Archive for the ‘Metro’ Category

Metro In Focus: Taking those lazy teenage movies to school

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Fist Fight features so much bad language it completely outpaces f-word aficionados Tarantino and Scorsese combined. Accompanying the cussing are bad behaviour, violence and loads of oh-no-he-didn’t jokes all set against the backdrop of the end of semester at the rough-’n’-tumble Roosevelt High School.

Trying to hang on until the final bell rings are well-meaning English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), the world’s toughest history teacher. When Campbell accidentally gets Strickland fired a bad day goes from crappy to cruddy. “I’m going to fight you,” the amped-up Strickland says, looking for some street justice. “After school, meet me in the parking lot.”

As the #teacherfight spreads across social media, a crowd gathers in the parking lot to witness the carnage. After some hand-to-hand combat Campbell and Strickland come to terms with one another, learning important lessons with each punch.

My grade nine homeroom teacher Mrs. Armstrong wouldn’t recognize Roosevelt High as the kind of school she taught in, but it’s familiar territory for Hollywood, which has long used school hallways as a study of teen life. Relationships between students and teachers have fuelled movies like Blackboard Jungle and To Sir with Love, but just as interesting is the culture of the student body.

John Hughes mined the teenage dynamic for all it was worth in a series of classic teen operas like Sixteen Candles, but it’s The Breakfast Club that remains his most insightful look at high school life. The story is simple: five high school archetypes — the jock, the mean girl, the brainiac, the rebel and the outsider — thrown together during a nine-hour Saturday detention become unlikely friends, revealing their innermost secrets. “We’re all pretty bizarre,” says Andrew (Emilio Estevez). “Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”

It’s the emotional intensity of The Breakfast Club that makes it one of the most insightful high school films ever. Thirty-two years after its release it still feels fresh, but for my money one of the best looks at life in the halls comes from Emma Stone’s film Easy A.

The movie begins with the voiceover, “The rumours of my promiscuity have been greatly exaggerated.” It’s Olive (Stone), a clean-cut high school senior who tells a little white lie about losing her virginity. When the gossip mill gets a hold of the info, her life takes a parallel course to the heroine of the book she is studying in English class — The Scarlet Letter. At first she embraces her newfound notoriety; after all she had been all but invisible at the beginning of the school year. It isn’t until the lies and gossip start to spin out of control that she has to assert her virginity.

All the best high school movies — Election, Heathers, Dazed and Confused and Mean Girls — share that sentiment. The names, schools and places may change but it is the labours of students and teachers, like Fist Fight’s Andy Campbell and Ron Strickland, to find themselves and figure out what it all means that makes them interesting and relatable. As we learned studying Aristotle in philosophy class, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” and, in Hollywood’s case, entertainment too.

Metro: Following in Hughes’ footsteps but packing more R-rated punch

By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

Director Richie Keen calls his debut film Fist Fight “a rated-R John Hughes film.”

The story of two teachers, played by Ice Cube and Charlie Day, who settle their differences in the schoolyard after the final bell is more rough ‘n’ tumble than anything the Sixteen Candles director ever attempted but Keen says he learned from Hughes’ habit of making sure the characters were true to themselves.

“John Hughes was one of my idols and he was so good at doing sweet moments. You’d see a movie and be laughing your ass off and then there’d be a real, sweet, great moment.

“I have my radar up that the heart, especially in this movie, comes from a very real character place. I feel like a very typical note that a director and writer might get is, ‘We need more heart.’ For me what they are really saying is that they are not connecting with the characters enough so I was very careful. It’s an R-rated comedy about two guys punching … each other a lot so I didn’t try and infuse false, sweet moments.”

Hughes’ influence dates back to childhood.

“I grew up in the ‘80s in suburban Chicago, in Highland Park, Illinois,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe they were making movies in and around my hometown. I was a little kid and John Hughes started coming into town. In Ferris Bueller there were some great scenes in my hometown. I would hop on my bike and I’d go watch them film. That’s how close it was happening. In high school it was Home Alone. I thought it was cool and this is going to sound strange but every time I was on or near a set I was like, ‘This is where I should be.’ It just lit me up in a way that other things didn’t.”

