black Panther, re-introduce Spider-Man in his new Tom Holland form and incorporate him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, give little character beats to literally eight other recurring heroes (Black Widow, Falcon, Winter Soldier, War Machine, Vision, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man), from the Marvel movies, introduce and develop a brand-new villain in Zemo, face real-world pressure of trying to outdo another big hero vs. hero movie in Batman vs. Superman (this ended up being not that hard), make it a Captain America movie first and foremost for fans of that specific series AND, finally, make it great.  No wonder it took two people to direct this; I’m surprised it didn’t take six. 

But not even the fabulous Russo brothers can overcome Barry Jenkins.  Chazelle gets the ‘wonder boy’ label because he’s only 32, but Jenkins is a mere 37 years old himself.  He made one movie eight years ago, puttered around trying to get several more projects off the ground in the interim, was a staff writer on the second season of The Leftovers (!) and then finally gets Moonlight made….and it’s a stone-cold classic.  This is an astonishingly good movie for anyone, let alone a filmmaker on just his second trip behind the camera.  I suspect Jenkins won’t have so much trouble getting his third film made.  I don’t begrudge Chazelle winning the Oscar since Jenkins was rewarded himself via the adapted screenplay Oscar, not to mention landing the big prize at the end of the night.

Actual Oscar nominees: Mahershala Ali/Moonlight, Jeff Bridges/Hell Or High Water, Lucas Hedges/Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel/Lion, Michael Shannon/Nocturnal Animals
Actual Oscar winner: Ali

Alterna-ballot: Tom Bennett/Love & Friendship, Ralph Fiennes/A Bigger Splash, Ben Foster/Hell Or High Water, Garrett Hedlund/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Yosuke Kubozuka/Silence, Tracy Letts/Indignation, Issey Ogata/Silence, Glen Powell/Everybody Wants Some!!, Peter Sarsgaard/Jackie, Donnie Yen/Rogue One
My ballot: Fiennes, Kubozuka, Ogata, Powell, Shannon
My winner: Ralph Fiennes

Let’s begin with what is probably the year’s deepest acting category, as while I don’t really have any issues with any of the nominated performances, I had better alternatives.  Ali is a worthy winner though admittedly (minor Moonlight spoiler here), I thought he’d have more screentime given all of the hype surrounding his performance.  Hedges is fine.  Shannon is heavily approaching Christopher Walken territory of being able to add crazy intensity to any film, no matter how good or bad.  (I’m still not sure what I thought of Nocturnal Animals, easily the WTF film of the year.) 

Lion’s unusual structure technically makes Patel a supporting role, though it’s still vaguely category fraud-esque to me.  HoHW is another tough movie for lead/supporting designations since it more or less has three lead roles (a la The Departed) split between two younger actors and a cagey veteran.  Chris Pine is clearly the lead, though between Bridges and Foster, I’d say Foster was the most supporting role while Bridges is in that Nicholson-esque netherworld between the two categories.  Foster therefore would’ve been my preferred HoHW mention for this category, in no small part because Ben Foster is well overdue for some Academy recognition.

So after a whole paragraph on category fraud, I’m giving my actual Markademy Award to a performance that really skates the line between lead and supporting.  For much of the year, in fact, I had Fiennes listed as one of my Best Actor candidates.  I’m sure you could take a stopwatch to clock amounts of screentime that point out my hypocrisy in awarding Fiennes while snubbing, say, Bridges or Patel, though there’s also a narrative consideration.  Fiennes’ role in A Bigger Splash is ultimately a secondary part to drive the action of the actual lead, Tilda Swinton’s character.  (Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson are both kinda in category limbo, though I’d say Johnson was supporting if I bothered to nominate her.)

Beyond just screentime, of course, Fiennes totally steals every scene he’s in.  Fiennes has a well-developed reputation as a serious and intense actor, though between this film, Hail Caesar! and the Grand Budapest Hotel, he’s starting to flex his comedic muscles.  Fiennes is also playing Moriarty in an upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as Holmes and Watson, and I mean, just take my money now.  Also, Fiennes’ full actual name is “Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes,” so you pretty much need a sense of humour if you’re growing up with such an ultra-British name.

Roll call for some other honourable mentions!  Everything about Kubozuka’s performance and character was fascinating, and he would’ve won if I’d taken a harder line with Fiennes as a lead actor….Not to be outdone on Team Silence, Issey brilliantly combined both humour and menace….Bennett finally channeled his poor man’s Ricky Gervais persona into something actually worthwhile….Letts is a classic “he had one scene, but man, what a scene” performance….Powell is hilariously douchey from start to finish…Sarsgaard avoids the pitfalls of a Kennedy impersonation to deliver fine work as RFK….if another set of Star Wars prequels is solely focused on Donnie Yen’s character, I won’t complain.

