Out in Theaters: WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS

I could rant and rave about EDM culture till the MDMAddicts foam at the mouth. What’s supposed to be about music really only appears to focus on grabbing the nearest thing and doing it — be it man, woman or drug. Famous DJs make trash music that sells because it’s what we all want to hear. A new-age art form that’s endemic in my generation, EDM shows more about how we’ve raged than how we’ve changed. I hoped We Are Your Friends might delve into the DJ lifestyle that’s evolved into an addiction. At some points, it blurs the lines and senses and manages to say something poignant. Then it OD’s and it’s a bad trip from there. Read More


Out in Theaters: ANT-MAN

I’ve always wondered where our preoccupation with size came from. Maybe cause I’ve never been the biggest, or because I’ve always been more taken by the diminutive: as a self-entitled critic, attention to detail is my craft. Fortunately for movie-goers, so it goes for the folks at Marvel and Ant-Man director Peyton Reed. This edition’s got a new musk, and underneath that an exoskeletal husk of comedic explosion and graphic excitement that rivals its full-sized super-compatriots. With Ant-Man, the folks at Marvel forgot how to make a superhero movie as usual, and pumped out one of the best Marvel adaptations yet. Read More


Out in Theaters: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

It has been a long, long time since I’ve put together one of these, but damn is it good to be back. That’s likely what Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller had on his mind his first day on set for one of the most impressive action films in the past decade. I can only marvel at what Miller has achieved with his latest film, mouth agape and eyes fully dilated. Fury Road was one of the wildest rides I have ever had the honor to take. Read More

Chris' Home for the Holidays Films: Top 10 2014 Movies to Catch with the Family this Holiday Season

In lieu of an official top ten, our finest satirist-in-residence Chris Bunker counts down the movies to crowd ’round with the whole fam-damily.

Honorable Mentions:

Horrible Bosses 2


Guardians of the Galaxy

The Interview (wop wop wah)

The Theory of Everything

Lone Survivor

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Begin Again

Sex Tape


10. Two Night Stand


Christmas came early with Two Night Stand, which netted $18K (that’s thousand) at the box-office back in September. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who’s seen this movie, which is really too bad because it is spectacular. Disclaimer: This film is not about two nightstands weathering a frigid blizzard while trapped in Miles Teller’s overly spacious New York apartment. At the onset it seems like we might be headed for something just as dull.

The film stars Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton. She’s a dry speller: she hasn’t — you know, “done it” — in months, and as depression and unemployment seem to be taking over her life post-college, her friend tries to get her to hook up with someone for the holiday season. She sets up an online profile on and Miles Teller is lucky enough to reel this stinky fish in. Tipton wants the D like misspelle, and he is more than obliging in giving her a New Year’s gift she can’t return to Best Buy.

After their hook-up, the two get stuck in Teller’s apartment after a huge blizzard puts the city on lockdown. Over the course of their “Two Night Stand”, Teller gets more slot than an old widow at Treasure Island and Tipton gets more dong than the Liberty Bell at two o’clock. Which, I guess is just three dongs.

There’s a lot more to this movie than just the “stand.” Stunningly well-written and at times an incredibly accurate depiction of today’s hook-up culture, this is a Christmas rom-com people really should see. And it got me thinking about those two night-stands. How did they get where they are? Who gave them their color, their shape, their embossing, their gloss? What are they supporting, what weight do they carry? How did they get their cracks, their stains? After all, aren’t we all just night-stands in the dark, hoping one day someone might come turn the light on and look to us for a little support, open our drawers and learn what’s inside? It’s lonely at night in the dark. Pop on Two Night Stand with a loved one and get in the giving mood.

9. The Judge


Pretty much everyone can only take so much of their family during the holiday season before things go haywire. The Judge really isn’t a holiday movie, but it’s one you should catch all the same. Robert Downey Jr., a big-shot Chicago lawyer,makes a trip back to Buttcrack, Indiana to attend his mother’s funeral. His Dad’s the town judge (he’s also Robert Duvall), but the whole father-son relationship thing never really worked out between these two law-abiding men. As more to their history unfolds and Downey and Duvall chip away at each other’s’ cold hearts, the film catches fire. The dialogue is somewhat Sorkin-esque, but that was only a bad thing in Seasons 2-3 of The Newsroom. Catch The Judge and enjoy knowing that your family isn’t the only one that’s screwed up.

8. Ernest & Celestine


My favorite animated film ever, Ernest & Celestine is delightful, playful, simple and warm enough to melt even the most frozen hearts (you heard me, Elsa). This movie is the equivalent of a warm blanket by the fire, as Ernest, a big bumbling bear, and Celestine, a delicate little mouse, cuddle up far from a society that can’t accept them. You’re only hurting yourself if you don’t get a taste of this beautiful movie this holiday season. Better hope Santa brings you this one for X-mas.

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel


You really can’t go wrong with Wes Anderson, and his latest installment just might be his best yet. With a slow-paced humor that peppers famous actors everywhere and laughs in every moment, TGBH is tasteful and visually delectable. With Ralph Fiennes, Ed Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafore, Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Schwartzman, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson to name just a few, get the old band together and cut yourself a piece of Budapest.