For years Keen made commercials, short films and was the house director on the hit TV comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia but says “I had no chance of getting this or any movie.”

After much cajoling he landed the Fist Fight gig, with just one proviso. He had to convince Ice Cube he was the man for the job. With just one day’s notice he flew to Atlanta to meet the Barbershop star.

“I had dressed in a nice outfit as my Jewish parents had taught me to do when you have a job interview,” he says. “I started drinking coffee and as time passed I started getting more jittery and more sweaty and by the time Ice Cube was waiting in the lobby I was in a T-shirt and sweaty.”

Intimidated by the rap legend — “The guy wrote No Vaseline,” he says. “It’s intimidating to meet him.” He pitched for 45 minutes, finally ending with, “‘Cube, are we doing this?’ Cube smiled and leaned back in his chair and thought for a second and said, ‘You know what? You flew out here at a moment’s notice. I love what you had to say. Let’s go make a movie motherBLEEPER.’”

The result is a raunchy movie with Ice Cube, some John Hughes-style heart and even some social commentary.

“I really wanted to shine a light on the public school system. Not to be heavy about it but I wanted to ground it in something.”

Metro Canada: Adam Driver on Paterson and choosing his roles after Star Wars

By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

Paterson, the new movie from director Jim Jarmusch is a week in the life of Paterson, the man and the place.

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a poetry writing New Jersey bus driver from Paterson, New Jersey. He lives with Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), a dreamer who wants to open a cupcake shop and make them rich and their dog Marvin.

Paterson is a wonderfully leisurely movie. There are small conflicts sprinkled throughout, a bus breaks down and lovers quarrel, but Paterson isn’t about that. It’s about gentle, loving performances from Driver and Farahani and the beauty of overheard conversations and the day-to-day of regular life.

After the success of Star Wars and everything else you’ve been in recently, you must get offered every script out there. Why choose this one?
Jim [Jarmusch]. It’s a director’s medium so if I get lucky enough to work with great directors, that’s the only thing as far as a game plan I have. I have gotten to do that with really great people and it feels good. I’m lucky in that I get to choose things now, but choose things from what I’m offered. The scale doesn’t matter.

So it doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting for twenty days or you’re gone for six months? Is it just the love of acting?
Yes. It’s a very strange job. It seems you get to do your job twenty percent of the time and then you talk about it forever. For me the doing of it is the best. The things surrounding it don’t matter. Trailers, money, they don’t matter if you get to work with really great people. Then hopefully what you’re making is bigger than any one person and it feels relevant, as much as you can attach meaning to your job. The love of collaborating with people who are on the same page and want to make the best version of it is really exciting.

I think you can attach meaning. Movies like this are worth talking about…
I don’t like to say what meaning I attach to my work. Half of the experience of watching a play or something in a movie theatre is that everyone is coming from somewhere else. No one lives inside the movie theatre. They’re bring all their baggage and if they’re coming there not ready to be affected then they probably won’t be affected. But whatever meaning they pick out of the movie, that means something to them or doesn’t mean anything to them, is completely subjective.

A movie like Paterson is a beautiful slice of life but it is probably going to speak to the audience that will be very different from say, Suicide Squad, but Paterson isn’t going to make $165 million in its opening weekend.
WHAT?!

But for me that makes it valid and interesting.
Really great movies have a longer shelf life. You come back to them later and find new things in them. So many times, and this is so obvious, you watch a movie and you’re not ready for it and you come back to it later because you’re a different person and suddenly it speaks to you in a different way. When they are well crafted they have that shelf life whereas a lot of things are made for one weekend.

Metro Canada: Cera still Canadian to his core as he dons his superhero cape

By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

You can take the boy out of Canada but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.

When I meet with Brampton, Ont.-born Michael Cera to chat about his new project, The Lego Batman Movie, he’s having lunch, eating a Waldorf salad.

