Posts Tagged ‘notes from the back row’


MoneyBall, Killer Elite, Abduction

September 22, 2011

Notes from the Back row- Sept 20, 2011

by Feet Banks

Brad Pitt makes good movies, drinks strong coffee and has the hottest girlfirend ever

Everyone loves an underdog, especially Hollywood. It also loves Sports Dramas because sports are a shared experience and movies are a shared experience and when you start stacking shared experiences on top of each other there is money to be made.
Certainly, Sports Dramas are incredibly formulaic – the underdog team/athlete who, against all odds, uses grit and some new ideas (and often an enigmatic leader) to show the world that it’s okay to dream. In Sports flicks it’s even acceptable to lose the big game so long as you gave it your all and no one expected you to get that far in the first place. There is a formula, it works, Hollywood loves it.
The same goes for real-life. Team sports have become a numbers game because the players all compete at such a high level and by evaluating statistics and running the right formula you can push for glory. Numbers can’t guarantee victory, but the law of averages is called a law because it’s proven effective. In Moneyball, based-on-truth and opening Friday, Brad Pitt plays the guy who figured that out.
Actually, he plays Al Beane, failed-ballplayer-turned-manager of the 2001-2002 Oakland A’s baseball team. Beane is the guy who believed in the guy who figured that out. That guy was Paul DePodesta, an Ivy-Leauge numbers geek who applied numerical formulas and forged a successful team out of non-superstar players with the right statistics. In Moneyball DePodesta’s played by Jonah Hill (Superbad, Cyrus) who, together with Pitt, shakes the foundation of baseball’s long-entrenched establishment and changes professional sports forever.
It sounds a bit like the Facebook movie for baseball nerds (and The Social Network writer Aron Sorkin co-wrote the Moneyball script) but bear in mind that Brad Pitt is the most trustworthy and consistently entertaining movie star working today– he simply doesn’t make shitty movies.
This time Pitt, who’s also credited as a producer, knocks it out of the park. So does Jonah Hill. Director Bennet Miller (Capote) provides a journeyman support cast, plenty of room for his actors to have fun, and a zinger, fast-talking script by Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York) and the aforementioned Sorkin.
The result is one of the best sports movies since Murderball and the best baseball movie since Major League. Moneyball is based on a true story and has a realistic feel with unique, funny scenes and enough heart to entertain a wider audience while still stirring up those same old feelings you get with every good sports movie. Moneyball is money in the bank, and Oscar bait to boot.
On the other end of the spectrum, Killer Elite also opens Friday. It’s a gritty genre story about assassins trying to kill other assassins while shit blows up all over the place. Sounds awesome right? Killer Elite is not rocket surgery but it was produced by the people behind The Bank Job and for fans of well-made pulpy genre flicks it delivers. Plus it stars Jason Stratham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro shooting a machine gun. ‘Nuff Said.
The other movie opening is Abduction, a Taylor Lautner (Twilight) action movie with not much action and too much shirt-taking-off. This one will certainly be a shared experience, just not for anyone with nuts or older than 16.
Of course, Whistler’s blood-soaked, home-grown cinematic highlight is also coming up this October 30 with the Tenth Anniversary of B-Grade Horrorfest. Ten years of local gore, nudity and artistry on the silver screen. As far as shared experiences go, this beats hanging out in the locker room every time. Tickets go on sale Oct 1 at



September 22, 2011

Notes from the back row. Sept 12

Transformers 3 made over $765 million overseas, Imagine how much more that would be if megan fox had stayed in the picture...

