The first thing I noticed were the boots. In the utopian future of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, everyone wears spongy, Duplo-block boots to match their spongy, crayon-colored outfits. That's great for a costume designer's sketchbook, but why would anyone in the reality of Peter Hewitt's misbegotten sequel make their carefree lives so difficult to navigate? That footwear is key to understanding Bill & Ted's downfall--not the one orchestrated by a grumpy revolutionary who sends cyborg doppelgangers back in time to assassinate the dim-witted rock-gods-in-training. No, our heroes are undone by Xeroxed script beats, a mandate to dial up the obnoxiousness, and a production best described as "cash-infused aesthetic overkill". Ironically, the only life in this film is Death (William Sadler), who never quite shakes a humiliating board-game-tournament defeat. I can see why the original title, Bill & Ted Go to Hell, got nixed: too on the nose.
Smartphones have made the idea of two D+ students traveling through time collecting historical figures in order to pass their history class (and graduate high school) quaint at best. And according to Idiocracy, if humanity indeed depends on education-phobic dimwits, society is doomed to both brevity and anti-intellectual skepticism. Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) may only know Joan of Arc as "Noah's wife", but they're not proud of it. When a being from the future warns that the very universe hangs on their fledgling rock band's success, they jump from relaxed to resourceful, problem-solving all the attendant issues you'd expect when cramming the likes of Socrates, Billy the Kid, and Abraham Lincoln into a time-flipping phone booth. The film's language and attitudes are as dated as the adventure is excellent. Still, it's a shame that we've lost/abandoned such smarts, optimism, and invention in our big-screen speculative fiction.
CIFF 2016: You might expect a documentary about three poor African American teens living in the shadow of twenty-seven prisons to be an exercise in stereotyping-as-drama. Raising Bertie is not that film. Director Margaret Byrne and co-writer Leslie Simmer spend six years with these kids, whose lives change when their nurturing alternative high school is dissolved. Junior, DaDa and Bud grow up before our eyes, gasping for breath in a system too overrun and underfunded to care, in a rural town that's short on role models, opportunities, and reasons to dream. Byrne showcases the promise within each of these young men and tracks how they harness, diminish, and refocus it to make the best of circumstances they either fall into or dive into recklessly. Though not an overtly political movie, Raising Bertie works to change the media narrative of "unarmed black men" to "disarming black men".
It used to be that "extended"/"unrated" home video releases were just excuses for movie studios to rake in extra cash by giving audiences more gore or more gross-outs--often at the expense of the theatrical version's narrative rhythms. Not so with Ghostbusters: Extended Cut. Why didn't Sony release this version in July? Placed judiciously throughout, the extra fifteen minutes really tighten up Paul Feig and Katie Dippold's rocky plotting, providing more background on the villainous Ronan; explaining why the Ghostbusters break up before the climax (Don't Think Twice's Chris Gethard makes a welcome appearance); and finally showing us the military dance sequence originally dumped into the end credits (not funny, but at least the bookend scenes make sense now). Aside from two minutes of the leads' "comedic" vamping, this is the definitive Ghostbusters 2016.
CIFF 2016: As modern lore goes, there are few stories more mysterious or more chilling than that of Christine Chubbuck, the 29-year-old Florida reporter who committed suicide on the air in 1974. The footage was never released, and a relative handful of people actually witnessed the event as it happened. If you come to Antonio Campos’ drama Christine expecting a slice of sensational ghoulishness, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If, however, you’re up for a deep-cutting portrait of depression, ambition, and what it means to stand at the forefront of a mass-media tidal wave, you’ll devour Rebecca Hall’s performance and Craig Shilowich’s insightful screenplay. Unforgettable supporting turns by Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, and Maria Dizzia underscore Christine as a prescient film that mirrors our present-day struggle to connect with one another in a world that values achievement and sensationalism over healing and humanity.