The 28-year-old began his career in Canada with a Tim Hortons summer camp commercial before decamping to the United States, finding fame with Arrested Development and a string of successful movies like Superbad and Juno, but has retained his disarming Canadian politeness.

I walk in, he jumps up, “Do you want anything? Cheese? A coffee? How are you doing?”

Declining the snacks and coffee I ask him about the two-year process of recording vocal tracks to play half of the Dynamic Duo, Batman’s ward Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin.

“You are only focussed on your voice,” he says on the difference between live action and animation. “That gives you a certain amount of freedom to experiment in ways that you wouldn’t normally. And there’s nobody around. All self-consciousness that exists on a set where there is all this infrastructure put in place to set the camera up and point it at you and then you have to deliver. All that pressure is not there when you’re in the studio. They just press record. They’re not even recording on tape, it’s digital. You just go and experiment and fail as many times as you want.

“As far as improvisation goes, it was very loose on this. The script is good and he jokes at work and everything … you feel encouraged and take chances.”

The Lego Batman Movie is part parody, part homage to the Batman origin story. When we meet Batman, played by Cera’s former Arrested Development co-star Will Arnett, he may have outlived his usefulness as Gotham’s main do-gooder. What does a Caped Crusader do when the city no longer needs a vigilante crime fighter? Alfred Pennyworth, the superhero’s loyal butler and legal guardian suggests, “It’s time to face your greatest fear, being part of a family again.” Enter Dick Grayson.

“There’s a great foundation there,” Cera says about Batman’s backstory. “I think the reason Batman keeps getting rehashed is because it is a great core story with this great character and the world around him. There is a lot to play off of in that.”

It sounds heavy, but this isn’t Christopher Nolan’s long dark night of the superhero soul. “The best thing I can say about the tone is that it is a little like Chuck Jones,” Cera says. “Joke. Joke. Joke. It has that kind of rhythm.”

Cera’s willingness to be irreverent with the Batman mythology isn’t a lapse of manners — he is Canadian after all — it’s because, “I’m not an overly enthusiastic Batman fan. I didn’t grow up with the comics. Comics just didn’t land with me. I was really into cartoons and Nintendo. That was where my head was at. I loved watching the Batman movies but I don’t live and breathe it for some reason.”

Metro Canada: Are you afraid of the toaster? The real story behind Rings!

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Years ago I interviewed Kōji Suzuki, author of the novels that spawned the Ring movies, manga comics and television shows. Ringu, the first book in the series, was published in 1991 and introduced us to the idea of a videotape (remember those?) that killed people seven days after they watched it.

The book and the movie were sensations, but in the interview Suzuki told me something really interesting. It’s hard to imagine the Ring movies without the spooky, grainy videotape images, but the writer let it slip that VHS tapes weren’t his first choice as a conduit of evil.

What was?

A haunted toaster. Good sense prevailed and he went with another commonplace object, one that almost everyone in the nineties had at least a passing familiarity with.

This weekend, Rings revisits the horrors of the original novel and films as a young guy decides to explore the urban legend of the deadly mysterious videotape. When his girlfriend sacrifices everything to save him, a shocking discovery is made — there’s a movie within the movie!

Suzuki made videotapes the spookiest inanimate horror object ever, but they’re not the only ones.
We can all imagine the fear that comes along with being chased by a werewolf. Or waking up to find Dracula staring down at you.

They are living, breathing (or in Drac’s case, dead and not so breathing, but you get the idea) embodiments of evil. But how about inorganic objects? Have you ever been terrified of a lamp? Or creeped out by a tire?

There have been loads of haunted houses in the movies. In most of them, however, the house is merely a vessel for a spirit or some unseen entity that makes its presence know by making the walls bleed or randomly slamming doors. Rarer is the house that is actually evil.

Stephen King wrote about a house that eats people in the third installment of his Dark Tower series. On screen Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg visualized the idea in the appropriately titled Monster House.