Actual Oscar nominees: Isabelle Huppert/Elle, Ruth Negga/Loving, Natalie Portman/Jackie, Emma Stone/La La Land, Meryl Streep/Florence Foster Jenkins
Actual Oscar winner: Stone

Alterna-ballot: Amy Adams/Arrival, Kate Beckinsale/Love & Friendship, Annette Bening/20th Century Women, Lily Collins/Rules Don’t Apply, Viola Davis/Fences, Rebecca Hall/Christine, Taraji P. Henson/Hidden Figures, Sarah Paulson/Blue Jay, Tilda Swinton/A Bigger Splash
My ballot: Bening, Davis, Hall, Portman, Swinton
My winner: Annette Bening

It’s weird to nominate Gosling and not Stone for the Markademy Award since she gave the better performance, though the Goz was aided by a very weak Best Actor field.  This year’s list of Best Actress contenders, conversely, was so stacked that while Stone was a worthy winner of the actual Oscar, you could just as easily argue in favour of another half-dozen names.  I actually had her seventh on my ballot, with the eternal Streep taking the #6 position.

We’ll talk more about Viola Davis in the next category, but suffice it to say, she was great.  Portman’s first 15 minutes were sort of “uh oh, this Jackie O impression is a little shaky, is this going to be the whole movie?” before morphing into straight fire.  ~~~ Swinton was amazing even barely saying a word.  The big dark horse nominee of the entire year was Rebecca Hall, an actress who I never considered to be even decent before her fantastic work in Christine.  Maybe I was blind to her talents, or maybe she’s a broken clock and this was one of her two correct times.

My winner is Annette Bening, from a rare film that I instantly wanted to see as an ongoing TV series just so I could spend more time with the characters.  Bening is the center of that great ensemble as a no-nonsense mother who nonetheless invites untold amounts of nonsense into her son’s life.  Doesn’t it feel like Bening should have an actual Oscar by now?  Will she be unofficially snubbed for life now since she’s married to Warren “Envelope Expert” Beatty?

Actual Oscar nominees: Viola Davis/Fences, Naomie Harris/Moonlight, Nicole Kidman/Lion, Octavia Spencer/Hidden Figures, Michelle Williams/Manchester By The Sea
Actual Oscar winner: Davis

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/20th Century Women, Dichen Lachman/Too Late, Kate McKinnon/Ghostbusters, Janelle Monae/Hidden Figures, Angora Rice/The Nice Guys, Molly Shannon/Other People
My ballot: McKinnon, Monae, Rice, Shannon, Williams
My winner: Kate McKinnon

“Mark, are you going to talk about category fraud all day long?”  I sure can!  Viola Davis gave a great performance and was wholly deserving of at least a nomination…as Best Actress.  Let’s be real here, this was a lead role.  At the end of the day I’m not too upset about Davis’ win since Kidman and Spencer both already have Oscars (“and probably didn’t deserve the nominations anyway,” he whispered”), Harris was fine but not award-worthy in my view. 

Michelle Williams….well, this is the eternal struggle of category fraud discussions.  She’s in MbtS for maybe ten minutes tops, yet one of her scenes is an absolute heart-wrencher and probably the key to the entire film.  Judging acting performances is often a case of apples vs. oranges anyway, but in this case especially, it’s not really fair to judge Williams’ ten great minutes against Davis’ 70-80 great minutes within the context of the same category.  Also, let’s not overlook how one Oscar snub begets another.  Hindsight being 20-20, Davis probably should’ve won Best Actress in 2011, so if the Academy is giving her a make-good Oscar this year, that now snubs Williams, who is quietly building up a hell of a resume.  Do you realize this is her fourth Oscar nomination?  From being the fourth or fifth most important person on Dawson’s Creek to having more career Oscar nods than Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford, James Cagney, Peter Ustinov, Julie Andrews and countless others.  Williams is only 36 and should still have many more chances to finally nab that Oscar, though if she ends up in 0-fer-life territory, she could point to 2016 as her coulda/shoulda year if the Academy had done its job and properly awarded Davis years earlier.  Or, Williams will finally win an Oscar while snubbing someone else and cycle begins anew!

But in any case, I’m giving the actual award to Kate McKinnon for her Danny Ocean-sized theft of the Ghostbusters reboot.  This movie carried a ton of baggage, not only from the general pressure of reviving a classic franchise but also the outsized internet fanboy backlash, plus the backlash to that backlash.  McKinnon cut through the Gordian Knot of this controversy simply by being hilarious — literally everything she said or did was funny.  Her reactions just standing in the background of a scene are usually funnier than anything in the foreground.  There was a video floating around the internet for about two seconds (before the copyright police got to it) of all the alternate takes McKinnon used for her dialogue and every improvisation was as good as the next.  Between this movie and her weekly domination of SNL, 2016 was the year of McKinnon.