I’ve met a lot of rude, shitty Europeans in my life (and by ‘met” I mean served food to) but the truth is there are lots of good ones too and Hollywood, more than ever, needs that Euro touch.
The way Hollywood operates is to go after sure things. That kind of makes sense with millions, potentially billions of dollars on the line, but it means they churn out sequels, remakes and franchises based on properties with built-in fanbases (comic books like Avengers, teenage-bodice-rippers like Twilight, literary phenoms like Harry Potter.)
Hollywood also loves dumbed-down movies of recognizable shit they know is not too difficult for the foreign (non-english speaking) market to understand. For example- 2012, the underwhelming apocalyptic movie that will never be cool unless the world does actually end next year? It made $166 Million domestically and $603 Million overseas! Transformers 3? Domestic grosses¬— a decent $350 Million (without Megan Fox,) overseas— $765 Million smackers. Even Avatar the biggest movie ever took $760 Million at home, over $2 Billion away. The sad truth is that Hollywood doesn’t really need to worry about the domestic audience.
And why should they? The domestic audience is pretty useless anyhow— we are afraid to spend our money on anything we aren’t familiar with (not you and I, dear reader, but almost everyone else living amongst us.) We too, like to go with the perceived sure thing– these days sequels and remakes.
Take The Hurt Locker – not mind-blowing, but it won the Best Picture Oscar yet grossed a measly $17 Mil domestically, a quarter as much as Transformers 3 made at your local cinema (without Megan Fox.)
After suffering through a summer of American movies as appealing as a colonoscopy delivered by Andre the Giant (who was 7-foot-4 and had fingers the size of Japanese eggplants) Hollywood is in dire need of some fresh, cultured, intelligent blood. That same attitude that makes Euros poor tippers at the restaurant helps them make superior films in the cinema–They don’t give a shit what we think, they do what they want and they make movies with that zest of creative passion.
Drive, directed by a Dane, Nicholas Winding Refn, opens Friday and stars Canadian Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Lars and the Real Girl) as ‘Driver” a lonely loner whe drives for a living, a shady living. He gets mixed up, thanks to love, in a foul scheme and it’s all quiet, tonal awesomeness and balls-out bloody “F#ck Yeah” from there on in.
“WingDing” Refn brings a ultra-composed raw aesthetic that’s stripped down, patient and quiet like Beat Takeshi’s Kids Return or Antonioni’s Blow Up, but with big, sloppy exit wounds and gallons of sprayed blood, not to mention some doozy car chases. Drive isn’t perfect, Carey Mulligan (An Education) gets saddled with a weakfish love-interest role but for the most part Refn its damn entertaining and refreshing to see someone take a new (if hyper-violent) approach to a classic idea.
Fear not though, American film is not dead, watch Scorcese, Tartantino or the Coen Brothers for proof. And Canadians are always on the rise —Michael Dowse’s Fubar 1 and 2 belong in a time capsule to explain “earth” to alien civilizations, and his latest, a hockey flick called Goon was a huge hit last week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
But the beautiful continent of Europe, with directors like Joe Wright (Hanna) Pedro Almodovar (An Education) and Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) continue to breath new life into our broad-audience-appeal-based film industry. We colonialists could learn a thing or two and here’s hoping the Euros keep sending their films our way.


Sept 1/11- Cultural Mysteries Revealed!

September 7, 2011


Notes from the Back row- Aug30

It’s officially been one of the shittiest summers in recent memory— cinematically speaking— so let’s salvage what we can and examine Mila Kunis, specifically how she is the next generation’s Angelina Jolie and we can therefore chart her career to learn more about the “kids these days.”
The awesome thing is that Mila played “Young Gia” in 1998’s Gia, which is one of Angelina’s standout films, noteworthy for Angie’s commitment to a risky role as well as the nudity and lesbianism. Only 23, Ms Jolie got an Emmy nomination for Gia but she’d already hit big with movie lovers (and lovers of lips) by stealing the show in the young-love, computer-crime thriller Hackers (which easily predicted an era when renegade computer nerds would ANONYMOUSLY hack into governments, banks and big businesses to steal and peruse data. )
Mila Kunis didn’t hit her naked-lesbian-movie phase until age 27 with last years Oscar-winning Black Swan. The kids these days are less rambunctious, 27 is the new 23, but our culture is pushing them into showbiz earlier— Mila started TV’s That 70’s Show when she was just 15. Angelina was modeling at that age but didn’t start seriously in film for another two years.
Angie followed Gia by winning an Oscar (Girl, Interupted) then doing a bunch of flicks with great nudity and sex scenes. 2001’s Original Sin saw her in various compromising positions with sex-symbol du jour Antonio Banderas– Angie was 26. Mila just completed the new version of celebrity sexy, a flick with Justin Timberlake called Friends with Benefits – she’s 28.
The funny thing about Friends with Benefits (other than the supporting cast) is that while it doesn’t show any real true nudity, it is chock full of Mila pulling on or off her pants and all the sex jokes are about things like cunnilingus, genital grooming and anal sex. Images are not taboo to a generation raised on easy-access Google nude pics. Actions are taboo now— “weird” sex acts and voyeuristic undressing whereas in the old days a good look at some bouncing titties or heavy thrusting would suffice. No longer, the kids have evolved.angelina
Angie, of course, moved away from the sex (not counting Taking Lives) after she became a mega-star with Lara Croft and shifted into overdrive- becoming a UN Ambassador, adopting/having kids, doing voice-over work for cartoons (Shark Tale, Kung Fu Pandas) still getting Oscar Nominations (The Changeling, A Mighty Heart) and marrying (essentially) Brad Pitt.
Also no stranger to voice work (Meg in The Family Guy) we’ll see what Mila has up her sleeve for her post-lesbo phase. You can bet her career/life path will be less full-on than Angelina (the kids are less motivated nowadays- rather than find this generation’s Brad Pitt Mila had apparently been dating Macaulay Culkin.) There is, however, no denying Mila’s talent, beauty or drive (two cunnilingus movies in two years) so she’ll do just fine, banking on her comedy chops for a few films before finding that action picture that spirals her into the big time.