6. Snowpiercer


Bong Joon-Ho’s frigid train-movie is among my favorites of 2014 and an absolute brain-wrecker. Chris Evans is getting way more hype for Cap’ 2, but this film is ten times better and a marvel of story-telling. Tracking the last survivors of an Earth-freezing apocalypse who live on a self-sustaining, endlessly running train circling around the frozen globe, Joon-Ho’s film is a must-see. If you’re in the mood for some snow this Channukah season, don’t miss Snowpiercer.

5. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Well, he’s not got much time before he gets buried by time. I’m going off of past experience alone, as I still haven’t been able to catch the last Peter Jackson LOTR movie ever (L). The LOTR series has been a hallmark of Christmases this entire century, and I’m so, so, so sad to see them go. As Jackson isn’t an asshole, and I’ve never been disappointed by a Middle Earth tale, this one’s sure to be worth the watch. Leave your Hobbit hole for a couple hours and join the adventure while you still can. How can you resist Bilbo and Gandalf?

4. Divergent


Just kidding. I’m dauntless! F*ck. This. Movie. Just wanted to say it one last time this year. #CANDOR

4. Boyhood


The “12 Years a Boy” thing seems kind of boring, but Richard Linklater has given the world the best cinematic present anyone could ask for this year. Following Ellar Coltrane’s childhood and family as 12 years fly by, you’ll be reminded why that screwed up family of yours might not be so bad after all. I don’t rank this nostalgic movie any higher (though it certainly deserves to be higher) because no one needs to shed a tear for Christmas. That’s what Christmas Shoes was for.

3. Blended


Sorry, this is also a joke. Couldn’t pass this up: “WE’RE GOING TO AFRICA!!!”

3. Edge of Tomorrow


Tom Cruise has subtly been churning out quality movies for the past two years now. Edge of Tomorrow was his best. The “Live, Die, Repeat” premise is fun and well-executed, and there’s enough action, humor and Tom Cruise running to make this one an ‘A’ for me. I’ve seen this film four times now and it’s only gotten better with age. Cruise may not be a fine wine but he’s at least two Forty’s and a FourLoko. Can you think of a better combo for the holidays?

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


This one tops my “Best Films to Watch On an International Flight” and “Best Andy Serkis Performance Since LOTR: The Return of the King” lists. This film is just flat out fantastic from beginning to end, with amazing graphics from Weta Digital, inscrutable performances from Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Toby Kebbell (playing the best villain of 2014, “Koba”), and so much more. Stuff your stockings with DOTPOTA. Don’t do it for me. Do it because Jesus would want you to.

1. Gone Girl


If you’re concerned a significant other might be cheating, bring them along to Gone Girl and see how they react. Based off of the incredible Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, this film is the best I’ve seen all year and traumatizingly good. Sure to net Oscar nominations all across the board (notably “Best Actress” for Rosamund Pike), Ben Affleck’s latest film is notable just for his unit alone. David Fincher directs a twisting, blood-clotting, brain-breaking suspense-thriller that transcends genre and classification. If you watch any movie this Christmas season, it needs to be Gone Girl. Trust me; it’ll bring the whole family together.

Dishonorable Mention: Jingle All The Way 2


Every Holiday movie list needs at least one Christmas movie; enter Jingle All The Way 2, starring everyone’s favorite, Larry The Cable Guy. This straight-to-video film produced by the WWE (seriously) had a budget of $5 million, which I’m assuming all went towards Christmas lights and fake snow. Considering this is a sequel to the (Minneapolis-filmed!) 1996 Schwarzenegger movie that most consider to be the worst Christmas movie ever, you can’t get much better than Jingle All The Way 2. If you love bad movies, put that gingerbread cookie down, grab some popcorn and revel in this holiday mess.

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Talking (in French) with Michel Hazanavicius & Berenice Bejo of THE ARTIST

Michel Hazanavicius Berenice Bejo 2

The Artist was an unprecedented film. Movies don’t come in black and white anymore. And no one would think to make a silent black-and-white film in 2010.

When you chat with the brains behind the film, it makes sense. These are incredibly French, reserved folk who speak in hushed tones. I’ve spent a lot of time in France (my Grandma lives in Paris) and I’ve grown up all around their culture. For me, Paris is the Seattle of Europe: people are a little cold and abrasive, but witty and intelligent. The French tend to keep to themselves, but they’re warm at heart.

Michel Hazanavicius and Berenice Bejo started collaborating back in 2006 when she starred in Michel’s OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies alongside Jean Dujardin. Since then, they’ve made three more films together and along the way won plenty of awards for their 2011 silent black-and-white The Artist — including Oscars for Best Feature and Best Director for Michel. Both are incredibly talented, humble, quiet and fairly unflappable — Michel wasn’t impressed at all when I told him that he went to school just 20 kilometers from my Grandma’s apartment. They’re married with two kids and the fame doesn’t seem to have gotten to their heads. I got a chance to chat with them both (in French) at SIFF Cinema about their lives after the Oscars, their upcoming film The Search (a remake of the 1948 movie about war-torn Chechnya), and their filmmaking progress.


