As Defining Moments opens, it defines itself as “a point in your life when you’re urged to make a pivotal decision, or when you experience something that fundamentally changes you.” It is not particularly deep, but it sets the stage for what is to come in Writer/Director Stephen Wallis’ tale of love and sadness amongst a group of interconnected individuals experiencing those profound Defining Moments in their own lives.
Casi (John Boyega) is an idealistic public defender in New York City. He wants to believe in the system, even though he knows it will keep failing him and his clients. On the verge of being disbarred, he takes on the case of Lea (Olivia Cooke), a former client and someone Casi happens to have a crush on. She has gotten mixed up in a scheme to steal an impounded car that is stashed with heroin and has her own motivations for wanting to be involved. As Casi begins seeing signs of impending universal destruction, he decides to get involved too.
Every time I see or hear the name Jean-Claude Van Damme, I chuckle to myself. I did not gravitate to his work nearly as much as I should have growing up in the 90s, but the work of his I did watch (specifically the ludicrous Die Hard riff, Sudden Death) was a whole lot of fun. Although he was a total blast to watch in more recent fare like JCVD and The Expendables 2 — where he hammed it up as the lead villain — he has not been nearly as prevalent or visible in the ensuing years trying his best to remain relevant. The same cannot be said for a few of his 90s competitors, but then the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ was never as wildly popular as some of those guys.
Which is a shame, since he’s an actual fighter and could probably kick the shit out of all of them (or at least look super cool doing the splits during the fight in a way literally no other man on Earth can). And he has one of the best last names for an actor ever.
I mention all of this because The Last Mercenary is not so much a return to form as much as it is a deliberately over-the-top play on those ridiculous 90s action thrillers. Even in saying that, it’s more of a parody of those kinds of movies than an actual proper entry in the genre. Van Damme plays Richard Brumère (aka ‘The Mist’), a legendary secret service operative who vanished into thin air nearly three decades ago. When his son Archi (Samir Decazza) is falsely accused of being an arms dealer and drug trafficker, Brumère comes out of hiding to protect him and help clear his name, all while evading the French authorities who desperately want to take him into custody.
Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) has just been accepted to film school. She is positively ecstatic at the thought of moving away from home and bonding with “her people”. Most of her family is excited too. Her father Rick (Danny McBride) however, just does not get it. They had a great relationship when she was younger, but now it is strained, and only gets worse when Rick insists he drives her and the rest of the family from Michigan to California in time for the first day of school.
Then a robot uprising happens – and humanity’s last hope suddenly lies with the Mitchell family.
That sounds like a wild description and The Mitchells vs. The Machines somehow becomes even wilder than that before the end credits roll. In some instances, it becomes downright chaotic and completely unhinged. And I loved every single minute of it.
A group of supervillains dubbed the “Miscreants” has been terrorizing the world since the 1980s and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has devoted her life’s work to developing a formula to create superheroes to fight against them. She has just finished perfecting a treatment – only to have her former best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally inject herself with it. Now the pair must learn to come together again in order to save Chicago from the group.
I am not sure what I expected from Thunder Force, the fifth collaboration between McCarthy and her Writer/Director husband Ben Falcone. This film has a higher concept hook than their previous films, yet somehow is about what you expect it to be – a lame superhero movie with a few fun moments and a whole lot of world building nonsense. It takes a bit too long to really get moving (blame the endless training montages), but fans of McCarthy’s work will likely enjoy her commitment to every pratfall and asinine moment Falcone asks of her. Should it do well, I have no doubt Netflix will spin the film into a franchise that digs a whole lot deeper into the mythos behind the Miscreants and likely brings new superheroes into the mix to fight alongside McCarthy and Spencer.
Shook and unsettled. That was how I felt after watching Promising Young Woman back in November. I rarely feel either of those emotions watching movies nowadays (especially during a raging pandemic when so little is genuinely knocking my socks off), and after it ended, it felt like entire scenes were seared directly into my brain. I kept thinking about Writer/Director/Producer Emerald Fennell’s debut feature for weeks on end, and kept coming back to what an incredible achievement it was to behold.