Speaking of the future, there’s a historical spaceman movie opening. Apollo 18 is a PG-13 horror-sci-fi about back-in-the-day American astronauts re-visiting the moon for a secret mission. And then they find giant Transformers— just kidding. Actually there were no previews (not usually a good sign but for a horror it’s actually better this way) so all I know is Apollo 18 looks to be shot entirely on in-narrative security cameras and has a real Paranormal Activity vibe going. Also, even though the flick drops Friday there’s already an Apollo 18 video game/puzzle that you can download and play on Facebook. Kids these days…



Raunch, Help, and Cheating Death

August 17, 2011

emma stone is a great help

Notes from the back row. Aug 9

Three worthy flicks

Raunch comedy is still Hollywood’s go-to for summer laughs. So far Bridesmaids has made the biggest splash (and a shitload of cash) by custom-catering raunch to the female crowds this week the dudes get a shot when 30 Minutes or Less, opens Friday at the Whistler Village 8 and the Garibaldi 5 in Squamish.
Danny McBride (Hot Rod, Pineapple Express) and Nick Swardson (Blades of Glory) star as two losers with a get-rich-quick scheme that involves kidnapping a hapless pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg from Zombieland, The Social Network), strapping a bomb to him and forcing him to rob a bank in order to pay a hitman hired to kill McBride’s rich father. Said pizza guy enlists the help of his ex-best friend (Aziz Ansari of 40-Year-Old-Virgin) and the dual-buddy-flick screwball comedy ensues.
30 Minutes or Less director Rueben Fleischer (Zombieland) doesn’t take things as far, or as dark, as he could—much of the comedy feels a bit standard issue but there are definitely some good laughs to be had. And few actors working today can curse as artfully as Danny McBride— this one is certainly not for the easily offended.
There are no decent female roles at all (unless you count “the stripper” and “the hot sister”) and the plot and story are utterly unbelievable, stupid almost. I think that is why I like it— stupid done right. 30 Minutes or Less, at just 83 minutes long, is “high” comedy that really motors.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Help is a sentimental drama about three extraordinary women in 1960s Misssissippi who band together over a secret writing project that tears down the societal norms and builds up a brave new day. I think this one is based on a famous book or something but it looks like one of those feel-bad/feel-good racism stories in the same vein as The Blind Side, that football movie that earned Sandra Bullock her Oscar. The Help has no football but stars Emma Stone (Superbad, Easy A) as the white girl who sides with the “help” (black maids and nannies who are generally treated worse than shit) to shake things up and get the times a changin’ for the better.
The Help doesn’t look too sappy though, which is always a danger with these kinds of films and I’m betting this is a perfect grandma and mom flick. It seems like a well-made, uplifting tale but it’s also two hours and seventeen minutes long so buy the extra bag of M&Ms and keep a few napkins handy, this one has tearjerker potential.
Speaking of napkins, the Final Destination franchise is infamous for it’s deadly, gruesome money shots and while there were no pre-screenings for Final Destination 5 it does have extra local appeal because the opening disaster scene features the collapse of Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Bridge.
The premise is nothing new—five survivors who cheated Fate/Death battle to survive while getting picked off one by one via incredibly elaborate death scenes. Aside from raising some philosophical questions about predetermination and the true value of life, Final Destination 5 is really little more than locally shot Death-Porn. Which is good enough really, this franchise is going strong. I generally label these flicks as rentals but who hasn’t been kind of sketched out going over the Lion’s Gate Bridge (its really old) so I’m for sure checking this out on the big screen. Real movie fans should drive to Vancouver and watch in 3D, then cross the Lion’s Gate on the way home…