Q: First off, how have your lives changed since The Artist?

Berenice Bejo: Well, it certainly helps assure producers and directors, so there are more offers for projects. Of course, when you make a successful film, you become more ‘bankable.’

Michel Hazanavicius: Like she said, people — financiers — trust us more, so we’re a little freer to make films that aren’t necessarily block-busters. Certain people like you better than they did before and some less, but in our day-to-day lives nothing has really changed. [Winning awards] doesn’t give you talent, things don’t get any easier.

Q: But things must be at least a little easier…

MH: People trust you more, yeah.

Q: Is that why you both took on the challenge of making The Search?

BB: Yes.

Q: So why did you choose to do this film over maybe something else?

MH: Well it’s a true story that took place close to [France], in Chechnya. 300,000 people were killed from all across the continent. I wanted to do something, I wasn’t exactly sure how or what, but voilá, it’s a movie that’s enormously impossible to make and it’s really the Oscar that made it possible for it to be right cinematographically. Ultimately, I was just really interested in this film.

Q: Bérénice, how was it making The Search?

BB: For me, as an actress, to make an engaging film with a point-of-view that involves tragic events that are relatively recent, I think it’s a great thing to be involved with. As someone who has the potential to help people other than just themselves, I was happy to make this film along with Michel.

Q: Do you guys like working together?

MH: [laughs] Absolutely.

Q: What about Jean Dujardin, was there not a role for him in the film?

MH: Jean is immensely talented and I’d always love to have him in any movie I make. At the same time, we’ve worked on four projects together: two OSS 117 movies, The Artist and a recent project called The Players. I think it’s always good to diversify who you work with and what you’re working on.

Q: I remember the first time I saw OSS 117 was with my Grandma in Paris. It’s really interesting because — well, to be honest —I hadn’t seen The Artist until I heard we’d be doing the interview. I never would have made the connection that you both were involved in the two films. OSS, The Artist, and now The Search are such different movies with different themes. Why have you chosen to make such a broad range of films?

MH: Well, some nights you want to eat chicken, others you might be craving fish. For me, with films it’s the same way. I love comedy. I think it’s a really, really noble genre and I’ll certainly make more comedies in the future. But, I also have other desires. Just because you want to eat chicken one night doesn’t mean you want it for dinner every night. I’m lucky enough to be able to follow my various passions.

Q: Bérénice is it different as an actress?

BB: There are different rules in every genre. When you make a comedy, I think there’s a rhythm to it that’s vastly different from when you’re acting in a realist war film. There are slight differences, but the principal is always the same: to understand your character. You have to be subtle — you don’t want to try too hard to be funny to make people laugh when you’re making a comedy, and you don’t want to cry or try to make your audience cry when you’re making a drama. The most important thing is to just be the character, and if you do the job right people will laugh or cry.

Just like Michel, I like to watch comedies and movies that are a little more dramatic, and I really enjoy the opportunity to make both instead of just being categorized as an actress that only works in certain types of films.

Q: Do you guys ever want to try swapping roles: Michel working as an actor and Bérénice as a director?

BB: No, no.

MH: I’ve been an actor on two different occasions recently, working for friends in some small roles. It was fun but to work as an actor you have to be really invested in it. I’ve done it but it wasn’t serious. It’s not something I would want to do full-time.

Q: Michel, I’ve watched some of your interviews and I’ve noticed — primarily when you’re interviewed in English — that you like to say that certain aspects involving a film aren’t “your job.” As a Director, what is your job, what’s your goal in your work?

MH: As a director, my job is to be the writer and to direct. Beyond that, I think my goal is to tell stories and to be in charge so that everyone who is working to tell this story tells it the same way. My work is kind of as “decorator.” I make sure the cinematographer and the musician are on the same page, and the actors and the crew all work together so that everyone can do their job. It’s almost like an orchestra, where everyone has to play together. Everyone has to have the same tempo.

Q: I haven’t seen The Search yet, but at least in the trailer it seems that a large part of the film is in English. The Artist was acted in English as well. Why choose English over your native French?

MH: In fact it’s for the realism of the story and the characters. The Artist takes place in a specific time period, the 1920’s, and I realized that there were certain words that were universally familiar and the audience could recognize in English. In French, it’s not the same. We chose English over French because it was best for the image, for the film. You can’t have a character in America who’s speaking French.

In The Search, she speaks English and French equally, because English is the international language. When you’re working with Italians or Danes or Spaniards or Russians, everyone speaks English, but it’s an international English: not an American English or a British one. It’s an English everyone can understand.

Q: I want to be like Ben Affleck: I want to act, I want to write, I want to direct — I’m just not pretty enough. But it’s really hard to go from pre-production and the idea you have in your mind to actually making it, and then to come out with a finished product that is like what you originally intended. What’s your process, either as an actress like Bérénice or a writer/director like you, Michel, and how do you put all the pieces together?