In that animated movie three teens figure out the house across the street is a man-eating monster.

By the time they got around to the fourth installment of the most famous haunted house series, the Amityville Horror, filmmakers had to figure out a new plotline apart from the tired “new owners move in to the house, get freaked out leave,” storyline. In The Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, a cursed lamp causes all sorts of trouble when it is shipped from the evil Long Island house to a Californian mansion.

Much weirder is Rubber, the story of a killer tire (yes, you read that right) with psychokinetic powers — think Carrie with treads — who terrorizes the American southwest.

It’s an absurdist tract on how and why we watch movies, what entertainment is and the movie business, among other things.

But frankly, mostly it’s about a tire rolling around the desert and while there is something kind of hypnotic about watching the tire on its murderous journey — think Natural Born Killers but round and rubbery — that doesn’t mean Rubber is a good movie.

Finally, think bed bugs are bad? How about a hungry bed? The title of this one sums it up: Death Bed: The Bed that Eats.

Metro Canada: directors’ bonded by shared love for horror genre

By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

Joyce A. Nashawati’s pre-apocalyptic film Blind Sun sets xenophobia and alienation against the sunny backdrop of Athens, Greece. Dearest Sister is Mattie Do’s story of Laotian lottery ghosts and communication with the dead.

They’re two very different films but are bonded by the directors’ shared love of the horror genre, their global outlook and the streaming source Shudder, which will feature both films exclusively in Canada.

“I always adored genre films and watched them closely,” says Nashawati on the line from Tokyo where she is researching her second film. “Films that are not totally subjected to realism; that play with what cinema can do with the imaginary. Also, because they come from darkness, I think they play with the conscience of the spectator. They give and take things, which is kind of playful.”

Mattie Do, the first female Laotian director to make a full-length feature, was born in Los Angeles, but now lives in a country that didn’t even have movie theatres when she moved there in 2010.

She admits “our film growth is rocky,” but adds, “people outside may see it as challenging to work in a developing country with no infrastructure but at the same time no one here tells me what stories I have to make. When I walk into the Department of Cinema, they know who I am because we have so few filmmakers in the country but it is easy for us to sit down and have a very adult discussion. Whereas if I was facing down some board of directors I might not be able to have the creative control I do here.”

A global perspective comes naturally to Nashawati who grew up between Beirut, Accra, Kuwait and Athens.

“My past was very global without being a choice,” she says. “Blind Sun was made by someone who is Lebanese, with a French producer, you’re watching it in Canada and we’re now talking while I’m in Japan. This is the way things are today. It is exciting. It is interesting that it is (happening) when politics is going the opposite way and closing things.”

The pair have very different styles — Do’s film is a slow burner, Nashawati’s a nightmarish thriller — but both agree modern technology has made it possible for them to turn their wild visions into movies.

Nashawati thinks it has never been easier to make films, even if you’re “someone who is outside the circle of filmmaking or someone who isn’t from a bourgeois background.”

“If you adore filmmaking today,” she says, “this a great time to know you can actually make a film and it can be shown.”

Do says foreign directors are given a big leg up by streaming services like Shudder who are able to take chances on offbeat films.

“With Shudder I feel people can explore more different tastes and sub-genres of genres. If I described Dearest Sister, a Laos film about a lottery ghost and a girl who is going blind, would you pick up a ticket for that movie? Maybe not. But if you could sit in the comfort of your own home, pick up your remote or your computer and say, ‘Look at all these movies. That’s random, there’s a Laos movie. What’s Laos like?’ You can just click on it. It feels like a safe investment.”

Dearest Sister is streaming now. Blind Sun will be available Feb. 9.

Metro In Focus: Getting us right into the meat of the McDonald’s backstory

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Ray Kroc changed the way we eat. He didn’t invent the hamburger, but has probably sold more burgers than anyone else.

He standardized food preparation, setting the template for fast food restaurants worldwide and built an empire based on two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

If you believe The Founder, a biopic of Kroc’s building of the McDonald’s hamburger chain, he was also a bit of an SOB.