Bring on the apes

August 17, 2011


Notes from the back row— Aug 2
Monkey business

How does it feel to be the most sought after actor on the planet but only for roles where no one will ever actually see you? Andy Serkis has live-motion-capture acted three classic characters in the past decade— Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, the giant gorilla King Kong (also by Jackson) and now Caesar, another monkey and the protagonist of Rise of the Planet of the Apes which opens this Friday at both the Village 8 and Garibaldi 5.
Planet of the Apes is a 1968 Charlton Heston classic best remembered for the twist ending—I don’t want to give it away because it’s killer and the original Planet of the Apes is the download of the week but the five Apes sequels, including Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” back in 2001, don’t really hold up to the original. This one does, however, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes is very satisfying.
First of all, it’s a revolution picture and revolutions are really hot right now. As well, the apes are played by actual humans wired for motion-capture and the CGI effects (from the teams that did Lord of the Rings and Avatar) are really good. Each simian has its own personality and identity.) Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of film that hinges almost entirely on its effects and I think Director Rupert Wyatt (Dark Days, The Escapist) and his team pull it off smashingly. This is the first movie to really demonstrate Avatar’s legacy— New stories can be told and films can be made differently now (and Andy Serkis is the digital Marlon Brando.)
James Franco doesn’t play an ape but rather stars as an uber-focused scientist who’s trying to cure Alzheimer’s but instead figures out how to make monkeys really smart. After his research is scrapped by the top brass, James ends up with a baby ape which he raises with the help of a smoking hot Vet/primatologist played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire.) Shit goes downhill when the just-add-a-montage new lovers are forced to relinquish their monkey back to the lab.
It’s not a perfect picture. The moral lessons (humans are cocky and overly arrogant with regards to nature) are nothing we haven’t seen before and the bad guys are also kind of stock but the film’s doubled-up father-son dynamic has some emotional heft and all the stuff with the apes is pretty kick-ass, the last third of the two-hour film is almost all crazy, balls-out monkey action.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes may look like just another reboot but it’s the reboot of the Summer and they had me at “Freida Pinto”, who shines in a criminally underdeveloped role.
The main criticism for The Change-Up, an r-rated Freaky Friday role reversal flick also opening friday, is that the sappy ending where everyone makes up and hugs is a little contrived and lacks punch but that is the case for almost all comedies lately and no one watches a funny movie for the unfunny part at the end, they watch it for the 70-80 minutes of funny bits that lead there. The Change-Up has some funny bits. Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman star as the single man and the family man (respectively) and they switch roles after pissing in a religious wishing well one night. The Change-Up is crude and rude but delivers some real laughs despite that the script isn’t genius (but it’s by the guys that wrote The Hangover), the humour is potty-and-tittie-based (nothing wrong with that) and the cast is mostly just monkeying around.


give me the benfits.

July 24, 2011

Notes from the back row- July 17

with friends like this....

It’s mid-July and the leaves across the street from my place are starting to turn yellow. I’m not even kidding— this Summer has been so lugubrious the trees think it’s Fall. Weather this dismal is really only good for two things— going out to the movies, or staying in and screwing. Or you can get a bit of both in Friends with Benefits, opening Friday at Whistler’s Village 8 and the Garibaldi 5 in Squamish.
Justin Timberlake stars as a California design whiz who gets recruited by the hottest NYC corporate headhunter ever Mila Kunis. JT moves to the East Coast and takes a dream job but in order to get her commission, Mila has to keep him there for at least a year so they quickly decide to give the old “just friends humping” scenario a go.
In real life that rarely works, in the movies—never. But despite the predictability of its premise (and the fact that Natalie Portman’s No Strings Attached offered the same premise six months ago) Friends With Benefits works better than expected. Sure, it falls prey to way too many of the standard Rom-Com clichés it tries so desperately to poke fun at, and some of the dialogue is a bit pukey, but a funny thing happens right off the start— Kunis and Timberlake display real chemistry. Kunis worked comedy for years on TV’s That 70’s Show and as the voice of Meg on The Family Guy and here proves she can act the pants off anything. Watch out Angelina there’s a new star in town.
JT holds his own and the all-time supporting cast includes the always-incredible Richard Jenkins (Say it Isn’t So), Patricia Clarkson (Easy A), Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone and more.
Director Will Gluck (Easy A) goes a little heavy on the old-style snappy banter and there are two (too many?) flash mob scenes but in a summer where the weekly movie quality mirrors the weather Friends With Benefits is worth checking out, if only to learn what not to do when your stumble upon your own golden chance at being someone’s “F*ck buddy”.
Also opening, Captian America the last Marvel Comics prequel-flick we’ll have to endure before next summer’s Avengers movie (but who cares? They were never as cool or gritty as the X-Men, kind of pansy actually, more like The Fantastic Four.)
This one is about a skinny Yankee Doodle in the Second World War who’s told he’s not fit for duty. He persists, shows a bit of gumption and gets signed up to be injected with a super-soldier serum that transforms him into something that looks like the Ultimate Warrior crossed with a Ken doll. Captain America then goes on the propaganda tour (which is what the comic character was originally created for back in the 1940s) before finally seeing some shield-tossing action and then ramping up into full-on superhero and saving the day.
If it sounds flat it’s because it is. There is no digging into the real conflict or ideologies between the Nazi splinter cell Hydra and the forces of good. There is only action and unexplained mythical laser beam weapons. It feels like a cheap set-up to get your money but i guess i am probably expecting too much from a movie based on a c-rate comic hero. No one can deny Marvel films is pretty hit and miss with adult audiences.
Speaking of super soldiers, the Download of the Week is Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl/super assassin raised in isolation and then unleashed on the world. It’s the best coming of age movie in a long time and also has that vibrant, Euro, Run Lola Run awesome energy to it that just makes Hollywood’s latest flicks seem all the more tired, soggy, damp and stupid.


