A Million Little Pieces

Posted by Abbie on August 31, 2019 under In Theatres Now

I’ll be honest, before I saw the book this film is based on referenced in the opening credits, I didn’t know it was a book. I mean, I figured it probably was, because most films like this are, but I had never heard of it. When I got home after seeing the film I googled the book and quickly learned about the literary forgery scandal surrounding it. My exact words were, “Ha! Okay, that explains a lot.”

The film starts off promising enough with the main character James an emotional and physical wreck who lands himself in rehab after nearly 20 years of substance abuse. James’s first sober human contact is with a female flight attendant who refuses to sell him alcohol based not on the fact that he’s clearly an addict, but rather on her genuine concern for his well-being and because ‘a doctor told her not to.’ Maybe I’m jaded, but I think a flight attendant would be more likely to refuse James alcohol because he it seems like he’s had quite enough already and she doesn’t need a disruptive passenger making a mess. Anyway. This pretty much sets precedent for all of the people in James’s world and the other characters in the movie. Stereotypical and one-dimensional.

A strained but ultimately loving relationship with James’s brother and parents is hinted at, but never really explored or explained. A love interest is introduced, adding a bit of sexy danger as contact between male and female patients is verboten (then why are all of the patients thrown into the same common space? That makes no sense.), but again this has no backstory, or indeed credibility, at all. Two recovering addicts, both pretty and both in pain, of course a hookup is inevitable, right? Except they don’t do anything. At least it is implied that they don’t. And the reason that they don’t is not because one or both of them realize that having an affair while trying to focus on sobriety is probably not the best plan. It’s because all they do is emote and reminisce about their troubled pasts. While that in itself is not unbelievable, especially in the setting of a rehab facility, it is a bit far fetched for two barely sober 20-somethings. They seem to have no need or desire to leave the healthy progress in the group session and just have some ill-advised, stress relieving sex. For those plagued by mental demons, it generally takes far longer to get to the placid ‘let’s do the incredibly difficult and painful thing (talking about their worst past experiences) instead of the easy thing that also happens to feel good (boning)’ place.

It’s as if no one else but James in this narrative matters at all. Only one of the other characters is introduced by name (the enigmatic ‘Roy’). All of the others we hear passively referred to and are like, ‘Oh, um, I guess he means that Billy Bob Thornton guy?’ or ‘I assume that’s the love interest woman?’. And no one else’s story is explored at all. A guy who is clearly a deeply closeted gay man searching for sexual intimacy at any price, who has been to prison, and leaves his daughter’s phone number with James in case he dies after leaving rehab too soon – never explained or mentioned again after he leaves. A woman whose only family appears to be her grandmother, and who lost her virginity to prostitution – completely unexplored. A guy who seems to have a ton of money, is relatively stable in his sobriety, and who wants James to be his son – never developed. He leaves the facility before James does and says, ‘Call me as soon as you get out’, and is then never mentioned again. If this dismissal of all other characters is an attempt to mirror James’s self absorbed nature it’s not executed very well because that major character flaw is never addressed or rectified. Moreover, the issues of James’s past are never adequately dealt with at all. He has flashbacks to a night at a carnival with an ex-girlfriend that was obviously traumatic and ended with him being arrested. But this is never explained. The only breakthrough James has about his troubled past is that he suffered from ear infections as an infant and, strangely, he feels extremely guilty about beating up an authority figure who was trying to sexually assault him.

I’d also like to take just one minute to say that all of the characters who are not white dudes are stereotypes, and lazy unimaginative ones at that. All of the women just want to talk and help, because women are all nurture-y, don’tchaknow. And there are two black guys – one’s a musician and the other is an athlete. Because of course they are. Oh, and the film is set in lower-middle class Ohio in 1993. All of those demographics apply to my adolescence. As someone who was literally there, I can assure you of the following:

  1. using the word ‘retarded’ was really not cool. If anyone did they got very dirty looks and would not continue to do so unless they were a garbage human being. Not exactly what one did to set themselves up as a sympathetic protagonist.
  2. announcing to a room full of a patient’s peers that said patient had been diagnosed as bipolar, while not exactly illegal yet (HIPAA would not become law in the US for another three years), would be a serious misstep in one’s career as a sobriety counselor.

