Every so often a film comes along that’s poignant, funny, relatable and an accurate portrayal of most people’s painful high school experiences. But unlike 2005’s Toronto-filmed Mean Girls, You Again is the opposite of such a film.
A waste of A-list talent to the highest degree, this shallow and meaningless movie not only perpetuates vapid stereotypes, but wastes both the time of the cast and their audience – especially since the likes of Betty White, Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis are more than capable of carrying a well-written and interesting cinematic venture. Which this is not.
After learning her brother is set to marry her high school tormentor, Marni (Kristen Bell) becomes consumed with revealing the truth: that despite nearly a decade passing since the awkward teenager was the victim of adolescent bullying, her brother’s fiancé must still a manipulative monster. After all, people never change, right?
Fortunately, the family boasts a legacy of lengthy grudge-holding, and as Marni’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) comes face-to-face with the woman who once pushed her in a pool at a high school graduation (Sigourney Weaver), two generations of pettiness unfold to reveal that – gasp! – bullies do have feelings and reasons for acting out the way they do.
It’s just as painful as it sounds. With Betty White taking on the role of an outspoken yet loveable grandmother (she can do no wrong), the 88-year-old is the film’s only saving grace. However, no amount of Betty or London Ontario’s Victor Garber can make up for the fact that the film’s childish plot and roster of characters are so consumed with resentment that they make anyone watching feel nearly as stupid as they themselves seem. (And not only because you’ve paid money to see it, but because you’ve chosen to stay.)
Instead of promoting adult-like communication, childish antics ensue that attempt to garner any reaction possible from the likely agitated viewership (cue: catfights and cringe-worthy dialogue). And like a comedian that doesn’t know when to leave the stage, You Again quickly becomes a caricature of the worst possible chick flick through characters made so unbelievable you can’t possibly fathom why the film was financed in the first place.
What makes matters worse is that each actor is genuinely talented. Academy Award nominees, critical darlings and even up-and-coming actresses with promise on the horizon, no amount of reasoning can be given to explain why a script like this could be considered. One can’t help but wonder if director Andy Fickman simply called in a favour – or that he may be such a likeable person that turning him down simply felt mean.
Either way, expect You Again to be a film you see to make yourself feel better about your own shortcomings – or one that simply leaves you to ask yourself “why?”.
When the stock market crashed in 2008 – following another decade of excess, entitlement and inflated capitalism – the economies of Canada and the US took an almost unprecedented hit. Years before, Oliver Stone released a film that was poignant, interesting and succeeded in accurately commenting on the excess-driven 80s and its societal extremes. Since then, Wall Street has become a catalyst for discussion when looking back on any decade defined by greed, and despite its dated references and abundance of Charlie Sheen, is still considered one of the 1980s’ most memorable films.
Now in an age where bottom dollar once again reigns supreme, it only makes sense that a continuation be released; another ode to greed and excess – but this time starring a 21st century heartthrob. Behold: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
The follow-up to its 1987 predecessor, the sequel attempts to recreate the relevance of the first film, but like most movies hoping to overshadow a previous success, it lacks the heart, earnestness and magnetism that made the former Wall Street thought-provoking in the first place.
Set in the late 2000s, the film centres around the ambitious, up-and-coming Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a Wall Street wunderkind who’s quickly climbing the corporate ladder while attempting to maintain his green-living background. However, after the 2008 financial crisis ends the professional life of his mentor and father-figure (Frank Langella), Moore finds himself sleeping with the enemy – both in the form of his relationship with “greed is good” god, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and through his alignment with Bretton James (Josh Brolin), the CEO responsible for the downfall of Moore’s former employer in the first place.
To make matters worse, the yuppie-in-training is currently engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan) and with tensions between father and daughter at an all-time high, you can bet it doesn’t bode well when Moore begins meeting secretly with the “reformed” convict.
Needless to say, complications ensue, and Stone uses the 1929 second-coming to shed more light on the downfalls of various esteemed corporations and the lack of stability in our current economy. Sure, it may be set in America, but the parallels between Canada and the US (at least in this regard) are uncanny – lessons can be learned, and memories of failed businesses and closed car plants (like Oshawa’s GM branch) seem a little too real.