Special shoutout to my pal Kyle, who has stated that the Markademy Awards post is one of the reading highlights of his year.  Aww, thanks buddy!  I mention Kyle here since I’m sure he’ll love this particular award since he loathed the Ghostbusters movie.  He also recently praised the Ed Helms Vacation remake, so I’m wondering if his comedy compass is a little off.  After all, Kyle finds me funny, so something clearly ain’t right.

Honourable mention roll call!  Speaking of SNL stars, holy lord, does Molly Shannon ever come out of nowhere with a heartbreaking performance….I’m assuming that Spencer’s higher profile and past-winner status helped her get the nomination from the Hidden Figures cast since Monae had the better performance….Rice is a star of the future, she more than held her own with Gosling and Russell Crowe….Gerwig is slowly becoming the Streep of the Markademy Awards….I’ve been singing Lachman’s praises since her days on Dollhouse, can someone please start giving her better roles?

Actual Oscar nominees: Casey Affleck/Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield/Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling/La La Land, Viggo Mortensen/Captain Fantastic, Denzel Washington/Fences
Actual Oscar winner: Affleck

Alterna-ballot: Joe Alwyn/Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Andrew Garfield/Silence, Hugh Grant/Florence Foster Jenkins, Jesse Plemons/Other People, Miles Teller/Bleed For This
My ballot: Garfield (for Silence), Gosling, Grant, Plemons, Washington
My winner: Denzel Washington

I can’t say I was too impressed with Affleck’s performance, and was hoping that the late-breaking Denzel momentum would be enough to net him that third Oscar.  Fun fact: only Streep, Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn (who won four) have won at least three acting Oscars.  Can’t help but think Washington would’ve fit quite nicely into that group, though obviously he still has plenty of time to nab that third trophy.

Some have claimed that Fences is a bit too overtly theatrical, or showy, or Washington chews the scenery a little too much….but man, if you put the two performances side by side, I’ll take Denzel all day every day over Affleck.  If you play the old “if they switched roles” game and magically aged Affleck 20 years to make it work, a Casey Affleck-led Fences isn’t as good a movie.  A mid-90’s Denzel Washington starring in MbtS takes that film in a dozen new directions and elevates it to a possible Best Picture winner.

As mentioned earlier, this was not a strong Best Actor year, aside from Washington as the hands-down easy winner.  Even my alternate ballot is mostly “yeah, they were fine, but…” choices.  My second choice was actually Plemons for his fantastic against-type work in Other People.  Plemons is quietly building up a fascinating career, and just when you thought he was settling into a niche as a distinct character type, he throws this Other People curveball at us.  Between this movie, Fargo and then actually getting engaged to Kirsten Dunst, Plemons is on quite a roll.

Actual Oscar nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell Or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight
Actual Oscar winner: Moonlight

To recap the rules of the Markademy Award Best Picture race, the following seven films are the ones I consider to be the cream of the crop for 2016.  They all pass the personal ‘this is a worthy best picture’ bar within my head, as in if any of these seven had won the real Oscar, I would’ve been satisfied.  The top seven almost could’ve been two tiers since 5-7 were pretty set in my mind but the top four were all legit contenders for the #1 spot.  It took some rethinking and even rewatching to figure things out, and…

1. Everybody Wants Some!!
2. Moonlight
3. Hell Or High Water
4. Captain America: Civil War
5. La La Land
6. Fences
7. 20th Century Women

First, the latter half of the draw.  As mentioned, 20th Century Women could’ve easily gone on for another 30 hours in my perfect world.  La La Land has its share of haters and it seems like there was enough of a backlash to actually cause that instantly legendary Oscar upset, though I must say, I really enjoyed it.  Fences is powerful enough as a film, I can’t imagine having to see it within the confines of a live theatre performance.  It would like staring into a blast furnace.

As noted earlier, Civil War had a huge laundry list of tasks to accomplish and ran through them with the efficiency of Hawkeye at a target range.  We probably have to start considering the Captain America movies to be the best comic book movie franchise, right?  First Avenger good, Winter Soldier was phenomenal and now Civil War is just as good if not even better given the higher degree of difficulty.  The Marvel movies are starting to overlap to the extent that it’s hard to set the Cap films aside as their own unique entity, per se; is there really anyone who is a fan of just the Cap movies on their own?  As in, “yeah, I didn’t bother with Avengers or Iron Man, but I’m all in on Captain America!”  Could one even necessarily watch Winter Solider and Civil War without needing a bunch of explanation about who the hell all these other characters are?  This all aside, in terms of sheer quality, the Cap movies are running neck-and-neck with Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  This might be worth a post of its own some day.

Hell Or High Water is the most straight-forward film on the list, just a badass modern-day Western crime movie.  Actually, strike the modern-day….you could’ve set the film 100 years ago in the old west with downgraded technology and told more or less the same story.  It is just (“just”?) an extremely well-made movie that I feel will be immensely rewatchable.