I finally received another chance to watch it again this week and hoped it was all hyperbole or something I was just remembering differently. I thought I would feel less shook knowing exactly where it was going. Less unsettled. But those same scenes and moments just struck harder. They echoed and reverberated more powerfully. I still felt the ground give out below and the wind get knocked right out of me. That is what kind of an unforgettable and uncompromising experience Promising Young Woman is. It makes for one of the very best films from last year – and one that might even be hard to top this year too.
I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.
It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate
the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was
so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even
bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for
that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in
my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me,
that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains
one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the
editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is
working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise,
nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was
when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been
so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films
have become the punchline in a bad joke.
And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say
that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was
slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds
as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.
So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?
I have been kicking myself for missing In Fabric when it screened during TIFF well over a year ago. I had scheduled it in for the second day of the festival and lined up diligently 40 minutes prior to showtime. It was my first year being a serious member of the press and I had quickly discovered that to maintain my schedule, it would involve a lot of running around between theatres and screens. Having already sat through 8 films by that point, I thought I had it all figured out. But I had not factored in the size of the screen and the number of seats for that particular screening, and stupidly thought that I would not have any issues entering despite the obscene number of people in line. My confidence took a bit of a hit when they cut off the line with ten people ahead of me. Somehow I held out hope that eleven magical seats would show up if I waited around, missing other potential screenings I could have ran into instead. But it was not to be for me, the few people ahead and the 100+ behind me.
TIFF made up for this by scheduling
multiple additional screenings of the film to meet the audience demand. As it
would turn out, I had other much more pressing movies to see literally every
single time they showed it. I was disappointed I missed out, but the
consolation was seeing literally everything else. A24 picked up the film for
release in the US soon after the festival (Mongrel Media picked it up for
Canada), so I assumed I would not have to wait all that long to see it. That
was September 2018.
Cut to December 2019. It is very cold outside, Christmas is coming, a whole other TIFF has come and gone, and I am just now finally seeing In Fabric. Some would call it a Christmas movie, so thematically the timing makes sense. But to say my expectations were super high would be an understatement.
I have been trying to write a review for Riley Stearns’ The
Art of Self-Defense for over a week now. I am at the point in my life where
free time is slowly dwindling down, and adulthood and the responsibilities that
come with it keep amping up. I do chores in and around the house, and by the
time I get to writing, I just end up staring at a blank Word document and
falling asleep. But in all of that time, I have not stopped thinking about
Stearns’ film. It has lingered at the back of my mind, popping up when I least
expect it and bringing me snide joy more times than I can count.
And I would like to think that would make Sensei proud.
But I also think that he would consider me less of a man for feeling this way. Probably
even less than that for using the words “snide joy” in a sentence.
If reading that sounds a bit toxic, offensive and more than slightly emasculating, than The Art of Self-Defense may not be for you. The tale of Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), his desire to learn how to defend himself, and his admiration and later obsession with the local dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) starts off innocuously and humourously enough. But around the halfway mark, it jumps the rails and morphs into the bleakest, darkest satire imaginable – something that practically wrecks of toxic fumes. And it happens to be one of the funniest comedies of the year thus far.
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are
about to finish high school. They are at the top of their class in academics,
and both have extensive plans for the fall and beyond. But on the eve of
graduation, they realize how much of the high school experience they missed out
on by spending all of their time studying. So they set out to party and change
the impressions their classmates have of them – that is, if they can find the
right address for the biggest party of the year.
I saw Booksmart just over two weeks ago and I am still laughing just thinking about some of the jokes and wild moments packed into it. I was afraid going in that the buzz out of the SXSW Film Festival would overhype and overtake the movie for me. But rather delightfully, Booksmart met and surpassed every single one of my expectations. It truly is the real deal. And while it is easy to read the plot description and believe it is like any number of other teenage coming-of-age comedies (or specifically assume it is a gender swapped Superbad clone), it is actually something much greater than that.