If you’re in the mood for a film that gives an honest and accurate portrayal of what surviving mental illness and addiction with the help of a halfway decent support system looks like, save yourself the effort of going out and re-watch Silver Linings Playbook instead.


Blinded by the Light

Posted by Abbie on August 17, 2019 under In Theatres Now

This movie was…okay. Growing up the daughter of a die hard Bruce Springsteen fan, I really wanted to like this film. And I did, for the most part. But I’m also glad that, because I see so many movies, this one was essentially free.

It tells the (mostly true) story of Javed, a second generation British Pakistani kid growing up in the suburbs during the 1980’s. Played by Viveik Kalra, Javed is a talented and passionate writer and dreams of pursuing an education and eventual career in that field. The pressures of being the stereotypical only son to stereotypical British Pakistani parents are added to the minefield that is adolescence, even to those with privilege Javed doesn’t have. While, yes, the strict parents and the dutiful only son are indeed stereotypes of British Pakistani culture, the use of these doesn’t feel like token efforts at inclusion due to the film being the product of Gurinder Chadha, arguably the most commercially successful British Indian filmmaker. Additionally, as the movie is based on the true story of a Bruce mega-fan, the fact that Javed’s young life happened to be a version of tropes that are harmful in the hands of white filmmakers makes the use of them seem less problematic.

A chance encounter with a classmate introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Bruce’s lyrics about dissatisfaction with the mediocre and the futility of meeting other people’s expectations gives Javed the validation every lonely teenager so desperately craves. I have no idea what it feels like to be a racial and religious minority, but I do know what it feels like to be an unhappy kid who finds solace only when completely ensconced in the comfort of music that speaks to you. I can only imagine that being the child of Pakistani parents in 1980’s England compounds the overwhelming sense of alienation and the resulting ennui. In that sense this film is extremely well done.

Another interesting facet of this movie is the inclusion of Bollywood cinema staples, most notably the musical numbers. There are a few of these, the first of which being an angst-ridden solo featuring Javed and dramatic lighting on the night of 15 October 1987 and the notorious ‘hurricane’ mis-forecasted by Michael Fish. Another one is a group number that takes place in, yet another Bollywood motif, a busy market square. Only loosely explained trips abroad and the passage of long periods of time without the use of a montage are two more Bollywood devices that are perhaps less charming. The result is a sometimes awkwardly timed and clunky plot that is periodically broken up by moments of such poignant clarity it’s almost heartbreaking.


The Lion King

Posted by Abbie on August 8, 2019 under In Theatres Now

I really, really hope Jon Favreau never turns out to be a sexual harasser. Because, damn, can that guy create cinematic childhood joy. Disney has never been one of my favourite studios. A fair few of their animated movies (generally ones that involve talking animals) remind me of being a kid and make me feel better when I’m sick and stuck in bed but, other than that, I’m kind of lukewarm on the whole thing. I’m definitely not one of those ‘Disney People’. You know who I mean. So it’s fair to say that when it comes to how much I would enjoy the Lion King remake, despite Scar’s song advising me otherwise, I was not prepared.

Compared to Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book, which left me dissatisfied in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, The Lion King delivers in a big way. The almost shot-for-shot and line-for-line rendition speaks to the genius of the original. In that respect, there wasn’t much that could have been improved upon (with a few very notable and problematic exceptions, which were addressed). With the writing and storyboard in the bag all that was missing was voice talent and cinematography, both of which are unrelenting in their exquisiteness.  I mean, can you get a better voice for Nala than Beyonce? No. No you cannot. Likewise, Seth Rogan as Pumbaa – Seth Rogan was born to voice a gassy but lovable warthog. But the top prize has to go to Chiwetel Ejiofor. His voice takes Scar from campish evil rogue that you actually would kind of like to hang out with to truly terrifying villain, especially considering the target demographic for this movie. Scar’s voice is matched by an equally dangerous appearance that makes no compromises in the sinister department. This brings me to the actual look and feel of the film. While the all of the characters are obviously CGI, they don’t look it. At all. I cannot imagine the number of hours that must have been spent filming wild animals in order to create this level of photorealism.