Moonlight becomes the ninth Best Picture winner in the last 11 years to also show up as a Markademy Award nominee, and the second straight Best Picture winner to finish at #2 on my list.  Let’s note that, all things considered, Moonlight was the single most unlikely winner in Oscar history.  How often does the Academy recognize movies with all-minority casts, or movies about homosexuality, or very low-profile indie movies, or movies that barely make any money?  And then how often does the Academy recognize a movie that does all four of these things?  The "only" thing Moonlight had going for it was that it was an incredible film, garnering about as close to universal acclaim as any Best Picture winner in recent memory.

If there’s a theme to the top three on my list, it’s that the movies have open-ended conclusions that leave you wanting more.  (Civil War is technically inconclusive as well, though obviously the story will continue in the umpteen upcoming Marvel movies.)  What will happen with Chiron and Kevin?  Will Hamilton ever settle his score with Toby Howard?  And what will happen throughout the entirety of Jake’s college career, though admittedly, the stakes seem a bit lower in Everybody Wants Some!! than in the other films.  Especially since the answer is probably just, “more baseball and partying.”

Moonlight and HoHW show you the key moments in the characters’ lives and you just want to learn of the aftermath.  The beauty of EWS!! is that aside from the technical “starting point” of Jake coming to college, it’s absolutely structured as just a few days in the lives of these kids.  Richard Linklater is about as good as anyone at making slice-of-life movies, be it Boyhood, the Before movies or (especially) Dazed & Confused, this movie’s spiritual heir.  I’ve always felt that every generation needs its own “teenagers just hanging around” type of movie.  The 70’s had American Graffiti reflecting the 60’s, the 90’s had Dazed & Confused reflecting the 70’s and now we have EWS!! reflecting the early 80’s.  We’re about 20 years away from reflecting on the 90’s, which will officially make me an old man.

Like D&C, Everybody Wants Some!! is the kind of movie you can watch over and over without fail.  The cast perfectly captures the “dudes hanging around” aesthetic, the dialogue is smart in its stupidity, the 1980’s period art design is so on-point in every sense that even Stranger Things would have to tip its cap.  There’s so little space amongst my top four picks that any would’ve been a worthy winner, but as it stands, Everybody Wants Some!! is my Markademy Award winner.  It was a great enough film that I’m even willing to overlook the silly exclamation points.

Here are my other ‘best’ films of the year, the ones that fell short of Best Picture consideration but would get a “oh yeah, that was quite good” recommendation from yours truly.

8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
9. Sing Street
10. Florence Foster Jenkins
11. Manchester By The Sea
12. Arrival
13. Into The Forest
14. A Bigger Splash
15. Julieta
16. Doctor Strange
17. The Nice Guys
18. The Witch
19. Lion
20. Maggie’s Plan
21. Silence
22. Other People
23. Rogue One, A Star Wars Story
24. Blue Jay
25. Christine
26. Ghostbusters
27. The Shallows

If you're wondering where the traditional "best scenes of the year" segment is, this year I spun it off into its own post.  Extra pageviews!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Best Movie Scenes Of 2016

The list of the year's best film scenes is usually saved for the annual Markademy Awards post, though thanks to some poor planning and timing on my part (plus the fact that the forthcoming Markademy post is already enormously long), you're getting it now.  Bonus content, yayyyy!

As always, these are the scenes that stuck in my head as particularly memorable or even great.  Some of these are extended sequences within a film, some are even simple one-liners.  Some scenes are particular highlights from great movies, others are the sole bright spot of otherwise dreadful films. 

35. Jackie speaks with the priest (Jackie)
34. "What does AEY stand for?" (War Dogs)
33. Jeannie’s massage (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates)
32. Marlon and Nemo meet the oyster (Finding Dory)
31. Mia’s audition (La La Land)
30. Conor says goodbye (A Monster Calls)
29. "Drive It Like You Stole It" (Sing Street)
28. Moana and Maui vs. the crab (Moana)
27. The story of the first McDonald’s (The Founder)
26. The Trinity confronts Doomsday (Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice)
25. The Inquisitor slumps down in his seat (Silence)
24. Sir James arrives (Love & Friendship)
23. The flamethrower battle with the bees (Popstar)
22. Deadpool tries to fight Colossus (Deadpool)
21. City Of Stars (La La Land)
20. Troy tells Rose about the new arrival (Fences)
19. Marla sings her song (Rules Don’t Apply)
18. Darth Vader boards the Rebel Alliance ship (Rogue One)
17. "What that i’twere so simple." (Hail Caesar!)
16. Doctor Strange figures out how to beat Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
15. Filming the "Riddle Of The Model" video (Sing Street)
14. "Toni Erdmann" shows up at the bar (Toni Erdmann)
13. Quicksilver evacuates the school (X-Men: Apocalypse)
12. Harry dances to "Emotional Rescue" (A Bigger Splash)
11. Marcus and Alberto try to order lunch (Hell Or High Water)
10. The Ghostbusters use their new gear against the ghosts invading Times Square (Ghostbusters)
9. Dealing with the sloths at the DMV (Zootopia)
8. "I thought that was a water truck!" (Captain America: Civil War)
7. Lee and Randi meet again (Manchester By The Sea)
6. Chiron and Kevin meet as adults (Moonlight)
5. Ines throws her birthday party (Toni Erdmann)
4. Marcus visits with the Dean (Indignation)
3. Gabe’s mom comes back as birch trees (Other People)
2.The "Help me get one more" sequence (Hacksaw Ridge)
1. Team Cap vs. Team Iron Man at the airport (Captain America: Civil War)