MH: To start off, it has to come from the desire to film something. There has to be a spark, an idea that makes you think “wow, I really need to make this.” After all, the process is to direct everything to a common point where the intuition you had originally can be realized.

Writing’s hard because everything is possible when you write. Writing doesn’t cost anything, you just need a pen and paper and you can come up with any idea you want. Then, you’ve got to raise money, cast, hire crew, get equipment, find producers, voilá. That part is far more rigorous, and you have to be sure that everything you’re trying to do is possible and not too out there or impossible to make. At the same time, you have to work at a level where you’re not asking too much from the audience. You have to take your idea and craft a film that’s realistic, that’s watchable.

Acting’s different, because it’s not the way I express myself. What’s nice with Bérénice is that we’re working together from the start and we’re crafting the idea together, so the process is at least somewhat easier.

Q: Last question: who’s the real ‘artist’? Is it Jean Dujardin’s character or is it you Michel?

MH: It’s the character. I didn’t come up with the title, the producers did. It worked well with the film because it’s a silent black-and-white film so it’s got an “artsy” side. For me the idea of being an artist or not being an artist doesn’t really come up. I consider myself a writer and a director and I have a pretty artisanal view of this type of work. I don’t perform. Actors perform. The Artist kind of represents all of us, but if it had to be Jean then it would be just as much Jean as Bérénice.

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Out in Theaters: DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

My acting career started in a weird place. I played an aggressive racist in a yet-to-be-released film, Father Africa. It was an uncomfortable experience to say the least: calling an African-American “Mufasa” isn’t the most valiant way to get on-screen attention. But, I was a good racist. Great, even. They kept asking me: “Are you an asshole in real life?” Father Africa will likely be my only IMDb film credit until I start making my own. There’s something about bigoted soliloquies that unsettles. Somehow, I can sympathize with all the poor actors in Dear White People.

Hear Fighting People. Fear White PeopleLeer At White People. Jeer at White People. Sheer Spite People. Queer White People. Hate White People. All could have served as titles for director/screenwriter Justin Simien’s controversial first IMDb entry. Dear White People is a ‘be-yourself’ film in which no one acts like themselves.

The title is conveniently the first thing said in the film. Tessa Thompson hosts a college radio show at a fictitious Ivy-esque institution, “Winchester University.” She’s Samantha White, a mulatto civil rights activist who’s got a hateful bent against the white folk on campus. Her “Dear White People” segment involves various imperatives: stop doing this, stop saying that, stop being here. They’re not suggestions, they’re threats.


Though the story follows four main characters  — two of which are ambiguous and pretty much useless to the plot as a whole — she’s the main figure here. Samantha becomes president of Parker-Armstrong (the all-black residential house at Winchester) after her modern Black Panther-esque stance gains favor among her peers. Racial tensions at Winchester have sparked various fights and vitriol is everywhere. Two sides emerge: black and white. Unfortunately, there’s not much gray area in between.

Simien’s film is a satire that inspires more gasps than laughs. The jokes are there, but the comfort isn’t. No one in this film is quite likable, almost everyone’s a full-blown racist and Dear White People is shameless in its depiction of modern-day bigotry. The film’s premise was inspired by a myriad of sorority and fraternity parties with hatefully offensive themes. So, pressure is constantly escalating until the whole thing explodes: the film’s crucial event is an “African-American” themed party hosted by white people in blackface obviously referencing events like those at the University of Florida in 2012.

Everyone acting in this movie must’ve had a very difficult time reconciling their words and actions. I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my own skin, so out-of-touch with something I’ve seen on-screen. Simien’s objective is good, but his journey isn’t. White people, gay and straight alike, are slimy, petulant and morally disgusting. The African-Americans in the film are victims of constant, blatant prejudice and discrimination. Unfortunately, they too spray racism back at their offenders in retaliation. This is fictional depiction of real-life tragedy, and it’s just hard to bear.13914-5.jpg

Tyler James Williams is the lone bright spot in this darkness. He’s Lionel, a gay black kid who loves to write and doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s too kind-hearted, gentle and intermediate among these type-A a-holes. Really, he’s the only character I felt was real, the only one I could relate to, the only one who wasn’t afraid to be himself. He’s berated by everyone for his sexuality and skin-color. At the end he’s struggling to bring everyone together.

Williams is soft-spoken but his performance in this movie is as loud as his massive afro. He’s stuck in the middle of an argument that refuses to include him. His sexuality ostracizes him from the African-American community, and his skin color from the whites. He responds by writing, getting his word out there the only way people might hear it. He grounds the film as it risks ballooning into chaos. As such, he’s a welcome sweet to the surrounding sour. I found myself wishing the film were just about him rather than the loud mouths that drown him out.

Dear White People is an important film. Simien deserves credit for taking this challenge head-on. Maybe his movie wasn’t a good one, but it asked the right questions and called for legitimate answers. Racism is real and it’s still everywhere. Dear White People sprays it like a fire hose. Unfortunately, it’s just as narrow. 