However, unlike its predecessor, Money Never Sleeps becomes tangled in sub-plots, relying too much on montages and secondary characters that prevent it from articulating a distinct message. By the 90 minute mark, you know Jake Moore’s in trouble, but you don’t particularly care – not only because you’ve already seen what happens when brats get greedy (Wall Street circa 1987), but because from the onset, he’s basically unlikeable.
While the acting is tight (specifically the performances by Carey Mulligan and Frank Langella), the intimacy between character and viewer seems to have been removed, so instead of using the film as a platform for discussion regarding the state of consumerism and its effects, you find yourself simply waiting for the film to end, interjecting the essential “aw”s and “oh no”s only because it seems appropriate.
Had it not been a sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps would be an adequate film that could be useful to a generation motivated by an impressive paycheque (and for those who haven’t seen the original, it still may be). However, because Wall Street (1987) succeeded so well in drawing attention to capitalism’s gluttonous ways with a story that was unique, Money Never Sleeps simply becomes just another movie released in September.
All big cities have their day, but while some of us once saw Boston as merely a Mecca of Ivy League schools and historical conflict, the likes of Martin Scorsese and Ben Affleck have shed some light on its gritty, crime-ridden reality. And in the spirit of iconic big cities, the Toronto International Film Festival was used as the setting for the triumphant premiere that served as a testimony to the event’s credibility – as well as to the discussion that while Canada looks on, areas of the US are quickly devolving into a new type of third world.
Behold the bank robbery capital of the world: Charlestown. An area of Massachusetts defined by violence, theft, drugs and familial legacies of organized crime, The Town proves that just because a city seems synonymous with academia and notable history doesn’t mean it’s without serious problems.
Enter: Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), a former all-star athlete stifled by a former drug addiction that’s left him to continue in his father’s bank robbing footsteps. On a bright weekday morning, he and his team descend upon a Cambridge bank and for the first time, take with them a hostage: Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the assistant bank manager who, unaware of her abductors’ identities, quickly begins a relationship with the tortured MacRay a couple weeks later.
However, with a bold and determined FBI agent (Jon Hamm) quickly closing in on the bank robbing crew, it’s only a matter of time before identities are revealed, lives are lost and destinies are determined, leaving anyone watching to shield their eyes, shake their heads and brace for impact.
To put it plainly, the film is flawless. Not only does Affleck succeed in intricately developing his own character, each supporting person fulfils a crucial role in telling the story, with no line wasted, no shot without purpose and no actor miscast. Like 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, the realities of impoverished Massachusetts communities are conveyed perfectly, with even the most heinous villains given hearts and dimension, leaving audiences to walk away with mouths gaping; lost in new perceptions of the western world’s harsh realities.
Will this film get the Oscar nod? It better.
As Affleck reminds us why he’s worthy of second chances following anything made in the early 2000s, to say The Town isn’t going to be a go-to for award season is a blatant lie. Whether it’s Rebecca Hall’s breakout performance or Jon Hamm’s updated version of a ball-busting and street savvier Don Draper (the comparisons will always be inevitable), the mainstream beacon of TIFF encompasses nearly every aspect of an Academy-Award winning film. And sure, that may not guarantee anything, but with ten spots set aside for Best Picture nominations, you may as well begin plotting your Oscar pool now.
Emma Stone has saved cinematic feminism – at least when it comes to teen films targeted at an easily-influenced audience recovering from years lacking adolescent “classics”. However, while 2007’s Superbad garnered her moderate attention, it was her official “coming out” at the Toronto International Film Festival that finally made critics and audiences finally sit up and take notice.
A modern take on all things John Hughes, Easy A brings back the charm and charisma necessary to make a film timeless. True, fashion choices and pop culture references may forever brand it as “standard 2010”, but both its lessons and heroine maintain a magic reminiscent of earlier eras – a time when iconic scenes consisting of stereos held overhead and spontaneous musical numbers were celebrated, not branded as too passé.
Director Will Gluck’s John Hughes appreciation is no secret. With main character Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) opening her narration with a reference to the iconic director, from the moment the credits begin, one quickly becomes aware that unlike High School Musical or Hannah Montana, Easy A is a film of both thought fodder and wit.
After Olive is overheard telling a friend about her fictional tryst with a college student, the school quickly becomes taken with the “morally loose” academic superstar, branding her every teenage synonym for harlot imaginable – a title that only increases after her fake public hook-up with a closeted friend (Dan Byrd) becomes the pinnacle of her classmates’ high school careers.