The End of Potter.

July 16, 2011

Rose Byrne

Notes from the back row- July 12, 2011

Wizards rule. Sure they’re a bit nerdy— their power comes from remembering books and thinking real hard— and they aren’t usually strong enough to single-chop off an Orc’s head nor dashing enough to nail an Elf princess but Wizards are cool nonetheless. They dress for comfort with big floppy hats, robes and killer beards and Wizards don’t give a shit what other people think. They’ll turn you into a newt if you step to them.
Harry Potter however— not really that cool. Actually he appears to be wearing a bomber jacket on the poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, which opens this week at both the Village 8 and Squamish’s Garibaldi 5. A bomber jacket is utterly un-Wizardly. It’s trying way too hard to look tough, and we all know it’s pretty much impossible to look tough when you’re carrying a wand. “Ooooohhhhh watch out! Here comes Harry Potter and his wand!” Ask any seven-year-old with a loose tooth, wands are for fairies.
Don’t get me wrong— the Harry Potter books are great for kids but cinematically, I’m tired of that guy. This is the eighth Potter flick, EIGHTH!! You know the best thing about Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan? You didn’t need to recall every detail of the other seven to make sense of what you were watching. Not the case with Potter’s films, the first of which came out a decade ago. Who can remember that? Kids maybe.
Anyhow, in this, the final installment, Potter fights off the evil Voldemort and it’s an balls-out Wizard war chock full of real action and battle scenes mashed together with profound messages about life, death, love, loyalty and all that other good stuff. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is actually one of the best Potter films, and also the shortest at just over two hours (many fans will call it too short.)
From giant spiders to dragons to Wizards spurting balls of magic all over each other, Deathly Hallows 2 packs a hefty punch (and a few kisses) but unfortunately the spectacle again overpowers the storytelling and unless you already know what’s going on, it’s hard to tell what is actually going on. Or why you should care.
But if you like Harry Potter, if you love Harry Potter, you’re gonna go apeshit for this one. The tale of the Boy-Wizard finally concludes and it’s a helluva ride.
For more adult tastes, especially adults who menstrate, the Village 8 is bringing back Bridesmaids, the Kristen Wiig tour-de-force about a down-on-her-luck baker who competes with a rich, well-put together bitch (Rose Byrne) to host the ultimate bridal experience for a friend (Maya Rudolph.)
Bridesmaids is entertaining (I chuckled) but certainly women are gonna dig this way more than dudes. Writers Wiig and Annie Mumolo use their feminine touch and produce a flick that’s unique and totally relatable for the fairer sex. Compare this to something like the male-written (male-fantasy) Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher and it’s easy to see why Bridesmaids has pulled in $158 million domestically and become the most successful chick-targeted R-Rated comedy ever (beating out Sex and the Shitty.)
Hopefully the film execs are paying attention to Bridesmaids’ success and will start bankrolling more female-driven projects. Judging by the crap heap of films Hollywood’s pinched out onto us this summer, they really have nothing to lose.
The Download of the Week is an overly gory, hyper-violent and super stylized 80’s exploitation homage that’s even cooler than a Wizard with a laser gun. It’s Hobo with a Shotgun, it’s Canadian-made, and it’s definitely not for the Potter crowd.