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Out in Theaters: PRIDE

I was reluctant to watch Pride. I’m not a huge activist when it comes to anything besides the “No-Poo Movement”, so I’m generally less inclined to endure pandering of any kind. When I read the synopsis for Pride, it seemed a little politically heavy. Perhaps it would be Dallas Buyers Club with parades. Thankfully, it was so much more than that.

Pride starts, expectedly, at a gay-pride parade in the Summer of 1984. On his birthday, Joe (George MacKay) sneaks out of his parents’ house to join in the festivities. Soon, he meets Mark (Ben Schnetzner) and his group of friends. Mark’s an energetic, delicate young activist for everyone’s rights. He’s got a massive “Thatcher Out!” banner hanging outside his apartment window. Joe gets handed a bucket and joins in on the chanting: “Lesbians and Gays for the Miners!”

The film focuses on the British Coal Miners’ strikes in the United KingdomB during Margaret Thatcher’s Prime Ministry. Mark hears about their plight and sees an opportunity to gain sympathy for the “gays’” cause. The police that used to torment the homosexual community have shifted their attention to the miners picketing and rallying. He starts L.G.S.M. — Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (they’ve got a very forthright name) — and calls upon his fellow friends to join the cause. Notably: Joe, Jonathan (Dominic West), and Steph (Faye Marsay, the “L” in LGSM).

The problem is: no one will accept their money. Mark, being the driving force that he is, decides to contact a suffering town directly and offer their help. Dai (Paddy Considine, Hot Fuzz & The Bourne Ultimatum) picks up and is more than willing to accept the money. LGSM goes up to Wales to meet him and the town, but this hardy Welsh miners’ town isn’t as receptive. Soon, a struggle erupts as LGSM refuses to let down in helping them out, while the miners reconcile help from a community that they don’t understand.

The film is one of protest and persistence. Joe’s hiding his homosexuality from his parents. His Dad mockingly calls AIDS “Anally Injected Death Sentence.” His internal struggle matches the one facing LGSM: how do we change a prejudiced perspective. As the town warms up to “The Gays as they call them” and older members like Cliff (Bill Nighy) and Hefina (Imelda Staunton) begin to advocate for them, the town faces the same rift as Joe: how are these people different? LGSM picks up more and more support, but the more vocal opponents continue trying to sabotage their efforts.

Pride is beautifully acted, unimposing and wide open. Really, it’s raucous fun. LGSM puts on a benefit concert, a parade, and constantly brings fun to the tense topics Pride highlights. The juxtaposition of gruff miners and flamboyant LGSM-ers is hilarious, and Pride has fun making fun of itself. Heavy materials are treated with the same lightness as a pride parade. It’s proud without boasting.

Old vets like Considine, Staunton and Nighy deliver soft, tender and often hilarious performances as older town-members quick to accept LGSM. They give what you’d expect from top-bill names. Their interactions are simply gold, as they mine for understanding. These old folks have never met a homosexual in their life, and now they’re surrounded by them. Their reactions are brilliant.

But Pride makes its money from its young cast, who dance and sing and enjoy every moment. They never give up and don’t take “no” for an answer. Their charisma and enthusiasm melts hearts. Ben Schnetzner is revelatory in one of his first on-screen performances. As LGSM’s headstrong leader, he’s the Billy to this film’s Elliot, the Simon to its Garfunkel. He takes the brunt of the criticism, but bounces back unharmed. He’s the group’s anchor, and he’s definitive in his charm. MacKay, Marsay and West too, are sincere, droll and flamboyant.

Ultimately though, praise belongs to director Matthew Warchus (directing his first film since 1999) and writer Stephen Beresford, who have put together something special here. Weaving in so many tales of strife without coming off as overbearing is something difficult to accomplish, but they do so with aplomb. By the end, the triumph isn’t what you’d expect either. Beresford keeps you guessing, and Warchus has you dancing in your seat. This film is based on a true story, but it seemed bigger than that.

Heart-warming, fun and eye-opening, Pride is surprisingly earnest and solid from start to finish. It bypasses prejudice and gifts you with understanding. I’m more than proud to recommend Pride. Be prepared to dance.



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Out in Theaters: LILTING

My Mom always wanted me to learn Mandarin. I guess it had something to do with being cultured. When I hit 7th grade, she forcibly enrolled me in a Macalester College course for new Chinese speakers. Macalester College, home of the Scots, is a small liberal arts school in St. Paul, MN with notable alumni including former Vice President Walter Mondale, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, and talent agent Ari Emanuel—yeah, the Entourage guy. Pretty prestigious stuff. She figured I might follow their footsteps.

What was supposedly a “college” course turned out to be just a course at a college. My Mom had enrolled me in a class for 4+ year-old Chinese children whose parents wanted them to learn formal Mandarin. Average age in the course? Six. And that was with me in it. Strangely enough, I only made it through about eight weeks until I’d had enough. In that time I learned that I was měiguó rén (American), which had a funky -zh sound my mouth couldn’t replicate. That’s about all I remember.