The story is a familiar one, but this rendition takes a little more time to offer a bit of backstory about Scar and Mufasa’s childhood rivalry that the original left out. Other details are brought up to date and the abrasive heteronormativity of most Disney fare is tempered a bit. The “dress in drag and do the hula” line and scene have been conspicuously replaced and, when confronted with the prospect of a childhood friendship destined to become a romantic relationship baby Simba doesn’t just say “I can’t marry her – she’s my friend,” but “I should be able to marry whoever I want”. Big difference there. Certainly not a grand gesture, but hopefully enough for an alienated kid to feel at least a little bit seen. In this same way, the Lion King reboot has a tone that indicates how children have changed since the 1990’s. In some ways the cotton wool has been unwrapped from childhood. Kids are allowed to be more aware of the real world than they were a few decades ago. While the movie makes expert use of a few moments of comic relief, the heavy issues of death, anger, shame and violence are dealt with in very realistic ways.

Of all of the Disney remakes thus far, The Lion King is by far my favourite. I have high hopes for The Little Mermaid and Lady and the Tramp, but this one will be hard to beat. Who knows, maybe I shall become one of those Disney People.


The Queen’s Corgi

Posted by Abbie on July 24, 2019 under Kind of Old

Three words: dark af


And I thought that during the first attempted murder. That was way before the blatant classism, domestic violence, and the second attempted murder in the form of arson. Seriously.

The Queen’s Corgi follows Rex, Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite dog, on a misadventure through the streets of London and eventually to a rehoming facility where he meets all sorts of characters who inevitably have not enjoyed the privilege Rex has known all his life. Sounds like an adorable family movie with plenty of ‘teachable moments’, right? Nope. What appears to be a cute little story about royal doggos is actually really messed up. Jack Whitehall’s voice doesn’t save it, the ruthless mocking of Donald Trump doesn’t save it, and gratuitous animated puppy fluffiness doesn’t save it.

This movie aspires to walk the tightrope perfected by Pixar and Dreamworks of being appropriate for children while also including the odd innuendo and adult joke in order to make it not too mind numbing for parents. Sadly, it does not succeed. The plot points designed to engage young kids are scarier than necessary, and the in-jokes for older kids and parents are not light and playful; they’re heavy handed and uncomfortable. An excellent example is Prince Philip. As comic relief, he doesn’t much care for the Queen’s beloved dogs. However, he doesn’t just dislike them – he actually physically kicks them and his bedtime reading material is literally ‘How to Kill My Dog’. High five, nWave pictures, you took it too far!

The best I can say for this movie is that maybe it will inspire kids to ask questions about why bullies hit their girlfriends, why all the baddies had certain accents, or what to do when friends try to drown you or burn you alive…





Posted by Abbie on May 30, 2019 under Kind of Old

Ah, the much anticipated live action Aladdin reboot. The story is familiar, so I won’t bore you with an unnecessary synopsis and instead just cut right to it.

I was pleasantly surprised by Will Smith, who paid homage to Robin Williams’ iconic genie character, but who also took the role and made it his own. I was less impressed with Jafar who, unlike the iconic cartoon baddie, had no real presence or feeling of true evil. He was just a power hungry courtier with no sinister depth.

Likewise, Aladdin himself was a little blah.