Michael Keaton, who plays Kroc from failed travelling salesman to a millionaire whose business card reads simply Founder, says the choices his character  “makes towards the end after he becomes successful are harsh, man. And nothing I would ever do. Nothing most people would ever do.”

So, is he a hero or villain? That’s the question The Founder asks. Does he deserve a break today for changing the way the world eats or is he a ruthless businessman to be grilled for his heavy-handed tactics?

When we first meet Kroc he’s hustling a newfangled milk-shake maker. Despite his slick pitch, his blender isn’t shaking up the fast food business. Restaurant after restaurant turns him down, until a small San Bernardino, Calif., burger shack run by siblings Mac and Dick McDonald (played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman) places an order for six of the machines, then ups the buy to eight.

Intrigued, Kroc travels cross-country to check out the operation and finds a bustling restaurant pumping out good food with military efficiency.

The brothers streamlined their kitchen for maximum productivity, maximizing every inch of space to bang out burgers in under 30 seconds. Kroc, amazed, convinces the pair to allow him to franchise their ideas and name. Reluctant, they agree but with a strict set of rules to ensure quality control.

Their uneasy partnership becomes a powder keg when Kroc unilaterally changes how the company is run. As the company grows so does Kroc’s ego and anything-to-win attitude.

Much of the way Kroc treats his business partners in The Founder is as distasteful as The Hula Burger, his famous and failed foray into vegetarian cookery. He double deals, goes behind their backs and worse, tampers with some of their recipes.

Keaton does a great job of slowly revealing Kroc’s duplicity and dive into self-indulgence as he transforms from failure to success. His natural charisma and flair — He’s Batman! He’s Mr. Mom! He’s Beetlejuice! —  brings with it a familiarity that makes sense when telling the story of one of the best known brands on earth.

As an actor Keaton brings us on side as he effectively portrays Kroc’s descent into amorality and callousness.

Like the operation that caught Kroc’s eye, the film is efficient, wasting no moves in the telling of the tale. It’s a classic story of persistence and greed and director John Lee Hancock gets right to the meat of the story.

As much as the film is about the U.S.’s 1950s growth spurt, it is also a portrait of the kind of never-say-die spirit that evokes the very best and worst of the American Dream.

On film Kroc is insufferable, a ruthless conniver who grabbed the gold ring, or, in this case, golden arches. Is he a good guy or scoundrel? Depends what side of the sesame seed bun you place the special sauce on.

Metro: Documentary charts historic rise of black post-secondary education

By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada

Stanley Nelson is no fan of zooming in. In fact, he’s more likely to be pulling the camera back for the most sweeping view possible.

“I am really interested in telling the stories of institutions rather than stories of dynamic individuals,” says Emmy Award winning documentarian Nelson. “To me that is a more intriguing way of telling history.”

As the title suggests his new film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities, is another doc that turns a macro lens on its subject. A wide ranging look at how Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, have helped shape the societal and cultural history of America for the last 170 years, it’s a detailed account of the establishment of schools for African American students.

“As a filmmaker there were these incredible resources,” he says, “stills, film, diaries and letters that existed in black colleges, that generally hadn’t been used.”

Emmy Award winning documentarian Stanley Nelson says there is a personal side to his new film Tell Them We Are Rising as both his parents went to HBCUs.

But there is also a personal side to the story.

“My parents both went to black colleges,” he says. “They both went to school in the 1930s and that was the only option they had. That option changed my life, my sibling’s lives, my kids’ lives, and their kids’ lives. Generation after generation will be changed because my parents had the opportunity to go to college.”

Research for the documentary, which makes its Canadian premier at the Toronto Black Film Festival on Wednesday, Feb. 15, began several years ago and encapsulates a wide swath of history.

“We start the film during slavery,” he says. “Not only was it illegal for black people to learn to read and write, it was illegal for a white person to teach a black person to read or write. That was against the law. There was punishment for teaching slaves to read and write.