Lilting’s characters seem about as preoccupied with race as I was. There’s Zhōngguó or Yīngguó and a lot of animus in between. Junn (Cheng Pei-Pei) is the former, an elderly Chinese-Cambodian woman whose son Kai (Andrew Leung) has put her in an old folks’ home in Britain. When he visits her, she laments that he doesn’t visit enough, that he always forgets to bring her favorite CD, that she hates the home. At least she’s started dating Alan (Peter Bowles), an old British man who can keep her company. “My father was half-white,” Kai says. She scolds him. “Your father was Chinese.” Then Kai disappears.


Richard (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall), Kai’s white boyfriend, goes to visit her one day and we learn that Kai’s passed. Junn doesn’t speak any English, but she’s managed to find a way to hate Richard all the same. Of course, she doesn’t know that he and Kai were dating—only that the two lived together. So, Richard finds Vann (Naomi Christie), a translator who can help them communicate through their anguish. This only seems to make things worse: Richard and Junn’s tempers escalate as we learn more and more about Kai’s struggle to come out and his eventual death.

Lilting looks at life through rose-colored glasses, in the sense that every shot has been color-corrected pink. The insinuation here is clear: beneath the warm surface you’ll find a deep chill. The effect is jarring but in no way pernicious. Lilting fuzzes and blurs past and present. Junn and Richard’s memories of Kai slowly fade in the same way. Their sadness isn’t nostalgic, rather more tragic. Tears don’t ever fall—they evaporate as fast as Kai vanishes. Junn and Richard’s struggles act as therapy. They’re trying to keep Kai alive.


There isn’t a lot of bliss in Lilting. Every situation devolves into an argument when reminders of Kai dull any pleasure. But, despite the constant arguing, Lilting has a lot to say about culture and loss. Vann acts as the film’s pseudo-narrator. Translating English to Chinese and vice-versa, she bridges the culture gap. Through Vann, Junn and Alan learn that they don’t have as much in common as they thought, and their cultural differences seem too difficult to overcome. Though Richard can now communicate through Vann, he still can’t admit to Junn that Kai was gay.  

Yet, Vann’s interpreter role is only cursory. She’s there to fill in the blanks, but the film would have worked just as well without her. This, in part, is due to the phenomenal acting by the entire cast, notably Cheng and Whishaw, who take on a brutal grief. Whishaw is aggressive and delicate all at once, like a flower that can’t figure out whether it should bloom. Cheng seems to know a mother’s grief from experience. She makes it feel real.

Lilting has two set pieces: the poorly lit elderly home and Richard’s apartment. Credit to writer/director Hong Khaou for making every moment interesting. The quiet moments are jarring and the loud moments are appropriately reserved. Perhaps the best line in the film was the most harmless: “I wish there was a Shazam for smell.” Every observation is just as keen, and holds a deeper weight. Whishaw and Cheng were so magnetic that Lilting could have worked sans any dialogue at all.

By the end I felt like I was in 7th grade again, just trying to figure out where a simple měiguó rén might fit in all this confusion. Though Khaou’s film might have been filled with conflict, my judgment was never conflicted: Lilting will take you somewhere you’ve never been before. I wish there were a Shazam for emotions. Lilting flew me all across the spectrum.


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Out in Theaters: LUCY

Watch enough movies and they all start to look the same. Prescribing to an Ebertian view, that’s because they are the same, just with the details swapped in and out. Stereotypes and movies seem to be kin in this way: they’re developed from commonality. Like it or not, there’s a lot of bad smelling French folk, and it’s hard not to find a recent sci-fi movie that doesn’t stink.

Transcendence was borne from a growing fear of technological advancement and artificial intelligence. Really, it asked the right questions. The only problem: Wally Pfister was the one to raise his hand. Somehow he turned a good concept into I Spambot, a joke of a movie. Johnny Depp transforms into a computer and subsequently takes over the world. From nothing, he grows tentacles and conquers death, quite literally reviving people from the grave, even at one point building himself out of dark cyber-matter. The whole “is he a computer?” question hinged on figuring out whether Captain Crack still had any emotions. Except, no one really gave a shit. Whatever Pfister was going for, he failed miserably. Transcendence was so monumentally bad that no one could figure out who the joke was on.

Neil Burger’s Limitless wasn’t bad; it was just a nothing film. A mansion built on an eroded mountain slope is set to crumble. Anyone who’s ever opened a Psych textbook knows that 10% brain theory is a crock of shit fallacy. So … Bradley Cooper can take a pill that makes his brain more effective? College kids have a name for that: Adderall. At least he didn’t grow any tentacles. Limitless, just like its premise, was limited from the start. What happens when a human can use 100% of its brain? Well, apparently, Transcendence.

Lucy is a Luc Besson lucid dream. You don’t realize it isn’t real until halfway through. At the start it’s more of a nightmare.