The real joy was Jasmine. The impotent, token effort at autonomy the animated Jasmine had in the 90’s has been brought into the present, with all of its alarming backsliding into the veritable dark ages of women’s rights. She has what I’ve come to call a ‘Let It Go moment’; a new song all to herself in which she basically informs the world that she is done being told what to do. I’m glad Disney has stepped up their female character game but, at the same time, the audience is left wondering what purpose Aladdin really serves. His only role in the whole movie is to be Jasmine’s love interest which I would be fine with, except the movie is called ‘Aladdin’! Jasmine completely steals the show and makes him a footnote in his own story.

Actually, the more I think about that the happier I am about it.




Posted by Abbie on April 18, 2008 under Achive

Oh, where to begin? Everything about this film made me happy. Not in a ‘feel-good-movie’ sort of way, obviously, I’m not that deranged, but in a stuck up, nit picky film geek sort of way.

The story is that of a television crew who are following firemen around for an evening. The firemen get called to an injured woman, and the situation snowballs until the crew, firemen, and residents of an apartment building are all locked inside with infected zombies. The point of view of the film is that of the cameraman for the television show. This makes the film a little Blair Witch-esque in that it plays with the audience’s perception both of what is, and more importantly what is not, caught on camera. The acting is again reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project in that the actors seem to be genuinely playing themselves, and to be genuinely terrified. However, I have wondered in the past if the fact that I don’t speak Spanish, and thus can’t tell how the actors are delivering their lines, makes me a poor judge. Oh, yeah. Did I not mention? This film’s in Spanish. Either way, I thought it was phenomenal. And the blood was some of the best horror movie blood I’ve seen.

Zombie lore (yes, there is zombie lore) is both adhered to and cleverly played with. The victims in the film can’t seem to find a way to kill the zombies. That’s because the only way to do so is by removing the head or destroying the brain. When the revolution comes you’d do well to remember that. Also, infection is spread via bodily fluid. In [REC] the infection is a creative one – evidence of a Catholic nation’s take on zombies, perhaps, because the infection is demonic possession.

I really like zombie movies, but I absolutely loved [REC]. I’m sure the few other people in the cinema at 1pm could hear me whispering urgently to myself and the characters, ‘No, you have to take her head off!’ and ‘She’s going to bite your hand, dude… See? I told you she was going to bite you.’

Let us take a moment to realise the fact that this is a first, and undoubtedly the first of very select few:




Posted by Abbie on April 18, 2008 under Achive

First of all, hello misogyny! If my Feminist friend Lucy from university had seen this movie, her head would have exploded. The female lead is referred to as ‘that,’ and all of the female characters ‘aren’t trusted.’ There’s also a relevant argument for some racism in there too, but as this isn’t Film 450 with Dr. Brown, I’ll just get to the review.

Kevin Spacey plays Micky Rosa, an MIT professor who leads a secret team (this all sounds very spy movie, doesn’t it? I digress…) of card counters who spend their weekends taking Vegas for thousands. His newest recruit is Ben, an adorable mathematical genius who is in the midst of trying to figure out how to pay for Harvard med school. It all fits together so nicely, doesn’t it? However, things go awry; Ben gets carried away and Professor Rosa shows his true, not so nice, colours. Throw in a love interest and an angry Vegas security thug and it makes for a pretty good plot.

Spacey, unsurprisingly, just shines. You really don’t like him in this film, and you’re not supposed to. He plays a real jerk and he plays it well. Though I’m not sure how historically accurate it is (MIT students did operate a Blackjack team from the ’70s-’90’s), that’s not really the point of the film. For an easy watch, 21 is pretty good. It even describes exactly how to count Blackjack if you can follow the maths.




Posted by Abbie on April 18, 2008 under Achive

The previews for Awake pretty much give the film away except for two predictable ‘twists’ that the audience can (I hope) see coming a mile away.