(Editor's note: I realize that #8 is technically part of #1, though it was such a good one-liner that it deserved to stand on its own.  Maybe the single funniest movie line of the year.  Good delivery, Rudd!)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hot! Live! Bruuuuuusic!

Dancing In The Dark
Okay, well, this is impressive and all, but MY last Mother's Day present involved a gift card at the Keg.  Take that, Bruce.  Anyone can dance with their mom (and sister) in front of thousands of people, but is that as good as a delicious steak?  The jury is still out!  Good thing for the video title, or else I'd just assume that Courteney Cox had aged horribly. 

Born In The USA (the whole album)
And hey, why stop at DitD when you realize that Bruce played the entire Born In The USA album during this concert?!  I dig the growing trend of an artist randomly playing one of their full records (or advertising it in advance, like U2's new Joshua Tree tour or Bruce's own recent River tour), and I enjoyed it myself when I got to see Pearl Jam play, of all things, Binaural start to finish.  Since BitU is one of my desert-island records, I would've been going bonkers realizing that Bruce was really doing the whole thing.  Bonkers, I tell you!

Tunnel Of Love
Aw man, I should've called this post 'Tunnel Of Live.'  Maybe I'll save it for my post all about live versions of Lightning Crashes, I Alone, The Dolphin's Cry, etc.  Expect that one to show up around 2059.

You Never Can Tell
I'm willing to accept that this isn't exactly the most complicated song to figure out on the fly, though I will NOT accept that this was a pre-arranged bit.  The E Street Band has too much integrity for that.  I've also seen Little Steven act before, and I don't think he could pretend to look quite that confused, so this seems legit.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Movie Reviewz

The Founder took kind of an interesting tack to differ from a lot of biopics.  It’s about 30% “the McDonald brothers were too small-time, and it took Ray Kroc’s vision to make McDonalds what it is,” and 70% “man, Ray Kroc was an ass.”  Sticking with the percentages, Michael Keaton played Kroc as a 33.3% split of Beetlejuice, Gil from the Simpsons and Dan Aykroyd’s character in Tommy Boy.  It was an okay movie and, admittedly, a pretty effective subliminal advertisement for McDonalds.  By the time it was over, I was starving for a burger. 


I was starving for Kleenex after seeing A Monster Calls since, after many years, we have another addition to the list of Movies That Made Mark Cry.  The others are…

1. E.T The Extra-Terrestrial, the scene when it looks like E.T. has died.  Eight-year-old Mark bought that one hook, line and sinker.

2. Rudy, the whole end sequence when Rudy finally gets to play.  This whole movie is corny as hell, but shut up!  I remember watching this with my family when I was a kid and we were all bawling.  Even watching it today, I get fired up by Jerry Goldsmith’s legendary score.

3. Up, the first 15 minutes.  Aside from possibly the ending of Old Yeller (which I’ve never seen), this very well might be the single most tear-inducing sequence in movie history.  I’ve never been in a theatre audience where virtually everyone was openly crying at the same time.*  And to have that sequence OPEN UP THE MOVIE?  That’s some sort of evil Pixar genius.  It just gut-punches you right from the get-go.

* = well, except for walking out of Batman vs. Superman.  “Why did we spend our money on that?  Wahhhhhh!”

Honourable mention: Rocky’s “my whole life is behind me” monologue in Creed, which had 39 years of movie history behind it and the single-best acting of Sly Stallone’s career.  I found myself getting a little misty-eyed but didn’t cry outright, so it didn’t quite count.

And now, there’s A Monster Calls, which is not a great movie overall but is basically specifically designed to make you weep.  It is impossible to watch the ending sequence with Felicity Jones in the hospital without thinking of one of your own loved ones.  Do not watch this one without a healthy amount of tissues nearby, or else you’ll have to use your popcorn bag like I did.  The butter burned my eyes! 


Spoilers ahead!

The twist ending of Split is technically not really a twist ending.  I mean, it does take place during the credits, after all; you can watch the entire movie proper and enjoy it as a stand-alone entity.  If anything, I was more impressed by M. Night Shyamalan’s very effective red herring of a twist — when we got the reveal of Kevin’s last name as ‘Crumb,’ I was fully expecting to learn that Casey’s name was actually K.C. and she (and everyone else in the film) was just another one of Kevin’s personalities.  This isn’t an uncommon twist ending for any multiple-personality storyline, so I was preparing myself to be disappointed having “figured it out,” only to be delighted at the actual final twist in the credits.