The French director decided to expand the transhumanistic concept Transcendence garroted with a desk chair. “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%,” reads Lucy’s tagline. When they’re so blatant about a putrid concept like this, it’s tough to figure out if they can access their brain at all.

For what initially seemed like a brainless film, Scarlett Johansson felt like a good fit. The jury’s still out on whether she’s any good as an actress. As the eponymous Lucy, she goes from dumbfounded to unbounded in spurts. Her green eyes are a window into what appears to be a great big void. Caught in a massive scheme, she’s accidentaly drugged by Asian drug lords with “CPH4,” a brain-activating powder the kids are going to love, her mind starts to explode and her eyes circle the color wheel. Besson loads her brain like a phone charging: as she gets access to more and more brain power, her percentage flashes on screen.

She goes from 0-100 like Jason Statham in Crank. When her body intakes the drug, she starts seizing up. Besson throws in insert shots of cells splitting and blue energy surging through her bloodstream. Then she starts to float. All of a sudden she’s on the ceiling, tweaking out. None of it is remotely possible, though it’s made not to feel surreal.

Reprising his exact role in Transcendence, Morgan Freeman serves as Lucy’s resident cerebral professor. At the podium, he waxes about the cerebellum like he’s unveiling a new iPhone. What happens when the brain reaches 20% usage? 100%? Freeman, concerned, says there’s no way to tell.

With movies like Transcendence and Limitless getting more and more common, common sense seems to be going out the window. Things explode because they have to, else why would anyone care? Humans are given unfathomable powers—impossible even. Unnatural is made out as normal as an excuse to throw in big effects. Characters have endless capabilities. Don’t think about it. Eat your popcorn and be entertained by crazy CGI and bad writing. When did we turn into Androids?

I’m not sure quite when it clicked that I’d been duped. Besson’s got the uniquely weird French sense of humor that lends well to the satirical. Les Français always seem to be good at making fun of themselves, but they’re way better at making fun of everyone else. Lucy’s a truly awful adventure/sci-fi film. Seen through the lens of a bizzaro comedy though, it’s the funniest film of the year. It might just be the best superhero movie in years. Lucy is 86 minutes of eloquent parody.

Lucy’s powers quickly become insane. With a frenetic, hectic pacing, Besson fits in references to ET, Transcendence, Limitless, Inception, Planet of the Apes—basically any sci-fi movie that’s ever hit the big screen. She reads minds, steals memories with one touch; feels no pain; mind-controls German Shepherds; stops time and speeds it up; hacks into every cell phone, TV, computer; detects cancer and travels at the speed of light. She is limitlessness embodied, everything Transcendence should have been.

By the end, she’s swiping her way through time like she’s on an iPad. This movie has dinosaurs. At one point, she witnesses creation itself. None of it coheres, but it looks gorgeous. Nonsense platitudes about life and death are thrown in like the shots of zoo animals humping tossed in for fun. Freeman and Johansson babble about ones and twos and science—complete gibberish. ScarJo de-materializes and turns into a pseudo-Tomb Raider. Then she turns into a computer. A character asks what she’s doing and Freeman replies that she’s “searching for life and matter.” Obviously. Besson’s film is the Condescendence to Pfister’s Transcendence.

Lucy is a masterpiece of mockery and wit, made Hollywood by gorgeous, over-the-top CGI and Johansson’s and Freeman’s hilarious self-depricating work. With a first act that’s egregiously terrible, Lucy is one big trap that never fully lets you in on the gag. Shot in Taipei, Paris and New York, Lucy is stunning, unpredictable and laugh out loud funny. All of this packed in at less than an hour and a half, you leave the theater refreshed and giddy. What a shocker: a French guy made a movie that doesn’t stink.


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Out in Theaters: SEX TAPE

Jason Segel Sex Tape 3

Apparently women love to blog. Hollywood seems to think they like narrating their blog posts too. You’ll see bad movies open and close with it like they’re Kevin Hart’s mouth.

When a woman starts blogging in film, that’s when the red flag goes up. Cliché alert. Sex Tape starts with Cameron Diaz hard at work on her latest mommy post with her mom sweatpants and her tired mom hair. Uh-oh. But wait—this time she’s blogging about erections. She’s completely bonkers for her husband’s boners (Jason Segel) and she can’t stop talking about it. “I love erections.”

Her post— narrated over shots of Segel and Diaz tainting every square foot of a college campus—reads like a government censored item from the Dr. Seuss explicit collection. Would you like them here or there? Would you like them in a house? You may like them in a tree? Would you beat them in a box? Would you beat them with a fox? Would you, could you in a car? A train! A train! Could you, would you on a train? Would you, could you, in the rain? Beat them! Beat them, here they are!

She’s like Julie & Julia for dongs. Or Dr. Seduce. Call it Obscene Bags & Ham.

Jason Segel Sex Tape

Some see pornography as an addictive, brain chemistry altering evil; some see it five times a day. When Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) decide to spice up their lustless marriage by making a sex tape, the concept seems forced. We’re more curious about what these people do than what they do.