To make matters worse, a student team of religious crusaders (lead by a fanatical character played by Amanda Bynes) seeks to “save” Olive from eternal damnation – but only by publicly (verbally) flogging her to the tune of The Scarlet Letter. Throw in a cute boy, a refreshingly functional family and a relatively shocking subplot, and unlike the other mainstream box office draws aimed at young girls, Easy A solidifies itself as unique mix of 80s teen flicks and a toned-down version of 2004’s Saved!
Thank goodness for Stone. While the writing is sharp and Olive’s parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) are the prime example of perfect parenting, you can’t help but think a weaker actress would fail to do the script justice or lack the substance needed to play an underdog that refuses to be a victim of circumstance. But just like her turn in Superbad or Zombieland, Stone boasts a likeable edge that serves only to inspire and delight, making her a character you can completely cheer for and hope to relate to.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Amanda Bynes. While she once boasted a career defined by diversity and excellent comedic timing, her evolution has led only to branding her as someone impossible to warm up to or believe. Her character could’ve been a far cry from the stereotypical high school villainess, but something fell flat, leaving Bynes to especially pale in comparison to her vivacious co-star and her talent for multi-dimension.
And the timing couldn’t be better. With the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign currently taking hold of Canada and the US, Easy A can officially be considered an unbridled cinematic success. A film for both sexes, the “be true to yourself” message isn’t lost on anyone, and whether you’re 14 or 46, you can be proud that the mainstream message is finally not one urging women to change for popularity or acceptance.
With over 16 million Facebook users in Canada, it’s no surprise that narcissism has led to websites, films and total pop culture domination. And if anyone was paying attention to the genius ramblings of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg during his time at Harvard in the early 2000s, there should be no surprise as to the influence of both his website and this movie.
The Social Network is the true story of the network creator (Jesse Eisenberg) and his transition from a trouble-making student to the youngest billionaire in recent North American history. Having started the site in response to the rejection of his former girlfriend (Rooney Mara), the film unwinds from an objective standpoint, beginning in one of the two lawsuits Zuckerberg eventually finds himself in.
From there, audiences are taken to the dorm rooms of Harvard, where the boy genius and his best friend (Andrew Garfield) go on to fund and create the ultimate social networking tool – but not without controversy, conflict and the ultimate lesson that power corrupts, and power combined with multi-millions corrupts absolutely. With the question “who invented Facebook” ringing clearly in the air, The Social Network addresses each layer of the story in a painfully realistic way, evoking the stress felt only in the midst of university exams or tax season – and that’s a good thing.
With Harvard alumni Natalie Portman dishing the secrets of the Harvard underbelly, realism was crucial. Unlike most biopics that tend to canonize their main characters, the film paints Zuckerberg in a realistic light, leaving it up to the audience to determine whether or not the 20-something computer god is the protagonist, antagonist or something in-between.
And he couldn’t have been better cast. Saved from a fate as “the next Michael Cera” (thanks to his turn in Adventureland), Jesse Eisenberg uniquely transforms himself into the most unlikeable, driven yet painfully awkward main character of 2010, embodying Mark Zuckerberg to the nth degree and showcasing his ability to take on a leading role not defined by teen angst and feel-good music. And while Canadians are undoubtedly proud to count the endearingly awkward Michael Cera among their ranks, it’s a bold and challenging role like this that’s crucial to preventing the title of “one trick pony”.
The unconventional approach to story-telling also assists in saving The Social Network from being a self-indulgent ode to technology. By casting the brilliant Armie Hammer as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (or the “Winklevi” as Zuckerberg affectionately calls them), Fincher’s refusal to deign to typical filmmaking techniques simply adds to the uniqueness of the story. By making nearly every character both a victim and a villain, each are portrayed as the flawed human beings they are, proving that some stories have a black and white narrative, but real life does not.
It’s hard to believe that just over five years ago, some of us didn’t have Facebook let alone know anything about its creator. Now, a twenty-something billionaire has become a household name, tapped into our lives and topped the box office with his controversial tale. One can’t help but wonder whether The Social Network added to his mystique or revealed the man behind the curtain. Director David Fincher leaves it to you to decide.
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