And hey, let’s give it up to Shyamalan for regaining some of his mojo.  That guy was in the tailspin of tailspins but this movie was legitimately good and “The Visit” even got some good reviews.  This could be a bigger comeback than Cavaliers/Warriors if Shyamalan is able to get back on track as a quality filmmaker.  Maybe it’ll take a full-fledged Unbreakable sequel to get it done.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Paris, Last Century

From the Paris 1914 project (tip of the cap to the io9 website), we have this collection of colour photographs from Paris between 1907-1930.  If this doesn't make you want to drop everything and fly to France, I'm not sure what will....barring, y'know, a lack of money or free time.  I truly must visit Paris some time, as it is not only one of the world's great cities, but it's also my well-traveled parents' absolute favourite place to visit.  I once walked in on my dad watching Taken, and asked him if he would ever go on a rampage to save me if I was ever kidnapped by international sex slavery ring, and he happily said, "Sure!  Any excuse to go to Paris!"  That is some top-quality parenting right there.  I can only hope he would save the sightseeing until after I'd been rescued.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


While washing my hands in a McDonald's washroom today, an old guy walked in and began (unprompted) to talk at length about his recent prostate surgery.  So, my Valentine's Day could've been better.  I need some Outkast and Bruce to ease the pain!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Worst Movies Of 2016

Of all the dozens of films I watched in 2016, these were the bottom dozen.  Some outright terrible, a few more ‘really disappointing’ than bad due to higher expectations, but all in all, twelve movies you can feel safe in avoiding for the rest of your life.

12. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice….As I wrote last March, the last hour or so of this movie is a legitimately entertaining battle, culminating in the cool moment of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all teaming up to take on Doomsday.  “But Mark,” you might ask, “if you enjoyed a whole hour of the movie, why does it still make your bottom 12?”  Because, hypothetical strawman question-asker, everything before that last hour was complete and total garbage.

11. Central Intelligence….Perhaps an important moment in cinema history, as it could mark the dual moment that both Kevin Hart and the Rock’s acts both started wearing thin at the same time.

10. Jason Bourne….In a way I feel like this film should be higher (lower?) on the list since it’s certainly the most pointless movie of 2016.  I think humanity as a whole had comfortably moved on from the Bourne franchise, with even the returns of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass not enough to rouse much interest.  This was less a movie than it was a set of Jason Bourne madlibs.  “Bourne gets into a big chase in LAS VEGAS.  The word ‘Treadstone’ is mentioned SEVENTY-ONE times.”
9. I Saw The Light….Tom Hiddleston plays Hank Williams in a retread of every musical biopic you’ve ever seen.  Get this, as Hank becomes more famous, he starts to lose sight of his family!  And he develops a bad drinking problem!  This is completely unexplored territory!  I mean come on, “Walk Hard” already mocked all these cliches into the ground ten years ago.  All this was missing was a scene where Hank has a dream about his brother being cut in half.  It’s amazing that Hiddleston dated Taylor Swift and that somehow was only the second-most joyless country music-related experience of his year.

8. Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates….Make no mistake, this is a very bad movie.  It does, however, have one scene that admittedly made me laugh, involving Kumail Nanjiani as a very thorough masseur.  I went to see Nanjiani perform a standup show a few months ago and, during his audience Q&A section, I almost considered asking him about this scene.  I ultimately decided against it for multiple reasons, including the fact that I didn’t want to admit to a crowded auditorium that I’d actually seen this film.

7. London Has Fallen….Your typical brainless action movie, made all the more brainless by the fact that the heroes win just about the most pyrrhic victory possible.  It’s one of those “well, the terrorists caused untold damage and killed several world leaders in an event that surely caused incalculable global political damage, but the main good guys survived, so yay, happy ending?!” types of movies.  If you’re upset at me for more or less spoiling the plot of London Has Fallen for you, then you need to get out more.

6. Masterminds….This one only ranks sixth on the master list, but #1 in the sub-category of Completely Unfunny Comedy Starring The Most Comic Actors Who Mark Usually Finds Hilarious.  The general rule of thumb for Zach Galifianakis is that he’s funny in any role aside from the “emasculated southern man” character that he insists on shoehorning into basically everything he does.
5. It’s Only The End Of The World….Speaking of actors I like in bad movies, this one has Marion “Mark’s Favourite Actor” Cotillard and it’s STILL in the bottom five.  This film seems like it’s always a hair away from becoming a spoof of a family melodrama where everyone is either openly yelling at each other or having emotionally-loaded conversations, except no, it’s actually just a family melodrama where everyone is either openly yelling at each other or having emotionally-loaded conversations.  Virtually the entire film is shot in closeups or medium closeups, to boot, since Xavier Dolan is a lousy director wants to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the audience. 