“The film started there and follows this incredible long search for knowledge in the African American community that goes through black colleges and goes through to today.”

In recent years several HBCUs have flourished while others struggled.

“The universe for black colleges has changed in the last 40 years or so,” he says. “Before, these were the only places, pretty much, where black students could go if they wanted to get a higher education.

“Just as importantly they were the only places black professors could teach. After integration and now, to a certain degree, if you’ve gotten great marks in school and are at the top of your class you have options as to where you go to school. If you are a professor at the top of your profession in your chosen field you can teach at Howard or at Harvard where there are greater resources, greater prestige and you’re getting paid more.

“There are choices now. Not to say that is bad in any way, but it has exacted a toll on black colleges and universities.”

Still, Tell Them We Are Rising asserts HBCUs have an important place in higher education.

“We try to say that there are still reasons why any given student might choose to go to a black college or university. One of them is that it is a safe space. It is a space where you are not looked at as one of a kind. As one girl says, ‘Movements are launched on black campuses,’ because it is a place of people of like minds.”

Metro In Focus: why Annette Bening may be Hollywood’s grandest dame

By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus

Meryl Streep has a body of work that speaks for itself and, as she proved last Sunday night from the stage of the Golden Globes, is unafraid to challenge the status quo. But last week while the world formed opinions about Streep as she mouthed off about Donald Trump—She’s an icon! She’s overrated!—I had my eye on someone in the audience.

During Streep’s speech the camera landed on Annette Bening, who, for my money gives the Grand Dame a run for her money acting wise.

This weekend Bening adds 20th Century Women to her already stellar IMDB resume. As free-spirited single mother Dorothea she is, as writer David Edelstein wrote, irreducible. In other words she’s complex, loving yet stand-offish, warm but steely, a hippie who studies the stock market and Bening brings her to vivid life.

It’s that density of character that sets Bening apart from her peers, Streep included. Warren Beatty, her husband and sometimes director says she has, “talent, beauty, wit, humility and grace,” a combination that makes her “the best actress alive.”

Biased? Likely, but the evidence is on the screen. Bening works sporadically, sometimes taking years between projects or taking small supporting roles in idiosyncratic independent films like Ruby Sparks, but her characters are always compelling.

She became a star playing femme fatale Myra in 1990’s con artist caper The Grifters. Gleefully embracing her character’s deviousness, she stole the movie away from vets John Cusack and Anjelica Huston. Then came intricate portrayals of everything from a muckraking lobbyist in The American President and neurotic real estate broker in American Beauty to Bugsy’s tough-talking Hollywood starlet and In Dreams’ psychic vigilante. Each performances is a polished gem even when the movies aren’t as good as she is.

The last of her Best Actress Oscar nods came with 2010’s The Kids Are Alright. At the center of story are Nic (Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a long time lesbian couple raising their two kids. It’s a happy family until their daughter contacts her biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo) via the sperm bank.

A scene near the movie’s end displays the complexity of Bening’s work. Nic and Paul sing a Joni Mitchell song at a dinner party. Their wild act is joyful, ridiculous and poignant simultaneously and is a perfect microcosm of Bening’s performance. Bening is unpredictable, sometimes funny, sometimes not, just like real life. It’s her well-drawn character that keeps the basic story afloat with its lived-in, realistic feel.

Less known is Bening’s fine work in The Face of Love, a 2014 film about a widow obsessed with a man who looks exactly like her late husband Tom. Trouble is, she never tells him about his resemblance raising the question, Is she in love with Tom or a memory?

Another question: Is she a selfish conniver, a grief stricken widow or one brick short of a load? The movie allows for interpretation, but regardless of your take, Bening’s performance is so raw and vulnerable it’s difficult to completely condemn her behaviour.

Bening’s name may not always be mentioned in the hushed tones as Streep, but I suspect she doesn’t care for the accolades as much as shattering the clichés of how women are portrayed on film. On that score she is at the top of her field.