Clay is a wealthy business heir who has been hiding his relationship from his overprotective mother. He also is on a waiting list for a heart transplant and it takes his surgery to bring his new wife and his mother together. The problem is that his doctors are plotting to kill him and benefit financially from his death. Three things troubled me about this film: the reason the doctors are doing this in the first place is because they owe money from previous malpractice lawsuits. If wealthy, powerful, inappropriately overprotective Mom’s darling son dies during surgery, as planned, she would obviously file yet another huge lawsuit against his doctors. How several people who were bright enough to succeed in medical school could not see that coming is baffling. Also, the mother/son relationship is dysfunctional, creepy and Freudian at best. You really get the feeling that there’s something inappropriate going on in Mommy’s head. It makes me cringe to think about it… The third issue I took with this film was somewhat nit-picky, I admit. But seriously, Evil Doctor #2 – Fisher Stevens – what is going on with his head? It looks like it’s about three times too large for his body. He has a giant ant head. It’s very distracting. I will say this about the movie, though; even though there wasn’t much to it that I hadn’t seen in the trailer, it did have an interesting illustration of death. This movie’s not bad if you’re not a fan of thinking about what you’re watching, or if you often find yourself in need of a toilet or popcorn run in the middle of films (I snuck out to get a hotdog and didn’t miss a thing).



One Missed Call

Posted by Abbie on April 18, 2008 under Achive

One more in the recent trend of Japanese horror adapted to American cinema. Initially I thought this phenomenon was due to American laziness – Japan has all these good horror ideas and a specific look about their films; why bother thinking of whole new films when it’s easier to steal them from someone else, right? Well, that could be. But I think it’s rather that American horror blew its watt in the ’70’s and ’80’s.

Even though this film’s premise is just silly, despite the mobile phone part the plot’s not bad. There are some good ghosties, and though the acting’s only marginally decent, that’s all part of the fun and tradition of the horror genre. The fact that it’s all centred around mobile phones speaks volumes about a population with a completely new set of fears and thus new horror villains. In The Ring the girl came out of the television, in One Missed Call the victims get calls from a dead person, etc. But this isn’t a dissertation so I won’t go on about that…

Shannyn Sossamon plays the heroine, Beth, who teams up with Detective Jack Andrews (a conveniently young and attractive man played by Edward Burns) in order to solve the mystery behind the deaths of a number of their friends, all of which are preceded by ominous phone calls. It seems that the perpetrator behind all of these calls is waging a war on the middle class, as the victims all receive calls and voicemails on their mobile phones. Though removing the battery from the phone doesn’t seem to work (the characters thought of that), if you simply don’t own one you’re good.

Once I came to terms with the fact that people were being attacked via their electronic accessories, there was just one main problem with the story. When these kids (I use that term loosely) are fearing for their lives, knowing the predicted time of their own deaths, they’re still walking around the city waiting for an anvil to fall on their heads. Wouldn’t any halfway intelligent person be, oh I don’t know, sitting by themselves in a sterile, empty room with no windows? If you have two days advance notice of your death you have time to prepare, people! There were also some good comedy moments. I don’t think they were supposed to be funny, but a disembodied hand dialing a phone – hilarious. An attempted exorcism of a mobile phone – also hilarious. Honestly, I debated even seeing this film because I expected it to be complete tripe. But all told it’s not too bad. If you’re a horror fan and enjoyed other films in the same ilk such as The Ring and The Grudge, you won’t be disappointed in One Missed Call.




Posted by Abbie on April 18, 2008 under Achive

This film had some funny parts, but overall it was pretty boring. And that’s coming from someone who likes George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, and American football. This film has all the ingredients for greatness, or at least even a few good laughs, but it just misses the mark and doesn’t deliver. The casting, music, plot, and cinematography were all fine; I think where it went wrong was the dialogue. The few quippy jokes that may have livened it up a bit were trite.

The story is that of the birth of professional American football with a love triangle and a juicy news story thrown in. Set in 1925, George Clooney plays Dodge Connelly who, out of desperation, sets out to popularise professional American football. He does this by recruiting Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), Princeton University’s star player/WWI war hero. The plot thickens when Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, tries to find out the truth behind Carter’s heroic claims. With all this going on, one would think there was more than enough plot to keep a viewer interested. But somehow there just isn’t. Leatherheads was so blah that I can’t even think of much to say about it except that it was boring. Save your money.