4. Demolition….With a nod to Peter Griffin’s review/dismissal of The Godfather, ”it insists upon itself” is easily the Family Guy line I use the most often in day-to-day life.  It is also the subject of another sub-category, the “Insists Upon Itself” award for movie that is way too impressed with its own pretensions.  I’m shocked that IOTEOTW didn’t take this award since Xavier Dolan probably has “Insists Upon Itself” tattooed across his chest, but Dolan didn’t reckon on a Jake Gyllenhaal movie where Jake mourns his dead wife by breaking things and writing customer complaint letters about a vending machine.  I was bitterly disappointed that this wasn’t a biopic about the old WWF tag team champions, with Gyllenhaal playing Ax and Naomi Watts playing Smash.

3. Suicide Squad….Whereas the studio heads behind the DC Comics movie universe can’t help micro-managing films about Batman and Superman, the thought was maybe they’d leave the lower-tier characters of the Suicide Squad alone and actually let the movie be good?  Oh, what a naive thought that was.  David Ayer has made good films before (Fury, End Of Watch) but he should be embarrassed for having directed such a sloppy movie.  From the editing to the terrible acting* to the incoherent story, this was honestly one of most amateurish movies I’ve ever seen.  It’s very easy to pile on the nonstop dreadfulness that is the DC Comics movie universe, but remember this, I was a childhood comic book nerd.  I *want* these movies to be good.  Why does DC insist on making this so hard?   

* = Margot Robbie seems to have escaped criticism but I include her in the ‘terrible acting’ category as well.  I’m not sure what character she was playing, but it wasn’t Harley Quinn.

2. Dirty Grandpa….In case you thought “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates” was going to be the only raunchy comedy on this list starring Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza, think again.  This is less a comedy than it is humanity crying for help.  This film is the alpha and the omega of the “Anything For A Paycheque” era of Robert De Niro’s career.  The biggest laugh I got from this movie was my buddy Dave telling me he watched it with his parents. 

1. The Bronze….I thought about ranking this as the #3 movie just for the “Bronze in third place” joke but I can’t help but think that Dirty Grandpa and Suicide Squad are slightly better movies.  Just look at that sentence: “Dirty Grandpa and Suicide Squad are slightly better movies.”  I never thought I’d write such a thing but, here we are.

This might be the least-known entry on the list, so here’s a recap of the premise.  Imagine if Kerri Strug was a terrible person and had been leaching off her fame for the last 20 years.  End premise.  This is thin gruel for satire, and The Bronze manages to make the least of it.  It’s one of those jokeless comedies that is so convinced that its premise is so inherently funny that it doesn’t feel the need to stoop to actually getting laughs.  It’s 90 minutes of Melissa Rauch acting like the worst person on earth before a (spoiler alert) Mr. Burns-style change of heart has her back in everyone’s good graces by the movie’s end.

Acting awards!

Worst Actor: Robert De Niro, Dirty Grandpa
Worst Actress: Melissa Rauch, The Bronze
Worst Supporting Actress: Nathalie Baye/It’s Only The End Of The World
Worst Supporting Actor: Jesse Eisenberg/Batman vs. Superman
Worst Supporting Actor: Jesse Eisenberg/Batman vs. Superman…this wasn’t a mistaken duplicate, I just think Eisenberg was so bad that he deserves two awards.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Chicken Family

When I was a little kid, my family went to upstate New York once for one of my brother’s hockey tournaments.  We’re all staying in a little motel on a Saturday afternoon, nothing to do but watch local TV, which is always amazing.  Between cheesy low-budget ads to really esoteric topics* on the area news, nothing beats local TV.

* = "Mrs. Gertrude Johnson scored four bingos in a row at the church’s local bingo night!  Those in attendance…were impressed!"

I’m like eight or nine years old at this point, so I’m watching cartoons.  And all throughout the afternoon, the station kept running promos for the fact that Looney Tunes was coming up at 4pm.  Like, it was clearly a BIG DEAL for this station had the rights to Looney Tunes or something, or else they saw him as the absolute staple of its Saturday afternoon TV block.  I have no idea about syndication costs or if it really was impressive that this little small-town station scraped together enough cash to pay for the rights to these cartoons, but honestly, eight-year-old me wasn’t impressed.  It’s like fine, Bugs Bunny, we get it.  Could we not have a promo pop up on the screen every five minutes to remind me of a program coming up three hours from now?  It’s interfering with my Transformers-watching.

And those promos, I remember them to this day.  One of them, especially, I remember to this day.  They all had a gimmick related to different Looney Tunes characters.  Like, it’d be a picture of Sylvester with the caption "The Cat Family," and another caption saying "Looney Tunes at 4pm, sufferin’ succotash!"  Or it’d be Bugs Bunny and "The Rabbit Family — Looney Tunes at 4pm, don’t go any-hare!"  Pepe Le Pew and "The Skunk Family — Looney Tunes at 4pm, you’d have to be a stinker to change that channel!"  On and on like this for every character in the Looney Tunes family.