Jay appears to work with a lot of iPads? That seems the only logical explanation for why his work life revolves around gifting tablets to his neighbors, his parents, total strangers and the mailman. Annie is apparently accomplished as a mommy blogger who writes about erections. Hank Rosenbaum’s (a very Chris Traegerian Rob Lowe) toy company (?) wants to buy her blog.

Sex Tape plays a lot like HD porno. Bad outfits and writing headline the beginning; no one cares about the plot. Plug your nose like a dog given a pill and you can make it out of the first act without bursting out of there. When they finally get to recording the action—Jay and Annie banging out the entire Kama Sutra like a Bruce Springsteen concert—things get juicier.

Jay forgets to delete the three-hour video and instead uploads it to the elusive Cloud™ and all the iPads he’s gifted out. Sex Tape turns into a high-paced pseudo-heist comedy with Segel as Con Jeremy and Diaz as Scamela Anderson. Rushing to delete or destroy the tape off the iPads, they quickly develop chemistry that isn’t sexual. He’s got the girth for it. You’re not sure if she can pull it off. The bacchanal that ensues comes as a surprise gift.

Jason Segel Sex Tape 2

Sex Tape doesn’t set out to be sexy. Cameron Diaz is 41 and Segel’s no Zach Efron. As she’s aged, Diaz has played roles where her beauty is suggested. It’s like she had to play slutty instead of performing pretty. In Bad Teacher, The Counselor and Knight and Day,her performances were drunk, like a binge. Maybe she thought we were bored: no one would think she’s hot unless she role-played it. In Bad Teacher, she goes for skanky educator. Stale and flat like old beer, she’s just bad. In The Counselor, she swings for seductive trophy wife. Wearing tattoos like a one-piece swimsuit and some fake jewelry, she pouts her lips and you can smell the liquor coming off her breath. Didn’t anyone tell her she’s aged like wine?

Jason Segel acts from his core—with his penis. He’s on the other end of the spectrum: he’s fully bare where there isn’t any room for pretending. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he flops out his member and he’s more naked than any of the women he’s with. Segel doesn’t seem to have any reservations. While he isn’t particularly handsome, his sense of humor and sly delivery make up for it. When you see him in I Love You, Man, he’s often an object of ridicule more than one of sexualization. Same goes for The Five-Year Engagement. Yet, he brings depth that’s sexy, not sexual. His timing is too good to notice—you’re too busy looking at his junk.

As such, Segel was probably the best fit opposite Diaz, especially after they’d already been in Bad Teacher together. Diaz and Segel have a lot of sex in Sex Tape. They’re pretty much naked half the time. We see just as much bare-ass from Diaz as we do from Segel. While she doesn’t have his humor, he takes the onus off of her to perform. In a film where the man is just as naked and vulnerable as she is, Cameron doesn’t have to worry about acting. Nothing is pornographic about Sex Tape. With Segel, they’re boinking, not banging. Their mating doesn’t turn you on—it’s just funny.

Jason Segel Sex Tape 4

When Jack Black shows up to stop Jay and Annie—who’ve broken into his YouPorn warehouse along with their two kids—from destroying his database, he asks who sent them. Hustler? RedTube? He goes on to list off about 50 other sites uninterrupted. Hot Goo? BangBros? BangBus? Some sites are ridiculous—all of them are real. That’s the kind of movie Sex Tape is: non-stop and no mincing on their raunch. It’s a world where Jack Black can be a porn magnate and Rob Lowe can be addicted to cocaine.

Oh, yeah. The kindly Chris Traeger is a heavy-metal head-banging, blow-blowing CEO. He’s mistakenly gotten an iPad which the couple tries to retrieve from his mansion; Diaz distracts him while Segel’s “diarrhea” forces him to lurk the house. With his typical upbeat, smart manner, Lowe’s character is pluperfect.

A seeming milquetoast Jewish goody, he offers Diaz some coke to get the night started. As Segel’s chased through the house by a massive German Shepherd, we see paintings of Lowe as various Disney characters: Raffiki holding up Simba, Geppetto crafting Pinocchio, Peter Pan flying through the night… it’s all glorious and uproarious. Lowe’s scene and character are the funniest in 2014 film.

Critics are giving Sex Tape a hard time and I can see why. Often it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet; other times you’d rather skip the meal. The story elements seemed crafted at YouPorn headquarters and there’s a lot of nudity. Grandpa and Grandma definitely won’t like this movie. Sex Tape is bellicose in getting a belly laugh and more often than not they draw one out: as a comedy, it’s more Shake Weight than workout, more pull-out than pull-up. Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper and Kumail Nanjiani show up to bend you over and they get the job done. At the very least, Director Jake Kasdan’s done a much better job with this film than he did with Bad Teacher.

In a world filled with sex tapes, there’s not a lot of room for originality. Sex Tape shows the consequences that come up when something private is made starkly public. At least it’s genuine. There’s a lot of discomfort around pornography in today’s culture. If anything, Sex Tape shows that it’s always better to have the real thing.