But, the one I distinctly remember was the Foghorn Leghorn promo.  It was, and I quote, “The Chicken Family — Looney Tunes at 4pm, you won’t be able to finger yourself away from the TV!

Even at age eight, I knew something was a bit off about that one.  "Finger yourself away from the TV…" isn’t a normal human phrase.  That’s not something people say.  Outside of the term we’re all thinking, the only other uses for ‘fingering’ in any context are piano-playing, pickpocketing, and identifying someone in a police lineup.  The promo used in the context of removing oneself or preventing oneself from doing something, which makes no sense.  Have you ever heard someone say "I left a steak on the counter and my dog was headed right for it, but fortunately I was able to finger him away in time."

All of the other puns were pretty straight-forward, whereas this one seemed a bit too laboured.  It had all the makings of a promo guy trying to fit a dirty joke in there and then explaining to his boss, "No no, it’s about chicken fingers!  Foghorn Leghorn, obviously, he’s a chicken.  You can make chicken fingers out of him!  Don’t you see?!"

More and more people are cutting the cord these days or avoiding TV altogether, which is a shame since we always need local stations.  Where else will you find out how the local high school football team did, or who’s running for mayor, or what this summer’s big musical at the local theatre is, or, sure, even how Gertrude did at bingo night?  In losing local TV, we lose the incredible unintentional comedy (or, in this case, come on-that’s-gotta-be-intentional comedy) of local TV.

The promo is even funnier, by, the way, if you read it in Foghorn Leghorn’s voice.  Admittedly, everything is funnier if you read in Foghorn Leghorn's voice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

Some thirty-odd years ago, Werner Herzog told fellow filmmaker Errol Morris that if Morris got his documentary "Gates Of Heaven" made, Herzog would eat his shoe. Well, sure enough, Morris got his movie made, and Herzog was a man of his word.  A short film was made detailing this wager, which I highly recommend watching.

Highlights include Herzog...

* ...wanting to declare actual war on commercials. As in taking a crew of soldiers and invading, like, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
* ...showing up in America looking like a cross between Gene Hackman and Borat.
* ...comparing filmmaking to cooking, then comparing it to walking on foot. What?
* ...realizing he's somehow gone a year without cooking a meal for himself. Geez, I subsist largely on a diet of peanut butter and rice, and even I cook more often than that.
* ...telling an insane story about throwing himself onto a flaming group of midgets, and then saying he would throw himself into a cactus if all the midgets survived. Then pointing out how he still has cactus pricks lodged in his knee "but they don't hurt."
* ...encouraging Berkeley students to steal film equipment and resources if need be, in order to make their own movies.
* ...and his whole "extremely pure film" critique of Gates Of Heaven, which is no doubt said with total conviction and indeed GOH is a legendary documentary. But Herzog even sounds funny when he's being completely sincere.
* ...explaining how he's eating the very shoe he wore when he made the wager with Morris, since he would've had lighter track shoes "but I'm not a coward."
* ...answering philosophical questions about film, art and humanity while he's in the midst of chowing down on his shoe.
* ...explaining how being a filmmaker inevitably turns out into a clown. Again, while he's in the midst of chowing down on his shoe.
* ...actually summing up this whole situation with grace and making a poignant statement about the art of filmmaking.

Werner Herzog is a riot.

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Secret Of Brim

So my friend Meryl recently showed me a cute text sent to her from her friend Emily, and I couldn't help notice that Emily had begun the text with "hey, bestie!" though both are grown women in their 30's.  This led to me texting my buddy Trev, a.k.a Boy Emily* and wondering why we didn't refer to each as 'bestie' in our regular text conversations.

* = both are redheads, both are very pleasant people...uh there is no third reason.  Two is enough, right?

This led to a few days of including the word 'bestie' in literally every text, concluding with Trev saying "while I like the sentiment, we need to find a word that doesn't make us sound like 12-year-olds."  This led to suggestions like Bro-ey, Broseph and Brimmy Bro Bro Junior Brabadoo.  The last suggestion was, of course, a Simpsons reference, since maybe 15% of everything Trev and I say to each other is from the Simpsons.

So now we're ending texts by calling each other 'Brimmy' and 'Brims.'  Frankly, I'd like to keep this going for the rest of our lives and never explain it to others.  (Well, unless they've read this post.)  (Which is doubtful.)

Now, you may be wondering why it's "Brimmy Bro Bro Junior Brabadoo" since the original Simpsons line was Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo.  It's because I screwed up and thought 'Jimmy' was the original line, a mistake so egregious for a so-called massive Simpsons fan that I hang my head in shame.  It's the opposing of brimming with pride.